Friday, April 01, 2005

Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 4

In honour of the return to TV of the classic series Doctor Who, which will be seen on CBC on April 5, I present Nine Days of The Doctor - Day 4.

Tom Baker 1974-1981

Companions: Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen), Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter),Leela (Louise Jameson), Romana I (Mary Tamm), Romana II (Lalla Ward), Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) Teegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding).

Comments: Baker may well be the best actor to portray the Doctor. He had been nominated for two Golden Globe awards for his portrayal of Rasputin in Nicholas & Alexandra and there had been talk of an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the same role. Baker is certainly the only "Doctor" who has also done full frontal nudity, in Pasolini's Canterbury Tales. He spent six years in a monastery (from age 15 to 20) before becoming an actor. At the time that he got the part of The Doctor he had been working as a labourer on building sites for about six months. This may help to explain why he stayed so long in the role, twice as long as any other actor.

Baker's Doctor was all hair and teeth, with an extremely long scarf (supposedly knitted by Madame duFarge; in fact the BBC gave a knitter a selection of balls of wool and told her to knit a scarf, she just knitted until all of the wool was gone) and a large floppy hat. In terms of character, Baker's Doctor borrowed a little from Troughton and Pertwee. He was a scientist but not as immersed in it as Pertwee's character - you never really saw him working with test tubes. From Troughton he took a bit of the cosmic clown aspect although his humour was a drier droller wit (a product of the writers of course, which in this period included Douglas Adams who later created The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Baker's Doctor was quite funny and was frequently underestimated by his opponents, to their cost.

Baker's companions were initially the damsel in distress type, although able in their own way and at least paying lip service to the notion of Women's Lib. Sarah Jane - who carried over from Pertwee's time as The Doctor, was a capable young woman who somehow was always stumbling into peril despite or perhaps because of her experiences with the Doctor. That said, Elizabeth Sladen is generally considered the best companion by many fans. And of course her male counter-part, Harry Sullivan, seldom fared much better. Leela on the other hand was rather child-like in that there were two types of people, friends of the Doctor and people to kill. Even then she still required frequent rescuing. As for the two Romanas, they too were Time Lords (well Time Ladies if you want to be technical) but like most of their race had little knowledge of the universe around them. Again, the companions are people to be rescued and vehicles through which explanations can be given. About the only companion that this couldn't be said of was The Doctor's robot dog, K-9.

Most of the conventions about the character were set by the time that Baker became the Doctor. They were mainly amplified on in this period. For example it had always been established that the inside of the TARDIS was larger than the outside but during Baker's period it was shown to be not just one or two extra rooms, it was gigantic including a cloister (complete with bells), an auxiliary control room, and a "bathroom" that rather resembled an Olympic sized indoor swimming pool. There were two visits to The Doctor's home world, Gallifrey, which depicted it as a rather sterile authoritarian world - no wonder The Doctor found it so boring that he left.

It was during Baker's period that Doctor Who achieved cult popularity in the United States, to the point where Marvel Comic began publishing a Doctor Who comic book. Baker's decision to leave the series had a rather odd basis. He had fallen in love with Lalla Ward, the actress who played the second version of Romana for two years (and was 17 years younger than him). When she left the series he himself stated that he didn't really feel like continuing with the series. They married in 1980 after she left the show. They were divorced in 1982.


TAS said...

One of the Public Television stations in my area used to run Doctor Who episodes every weeknight when I was about 13-14 and Tom Baker was the only actor I could ever watch playing him, for some reason. He seemed to embody the character in the same way Basil Rathbone typified Sherlock Holmes for generations; but unlike Rathbone, of course, there was no literary paradigm for Doctor Who, so his seeming so right for the role is a bit odd in retrospect.

(the Doctor's worst sidekick by far was the ever-annoying Adric)

Can I just take this opportunity to say, appropos of nothing, that you're a superb television critic, Brent. I really like this blog.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I must echo Tom's praise for the blog, B.K.--and also concur that the only Doctor Who for me is Tom Baker. This might have a lot to do with the fact that he was the first one in the role that I watched, but I've just never cared for the others--Peter Davison being the absolute nadir.