Posts Tagged ‘Tom Baker’

Elisabeth Sladen (2002)

September 13, 2009

Here’s a transcript of Elisabeth Sladen talking about the changeover between Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. She says she felt left out, at first, because TB and Ian Marter seemed to be getting on so well, but the interview ends with a great story about TB and some fairy lights, so enjoy:

“First of all, I knew Jon was leaving before he actually left. Even when I joined. All these names were mentioned, Alan Dale, Ron Moody, and then Barry Letts, the director, came rushing in one day and said ‘Wonderful, we’ve got Tom Baker!’. In my ignorance, I didn’t know who Tom Baker was. And the first time I saw Tom was when we were filming ‘Planet of the Spiders’ and we were filming Jon’s demise and it was the take-over, so it wasn’t a time to really say so much. Jon was in his own little box of ‘I am leaving’, Liz as Sarah had to be upset because she thought Jon was dying, and it was just ‘Hello’. That night I had to go to the studio to film with them, with Tom, and I think if things work well you get that extra frisson on screen.

“Ian Marter was there with Tom when I got there and they seemed already to have a really lovely relationship and I actually felt very excluded, and I felt I had to sit back and wait on it. From the word go it was a very very new Doctor, which was lovely because you’re only as good as the people you work with. And the Doctor makes the running. It’s like in a George Formby thing, you can’t have ten George Formby’s, it wouldn’t work, so all I could do was wait to see what Tom gave me. And whereas Jon’s Doctor had been very protective, arm around the chick, Tom’s Doctor was ‘You can do it’, and it was wonderful. Tom comes from Liverpool, and I do, and Tom’s so generous and disarming. It was great.

“By the time we came to do ‘Planet of Evil’, we knew we were really flying. You just knew it was really really good, and that’s a very rare feeling, and when something is really good you dare to be brave, you dare to make mistakes, and by that you get better results because you’re braver. You trust the people around you. We didn’t have to finish sentences. We’d rehearse, and Tom would say by the time we got to the studio we had to know exactly what we were doing, exactly where the marks were, exactly how many seconds to pause, because the special effects were so important. You could do twenty, thirty takes and be brilliant, but if the stun gun didn’t work you’d got nothing. We knew they’d take the one where the stun gun worked, so we were on the ball, and Tom used to say to the director’s box ‘Sir, Liz and I have just thought of -‘ and the director would say ‘Lovely idea, Tom, but we haven’t got time’. Tom would say we’ll do it but we have to get it right.

“An example is ‘Pyramids of Mars’. There’s a Marx Brothers film where they walk in, turn and walk out, and we did that in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ when we saw something in one of the tunnels, Tom was supposed to say ‘Quick, Sarah, hide’, and he said ‘I’m not saying that again’ so it was in, turn, out. It was very good, it was accepted, but if he’ got it wrong we wouldn’t have been very popular because the clock was ticking. You only had until ten o’clock in those days. We used to record from seven thirty at night until ten o’clock at night, so it was rather like being live.

“And I remember we were going filming one day, I never used to know where we were going, I just got on the bus, and it was six o’clock at night, we were going down the motorway, we came to a whole load of houses and Tom sat back and said ‘You know, Liz, if we stopped and I knocked on the door or one of these houses and said Do you mind if I come in and watch myself?, there’s no-one who’d say No’.

“It’s so simple, ‘Doctor Who’, but if you mess around with it you’ve got nothing. I wish we’d had more money. Tom was always having ideas. He’d say ‘Shall we try it this way’, they’d say ‘No, Tom’, he’d say ‘Alright, but I’ll have another idea in a minute and that one might work’, you know, you could be wrong a hundred times but if you’re right just once, it’s worth having your input. We’d camera rehearse and the make-up girls would run after Tom and say ‘Tom, can I just comb your -‘ and Tom would say ‘Darling, I’m too busy, I’m saving the universe’. Wonderful. Fantastically professional irreverance.

“When we were doing ‘The Hand of Fear’, I think they were a little anxious that we mustn’t film the last scene as the last scene, in case it got a little too, whatever, maudlin. We used to often record out of order, but this particular time we recorded the end halfway through, but I remember one of the last scenes we did, it was where Eldred was injured and we were climbing up this slippery slope, and it was in the studio so it wasn’t desperately slippy but we had to sort of pretend to slide back. Tom thought it was quite funny, and we kept doing it and going up and sliding up and we just couldn’t stop laughing. It really was very sad leaving, but I needed to go because I didn’t ever want to be asked to leave, and I wasn’t Philip’s choice, he inherited me. Tom gave me a party at his house, and he put fairy lights in the trees in the garden, and as a joke I said ‘Tom, it’s lovely, do you always have it like that?’, he said ‘No I bloody don’t, I did it for you!'”

