Here’s a transcript of a short interview with Terrance Dicks, who discusses the casting process for the Fourth Doctor. He talks about how he and Barry Letts got to hear about Tom Baker, how they first saw him on screen, and how ‘Robot’ was written to take advantages of his personality.
“I know Barry saw an enormous number of people, because that’s the most important decision you make, casting the Doctor. And he saw a lot of people not on the terms of ‘I am offering you this job’, but on the terms of ‘Would you like to come and talk to me to see whether you and I both think you’d like this job’. He saw a lot of people with that in mind, and nobody was quite right, until somebody, I think somebody from within the BBC, suggested Tom Baker as a possibility, and Tom was then appearing in a movie called something like ‘Son of Sinbad’, a Hollywood eastern, and Barry and I went round to see it at the Hammersmith Odean and Tom was playing the bad guy, but it was a very good, strong performance. Barry liked it and I liked it, and Barry got into contact with Tom, who I think was then working on a building site, and it all kind of went on from there.
“What we were looking for always was this star quality, which is not necessarily linked with good, great or even good acting, although it can be. Tom summed it up about Jon, he said he was like a very tall lightbulb, which is lovely, and the thing is that when Pertwee was on the screen you watched him, and Jon, bless him, he was a good actor but he wasn’t the greatest actor, but he had charisma. And if you get someone who’s a good actor, and I think Tom is, that’s a bonus, but that’s not what you go for first. You don’t really want Alec Guinness or someone like that. And Tom has got that enormous vitality about him, which I think is there in real life. That’s really what was the deciding factor, more than anything else. He’s got an innocent-at-large air. If you say something to Tom like ‘Good morning’, he’ll say ‘Good morning? Is it? It’s a wonderful morning? Is it a wonderful morning?’ and all this will come across at you, and I was able from the beginning to write it into the script for the new Doctor. ‘Robot’ obviously is a regeneration story, and what I used was this quality that when the Doctor first comes out of his regeneration he’s quite unbalanced, and I made him quite wild and eccentric for a while. The scenes where he’s tip-toeing about in his night gown trying to find the TARDIS, or the scenes where Harry Sullivan tries to get him to go back to bed, I think Tom comes across very well. And I thought if they thought it was too much, they could calm him down afterwards, and I think they did.
“I can remember meeting Tom in the foyer of BBC Television Centre just after I’d finished writing ‘Robot’ and delivered the script, and Tom had read it and was coming to rehearsals. He said ‘I like your script very much’, and I said ‘I suppose you have to say that’ and he said ‘No, I didn’t have to say that, I do like it’, and he was very good in that first part. The early years of Tom, he was riding the crest of a wave. It was flagging a little at the end, Tom inherited a prime-time successful show that everybody loved and for the first four or five years of Tom’s time, he did as well as we had done or better. Obviously like the Conservative government if you stay in too long, you run into problems. I think he changed in the later days. I think the ones I did, like ‘State of Decay’ and ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, I think he maybe got more assured and he was slightly less scatty and slightly more authoritative, which was a good thing because you can overplay that. I always felt that there was a darker side to Tom’s Doctor and that he might go for it, that he might be tempted into evil. You really know that Peter Davison is never going to be tempted into evil because he’s too decent and he plays cricket, and you know he’s never going to be tempted over to the dark side.”