Hello! Right, just a quick update to the Tom Baker interviews. Well, it’s not really an interview as such, but I only just found out that Mr. B answers questions on his website from time to time in a special ‘Question Room’. So it’s like an interview, I suppose. You can read it here.
Archive for the ‘Tom Baker’ Category
Here’s a brief quote from Tom Baker, talking about Jon Pertwee. Short, I know, but worth it because there aren’t too many examples of him talking about other Doctors:
“I only met Jon Pertwee for the first time at the changeover shot in his last episode. So up till then I had no knowledge of him.
“Later I met him in various sound studios where we doing voice overs or commentaries and so on. Also I met him on several occasions at Sci-fi conventions. He was always very glamorous and charismatic and he obviously felt I was a bit peculiar.
“I used to tease him by pretending I was earning huge fees. This made him pink up a bit. But he was the generation ahead of me so there was a gap too wide for us to become friends.
“But I respected him and greatly admired his Worzel Gummidge series. I was sorry to hear of his death although envious of the manner (he died in his sleep). He did not know the fear of dying”.
I think this is Tom Baker’s first interview after getting the role of the Doctor, and to be honest it’s less an interview and more a series of press quotes. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that while he’s now turned the interview into something of an art form, this is Baker way before he became such a seasoned interview ‘pro’…
“Perhaps what clinched it for me was my appearance in the special effects film ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’.
“We are not playing Dr. Who for laughs. I am trying to stress his strangeness, that he is out of this world, not human, therefore his reactions would be different from ours. I may only be a middle-aged ten-year-old, but I take Dr. Who very seriously. He has to be genuinely loveable, not pleased by violence, and he must be honest. Humourous, but never comical.
“I seem to have played so many psychotics, it will be a pleasant change. The Doctor’s a fantastic character and I’m not sure yet how I’m going to play him. It’s very difficult. Fortunately, kids have such elasticity of imagination that it is easy for them to accept that he has to be killed, but because he is a Time Lord he doesn’t really die. He regenerates into another form.
“I have a nine-week break in the summer. I’m under contract with Sam Speigel to do a film then. I don’t know what. But if I wasn’t acting I would take some job. I don’t like saying ‘I’m resting’ when I’m out of work. It’s a fallacy that actors get paid astronomical sums of money. I get paid very well sometimes, of course, and it’s a temptation to blow it on a flash car. But I live very simply. I have hardly any possessions and I live in a bedsit in Pimlico. I read in a national newspaper that I was getting paid £1,000 a week for ‘Dr. Who’. That’s absolutely preposterous. The BBC must have had a good laugh.
“(The Daleks) are terrible creatures that just want to kill everybody. They’re terrible. No humour, no jokes. And without jokes, there’s no optimism!”
I have a new favourite Tom Baker interview. It was conducted for Australia’s ABC Television to promote the fifteenth season, and includes a lengthy digression onto the subject of what would happen in the Doctor met Superman. The transcript is below, but to get the full impact you really have to watch the video.
Q: What does it feel like to be in Australia, considering you travel the universe, you span 500 years?
A: Oh, good. Good.
Q: Sometimes they say Australia’s 500 years behind the rest of the world. What’s your assessment of that?
A: Oh, I would’ve thought it’s longer than that, isn’t it?
Q: I hope not. Now you’re starting your new series tomorrow night, four nights a week at 6.30. You must get in some awful strife. Can you let us in on some secrets?
A: Well, the first one has a very messy monster. ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, it’s called. And in a series of ‘Doctor Who’ type coincidences… It’s not a bad script at all, I think that viewers might like it. I hope they do, because there seems to be a big interest in it.
Q: Are you surprised by how popular ‘Doctor Who’ is, both here and in Britain?
A: Well it’s very difficult to believe anything that happens on the other side of the world, isn’t it? I’ve never been to Australia before, so to arrive here and be so warmly welcomed, especially by young children, is wonderful. I knew the series was popular here, but I didn’t appreciate it, and now I appreciate it and I enjoy it.
Q: Your theme song was a bit hit in the charts a couple of years ago, and now there’s a disco version. Have you heard the disco version?
A: Mmm. Yes, I have.
Q: Will we ever see Dr. Who and the monsters dance to it?
A: No. No, they’re not brave enough back home to let me do that. I’d like to do that very much.
Q: The disco version?
A: (smiles) Yes.
Q: Now, with the advent of ‘Superman’ coming to the big screen, do you think there’s ever a chance that Dr. Who and Superman may run into each other?
