Fifty Years of Doctor Who: Part 5, The Fourth Doctor – Tom Baker
The fourth incarnation of the Doctor was the legendary Tom Baker, all teeth and curls and an impractically long scarf. He would become the most popular and recognizable Doctor for decades.
Out of the voids of time, where he laid dying in his TARDIS, the Doctor returned to earth freshly regenerated, and driven half mad from years in that void. He was no longer foppish, and no longer bound or attached to the Earth. Although he is the longest serving doctor, and, until Tennant arrived, possibly the most popular, I have the least to say about him. That is not because I don’t like him, but Tom Baker’s doctor, is, out of all of them, I think the least interesting. That puts me into a minority, and forces me to examine my own thoughts here. Why is this Doctor so massively popular, and why are my feelings lukewarm?
The popularity, I believe, is due not to Tom Baker, but to the universe surrounding him. At the height of its popularity, the script supervisor was none other than Douglas Adams, yes, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy author. This is actually where that book got its start. I like to think we wouldn’t have such a literary masterpiece in this universe, if we did not first have a Doctor. Regardless, I am not here to talk about Douglas Adams, and how he shaped Doctor Who into the show we all love today, (Although that is a topic I would like to discuss at some point.) I am here to talk about the Fourth Doctor and Tom Baker.
The popularity of Tom Baker’s Doctor, is due to several factors of his performance and personality. First, the character is more accessible to the audience than any previous Doctors are. While he still carried the authority of his predecessors, he handled it with an air of contempt. He was rebellious, antiauthoritarian; he fought the establishment, and asserted his own independence, right down to his wardrobe. That is the initial appeal of his character. The generation of viewers could instantly identify with him, and staying with the character for seven years, he became familiar. He WAS the doctor.
This was also the age of Sara-Jane Smith, and the robot dog K9. Sara-Jane is the longest serving companion. She is also the companion that did not leave voluntarily, or through a tragic end, she left the company of the doctor when he was called back to Gallifrey, where humans were not allowed. For the farewell scene Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen wrote their own dialogue due to the close relationship their characters had. The result was actually a heartbreaking farewell. At least it was for me.
Tom Baker was my first doctor, and I had a hard time when he suddenly left. Granted the programs I was watching at the time were nearly a decade old, I had no way of knowing that. All I knew is suddenly the Doctor was different and I did not care for that one bit. Also granted my grasp of the show was limited, I thought it was silly and a fun thing to watch on Sunday mornings (which is when the local PBS television station aired the show). Tom Baker was a very unique personality. He constructed an entertaining and enjoyable character. He unfortunately didn’t bring many new elements to the character, or offer any interesting depth. Unless you count the aloof and independent nature, he still possesses, although to a much lesser extent. There was a significant air of resentment to the Time Lords, and UNIT. In the end, he came when needed, saved the universe, and made everyone cry when he said goodbye to Sara-Jane.
I hate to sound like I have anything but extraordinarily fond memories for Tom Baker’s Doctor, but the fondness of my memories can’t change how I see things today. My memories of Sunday mornings 25 years ago are not tainted by my reflection on the character. I like to think he helped shape my childhood. I frequently ran off to explore my universe, shunned authority, and resented being called home to help. I can’t help but think my impressionable mind was influenced; I do after all have a fondness for jelly babies and scarves.
Watch the Doctor say goodbye to Sarah Jane Smith: