For every Doctor Who fan born too early to think that David Tennant was the only one, it’s always a question: who was your Doctor?
One friend who first hid behind the sofa to watch the Daleks in 1963 says (rather smugly) that the real Doctor is her Doctor: William Hartnell. Another friend has always maintained his Doctor is Jon Pertwee. But for me, along with many other kids born in time to watch Doctor Who on Saturdays between 1974 and 1981, the Doctor is Tom Baker: tall and slightly nutty with a gorgeous flashy grin and starey blue eyes. He was alien and never scary: he loved being the Doctor, and used to attend book signings for the Doctor Who novelisations, dressed in his large coat and improbably long stripy scarf, and sometimes sign the books “the Doctor” and sometimes “Tom Baker”. He wrote:
Playing Doctor Who came as a great surprise to me. I had no idea that I would enjoy it so much. All that was required of me was to be able to speak complete gobbledygook with conviction.
David Tennant says his Doctor is Peter Davison, which makes him younger than me (*googles* Yep, Tennant”s 4 years younger than me, dammit: there is something weird and wrong about time having gone so funny that the Doctor can be played by an actor younger than me.)
I want the next Doctor to be Penelope Keith. Not only would she be absolutely splendid, she’s also older than me.
It was no problem for me to say I came from another world and could go back and forth in time in my emphysemic old Tardis which was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. Problem? For me who believed in Guardian Angels and was convinced that pigs were possessed by devils after their New Testament encounter with God’s son? It was easy and I loved it.”
Tom Baker’s the oldest Doctor still alive: Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell have all gone. Tom was five years old when WWII started: he’s old enough to remember the Blitz:
But it was drama, high drama: fires at night, the fires that burned people’s houses away; bombs fell and left exotically shaped fragments in the form of shrapnel. And we collected it and traded it. As long as we were not hurt — and I wasn’t — life seemed wonderful.
Anyway, my Doctor was on Have I Got News For You tonight (they made only one US election joke, too, and that one was probably irresistible: McCain trying to find Joe the Plumber at a rally. Sarah Palin may have become too easy a target) and he was even better than Brian Blessed. (Also, he shouted less.) What does it do to an actor to receive this kind of love from people you’ve never met? One of the guests was a 36-year-old comedian (David Tennant’s age, ahem) who had dreamed of meeting Tom Baker/The Doctor when he was a kid. (He said this, when they were doing shots of Sarah Palin dolls. Oh yes, I forgot those. Yes, much too easy a target.)
But we can’t escape into the future like we can escape into the past. So those of us who are not certain of things, and there are an awful lot of us, often rush back to the past. And each one has a particular past he prefers to the present. Sometimes I feel that any past is preferable to the present.
Back in 1976, Tom Baker was rehearsing a scene in an episode called “The Face of Evil” – which, yes, I saw when it was first broadcast, and yes, I was about 10 … in which the Doctor was supposed to threaten one of the impressionable inhabitants of Sevateem with a large knife. Tom Baker protested, saying that this wasn’t the Doctor’s style, but the director insisted… and when the moment came, Tom whipped out a jelly baby, instead of a knife, and uttered the immortal line: “Now drop your weapons or I’ll kill him with this deadly jelly baby.”
We need more heroes like that.
And for your further refreshment, ten more Tom Baker quotes:
- “Who was it that designed brown envelopes? I feel sure that he hated people whoever he was. I wonder where he’s buried?”
- “It was in the church that I got to love shadows and dark corners, musty cupboards and creaking floorboards. I was a perfect recruit for the Addams family. Cobwebs made me whimper with joy.”
- “Being poor is a little like having an earache over a Bank Holiday. All you can think about is the pain and how long it will be before a healing hand can be found to take away the anguish.”
- “Poverty can curdle the libido and corrode civilized thoughts. One’s sense of humour vanishes, to be replaced by a curry-spoiling sarcasm as one’s Mr Hyde emerges from the swamp of the subconscious.”
- “All my life I have felt myself to be on the edge of things. All my life I have suffered from bad dreams. All my life I have had difficulty in knowing whether I am awake or in a nightmare.”
- “Most of my ideas were rejected and I got used to it. One can get fond of almost anything, even rejection.”
- “He told me he was having the time of his life and then fell to the floor unconscious. I didn’t take this too personally, although he was not the first person to collapse while talking to me; to tell the truth it has happened quite often.”
- “Not everybody knows that looking at people in ‘a funny way’ is the commonest cause of sudden murder. I happen to know that because I read a Home Office brochure once.”
- “We are all quite capable of believing in anything as long as it’s improbable.”
Also, I very much want someone to offer Tom Baker the part of Lady Bracknell: “Jim Acheson, our designer, told me I looked like his Auntie Wyn and I have never forgotten it. I wondered if it was the way I walked or wore my hat, but Jim just said that I had some indefinable air of an aunt. It was then I began to hope that one day I might play Lady Bracknell.”