Matthew Waterhouse (2006)

August 19, 2009

This is a great recent interview with Matthew Waterhouse, where he’s very genuine and honest about his experiences with Tom Baker. You can see the video here.

“I was absolutely petrified. I remember very clearly my journey on the Tube the morning of the first day and sitting there, I have never been so frightened and excited in my life. And I remember arriving at the read-through and Tom was late, so we were all sitting around the table waiting for the read-through to begin, and he stalked in, in his mac, his brown mac, and I was physically shaking. It was extraordinary. Extraordinarily frightening, a very surreal first day. But maybe since ‘Doctor Who’ is essentially surreal, that’s not a bad way to approach it.

“Tom doesn’t take prisoners, and I think the fact that I was doubtless this immensely irritating, but sweet and unaffected kid, he didn’t give me any leeway at all. It was the most terrifying day of my life. And I wanted him to love me, I wanted him to think ‘Oh what a wonderful boy, what a gifted lad’. I’ve never wanted someone to like me so much in my entire life, and that first day he didn’t really speak to me. He stalked into rehearsals, sat there in his brown coat, read the thing and sat there and smoked cigarettes… he chain-smoked them if I remember rightly. I was absolutely terrified, but it also seemed to be confirming the glamour of it as well. I think he’d be appalled to hear me say this, but to me, as a middle-class kid from commuterville, it was unbelievable. I mean, I’d never been away from my parents for more than two weeks at a time, and there I was working with this frightening man, tall, larger than life man, and I remember on the first day he didn’t really acknowledge me.

“I tried to stand near him in the pub, I remember he went to the pub at lunchtime so I went to the pub and I wanted him to see me. I think I edged a little nearer along the bar so I was only two people away from him, hoping he’d say hello to me, but he didn’t. So I went back and we got back to rehearsal, and we had to do a scene together, and he said ‘Hello, I haven’t said hello to you, have I?’, I said ‘Hi’, I thought ‘He likes me’, he smiled at me… and then I made a suggestion about something, I said ‘Why don’t we try that’, and he said ‘Why don’t you piss off?’. I thought ‘That’s not a very good start, maybe he doesn’t like me after all’, so I went home distraught, thinking ‘He’s my favourite actor in the world and he doesn’t like me, he thinks I’m horrible’. So that was my first day.

“I’m not sure what he thought about having a heroic boy in ‘Doctor Who’. I’m not sure he thought it was the bee’s knees. He’d rather have had twenty-five year old girls rather than heroic teenage boys… in fact I’m pretty sure of that because he once said ‘I hate this fucking character’, so that was a clue. I liked the character because it got me into ‘Doctor Who’ and that was enough for me. But Tom could be very sweet, he could be very kind, very generous to me, and his great quality, which I admire so much, is that he’s so funny, and out of the ordinary, and the only thing I’ve ever wanted in my life is to be out of the ordinary. I don’t want to be ordinary. I don’t know what ordinary is, but I don’t want to be it. And Tom wasn’t.

“The atmosphere on ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom was pretty fraught, there’s no point pretending it wasn’t. In some ways I think I wasn’t equipped to deal with that fraughtness, because I was too young and… stupid to deal with it. But he could suddenly be unbelievably generous. He could be very nice to me in many ways. I think jelly babies have a lot to do with it, and I think the hat has a lot to do with it, and the scarf. Of course I had a vast amount to do with the success and popularity of ‘Doctor Who’ at that time, but I think Tom also made a contribution.” (smiles)

Louise Jameson (2006)

August 18, 2009

This is the ‘Doctor Who’ part from a great and quite lengty interview with Louise Jameson, in which she discusses her feelings about Leela, about acting in general, about the various writers who she feels were best at writing for Leela, and about the time John Nathan-Turner asked her to return to the show for a season.

Q: What were your preparations for Leela? I know you had a story that you watched your dog, or something?

A: Although Leela was uneducated, I didn’t want to make her stupid so I looked around for creatures that were uneducated but intelligent. One was my dog, who’s sadly no longer with us, and one was the little girl who lived upstairs, Sally, highly intelligent but of course hadn’t gone through any education, so there were my role models. I only used little things, like a twist of the head when I heard something, holding the breath, animal instinctive qualities. I also wanted her to not have an accent but to have slightly careful speech, and I took out all the apostrophes so instead of wasn’t, was not, instead of couldn’t, could not, just slightly studied, slightly archaic.

