Played by: Tom Baker
Significant contributions to the Whoniverse: To date, Tom Baker is the longest-serving Doctor, at the very least on-screen (Paul McGann is the longest-serving in terms of years, but in all that time only made a single television movie in the role). For many Australians growing up in the 80’s he is also THE Doctor Who, as it was his tenure that the ABC always seemed to play. Indeed, back then, I had no idea that he was 4th in a long line of Doctors!! As far as story is concerned, 7 years inhabiting the Doctor’s skin also permitted for the first time some season long story arcs to be included in the show, something Davies and Moffat have continued with the 2005 era series.
With such a long run, a lot of Doctor Who lore was established with Tom Baker. The history of Gallifrey was explored, as we learnt that Rassilon was responsible for establishing Time Lord society and culture. The idea that each Time Lord only has 12 regenerations was also established in this time, with The Master doing what he can to circumvent his fate. Indeed, he resorts to body snatching. More Time Lord interaction is also permitted by the fact that for the first time, the Doctor’s companion for many seasons is a Time Lady whom is not related to him (the first Time Lady being his grand-daughter, Susan). Indeed, we see Romana experience her first regeneration, from Mary Tam to Lalla Ward (see companions section below).
The Doctor’s morality is also more firmly established. In addition to the dislike of guns held by his predecessors, the Fourth Doctor had a very strong moral core. When presented the opportunity to destroy all Dalek’s he refused, finding genocide, even of the Daleks, to be heinous. In this same serial, Genesis of the Daleks, we are also for the first time ever introduced to Davros, creator of the Daleks, and a thorn in the Doctor’s side for many years to come.
Reflections by Film Nerd
I have often heard it been said one always remembers their first Doctor. For me, Tom Baker was the man, and remains my favorite to this day (though now tied in equal favorite spot with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor). In terms of how he made the role his own, he definitely developed his own level of eccentricity for the character, whilst also having very strong opinions and values. It is a combination which I have other call a more bohemian portrayal, and though for me not strictly accurate, it is a description what highlights what is excessively different between the Fourth Doctor and his predecessors.
The season long story arcs could be sometimes hard to follow as a kid (as it was not always possible to be home in time to catch every instalment), but now that we can watch them on the glory of DVD, these concerns are no longer an issue. Hence, I could fully appreciate the Doctor’s hunt for the Key to Time, or his adventures in E-Space and beyond. There was one element that was specific to this Doctor though, and that for me as a kid I enjoyed immensely… the inclusion of K-9!! I always wanted a dog, and I always loved up to date technology, so how could I not adore a combination of the two??
Now I am grown up, however, it is the exploration of everything Gallifrey which I really enjoy about the Tom Baker years. It is an opportunity to explore the Doctor’s past… to understand better what makes him tick. He himself is an outsider from his people, who bears an irrational love of humanity. These are some of the greatest aspects of the Doctor, clarified and made explicit in these examinations of his character. These elements make him appeal to the outsider, those on the outskirts of their community that are not necessarily accepted by their peers. It also speaks to the viewers hope that the better sides of humanity may be what wins in the future, and not our current self-destructive ways.The Doctor makes it very clear he sees our potential.
This was a period in which the Doctor was also making some very big statements, some of which may not have been too popular at the time for older audiences. With Cold War sensibilities being more prominent in this period, some may have suffered from the perception that life could be better if we eradicated what was perceived as evil… sometimes this may have included whole other countries. So for the Doctor to refuse genocide of the Daleks, a force bred on pure hate and greed, it is a very significant moral statement. It is one often examined in science fiction, but for it to be used in relation to the Daleks, whom rarely show any redeeming qualities, is very significant indeed. For this the Fourth Doctor should be best remembered, in addition to his many other wonderful and wacky adventures.