A: Well that’s a nice idea, but what would be the point? I mean, Superman wouldn’t be any opposition, would he, because… well…
Q: You both have a similiarity with phone boxes, though, don’t you?
A: Ah, yes, but that’s the only way. I suppose Superman only uses a phone box because he’s rather prudish and modest, and doesn’t want to take his knickers off in public. But I think compared to the character of Dr. Who, he’s a bit of a bonehead, isn’t he, Superman? He punches things out. Whereas the character I’m involved with tries to think it out.
Q: Now, I’ve often wondered, does Dr. Who wake up in the morning and get confused about the time? Because you only have to travel from Sydney to Perth to get confused about the time. You must get really confused.
A: Yes. I am. I’m in a permanent state of confusion.
Here’s a brief extract of a Tom Baker interview, in which he talks about his approach to playing the Doctor, as well as the plans for the 1970’s film ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’, for which he co-wrote the script with Ian Marter, but which was never made.
“I never consciously thought it out. I never knew where I was going with ‘Doctor Who’, because the very essence of the character is that the Doctor never does know where he’s going. What I worked hard at was maintaining the spontaneity and ideas, keeping the audience surprised, since, after all, the Doctor was meant to be an alien. He wasn’t emotionally involved, except in the most heroic way.
“The script for ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’ was about scarecrows becoming animated when a fertilizer on Earth goes horribly wrong. The scarecrows were able to make other scarecrows and they go on the rampage, raiding stores and using their sticks as weapons. The Cybermen came into it, too; there were wonderful scenes of the Cybermen coming out of the sea.
“The whole thing hinged on the fact that somewhere out in space was this creature called Scratchman, which is an old-world named for the Devil. He just wanted to make trouble. I remember the ending: we were going to turn the whole studio into a giant pinball table. The Doctor and his companions were stuck on this table and Scratchman was firing these balls at us. The balls disappeared down holes which were sort of gateways into other hells. It was a very violent film, but very funny too. The production office saw it and hated it, but I thought it was marvellous.”
Very briefly, here’s a transcript of Tom Baker’s recent appearance on Radio 4, discussing Barry Letts, who died just over a week ago.
Q: Barry Letts was an actor before he was a producer, wasn’t he?
A: The whole of television seemed to be staffed entirely by… the producers, directors, script editors were all actors, because where did the original people come from? At that time, when television got going, the only people who knew anything about theatricality were actors, so lots of the producers had been actors in their day. I remember seeing Barry, I think, in ‘The Cruel Sea’. He was the big link in changing my entire life, really, because he it was who decided to cast me in ‘Doctor Who’. It was left down to Barry Letts deciding to employ me or not. He was very anxious, because replacing Jon Pertwee was considered perdour. Then it just so happened that there was a film I was in, a big special effects film called ‘The Golden Voyages of Sinbad’, next door to the BBC, and Barry went next door to see it and saw me playing some old wizard, and I was on. He filled me with great confidence. He was a good man, you know? A really good man.
Q: Did he bring any of his philosophical or spiritual beliefs to the programme? Some people think that in the mid-70’s, ‘Doctor Who’ pioneered issues of ecological disaster.
A: Well, I mean he was too sensitive to have said any of that explicitly, but there were several stories, weren’t there, where people were, you know, groups of people, monastaries or nuns, sisterhoods, you know, strange orders where they believed in strange things, and believed in the power of light or eternal flames and that sort of thing, quasi-religious things, and he did all of that with great style.
Q: Did he encourage you to make your Doctor very different to Jon Pertwee’s?
A: He was very subtle, really. He tried to induce from people their way of doing it, without actually saying ‘You’ve got to be different’. I was naturally very different, even though, of course, the problem was that the writers were still writing in the style of Jon Pertwee’s character. The point is, Dr. Who’s not really an acting part, any more than Sherlock Holmes.
Q: Barry Letts employed you as Sherlock Holmes, didn’t he?
A: He did, he did. I wasn’t very good at playing Sherlock Holmes, the BBC apologised for my performance in it, so Barry actually was mistaken there. His intuition betrayed him. He was a gentleman. So kind. There’s no substitute for kindness, is there?
Another Tom Baker interview, this time a transcript from his appearance on the BBC’s ‘Nationwide’ in 1981 to mark his departure from ‘Doctor Who’. This is perhaps most notable for the interviewer’s complete failure to pick up on his comment about the possibility of a woman being cast as the next Doctor…
Q: Tom Baker this is extremely sad news that you’re leaving ‘Doctor Who’, and K-9 announced his resignation two weeks ago, so with Master and dog gone, what’s going to happen to the series?
