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Tom's still not shaken off his old Tardis

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1981-12-16 Liverpool Echo.jpg


Time Lord in search of buried loot...

DAVID UTTING talks to actor Tom Baker about his life since he quit as Dr. Who. It's a role that people won't let the Liverpool-born star put behind him.

PEOPLE in pubs still go up to Tom Baker and say things like, "Did you leave your police box outside, then?"

In a bar, just across the road from London's Mermaid Theatre, there were two lads who hardly let the erstwhile Doctor Who get through the door: "Hullo," they said, "did you leave your police box outside, then?"

It would try the patience of a Saint, but not, apparently, of the Liverpool-born, former monk turned soldier who became an actor Tom Baker, that is Tom Baker. A professional for every inch of the 6ft. 3ins. separating tip from toe, he laughed and smiled his mot tooth-laden smile.

The effect was as extravagantly theatrical as if a couple of educationally subnormal cybermen had stupidly threatened the Doctor with extermination. But the lads did not seem to notice.

Ah, yes. Extravagance. It is something together with draught Guinness. which Mr. Baker holds in high regard.

No wonder, then, that he has exchanged the long, woolly mantle of a Time Lord for the wooden leg, eye patch and shoulder parrot of Long John Silver to star in the Mermaid's Christmas production of Treasure Island. It is a role which traditionally has been the preserve of the Mermaid's founder and director Sir Bernard Miles —a performance ("Ooh ah, Jim lad, aha!")1 which has fallen into legend.

And as Tom Baker explained over a liquid lunch-break between rehearsals, following in Sir Bernard's singular footsteps has not been without its pitfalls. For one thing, leaping around on one leg has given him a crick in the neck and for another there is the neurotic behaviour of Jack Spratt.

Jack Spratt is the real, live parrot-Sir Bernard's parrot, to be precise — who is maintaining continuity with the past. "No," declaimed Mr. Baker, "he does not look like me!"

"All I can say is thank Christ he is blind to one eye which is something he did to himself. With the eyepatch on I can't see him end he can't we me except that from time to time he rocks behind me, gives a whistle and then leans round right into my face, like this..."

Thoroughly enjoying

The experience of having Tom Baker demonstrate this behaviour leaning in to your face with teeth at full exposure and eyes likewise wide Is a wholly memorable one.

"I just hope," he added. "that he is going to be well fed for performances because otherwise I am going to end up with a hair lip or something."

For the rest, he is thoroughly enjoying the part and looks forward to being asked to play other "extravagant" roles, such as Captain Hook ("I'm a little too old for Peter Pan") and Falstaff. He has also just finished making a two-hour BBC film as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

"All I want for the future is to be a great, big, zonking star and lots of crumpet," he said, pausing to see hat effect this observation might provoke. He then — thankfully —added: "I don't suppose what you mean by 'crumpet' is what I mean. What I town is all the goodies to life."

It is, notwithstanding, the case that the man who as Doctor Who was mainly for the children tends to make real life conversation in what frequently merits as 'AA' certificate, if not the occasional 'X'. Very entertaining it is, too.

Not that this applies to talking about his marriage last year to actress Lalla Ward who played the Doctor's Time Lord companion, Romana.

"Amazing actually," he said, before launching into a short pronouncement on the gullibility of newspaper reporters who believed him when he said marriage had made him a tidier person.

The trouble is, can you then believe him when he declares that it was the Roman Catholic church, in Liverpool. which equipped him for an actor's life?

He was born, he said, between Stanley Read and Scotland Road in one Fountains Road: "I was recently persuaded," he said, "to go back for an emotional picture to be taken in front of my birthplace, only to discover that it was a complete desert. I found, actually, that I was strangely indifferent at not being able to find it."

"Liverpool's a great city," he added. "but a lot of the drama has gone out of it since they invented penicillin. When was a child, diphtheria was rife and people were dropping off their perches right, left and centre."

