I don’t actually remember Tom Baker as the Doctor, his tenure was during my most youngest of years (I was born in 1975), however I think he is still the most recognisable incarnation of the Doctor, perhaps in fact by those who are not fans of the show. But even die-hard fans of Doctor Who will of course not be able to deny his place as the longest serving doctor and most recognisable doctor.
In 1971 Tom Baker took over the helm of the TARDIS, and heralded the beginning of an entirely new breed of Doctors, his portrayal would, in the writer’s humble opinion, become a benchmark from which all other Doctors would follow.
Tom Baker is a 79 year old British actor born 20 January 1934 in Liverpool, his Mother, Mary Jane, worked as a cleaner, while his father, John, was a sailor who spent most of his life away at sea.
The first of a few Tom Baker interesting facts comes along when Tom was just fifteen, and upon leaving school went off to live in a monastery, to train to become a Roman Catholic monk, he lived and trained for six years, but a monastic life was not for him; he lost his faith and has never regained it.
Tom is old enough to have had to do national service, and he did his, from 1955 to 1957, in the Royal Medical Corps – this coincided with him taking up acting as a hobby; it was not until the end of his national service that he decided to turn his hobby into his career and go pro!
Baker spent his first few thespian years in the theatre, as part of the National Theatre Company, but it was in 1971 when he first appeared on the silver screen with a major role in Nicholas and Alexandra, in which he played Grigori Rasputin, his success was fairly instant, and he was nominated (but didn’t win) two Golden Globe awards for Nicholas and Alexandra . The 1970’s saw him continue to appear on the big screen, with, among others, roles in the 1973 films The Vault of Horror and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
Baker’s star was most definitely still rising when he took on the role of the Doctor, unlike the previous Doctors, Baker’s experience and career were still fairly new, he had no gravitas of a long career under his belt. Baker had been recommended to the producer Barry Letts, who after seeing him in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was convinced Baker was right for the role; and this leads us onto Tom Baker interesting fact number two – despite the Golden Globe Nominations, and Baker’s undoubted talent, he was working as a laboureron a building site when he learned he had secured the role of the Doctor.
Baker was extremely popular during his tenure as the Doctor, his portrayal of everyone favourite Gallifreyen, was studied and well thought out, showing facets of the Doctor’s personality not seen before. Much of the personality came from Baker himself, and he was able to show extremes of emotions, being kind, heartfelt and caring; but he could also be merciless and harsh, sometimes unexpectedly so. He was instantly recognisable in his colourful long scarf, which was created in a happy accident, rather than by design, when the knitter employed to knit a scarf simply knitted one with all the wool she was given, it was however Baker who wanted to wear the ‘way too long to be in anyway sensible scarf’ and so was born perhaps the most enduring image from any Doctor. With his buoyant and changeable personality, his eccentric dress, and love of Jelly Babies, Tom Baker’s Doctor is watchable, memorable and in many ways for many people simply ‘The Doctor’.
He played the Doctor for seven years, the longest incarnation yet; perhaps unlike the other Doctors, who were so worried about typecasting, at the time Baker was only too pleased to have the regular work!
After leaving the TARDIS with the motor running for the next incarnation to leap in and take over the controls, Baker may have seemed to many for a good few years to go a little into the wilderness, however he did continue to work, and for many now Tom’s most recognizable feature is his voice, that fabulous thespian overdramatic tone has, over the years, been put to work by many hoping his gravitas will either sell their items, add needed comedic value or simply add something a little different.
In 1982, still with TARDIS grease on his elbows, he took on the challenge of playing Sherlock Holmes in a four part BBC adaptation. After that followed plenty of roles but nothing which really stands out, in 2004 he starred in another sci fi BBC drama series, the not terribly successful Strange, in which he played a blind priest with knowledge of the devil!
It really was his voice and Little Britain that brought Tom Baker back into the main steam consciousness, starting off on Radio 4, the series brought fame, fortune and success to its creators, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, but also brought the voice of Baker to a huge audience all of whom would probably state that without his brilliant narration Little Britain would have never been the success it was. In fact, Baker’s voice is so popular in the UK that it has been voted the fourth most recognisable, with only the Queen, Margaret Thatcher and the then Prime Minister Tony Blair beating him.
He has continued to work and add his voice to many production and television programs, interestingly the one thing for many years he couldn’t be persuaded to do was record audio episodes of Dr Who that is, until 2009, when a script he said he finally liked appeared and he teamed up with the BBC to record The Hornets Nest, a five part audio drama by Paul Magrs. Again in 2011 he teamed back up with his former companions Leela (Louise Jameson) and Romana (Mary Tamm) to record a series of six stories featuring Baker as the Fourth Doctor. A series was also planned with him this time reuniting with Sarah Jane Smith, his first companion, however Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane, who was suffering from cancer, very sadly died before any recording took place.
Tom Baker is the most instantly recognisable of the first tranche of Doctors, his larger than life personality and the way he attacked the role has given him a permanent place in history as the most popular doctor, but he is of course more than just the doctor and is very well deserving of his “National Treasure” status.