1.02. The Renaissance Man
Behind the Scenes
This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Horror of Fang Rock.
BREAKING THE FOURTH'S WALL PART TWO
Tom Baker continues to chat about the new lease of life both he and the Fourth Doctor have been given, with Paul Spragg
When we left Tom Baker last issue, he was explaining what had brought him round to the idea of working with Big Finish. One of the biggest draws was the opportunity to reunite with Louise Jameson, who is helping him recreate the teatimes of 1977 by returning once more to the role of Leela in the first series of Fourth Doctor Adventures. Has the reunion been all Tom had hoped for?
“It’s effortless. We just slip back in the groove. You never forget something that’s been such a big, important part of your life, so with Louise and I, we just make little tiny adjustments here and there and usually [it’s] one read-through for levels and we get it on the second take. It does get more elaborate. Sometimes there are big, convoluted speeches, because the wonderful thing about the cod science of science fantasy is that it’s quite a lot of work because it’s utter nonsense! If you’re reversing the polarity and going into a plasma paralysis beam, you’ve got to phrase it carefully in bed before you get there.”
Those readers arriving late to this discussion and getting confused should probably be told at this point that last issue Tom revealed he pores over scripts in bed prior to recordings. “My wife often says to me in bed, ‘What are you talking about?’” smiles Tom. “I say to her, ‘I’m just reversing the polarities,’ and she says, ‘What, at your age? That’s not a good idea.’ So it’s absolutely great being with Lou and [first Romana] Mary Tamm, all those girls who were wonderful.
And there was, of course, the savage blow of the death of Elisabeth [Sladen]. In fact, I’m expecting a book any minute. She’d written a book and they want me to review it, which I’ll do with great pleasure. It was a terrible blow, because she was, in a way, the most successful of all the girls because she’d come back, hadn’t she? They’d called her back on The Sarah Jane Adventures. But she was always so reserved, you know, and terribly discreet, and she had been ill eight, nine years ago and beaten cancer but never mentioned that to me. Of course, she was the first girl I worked with, and we both came from Liverpool and she never forgot me. I was very touched when Brian, her husband, wrote to me recently in answer to my letter and said, ‘And Lis had saved all your cards’ which must have been a big box full because I wrote her a lot. I was very touched that she saved all my silly cards.”
Elisabeth died aged sixty last year and it’s clear it made Tom consider his own mortality. As one of the most life-loving men on the planet, though, he can’t help but take such gloomy thoughts in good heart and high spirits. “I’d give anything to be only seventy again! Come to think of it, I’d give anything to be seventy-five again! I would! How amazing that is. Seventy-five again. When I was a child, I used to say to my mother, ‘Why do old people pull faces, mam?’ and she said ‘Mind your own business’ or something. Now I realise of course, the reason why they’re pulling faces is they’re all in pain; it’s terrible!”
He grins. “Now, of course, old ladies make passes at me in Waitrose. Not Tesco – Waitrose. I’m a bit of a sex symbol in Waitrose. They bang into my trolley and sometimes say wonderful sentences like, ‘It’s so wonderful to see you. You know, I’ve been a widow for many years and live quite close by’. And I think to myself, ‘That sounds like a come-on to me! Do you take sugar?’”
Next year will be the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who, and Big Finish will be kicking off the year with a second series of new adventures for Tom. But could there be more in the pipeline? “I’m up for it; the only thing is they’d better get on with it!” he laughs. “I’m wondering actually if they could put a room here for me, or maybe a B&B over the road…
“I’d love to be involved in that. They’d have to do something absolutely splendid; I mean, the obvious thing would be to try and get all the living Doctors together, even if it was only briefly. That would be terribly expensive, I suppose. I did suggest a project where all the Doctors were in one piece, you know, playing different parts. Unless they invented a kind of convention on Gallifrey where there’s an old people’s home, with all these old Doctors bitching about each other, and references to various adventures, saying, ‘He was always a liar, you know. I mean, the stories he used to tell us about the talons of Weng-Chiang, oh, terrible old phony…’ and then cross-cutting with the various nurses going in and saying, ‘Hello Doctor.’”
There’s always a home for Tom at Big Finish, but the question everybody keeps asking is whether he’d return to the TV series. “Oh, I don’t think so, no. I don’t think so. Unless it was very witty. I wouldn’t go back as a kind of figure of fun. Because I’ve physically changed so much and I’m now an ugly, shattered old man, I thought they should have invited me back as the Master. The idea being, which is logical, that Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty are really the same person; the villain and the hero, they don’t exist one without the other. It would have been amazing, I would have thought, and amusing for the fans for the young Doctor looking at me now, thinking, ‘I find it kind of disturbing really, because he knows something about me that I don’t really know. Sarah Jane had better look out for this one; he looks dangerous.’ It could be all that kind of sadistic glee, because villains have got to be full of glee as well. You’ve got to love villains because they provide all the entertainment.
“Maybe they’ll ask me to do something; a little cameo for the fiftieth. I mean, it’d be incredible, wouldn’t it, if I was playing a guard on a train, and I’d say ‘Tickets please’ and it’s Paul McGann, you know? And I’d say ‘Thank you, sir. Nice day. Everything all right sir? You busy these days?’ and onto the next one and it’s Peter [Davison], and so on and so on. Then when I get off at the end and I’m taking my little machine out, there’s the driver and it’s Colin [Baker]. In fact, you could repeat that sketch ad infinitum in all sorts of things – a people carrier arriving, getting off an aeroplane. And of course we could do wonderful group pictures, couldn’t we?”
But there’s one thing above all that Tom feels Doctor Who needs. “The fans like it upbeat; they don’t like it too dark because it’s about fun. It’s got to be heroic and fun and uplifting and you’re on the side of the Doctor, and the pleasure of the villain being vanquished and the girl being lovely.” And with that happy image, we leave the Fourth Doctor to return to his vanquishing. Long may he continue.
Gareth Armstrong, Anthony Howell, Louise, Tom and Ian McNeice
Ian McNeice plays Harcourt
Gareth Armstrong plays Jephson
Anthony Howell plays Christopher