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Heroes of Cult: Tom Baker

Tom Baker is, to many fans of the show, the greatest of all the Doctors. In fact he has only lost the official poll three times; once to Sylvester McCoy in 1990 and twice to David Tennant in 2006 and 2009.

Thomas Stewart Baker was born to a working class family on the 20th January 1934 in Scotland Road Liverpool. His father John was a sailor and his mother Mary a cleaner. Whilst at school Baker showed little interest in either academic studies or acting. He instead focused on religion. Tom had been raised in a strong Catholic family and at the age of fifteen he decided to take holy orders and became a monk.

For the next six years Baker lived between the ‘De La Mennais Brothers’ monasteries in Jersey and Shropshire. He left, aged twenty one, after having a conflict of faith and went straight into the Army for his National Service.  It was during his time in the Army that Tom first discovered his love of acting. After his two years service was complete he continued to act, outside of the Army, in a number of amateur theatre productions.

It was during one of these amateur productions that, in the late 1960s, his fellow cast members persuaded him to go professional. He would join the ‘National Theatre Company’, then under the stewardship of respected actor ‘Laurence Oliver’. From here he received his first big break in film playing ‘Grigori Rasputin’ in the 1971 movie ‘Nicolas and Alexandra’. The role earned him ‘Golden Globe’ nominations for ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’ and ‘Best Newcomer’.

Over the next few years Baker started to make a name for himself as a great film and TV character actor. In 1974 the then head of BBC TV Serials ‘Bill Slater’, whom had previously directed Baker, suggested Tom as a replacement for the outgoing ‘Jon Pertwee’ for the lead role in ‘Doctor Who’. Baker impressed in his first meeting with producer ‘Barry Letts’ and was offered the role. Tom had recently fallen on hard times and had been working on building sites to supplement his income from acting. Due to this the BBC had to lend him a suit for his media unveiling. The suit looked cheap and this lead to the short lived nick name ‘Boiler Suit Tom’.

Baker loved the role and quickly made it his own. He was like no ‘Doctor’ before him. He was eccentric, erratic, with the attention span of a child, and a fondness for ‘Jelly Babies’. Tom had worked hard on every aspect of the character, including the clothes he wore. He even suggested the scarf, although the excessive length was due to too much wool being sent to the knitters.

Tom also brought a sense of darkness to the role which, had been missing since the early days of ‘William Hartnells’ tenure. It was quite common for Bakers ‘Doctor’ to show little to no emotion over the death of an ally.

He played the role for seven years, longer than any other Doctor. He reluctantly decided to leave the role after disagreements with new producer ‘John Nathan-Turner’. His last episode, Logopolis, saw such an eccentric and influential ‘Doctor’ given quite a boring death. Falling from a radio telescope and then slowly dying on the ground.

Baker would continue to work, he’s rarely been without a job, mainly on TV. Later roles included ‘Sherlock Holmes’ in ‘ Hound of the Baskervilles’, ‘Puddlegum’ in the BBCs adaptation on ‘C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Silver Chair, ‘Professor Plum’ in the nineties game show ‘Cluedo’ and the narrator in TV sketch show ‘Little Britain’.

He was also offered an audition for the role of ‘Gandalf’ in the ‘Peter Jackson’ (who’s a big ‘Doctor Who’ fan) ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. He turned down the role as it meant spending too much time away from his home.

He would reprise his role as the ‘Doctor’ three more times on television. First in 1983s ‘The Five Doctors’, then in 1993s charity episode ‘Dimensions in Time’, and finally (so far) in the 2013 fiftieth anniversary special ‘Day of the Doctor’. Baker held off until 2009 before he did any ‘Big Finish Productions’ ‘Doctor Who’ audio books or radio plays as he was waiting until he read a script he liked.

Tom Baker is the most loved and influential of all the ‘Doctors’. He’s still referenced in many contemporary television shows such as, ‘Family Guy’, ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory’. Too many fans, and even to himself, he is and always will be the ‘Doctor’.

Recommended film and TV appearances (outside of Doctor Who):-

Moore – The Hound of the Baskervilles

Capt. Redbeard Rum – Blackadder 2 Ep: Potato

Puddlegum – The Silver Chair

Narrator – Little Britain

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