Q: And I know people say Tom Baker was difficult to work with, and he didn’t like Leela at first, but you’ve said you admired his professionalism and the fact that both Tom and you are are top of things, playing it totally straight.

A: It’s a very Stanislavsky approach I have to all my work, be it Shakespeare or Noel Coward or indeed ‘Doctor Who’, it’s something that… what would this character want out of this moment, what is my objective? It’s like life, you always want something. Like I want to talk to you, but there’s an obstacle, perhaps I’m not explaining myself very well so I try to do it very clearly. There’s a very direct desire in everything you do, and Leela’s desire was for knowledge, she was like a sponge, like a piece of blotting paper, she was thirty for knowledge, and I think one of the exciting things, when the writer had that in mind, like Bob Holmes was my favourite, when he had that knowledge that’s what Leela wanted, and that desire was fed into the adventure, that was terrific. When I was just written as ‘an assistant’, when the speeches become interchangeable…

Q: That’s something they often do in ‘Doctor Who’. The motivation for Leela really made sense, she was used to mystical concepts, things weren’t so mind-blowing for her.

A: That’s a lovely scene, where he tries to explain it, takes it away, it’s perspective. I wish there’d been more of that.

Q: Even the bit where you’re playing with the yo-yo is great too. How much of the character did you have input into?

A: Well it depended very much on the director. Because my knowledge of Leela was greater than anyone else’s, usually what I said went. But as an assistant you had to be pretty accommodating, it’s not like you were the driving force, making the decisions.

Q: On shows like ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, people like Michael Dorn have said they had input and they’d be doing things they didn’t think the character would do and they’d not be listened to and they’d give up and let it go.

A: It was a pretty lengthy process if you wanted a line change. You told the director, who told the producer, who’d get the executive producer, who’d phone the writer, who’d phone back…

Q: It wasn’t just the director?

A: Not really. You kind of learned to play the system, so you might go in one day and say ‘I’ve just had a thought about this line’, sidestep the paraphernalia. If it was a request that you thought might be rejected, you just had to be careful who you asked.

Q: Or you might ask for ten different things, and the one thing you wanted the most…

A: I was very emphatic, I really didn’t want to scream.

Q: David Jansen, who starred in ‘The Fugitive’, said ask for everything you can think of, and you’ll get half.

A: Did he? I thought he was a wonderful actor.

Q: Writers from your era like Bob Holmes and Chris Boucher did the best for your character. She had witty comebacks and so on, like in ‘The Robots of Death’ kicking Uvanov. In their stories, there was more focus on the actual character of Leela, someone who just used straight head-on logic.

A: No manipulation, just who she was. I really liked that. I loved being her, and I loved Blanche in ‘Tenko’ and Rosa Di Marco in ‘Eastenders’ for the same reasons.

Q: How did you feel about the way she was written out?

A: It was a way of getting rid of a woman, have her fall in love. I had taken a very deliberate career decision to leave the series, I didn’t want to stay in it too long, and I’d been offered ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at Bristol Old Vic, which was a marvellous opportunity that I grabbed with both hands, with very little experience. I think in retrospect John Nathan-Turner asked me to go back in for a season and I said that I’d go back for maybe two or three stories but I didn’t want to do a whole season, and I think in retrospect that was a mistake.

Tom Baker (1981)

August 17, 2009

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?

A: Yes.

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.

Tom Baker (2009)

August 9, 2009

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.

Tom Baker (1974)

August 7, 2009

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.

Paul McGann (2006)

August 5, 2009

This is a relatively recent Paul McGann interview. It talks more about ‘Withnail and I’ than ‘Doctor Who’, but he does make a frank admission that the 1996 TV Movie “wasn’t good enough”, and tells a brief story about meeting Tom Baker in a recording studio. From The Independent.

Every autumn, Paul McGann is given an annual reminder of his greatest role. Living in a university town like Bristol, “you can set your calendar by it,” he says. “The new student intake has just come in, and they’ve drunk their first grant cheque and seen Withnail and I… and I know when they’ve seen it. They usually holler across the street.” While Richard E Grant’s flamboyant drunk Withnail was the character blessed with the lion’s share of memorable quotes, McGann’s more introspective “I” still had his moments. He grins at a recent reminder. “The other day, some kid had chalked on the pavement outside my house, ‘Perfumed Ponce’, with an arrow pointing to my front door!”

