Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Esteemed Representative of Television: Thoughts on the Fourth Doctor


The Fourth Doctor:
Tom Baker (Born 1934)

Tom Baker holds the record for the longest interpretation of The Doctor: seven years in all. Due to that he has become THE face of Doctor Who. It's his version: the wild, unkempt hair, the long coat and floppy hat, and a scarf that is illogically long, that pops into people's mind when they're asked about Doctor Who. It's this version that was parodied on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and which was the basis for at least three episodes of The Simpsons.
Baker certainly had the authority of Hartnell, the general goofiness of Troughton, and the action orientation of Pertwee. However, he brought a very special element to The Doctor: his own wild eccentricity. The Doctor wasn't a gruff old man, or a cosmic hobo, or a dashing man of action. The Doctor now was just a bit nutty.
Of course, this is part of his charm, as they say. Baker was successful in meshing all the work his predecessors had done and turn it into gold. His Doctor was highly intelligent, though a bit aloof from everyone, even at times those within his immediate circle. He was nobody's fool, but he rarely let them know it.

However, he was remarkably intimate with Companions Sarah Jane Smith, warrior princess Leela, and female Time Lord Romana. I'm not talking about romance (though with Romana II that wasn't beyond the realm of possibility). Rather, he was more open with them than the Doctor had been with anyone outside his granddaughter from his first incarnation. Baker also made him far more mercurial than The Doctor had been. He wasn't by any means a misanthrope, but he at times didn't invite beings he encountered into cozy relationships with him. Of course, Tom Baker also knew, like all the others, how important the character was to children. As a result, he somehow communicated to kids that they could travel with him, join him in his wanderlust.

 

I do wonder, though, if he stayed on too long. Is this blasphemy? I don't know. Tom Baker IS among the best Doctors, yet I wonder by having ONE actor in that role, does that hinder those that follow? Hard to say.  There were issues with the latter part of his tenure, particularly in that the humor might have been a little overboard.  Was it becoming too jokey, too silly?

Out of his stories, my favorite is Planet of Evil. The visuals show that with enough imagination even the most limited budgets can still produce incredible images. I also thought The Talons of Weng-Chiang and City of Death to be quite inventive and original (it doesn't hurt to have Douglas Adams co-write the latter).

As for my least favorite, there are surprisingly quite a few: The Brain of Morbius (sunk by silly costumes), The Invasion of Time (sunk by silly sets), and The Leisure Hive (sunk by silly special effects). In fact, when I showed The Leisure Hive to my friend, he couldn't stop laughing at just how unconvincing the effects were. I haven't had the courage to watch it since.

 

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