A: Well… it’ll just go on and on and on and on, because it’s part of our television, isn’t it? Why should it stop, there’s no evidence… everyone’s been very successful in it.
Q: But what’s going to happen in the series? There’ll be a new Dr. Who, presumably?
Q: The goodies always change but the baddies stay the same, the Daleks and Davros and so on.
A: And the Doctor always wins.
Q: Are you going to miss working on the show at all?
A: Terribly, yes. It’s been a very happy time for me.
Q: It must have been fun working with all the machines and special effects?
A: Well… yes, but I don’t think that was as much fun as being involved in something that’s immensely successful. It’s been fun being Dr. Who, it’s been the happiest time of my working life. Um… one has lovely relationships with children in parks… (smiles) by that, I mean I’m the only man in London that ‘Don’t talk to strange men in parks’ doesn’t apply to. I’m possibly the only man in Europe who’s twice in Madame Tussauds.
Q: That’s pretty good. Have you any idea how many times you’ve got in and out of the TARDIS?
A: Thousands of times, thousands of times.
Q: You’ve got a good stage acting background from before you went into ‘Doctor Who’, are you going back to serious stage acting now?
A: I don’t like the ‘serious stage acting’ as if serious stage acting’s more important than television, you know… I’m going into oblivion, I suppose.
Q: No immediate plans?
A: No immediate plans at all. It’s quite hard to leave something when one is really happy in it. We’ve now reached about 100m viewers around the world in 37 countries and I’ve done the best I can with it, and I don’t really think I can do any more with it, which is a good reason to leave and give someone else a chance to nudge it on a bit, the way I nudged it on when I took over.
Q: I suppose it’s good for the series to have different Dr. Who’s now and then.
A: Yes. I think it’s probably good for everybody to have changes now and then.
Q: What sort of person’s going to take over from you? Can you reveal who it’s going to be and how you’re going to be written out?
A: No. The answer to that is No, but even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.
Q: What kind of person do you think it should be? A departure from yourself, a mad professor?
A: Well you’re making an assumption that it’s going to be a man.
Q: So you have no immediate plans?
A: No. I’m open to offers.
This is a brief extract from Tom Baker’s panel at the Time Quest 2009 convention. You can see more of it here, but I wanted to include this short section because of his interesting comments on Peter Davison and Ian Marter.
Q: What did you think about Peter Davison taking over from you as your successor in ‘Doctor Who’?
A: I thought at the time that Peter Davison’s choice… I must say, he’s an excellent actor, he’s done wonderful work, and I’ve often met him. We’re not exactly friends, but we’re civilised to each other. I remember thinking at the time it was a terrible error of judgement, for this reason: when Peter Davison took over from me, he was already established as having a fictional identity. Those of you who are old enough to cast your minds back, he was prodigiously successful as the vet in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, so when the children were watching I imagined the children were saying “that’s not the Doctor, that’s the vet”, so I think that was a very strange…
Although no-one has ever failed as Dr. Who, no-one has ever failed remotely, even the boy who did the film, I’ve forgotten what his name was… if you say “do you miss being ‘Doctor Who’, in a sense, with the devotion of the fans, I’ve never stopped being Dr. Who because the fans don’t want you to stop being Dr. Who. And when I go on stage, which I do occasionally, I realise whatever I’m doing that people want me to do it as Dr. Who, so when I played Sherlock Holmes it caused an absolute sensation, of course it did, because first of all Sherlock Holmes never wore a long scarf, and secondly he didn’t walk the way that I apparently did walk, in the days when I could walk, because the bonding of the fans, and here I am thirty years after the event – most of you probably weren’t born thirty years ago – it’s the power of fiction, that fiction can become part of our lives, the fantasy world of literature, films, television, stamps, whatever it is you’re interested in, and by fantasy I mean the unprovable world, religion even, and people believe absolutely preposterous things, don’t they? Absolutely believe them, emphatically.
Q: What was it like to work with Ian Marter?
A: Well he really was an absolute darling. He shouldn’t have died when he died. I do remember, in rehearsal, he had a terrible habit, he had diabetes, and if he didn’t eat things he’d get terribly irrational and somebody would give him a biscuit or a bite of a Mars bar and suddenly he seemed better. And he was living alone at the time, and I always thought, you know, to go home with that type of illness, you know feeling a bit down or whatever, was a terrible waste because he was a kind man. Not only was he gifted, but he was kind, and that’s a wonderful combination, to be gifted and kind, and he adored his children and his wife… and he came home one night and the next thing he was in a coma, and of course the terrible irony is he wasn’t discovered in time. I only have warm memories of him.
