Dr. Who: The Tom Baker Years

Back in the day, let’s just say after the coming of the hippies and before disco, I used to go to Science Fiction conventions with my friends. We would spend the weekends checking out the local writers and artists, bidding on fan art and listening at panels where all our favorite authors were. There was always a room in the back of the con for movies, usually running all night. If you didn’t have the money for a hotel room, you could even sleep in the back of the room. That was where I saw my first Dr. Who show.

Since it could take pages to explain the show, if you have never see it and need the full explanation feel free to read through the Dr. Who Wiki which is really a good resource. As the longest running science fiction show ever, it has a long and complicated history.

The show never had high production values and the stories could be kinda silly at times, but the sense of wonder and fun in them made them stand out from all the other shows. Basically the main character is an alien called a Time Lord who travels in a space ship that looks from the outside like a 1963 blue British police box. Because every so many years the main actor would move on, it was decided that the doctor could regenerate into a new body if something happened to his old one, thus explaining the new actor. Thus, many fans who love the show will discuss who their “favorite doctor” is. For me it will always be Tom Baker, because he was The Doctor when I first saw it.

For fun I decided to watch some of the old episodes that had Baker in them, and remembered just why I loved this show and Baker in particular so much. Baker brought such a sense of fun and almost deviltry to the character that you found yourself really paying attention to what he was up to. Seeing him race down old corridors scarf flying and hand holding that floppy old hat onto that mop of curls was like seeing an old friend. He may be a Time Lord, with cool little gadgets he seems to always pull out of his pocket at just the right time, but he is also a being who loves to have fun. In the middle of a pickle, that sly smile would show up and you would feel like he was letting you in on a joke he was playing on the bad guys. It never failed to charm me. It still does.

The early episodes with Baker had the irrepressible Elisabeth Sladden as his companion Sarah and they still had the bumbling Harry along for the ride. Poor Harry was forever pushing the wrong button or pulling the wrong lever! In Season 12, the first Baker episode I have access to, the Tardis finds itself on a ship holding the last survivors of the human race. They have been in a deep sleep for longer than they were supposed to be, and of course the Tardis is off course in both space and time and accidentally lands in the sleeper ship in time to rescue them. Baker is once again tripping through weird landscapes, scarf trailing behind and the ever-practical Sarah reminding him of his responsibilities. I love that you can actually watch these instantly these days from Amazon by getting the instant video version or order the CD to The Ark in Space to own it and re-watch any time you want. This really is the kind of series you tend to see again and again, often with friends.

Of course, one of the prime stories in the tales of Dr. Who is The Genesis of the Daleks, those evil giant salt shakers (okay maybe they just look like that to me!) that were the good doctor’s Prime Nemesis. The CD has some cool added bonuses for true fans like “The Dalek Tapes” which is a documentary on the creatures along with a special “Making of a Classic” which shows the development of this cornerstone storyline for the show. How can you miss when you take one of the classic villains in science fiction and decide to create a show that explains just who and what they are?

Sarah wasn’t the only companion you saw for the doctor when Baker was playing the main character. He had many other memorable companions for his adventures, including Lalla Ward’s portrayal of Romana and the rather controversial teenager Adric played by Matthew Waterhouse. These were at the end of Baker’s run and one of the better stories that actually gave us the transition from when Romana was at his side to the introduction of Adric was the trio of stories Full Circle, State of Decay and Warrior’s Gate that comprise what is usually known as the E-Space Trilogy. It all takes place in an alternate world, and the writers had a fine time playing with the fans knowledge of the legend of Dr. Who at this point. It is definitely one of my favorite ones, and a set of stories where Baker shines. And who can forget K-9, that amazing robot dog that steals your heart and many of the scenes!

There are, of course, dozens more I could talk about. Tom Baker is probably more well known in the US because his episodes were the ones first brought over by PBS from the BBC. But all the many versions of the good doctor are wonderful. Hmmm- I just may have to pull out my Pertwee and Davidson episodes to see if they are as good as I remember. Of the new batch, David Tennant has become my favorite and he is well worth watching again. Like Baker, he brings that sense of someone having fun with this character. You begin to feel that a Time Lord is just a big kid, playing in a sandbox called Earth.

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