With enduing logic, he explained that the high mortality rate was deeply relevant to his career since is meant he attended a lot of funerals': "About five or six a week, because my mother was a religious maniac."

"We boys amid to be paid a threepenny bit for serving at the requiem mass and there was one morning when it was so cold that I was covered in tears and snot. Suddenly, this man came up to me sad gave me half a crown.

"Now it didn't take me long to work out that the reason he gave me the money was that he thought I was sorry that his mother had died. There-after, I turned on the tears and snot every time."

As a 14-year-old school-leaver he embarked on the life of devotional to be a monk: "It was the only thing that was casting up in those days," he said, employing theatrical jargon.

"A man came to our school, St. Matthew's and said he was looking for heroes. He talked about vineyards and how many were called but few were chosen — and there's another actor's line, because it makes sound like an audition."

"Anyway, I wasn't prepared become a waiter at the Adelphi so I thought I would become a hero instead. Poverty, obedience and chastity weren't too difficult in Liverpool in the days."

He entered a French order and for some six years was cloistered on the island of Jersey. "Then," he said, "the chastity started to weigh on me a bit."

As a demobbed monk, he was immediately required to perform National Service in the army and, like many of his generation (Tom Baker, 47 ... you'd better write that down," he said) developed a line in entertainment.

Religion, he said, went gently out of his life: "I could forgive God anything, but when I found he didn't exist, I thought it a shameful charade."

After 12 lean years, the scene shifts to 1970 where, as a struggling actor, Tom Baker was working in York. where a casting director from the Notional Theatre saw him playing a dog celled Clint.

"Seeing me being very good as a dog, they invited me to come down to London and see Laurence Olivier who engaged me to play a home. One of the great horses in literature, actually."

This part ("bit-part" wouldn't be fair) as Don Quixote's mare was followed by a film role as Rasputin, the mad monk (indeed, yes), in Sam Spiegel's Nicholas and Alexandra. From there to the years in charge of the Tardis, the Tom Baker career has scarcely looked back.

He does, however, have an anecdote from years when work was uncertain which concern a doleful bus queue and, he suggests, sums up his attitude to the acting business:

It was, he said, a weary, stooped line of passengers who were visited by a mongrel dog "like a little act of God". "He was obviously from God because if he had sent an angel down it would probably have been mugged."

"Anyway, this dog picked out the most pathetic creature in the queue, bounded up to him and butted him, showing that the man had been chosen. It was wonderful, because we all came to life in the queue and snickered."

"Meanwhile, the dog ran round and did it again. But amazingly, the man couldn't cope with stardom became terribly embarrassed so that after he had been butted about eleven times he shouted "Piss off!" and kicked the dog on the lip.

"The dog yelped and jumped off the pavement and into the road just as a great big lorry corn roaring down the bill and the dog disappeared under it.

Very upset

"We all gasped in horror and the as very upset. But then we looked at the road and the dog was still there. And what did it do? It ran up to the bloke and butted him again as if to say "It's all right. I don't mind. I'm still here."

"Christ," said Mr. Baker, having reached the point of his tale, "I'm sounding like a vicar. But this has been my text as an actor:

"It is exactly what happened: you scamper round, you get kicked on the lip (and I don't mind where you say you get kicked) but you just keep bouncing back."

"I shall now," he said downing an empty glass, "probably find myself out of work for the next year.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Utting, David (1981-12-16). Tom's still not shaken off his old Tardis. Liverpool Echo p. 8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Utting, David. "Tom's still not shaken off his old Tardis." Liverpool Echo [add city] 1981-12-16, 8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Utting, David. "Tom's still not shaken off his old Tardis." Liverpool Echo, edition, sec., 1981-12-16
  • Turabian: Utting, David. "Tom's still not shaken off his old Tardis." Liverpool Echo, 1981-12-16, section, 8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Tom's still not shaken off his old Tardis | url= | work=Liverpool Echo | pages=8 | date=1981-12-16 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Tom's still not shaken off his old Tardis | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 June 2024}}</ref>