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen)
Continuing on from her time shared with the Third Doctor, Sarah Jane remained a faithful and popular companion of the Fourth Doctor. There is really no wonder why her character’s popularity remained strong into the modern era of Doctor Who, even earning her own spin-off series. She was strong, courageous and loyal, and her departure from the TARDIS was the right decision for her at the time, however there was that certain element of regret that seemed to shine through at the same time. The image of her final appearance is embedded in many a memory, now with even greater poignancy after Elisabeth Sladen’s recent passing, which was a true shock for fans. Indeed, the shock was just as evident for Tom Baker, whose testimonial for me was the most heart-wrenching of all.
Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter)
Harry met the Doctor through his role as a medic with UNIT. This was a natural story progression given how closely the Third Doctor had worked with UNIT, and fittingly his departure after a season also marked the end of the Doctor’s close contact with this group. Ian Marter was cast, I believe, as a result of the fact that the new Doctor could have been an older gentleman, so they would need a young man of action to partner with him. Unfortunately with Baker’s casting, the need for this role was obsolete. To me, it felt like he was a bit of a wet blanket hanging on for a season, though to be fair he did have some great character moments. At the end of his story arc, when given the choice to continue with Sarah and the Doctor, he opted to return to his duties with UNIT.
Leela (Louise Jameson)
After a single companionless serial, following the departure of Sarah Jane, the Doctor met this young lady from a primal society (which, as we discover later, devolved from a more civilised society stranded on a planet after a plane crash). She was wild, with a true hunter’s instinct, yet under the Doctor’s guidance she honed her abilities to be of great service. She did not always follow what was going on, and as such was the foil to ask the audiences’ questions. She actually evolved such that she shared a love with a Gallifrean, and remained on Gallifrey with this man, Andred, along with the original K-9 (see below). Though originally I found it hard to warm to Leela (Sarah Jane Smith is a very tough act to follow!!), with time I really appreciated the character, especially as her personality adapted to life on the TARDIS and adventures with the Doctor. Though this can be said for all companions, given her character background, this was a very significant change which remains true to the characters roots, and a change less likely to be as drastic from a contemporary terran.
K-9 Mark 1 and 2 (John Leeson, David Brierly)
K-9 was a character that was very popular with me personally as a child, as referred to earlier. With a love of both dogs and technology, I was meant to be fond of this companion. The original K-9 was the invention of a scientist the Doctor meets in his travels whom subsequently gifts his invention to the Time Lord. After many adventures, this K-9 remains on Gallifrey with Leela. It is never really explained why he appears again in the subsequent serial, but it is to be assumed that the Doctor built the Mark 2. To avoid confusion, Leeson did voice both, but left the show for a season, leaving the character to be voiced by Brierly. The difference was written off as K-9 having a bout of laryngitis. This K-9 also was eventually written out of the series in the same season that Tom Baker left. The K-9 legacy does not end there though, with the Doctor donating Mark 3 to Sarah Jane (in the pilot for K-9 and company, a show that was not picked up by the network, and for good reason!!). Mark 3 is destroyed in a 2005 series Doctor Who episode in which the Tenth Doctor reunited with Sarah Jane, and subsequently the Doctor replaces him with the Mark 4, last seen in the Sarah Jane Adventures.
Romana 1 (Mary Tamm)
The Fourth Regeneration [SPOILERS]
No two regenerations are indeed alike. The first saw an exhausted old man collapse and essentially become “renewed”, the second was forced by the Time Lords, and the third saw him collapse in pain from his last adventure and change while the concept of regeneration is explained. In the FOurth regeneration, the last serial with Tom Baker sees a mysterious white figure watching the entire proceedings. After a battle with the master which sees the Doctor have a fatal fall, this mysterious white friend is revealed as the spirit of the next Doctor, who merges with the current Doctor’s limp form, leading to Peter Davison’s face smiling up at Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. It is very surreal, but hey, this is the Doctor so anything goes!!
I opened this report on the Fourth Doctor admitting that Tom Baker is MY Doctor, being the one which originally opened my eyes to the franchise. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the Doctor and watched other shows, but on rediscovering the franchise and loving Tennant in particular I started this mission to go back through all the classic episodes. Though loving the journey, this was the point I had most looked forward to… returning to the Doctor I remember best from my childhood. He did not disappoint. If he ever offered it to me, yes I would take that Jelly Baby!!