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Tom foolery

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1999-11-13 Radio Times cover.jpg
Doctor Who Night
November 13, 1999


As the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker made the most popular house calls of them all. Andrew Collins takes his current temperature

You wouldn't think that five minutes would matter much to a Time Lord, but on greeting Tom Baker in the lobby of a London hotel, his first utterance is a headmasterly, "You're late." No jelly babies are proffered. Suitably shamed, I ponder the irony of this ticking-off--isn't this the scatty, wild-haired incarnation of Doctor Who whose Tardis would often arrive late by a matter of centuries, and invariably in the wrong galaxy?

The answer, of course, is no. This is Tom Baker, 65-year-old thespian, not Doctor Who, 750-year-old Time Lord. It's easy to confuse the two: during his seven-year, 178-episode reign as the Doctor (1974-81), Baker became synonymous with the character. The longest-serving Who and easily the most popular (the series peaked at 19 million viewers in 1979), Baker's snake-like scarf, floppy hat, long coat, boggly eyes and bag of sweets are fixed in people's minds as the definitive features of this amorphous English icon.

In the flesh, Tom Baker looks reassuringly Doctor-like ("all teeth and curls," as Jon Pertwee put it in the 20th-anniversary episode The Five Doctors). An imposing 6ft 2in, wrapped in a scarf and overcoat, his resonant baritone and garrulous manner would have anyone of a certain age convinced that they were taking tea with a time-traveller - until, that is, he starts laying into BBC newsreader Huw Edwards, apropos of nothing.

"I don't know why he's on the BBC," he rails, mischievously. "He negates the news. What's the point of a fellow having a haircut which gets in the way of the news? Anyway, enough about Huw Edwards!"

Enough indeed. Far from reluctant to mull over a 20-year-old TV programme, Baker relishes it. "It's always pleasant to recall a long-ago success," he booms. "Though it's never really gone away. It gives me a certain amount of pleasure to recall the only great success I've ever had."

A harsh assessment, but Baker is nothing if not realistic. Being chosen to replace Pertwee as the Doctor in 1974 was the best thing that ever happened to him. After some theatre and the odd film (the BBC had spotted him in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), he was working on a building site when the call came. "I was getting a lot of laughs on the site," he grins, "but it wasn't leading anywhere - except to another building site. When I got the Doctor Who job I was very glad, but I didn't know what it meant at the time.

"I started on a modest amount of money - though it seemed like a lot to me - but it wasn't just the money I wanted, it was the glory. Doctor Who was on in 93 countries - in America alone, it was on more than 240 stations. The programme's still loved today, and I'm still loved ...The other day I was asked to resume my career as Doctor Who for audio books. don't think I'll do it. Best leave it as it is. Moving pictures confer a kind of immortality, and that's one of the wonderful things about being an actor: you live for ever. We are now in a time where the living are entertained largely by the dead.

"For seven years Doctor Who was my whole life, but it wasn't hard. It's not hard being a children's hero, it's a great pleasure!" Does he have any idea why Doctor Who was - and remains - so popular? "I haven't got any idea and it would be reckless to pry into that," he says. "It's much better to leave all that to other people. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't read the scripts very carefully because I didn't think it was my business to read other people's parts, but the important thing when you're an entertainer-or a newsreader - is that people listen to you, and switch on to watch you. People watched in their millions. If that's what they like, don't pry, just do it!"

Baker is invited to attend countless Doctor Who conventions around the world, but accedes only rarely ("I'm nervous of disappointing the fans - I'm just so ordinary really"), and in 1983 he was conspicuous by his absence in The Five Doctors, shown as part of Children in Need (they used footage from an unbroadcast old episode). However he welcomes the continued interest. "The fans want to know everything about Doctor Who," he explains. "They want to know the names of my cats, and what's my favourite flower--they're shocked when I say it's deadly nightshade!"

For an actor who suffered such a marked lean period in the years immediately after Doctor Who, Baker is all grace and no bitterness. "Anyone can cope with being in demand and loved, and with people pursuing you, giving you presents and kissing you," he explains. "It's indifference that's very hard to cope with." Though the typecasting cloud has still not entirely lifted ("The producers and casting directors today saw me as Doctor Who as kids"), on the day of our interview Baker is playing God in the Radio 4 play Take Two (I like the speed of radio, you can do Lear in a week") and is currently Crummles in the new version of Nicholas Nicklelby (Mondays-Fridays Radio 4). He also has a part in the imminent Reeves and Mortimer remake of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).

A far cry from his days battling Davros and the Wirm, Tom Baker's life is now closer to his pre-Doctor "luvvie years", working under Laurence Olivier at the National. "I knew him quite well socially," Baker recounts, before striding off(half an hour late) to his next meeting. "I'd go to his parties with all ofthat crowd, and very jolly it was, too - but nothing was as jolly as Doctor Who and nothing ever will be."

A series of repeats of Doctor Who episodes begins on Tuesday BBC2

What's the future for the Doctor?

Every titbit of information about potential Doctor Who projects sends his worldwide fanbase into a feeding frenzy. So far this year, Denzel Washington, Patrick Stewart, Laurence Fishburne, Gary Oldman, Stephen Fry and Linus Roache have all been touted as the next Doctor Who.

The rumour that Russell T Davies, Doctor Who fan and creator of the controversial Channel 4 series Queer as Folk, had been involved in developing a new Doctor Who TV series set off a whole new round of speculation. Equally, talk of a Hollywood film just won't go away. So what is the official BBC view? "We are talking to HAL Films in an attempt to get a Doctor Who feature film made," a spokesman said. Whether the talks coalesce into a project is, it seems, in the lap of the Time Lords,

Doctor Who — the Five Doctors has just been released by the BBC as a DVD for £19.99. Originally broadcast in 1983 (see above), the new edition includes alternate scenes, extra footage, updated effects, a Dolby Digital remixed soundtrack and a booklet.

Treat yourself to these stunning Tardis and Dalek 2000 Desktop Standee Calendars. Each foot-high calendar is a unique collectors' item and is made from sturdy cardboard with gloss finish. The calendar features month-by-month pages that will see you through the year 2000. Each calendar costs£6, incl P&P, or buy both for just £11, inc; P&P. To order. please send a cheque/PO, payable to RT Shop, to: RT Dr Who Offer, JEM House. Littlemead, Cranleigh, GU68TT, or phone the credit-card hotline on 01483204488. Please specify clearly your choice of calendars. To buy Doctor Who videos, please turn to page 74.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Collins, Andrew (1999-11-13). Tom foolery. Radio Times p. 31.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Collins, Andrew. "Tom foolery." Radio Times [add city] 1999-11-13, 31. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Collins, Andrew. "Tom foolery." Radio Times, edition, sec., 1999-11-13
  • Turabian: Collins, Andrew. "Tom foolery." Radio Times, 1999-11-13, section, 31 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Tom foolery | url= | work=Radio Times | pages=31 | date=1999-11-13 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Tom foolery | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024}}</ref>