This might be Tom Baker’s first interview after he began filming ‘Doctor Who’. It’s entertaining stuff, as he discusses his ‘ordinary life’ and the dangers of filming while having a moment off in the Wookey Hole caves where ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ was filmed. At one point he offers the interviewer a jelly baby, and there are times in the original footage where he’s clearly having fun with the interviewer.
Q: Tom Baker, seeing you scramble about on those rocks it seems to me that the life of Dr. Who is a bit fraught and a bit dangerous, isn’t it?
A: Well sometimes it’s a bit dangerous, I mean a few weeks ago I broke my shoulder falling off a cliff in Dartmoor. And I suppose standing on rocks playing with yo-yo’s… (laughs)
Q: I’ve got to ask you, what kind of character is the new Dr. Who?
A: Well I don’t think I can really give away… I don’t think I can really comment on my own character. The situations will be somewhat as they’ve been in the past, full of excitement and great problems that I get involved in.
Q: But you’re not in the traditional Dr. Who costume of flowing robes and satins.
A: No, no I’m not, I can’t really follow that very sophisticated line my predecessor used. I think that I have a capacity to be surprised by any situation, like I’m surprised by this situation I’m in now. Would you like a jelly baby?
Q: Yes, thank you very much.
A: I have a capacity for surprise and for enjoying whatever I’m doing. And playing Dr. Who, against… ‘The Ark in Space’ was the last one, and the robot and things like that, is a tremendous pleasure. Whether in fact it will please the regular audience of ‘Doctor Who’, I don’t know. They’ll see it in a few weeks’ time anyway and judge.
Q: Now the other three Dr. Who’s became national figures, particularly Jon Pertwee. This is likely to happen to you, I should think. Will that change your life?
A: Yes. Yes, it will affect my life. I understand. I mean this has never really happened to me before because most of the parts I’ve played have been dogs or bears or Rasputin or whatever, so that when my make-up is off I’m not recognised. Presumably I will be recognised by a great number of people and the anonymity of my ordinary life will disappear.
Q: What is your ordinary life?
A: My ordinary life is really a quiet living bachelor who likes some fun. I mean I work like a dog on this series, I go home and do a few hours work and go to a pub and meet friends and talk and go to the movies. Presumably some of that will change, but it’s a very very small price to pay.
Q: I remember seeing a little girl scream and bury her face in the cushions when ‘Doctor Who’ was on. Isn’t this a very difficult line to tread between frightening children and just entertaining them?
A: Well I think that it’s a very nice point, but I hope that after a while I will be able to convince the children that are watching the programme that no matter how terrifying or amazing or exciting the situation is, that actually I’ll solve it and that really it will all come right finally.
Almost every Tom Baker interview is a good one, but I’m not sure you can beat this one from 2001. Mark Gatiss talks to him about his entire career, and I’ve put the ‘Doctor Who’ section on here but you should absolutely positively definitely go here to read the full thing.
MG: You did Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Vault of Horror. How did you get those?
TB: The Vault of Horror was nice because it was a doddle and they were all nice people – Terry Thomas and Denham Elliot and Curd Jürgens, who was incredibly dull. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was fantastic, because it gave me the chance to work with Ray Harryhausen, and I like his animation a lot more than the optical effects that they do now with monsters. They’re charming, they’re great works of art, and they’re also very funny. I think of some of the ones I wasn’t in, the fighting skeletons – the one I wasn’t in wasn’t one of the very successful ones… The one I was in got me Dr Who, that’s right. That got me Dr Who.
MG: Ah. Now, you were working on a building site just before the great event.
TB: I was.
MG: When you did This Is Your Life you seemed genuinely more thrilled to see those three builders than any of your old friends.
TB: Well, at the time… I was not much good at working on a building site, but I was great at making tea and keeping the cups clean, and the surfaces un-sticky. And that’s important. But they liked me, and they used to bring me sandwiches – I was desperately poor and I was sleeping on the floor of a very kind actor’s called Paul Angelis. I was in a terrible state. And these guys fed me. And finally I got Dr Who. I wrote to the right man. There was this amazing conflation of little events.
