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Where Dr Who fears to tread

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1981-03-21 Daily Mail.jpg


DR WHO has faced, with complete equanimity, such fearsome enemies as the Daleks, the Voords and the Cybermen.

But in almost seven years as the BBC's time-hopping hero, nothing has chilled actor Tom Baker as much as the day in Los Angeles, 18 months ago, when he was guest of honour at a Dr Who Convention.

'The audience completely unnerved, me,' he said, his eyes bulging from his worried face.

'There were thousands of them, all adults. When I appeared, they rose up and began shouting. "Take us with you ! Take us with you !" They seemed to think I was some sort of Messiah. It was quite horrible.

'In America, they take it all so seriously. Dr Who "experts" present learned papers about the meaning behind the programme. Naturally, I'm delighted that we have taken off in the States. But I find the British attitude somewhat more reassuring.'


Tonight, after more than 150 appearances as the benevolent BBC Doctor, Baker finally spins off into galactic oblivion.

For the first time in the 17-year history of the programme, he will not hand over to his replacement, but will simply vanish.

In fact, we may not have seen the last of the gangling, 6ft. 3in. figure in the floppy hat and the long scarf. Peter Davison, who will be the fifth Doctor, does not start work on the next series until the summer, and BBC chiefs are thinking of filling the gap with selected repeats from the Baker years.

Even Baker is finding it hard to shake off the role. Despite his unease about the last Dr Who Convention, he has agreed to attend another, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in August.

'It promises to be bigger than ever,' he said. 'I keep telling the organisers that I know nothing about science fiction, but they don't listen.'

He is making the trip because he believes it is part of his obligation to the programme's millions of fans, who stretch from South America to Singapore.

For the same reason, he suffers taunts and sometimes insults from strangers who recognise him on trains and in pubs and restaurants.

'People are quite kind to me ; children are always wonderful. But I've had my share of rudeness. The trouble with becoming a "name" on TV is that you are licensed in the public's mind to play just one role.

'I have to behave like the Doctor. I'll put up with any pathetic, troublesome old drunk, simply because I could not bear the thought of him going home and telling his kids, "I saw Dr Who today, and he told me to sod off".

'As a viewer, I wouldn't like to see someone from a children's programme behaving badly. It would be like seeing Robin Day dancing on the table in a restaurant.'

He is amused that people expect him to dress in the Doctor's walking-jumble-sale style. At our meeting, he was wearing a neat, three-piece, blue pinstripe suit.

When I pointed out that the last time we met, he had been wearing a Doctor-like flowing cape, he sprang forward in his chair and said : 'Wrong ! I was wearing a classic Burberry overcoat. But people seem to have this image of what I should look like fixed in their minds.

'A taxi-driver said to me recently, "I saw you the other day in your long scarf" Absolute nonsense. I've never worn a long scarf, except on the programme. And that was just a happy accident.

'When I took over from Jon Pertwee, I didn't have a clue about how to play the role. The designer, Jim Aitchison, and I played around with some costumes and, somehow, it just came together.

The scarf was a complete mistake. Jim gave a bundle of wool to a seamstress and told her to knit a scarf. But he forgot to say how long it should be. So she just used up all the available wool — and it turned out to be left long.'

His years as the Doctor have been, he says. the happiest of his life, both professionally and privately (last year he married his co-star, Lalla Ward).


'It was always such a pleasure to come to work each day. But after a while, I started asking myself : Do you have anything else to offer this role ? And the answer was No.'

He is enthusiastic about Peter Davison—'a delightful--man, with a lovely light touch.' But he means no disrespect to his replacement when he says : 'It really doesn't matter who plays Dr Who. I realised some time ago that the format was bigger than the star.' He is now preparing to play Wilde in The Trials (if Oscar Wilde at Chichester. 'A marvellous character, a bit like the Doctor in a way. They were both fantastic, larger than life.

'Wilde was tempted to act all the time, even in court, when it led to his downfall.

'I can understand that. All actors have a great desire to act, wherever they are. I love to sit on a train, hiding behind my paper, till just before my stop, when I will lean over to some child and say "Excuse me, do you have the time ?" Then I'm gone. The look on his face gives me more pleasure than I could possibly explain.'

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  • APA 6th ed.: Catchpole, Charles (1981-03-21). Where Dr Who fears to tread. Daily Mail .
  • MLA 7th ed.: Catchpole, Charles. "Where Dr Who fears to tread." Daily Mail [add city] 1981-03-21. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Catchpole, Charles. "Where Dr Who fears to tread." Daily Mail, edition, sec., 1981-03-21
  • Turabian: Catchpole, Charles. "Where Dr Who fears to tread." Daily Mail, 1981-03-21, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Where Dr Who fears to tread | url= | work=Daily Mail | pages= | date=1981-03-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Where Dr Who fears to tread | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024}}</ref>