Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Fourth Doctor
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.
It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.
So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…
THE FOURTH DOCTOR: TOM BAKER 1974-1981
For many years, Tom Baker was the public face of Doctor Who. Long after he hung up his oversized scarf, the eccentric actor overshadowed his successors in the eyes of the average viewer, and became so synonymous with the role, he’s even a recurring sight gag in The Simpsons.
All of this is unsurprising, considering he was the incumbent Doctor for the longest sustained run of them all, lasting seven years, forty-one stories and a whopping one hundred and seventy-two episodes. There’s no denying that Baker, who later unsuccessfully tried to distance himself from the role, gave a defining performance, living and breathing Doctor Who on and off camera.
However, that’s not to say his tenure represents a true ‘Golden Age’ in the shows history, though if ever such a period could be argued, many would tell you it falls during the early part of his reign. Initially pared up with Third Doctor companion, Sarah Jane Smith (the ever wonderful Elisabeth Sladen) and bumbling UNIT medical doctor, Harry Sullivan (the incomparable Ian Marter), Tom’s early adventures are a blend of fantastical science fiction, gothic horror pastiches, and the final death-throes of the UNIT era.
The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sgt Benton (John Levine) crop up occasionally early on, but are quickly and quietly written out without any fanfare – both actors proving unavailable for what was intended to be their last hurrah in ‘The Seeds Of Doom’. Harry, too, was quickly abandoned – the character having been designed to fulfil the physical needs of an action hero had an older Doctor been cast, resulting in Marter being accidentally superfluous from the outset.
Nevertheless, it was the natural chemistry of Marter, Sladen and Baker that helps makes those first two seasons a firm favourite with fans. And while the characters gel so well, the stories take the show back to its roots, away from earth invasions, and back out into space and time. The show even attempts its first story arc of sorts, across Harry’s entire time travelling with The Doctor and Sarah, with mostly golden results.
Genesis Of The Daleks, in particular, is often cited as one of the series’ finest moments, with Michael Wisher’s magnificent performance as twisted scientist Davros putting to rest the notion that classic Who was badly acted in one fell swoop. Indeed, his version of the character was mirrored to the letter by Julian Bleach in Tennant era shin-dig The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, making Sarah’s rematch against him in that later story all the more chilling.
When Sladen decided to leave the show after over three seasons, Tom Baker was despondent, and initially wanted to abandon the notion of a companion altogether. In The Deadly Assassin, he travels alone for the first time, but the needs of an audience – particularly dad’s watching after the footie results – forced the creation of warrior savage girl Leela (Louise Jameson). Dressed mostly in skimpy leathers, Leela was a new type of companion for The Doctor: part Eliza Doolitle, part brutal killer, and her initial adventures include some of the show’s true classics.
Yet the gothic nature of the series by this point was causing concern. When a cliffhanger involving The Doctor’s head being forcibly held underwater caught the wrath of Mary Whitehouse (and was later cut from the episode until recently), producer Phillip Hinchliffe and script editor Robert Holmes were phased out and replaced by Graham Williams and a certain young writer called Douglas Adams, respectively.
Those of you who have read Adam’s very famous novels will be more than aware of the calibre of this comedic genius, who had recently been writing for Monty Python no less, and would go on to be one of the most highly regarded literary giants of the 20th century. Yet his penchant for camping it up, and the show’s strict instructions to tone the horror element down, saw Doctor Who take a decidedly sillier turn.
Soon, The Doctor had a robot dog in the form of K-9 (voiced mostly by John Leeson), and Leela was hastily written out with a sudden and unlikely romance. She was replaced by the late, great Mary Tamm as fellow Time Lord (or should that be Time Lady?) Romana, but Tamm’s time on the show was short lived, and Romana regenerated into the body of Lalla Ward.
By this point, Tom Baker was a superstar, and by his own admission, had become a nightmare to work with. He was calling the shots in the studio, rewriting scripts at will, and the show descended into a self-aware, pantomimic mess. Viewers – recently wowed by Star Wars – began to see the show negatively, and audience figures slumped so soon after they reached their all-time peak.
A revamp was in order, and Season Eighteen brought in change by the bucketload. Fresh titles, writers, composers and companions followed, and a brand new, more sombre outfit for The Doctor – all under the helm of bold new producer John Nathan Turner. However, it would also prove to be Baker’s last, as the actor quit the show that had made him a star. As he foiled a returning Master’s plans, and fell to his death from a radio dish, it truly was the end for The Fourth Doctor, but as ever, the moment had been prepared for…
STORIES TO START WITH:
The Ark In Space/The Sontaran Experiment/Genesis Of The Daleks: Bit of a cheat, this one, but all three stories link together and are such a delight, it’s worth watching them as a whole. Watch The Doctor tackle the creepy Wirrn, beat a lone Sontaran at his own games, then try to avert the creation of his deadliest foes – but do remember to try and avoid the very next story (more on that later…)
Pyramids Of Mars: Period England always looks so wonderful in Doctor Who, and this tale of alien mummies and an alien posing as an Egyptian god in 1911 is an utter delight.
The Robots Of Death: Agatha Christie in space, basically, as a spate of deaths on a mining vessel appear to be being committed by the serving bots, in spite of their core programming. Also features the most adorable robot sidekick you’ll ever meet in the form of D-84.
The Talons Of Weng Chiang: Ok, so the giant rat sucks and casting a white actor as a Chinese magician is pushing it a little in retrospect, but everything else about this is an undisputed classic.
Doctor Who does Sherlock Holmes for the first time, and its supporting characters Jago & Litefoot are so popular they now have their own spin-off audio series, 36 years on.
City Of Death: One of the few times in later Tom Baker seasons where everything gels, this Douglas Adams story sees a loved up Tom and Lalla Ward (who married briefly after they left the show) larking around in Paris, foiling the plans of slimy businessman, and secret alien, Julian Glover.
STORIES TO AVOID:
Revenge Of The Cybermen may see the return of the metal men from Mondas, but it’s the only real dud in the first two years of Baker’s tenure. Underworld saw budget cuts force a good 90% of the sets to be made entirely via green-screen with disastrous results. And pretty much all of Season 17 not written by Douglas Adams was an abomination, far worse than any so-called nadir in the later years of ‘Classic Who’…