I wrote to the man who directed the Millionairess who was about to become the head of serials. The night he received my letter he had been to a meeting to cast Dr Who, because John Pertwee had resigned. And somebody said to this marvellous Bill Slater, ‘Do you have any ideas, Bill? And he said, ‘No. I don’t’. And when he got home he read my letter, his wife was called Mary Webster, and he told her, he said, ‘I’ve just come from a casting for Dr Who, and Tom Baker’s just phoned me.’
She said, ‘Well, ring him up now.’ And he rang me at eleven o’clock at night and told me that he wanted to see me. So I said, ‘What? Now?’ I was quite willing, you see. But it was the next day, and one thing led to another, and there I was.
MG: What was your awareness of Dr Who beforehand?
TB: Not much. I remember watching Patrick Troughton and thinking that it was quite a waggish part. But I didn’t think about that, I was just glad to have a job. They were nice at the BBC.
Then I became a children’s hero, and that was the best, absolutely terrific. To have this instant intimacy. I had an instant intimacy with adults as well, because they loved me for different reasons. When the little children were frightened by the monsters – or bored by the plot, which was often rather tedious – they used to bury their heads in their grannies’s bosoms, and grannies adored this. Well, you know, I’ve known a few grannies in my time – well they weren’t grannies then, but they’re grannies now. And tingling bosoms are apparently a wonderful pleasure.
So what would happen was I would be walking through Sloane Square, on the cruise, and I’d pass a granny coming out of Peter Jones, and she’d see me and her titties would begin to tingle. And she’d think, ‘Why are my titties tingling at the sight of this man?’ And then she’d recognise me and say, ‘Hello, dear.’
Some people say, ‘Do you miss not being Dr Who?’ and, of course, I’ve never stopped being Dr Who, and we’re all here because of the amazing power of nostalgia. So when people see me they are really being knocked back into their childhood. A man in the street said to me the other day, ‘When I was a kid, I was in care, in Staffordshire, and on Saturday nights, phew, you were terrific.’ And then he’d gone. And I thought that that was a wonderful thing. A quick beggar story: a young man in Manchester, and I normally don’t believe that most beggars are beggars – they probably work for Channel 4 of else they’re high-powered directors thinking that this is a real thing to do – so naturally I like to hedge my bets and give them a pound. If they look revolting, then I’m absolutely certain they work for Channel 4 and I give them two pounds.
Anyway, I was passing, and they all say the same thing – I could be a beggar’s script-writer, I could write them good scripts, but the buggers won’t listen, they all copy each other – ‘Have you got any change?’ I hate that. When I was young beggars were different. They used to tell you marvellous lies like:
‘You’re a great, handsome fella!’
‘You’re a great, handsome fella.’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t hear.’
‘I was just saying what a great, handsome fella you are.’ And then I’d give him two shillings. You bought the performance. You bought the lie, and then we are equals, and that’s charming. It’s not going to go far, maybe… Anyway, a voice said to me, ‘Have you got any small change?’ in that pathetic way, so I said, ‘Yup.’ I got my money out and he looked up and said, ‘Christ! Dr Who.’
I said, ‘Yes. Have two pounds.’
‘Ah, man,’ he said, ‘You’re my hero. You were my hero.’
‘Look, have three pounds.’ Then there was a sudden change, and I looked at him in the terrible light of Deansgate in Manchester and I saw rushing through his face, as we was jolted back to sitting on the sofa with the smell of fish fingers and chips when he was secure and washed. And then you jump on twenty years and he’s begging in Deansgate, and who comes along to offer him three pounds, but The Doctor.
Three pounds is not much after the things I did at the BBC – saving the whole bloody universe every week. But he said, ‘No. I don’t want the money.’ Incredible. Then came the request. ‘Can’t you get us out of here?’ I could imagine… I should have said to him, ‘Eight o’clock, outside the bookshop. Be there.’ And at eight o’clock the place would be full of the magazine sellers and the beggars and they’d all pile into the Tardis, and I’d be saying, ‘Come on! Quick! Quick!’ They’d all pile in, thousands of them, and then I’d close the door and you’d hear a panting – ‘cos there’s always got to be someone late in order to tell the press afterwards. And then woo-woo and away we’d go to somewhere happy. There’d just be me and these people, and K9 and it would be great.
Then the next day, in the Manchester Evening News it would say, ‘Where Have All Our Beggars Gone?’ The special branch would be out misunderstanding everything. Walking round with pictures of beggars. ‘Have you seen this beggar?’ It would be fantastic, wouldn’t it?
Anyway. I persuaded him to have the three pounds.