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THE BIG INTERVIEW: FTN interviews Tom Baker

April 26th, 2014 by Marc 2 Comments

Twelve men might have taken up the role over the last 50 years, but in the hearts of millions of fans, Tom Baker will always be the true Doctor Who.

Baker’s take on the Doctor, his trademark hat and scarf and his battle with the Daleks remain etched on the nation’s memory. And now 80 years old, the veteran actor is in national treasure territory where, as he (half) jokes in his inimitable manner, “I can say whatever I want now”.

Yet the turn of events that led to him landing the role were quite out of keeping with the manner of his on-screen performance and off-screen larger than life thespian persona.

“I was in the Golden Voyage of Sinbad and it was next door to the BBC at the Odeon, about 50 yards away. When my name came up they knew I was in a film next door they piled into a taxi – that’s what they do at the BBC – and came to watch. They liked me playing a wizard, which got me the interview. And it went from there.

“When they said I was chosen, I was delighted. I was working on a building site making tea, which was all I was good for, but the producer said ‘you can’t tell anyone for two weeks’. I had to keep my mouth shut. But I was happy to do it. That’s why I stayed so long. Why would I walk away from happiness? I celebrated coming out of obscurity. I came out of poverty and I always wanted to be adored. So when it happened I was ready for it!”

Adulation has followed Baker’s every step since he took the role. That was exactly 40 years ago, yet his stint as the Doctor is the defining reprisal. Baker left the show in 1981 after falling out with new producer John Nathan-Turner (“I disagreed with nearly everything he did”) but his seven years’ service still make him the longest serving of them all, a fact not lost on him.

“When they said I was chosen, I was delighted. I was working on a building site making tea, which was all I was good for, but the producer said ‘you can’t tell anyone for two weeks”

“It’s quite daunting, actually,” he begins, with trademark ponder. “I am now 29,200 days old. It’s a pretty daunting thing that. All that time has passed. But it almost makes me immortal, and people stopping me in the street and telling me that I was influential in their life really does keep me feeling young.”

Tom in The Brain Of Morbius with the lovely ElisabethSladen

In our interview, this is a theme that Baker returns to throughout – the goodwill poured on him from fans up and down the country is unceasing, and he speaks with great warmth about his status. “Seeing the fans’ enthusiasm donkey’s years after I left is really quite extraordinary. And also the intensity of their emotions. I mean, I still get lots of mail… I’m talking 10 letters a day, here. And they are all emotional people thanking me, telling me I remind them of being a child. People stop me and say the sweetest things. I am terribly touched by that. It really has made my life.”

That said, spend enough time with Baker and you will soon discover he feels little requirement for modesty! The actor is of mischievously jokey temperament when asked about his relationship with the other Doctors. “It’s only recently that it dawned on me that there were other doctors!” he laughs. “I don’t know them, and I have no desire to know them either, and of course, I never watched them. But that’s not out of ignorance – I never watched myself either. It was just something I wanted to do.”

If that makes it sound like last year’s 50th anniversary celebrations could have been awkward, then there is a hovering element of truth there. Baker admits he took some persuading to take part in the BBC special. “I did contemplate not doing it. Caroline Skinner came to meet me in Rye in some little hotel and she begged me to be in it, and she’s a very persuasive girl and was very charming about it. She said I could tamper with the script, so I said I’d do it. Anyway the script arrived a few months later and I didn’t much care for it so I rang the BBC and said, ‘Listen, get me Caroline Skinner’. But she’d left! And by that time I’d agreed to do it. But I’m not sorry now. It was good fun, and the right thing to do.”

“It’s only recently that it dawned on me that there were other doctors!I don’t know them… I never watched them. But that’s not out of ignorance – I never watched myself either. It was just something I wanted to do.”

Baker describes Matt Smith as “a terribly nice, charming young man” but, with his distinctive knowingness, says he couldn’t tell who his character was meant to be: the fourth doctor, or a completely new one.

“That is typical of the BBC, nobody knows, he could be anyone, he could be the next Director General for all we know. You have to suspend your disbelief with anything on the BBC nowadays.”

Given his light-hearted view of the other stars lucky enough to have played Doctor Who, it is with some caution that one asks Baker about Peter Capaldi, who will soon hit the screens as the 12th Doctor. As perhaps the most defined of them all, does Baker have any advice for the incoming custodian?

 “I had left Doctor Who because I think I’d run my course… I didn’t fancy being a feed for other Doctors – in fact, it filled me with horror.”

“No, I don’t have any advice for anybody, and certainly not somebody taking over as Doctor Who!” he smiles. “But he is a very accomplished actor. I’ve seen him do those mean things, swearing into his mobile [Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It] but I’m sure he’ll be fine. Nobody has ever failed, have they? So he’ll be fine. I greatly admire him, he’s lovely and apparently he’s a great fan of Doctor Who – he might ask for me!”

Such a comment raises the intriguing possibility of another comeback for Baker. He turned down a similar chance in the 1980s on Five Doctors as “I had left Doctor Who because I think I’d run my course and I didn’t want to play 20 per cent of the part. I didn’t fancy being a feed for other Doctors – in fact, it filled me with horror.”

Yet what if a similar offer was put forward in 2014 – would Baker be more receptive?

“If someone asked me to do a scene with some other Doctors, I think it would probably be quite droll. So I would think about that, yes.”

And even if Baker will never again don the scarf and long coat, his place in television folklore is already assured. And for all his thespian bravado, the actor could not be more grateful for the love and affection he receives as a result of being the nation’s favourite general practitioner.

“If someone asked me to do a scene with some other Doctors, I think it would probably be quite droll. So I would think about that, yes.”

“Nothing has approached Doctor Who. It informs my life almost entirely outside of my home. Everybody in the shops call me Doctor, and I respond to the title. Once I’m out in public, especially locally, it impinges on me. But in a benevolent way. And it is really marvellous. I am blessed.”

Doctor Who can be seen on The Horror Channel, and is available as part of Sky Entertainment, Virgin’s XL package and to all Freesat viewers.

 

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Marc is a self-confessed nerd. Ever since seeing Star Wars for the first time around 1979 he’s been an unapologetic fan of the Wars and still believes, with Clone Wars and now Underworld, we are yet to see the best Star Wars. He’s a dad of two who now doesn’t have the time (or money) to collect the amount of toys, comics, movies and books he once did, much to the relief of his long-suffering wife. In the real world he’s a graphic designer. He started Following the Nerd because he was tired of searching a million sites every day for all the best news that he loves and decided to create one place where you can go to get the whole lot. Secretly he longs to be sitting in the cockpit of his YT-1300 Corellian Transport ship with his co-pilot Chewie, roaming the universe, waiting for his next big adventure, but feels just at home watching cartoons with his kids….

2 Responses

  1. Sharon Stogner Anonymous says:

    What fun! Thanks for the interview 🙂

  2. Steve Reigate says:

    Tom Baker, you are the Doctor. Thank you for so many memories. As a Doctor Who obsessed child growing up in the 1970’s, I lived for Saturday tea time, and I think it is a bit sad that Dr Who has been taken away from the youngsters and now aimed at a much older audience. Interview brought a nostalgic tear. Thank you.

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