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Who on Earth is Tom Baker?

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Doctor's Diagnosis: Witty Yet Dark

Who on Earth is Tom Baker?

By Tom Baker.

HarperCollins, 262pp, $39.95.

SOMEONE once suggested to me that the success of the television series Doctor Who was due to the Doctor's role as a protector -a wise spiritual master. Like a resurrection, he would "regenerate" (into a new actor) every few years -and while some Christians, in these secular times, doubt that even Jesus Christ will save them, all Doctor Who fans know that the Doctor will always save the universe from the Daleks, the Cybermen or the latest evil force.

Though the series was imaginative and usually wellwritten, spirituality was always the most convincing theory about the Doctor's large international cult following.

And a cult following it certainly has. Apart from everything else, Doctor Who has been the subject of hundreds of books -more than any other TV show, with the possible exception of another space-age cult, Star Trek. Through the years the Doctor Who book list has included a crossword book, a cookbook containing recipes by various "stars", a book of costume patterns, a history of the universe according to the Doctor Who stories, even a travel guide to the various British locations where Doctor Who episodes were filmed.

Who on Earth is Tom Baker? the autobiography of the actor who played the most famous Doctor -is not another Doctor Who book. In fact it is 188 pages before he discusses his stint on the series -by which time he has already covered subjects ranging from his childhood during World War II to drinking sessions in Soho with the likes of Jeffrey Bernard and Francis Bacon.

However, despite his time with the National Theatre, and a list of film and TV credits, he knows that Doctor Who is the role for which he will be remembered. This is accepted by the book's title and the cover photo, which shows Baker in character, dressed in the floppy hat and the long, multicoloured scarf.

Suitably for someone who would later play guru to millions -or tens of thousands, at least -Baker first chose a spiritual vocation, living in a monastery until he could take no more.

After that, his spiritual ideals seem to have gone astray.

Indeed, amid the pages of good cheer and the amusing anecdotes that usually find a way into actors' autobiographies, he admits to a dark side.

No surprise there. After all, take one look at his face -that piercing gaze -and you realise why, before Doctor Who, he specialised in playing maniacs.

(His Rasputin in the 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandra was truly frightening.) "I'm afraid I have no gift for friendship," he writes. "I quickly get tired of people and off they go. Only the other day I tried to think of a single friend I had made in my life and drew a blank.

Odd, isn't it, not to have a friend." Unsurprisingly, his first two marriages did not work out though his current wife, TV editor Sue Jerrard, has lasted 10 years so far. "We are still together with no complaints and really very happy," he writes, then insists: "We are."

Friendless or not, he had crowds of admirers after playing the Doctor. He was even (willingly) seduced by one of his fans, sneaking off to her hotel room after a Doctor Who convention.

Baker was easily the most durable Doctor, spending seven years in the part.

While the previous Doctor, played by the late Jon Pertwee, often recited anecdotes (and Pertwee's own memoir was generous with them), Baker's Doctor was renowned for his witticisms. ("Eureka is Greek for 'This bath is too hot'.") Baker's autobiography is, accordingly, littered with playful -if slightly darker -asides, from the moment he announces, "My first ambition was to be an orphan", to the time he describes his gravestone, waiting at the churchyard until it can finally be used ("I can't of course be sure of the second date"). Whatever the point of his life -and, he seems to think, there isn't one -it all flows together so well.

Most of his memories and observations don't say much, but they do make an entertaining read -amusing and occasionally touching, but never indulgent or sentimental. Here is yet another actor who can also write: further evidence that the two professions have more in common that just creative talent and neurosis.

This book is compared, on the dust jacket, to Peter Ustinov's Dear Me, David Niven's two-part autobiography and Spike Milligan's wartime memoirs. While Baker might not have the same status as these men, he is certainly a good actor who has won a colourful place in British and Australian culture, albeit mainly through a single role. Whoever he is, his story makes a fine black comedy.

Mark Juddery is a freelance writer with a special interest in television and pop culture. He has previously edited Vertical Hold, a magazine about cult TV.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Juddery, Mark (1997-12-19). Who on Earth is Tom Baker?. The Australian p. Features, p. 13.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Juddery, Mark. "Who on Earth is Tom Baker?." The Australian [add city] 1997-12-19, Features, p. 13. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Juddery, Mark. "Who on Earth is Tom Baker?." The Australian, edition, sec., 1997-12-19
  • Turabian: Juddery, Mark. "Who on Earth is Tom Baker?." The Australian, 1997-12-19, section, Features, p. 13 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who on Earth is Tom Baker? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who_on_Earth_is_Tom_Baker%3F | work=The Australian | pages=Features, p. 13 | date=1997-12-19 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 October 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who on Earth is Tom Baker? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who_on_Earth_is_Tom_Baker%3F | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 October 2019}}</ref>