Now 46, it’s refreshing to see McGann is not precious about the fact that his finest hour has just been commemorated this month with a 20th anniversary DVD. “It’s actually very satisfying,” he admits. “I can safely say, ‘If I’d never done another movie, it would’ve been all right.'” Still handsome, with his Byronic brown curls, there’s a sense of genuine gratitude in his soft Scouse accent. The son of a factory worker and a nursery school teacher, perhaps it’s in the knowledge that a working-class childhood in Liverpool does not always lead to such a grand career as acting. The Catholic-raised McGann knows he’s been fortunate: accepted into Rada, he got his big break in 1982 alongside his three brothers – Joe, Mark and Stephen – in the West End rock’n’roll musical Yakkety Yak.

“We all wanted to be movie stars,” he recalls of his youthful days. “When I was a kid, about 11 or 12, we used to try and bunk into local cinemas to see X movies. Who doesn’t do that at that age? This would’ve been 1972. Maybe an older kid would buy a ticket, then go and open the fire door and we’d watch this film until we were all thrown out. You’d see some hammy old thing, but now and again you’d see a great film – like Klute or Five Easy Pieces. I remember watching Jack Nicholson, maybe not understanding what he’s up to but thinking I’d love to do that. He was engaging, charismatic – I was rapt!”

McGann was never going to be the next Nicholson, even if winning the lead in Alan Bleasdale’s 1986 BBC drama The Monocled Mutineer boosted his profile. Unlike Grant, he never really made it in Hollywood. “What do they say? It’s better to regret the things you have done than the things you haven’t,” he notes. When he did get cast in major productions, he spent most of his time on the cutting room floor. Almost entirely excised from Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, he saw his part for David Fincher’s Alien3 truncated to an almost unintelligible degree and then he was unfortunate enough to appear in Queen of the Damned, the ill-fated follow-up to Interview with a Vampire. “Careers are what they are,” he shrugs. “They don’t make any sense at all when you look back. We’re not in charge of them.”

Fate certainly seems to have had a hand in McGann’s CV. A knee injury in 1994 forced him to cede the lead in ITV’s Sharpe to Sean Bean. Two years later came his one-off turn as Doctor Who, following on from Sylvester McCoy in a US pilot that was set to resurrect the series but ultimately never picked up because the ratings weren’t high enough. “We made a pilot that didn’t work,” he says. “And it didn’t work because it wasn’t good enough.” But given the success of the current revamped show, does he have regrets that he’s likely to be remembered – in his own words – as the “George Lazenby of Doctor Who”? “It’s impossible to regret. It could’ve been very different. I would’ve been there for five or six years… and I’d have earned a shit-load of dough. Life wouldn’t have been the same but it didn’t happen.”

If there’s a suspicion that McGann is not ruthless enough to play the Hollywood game, not least because Withnail and I anointed him with a cuddly image, he has set about changing that with his latest film, Gypo. An entirely improvised piece about immigration, he plays Paul, a racist father-of-three living in Margate. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Paul is the vilest character of McGann’s career, beginning the film by violently objecting to his daughter bringing home a classmate who, it emerges, is a Romany Czech refugee. “I had to be prepared for him to be irredeemable,” says McGann. “He is unremittingly miserable.”

Fed on a diet of tabloids and Talk Sport, McGann says his character belongs with the “huge majority of these little Englanders with their easy assumptions. At one point, he talks about Africa being a big county – that’s about the level of him.” He adds that he didn’t want to make him like some “Alf Garnett cartoon” and he doesn’t – though he confesses to the fact that director Jan Dunn only came to the set with “broad notions” for the scenes. The rest was up to him. “There wasn’t a script to discuss,” he says. “That brought me out in a rash, to be honest. That was one of the reasons I thought I had to do this. I couldn’t think of any proper, intelligent excuse to turn this kind of challenge down.”

Telling the same basic story from three separate perspectives, Gypo is officially the first British film to be registered as a Dogme movie. Given that this manifesto, devised by the Danish director Lars von Trier to purify the film-making process by using only original locations, natural light and so on, is over a decade old, it might seem rather after the fact. McGann nods. “I entered it with a mixture of open-mindedness and healthy cynicism. I mean, they’re having us on aren’t they? Some of that stuff… c’mon! The more dubious claims for the process about truth and nebulous ideas about authenticity. I mean, what’s that about? Films are artifice. We’re telling stories on film. At the same time, when it works, there is a real tough immediacy and spontaneity to it, and a punch.”

Both frank and funny, McGann is the perfect pub-mate – not least because he is so self-deprecating. Noting that his short-lived time playing Doctor Who has nevertheless given him a place in the show’s pantheon, he recalls meeting legendary Time Lord Tom Baker. “We were in opposite voice over studios,” he says. “This guy in the sound studio told me he was in, so I went and met him. He didn’t have a clue who I was! I found it rather refreshing. He was very charming. He just thought I was some kid off the street. So I thought, ‘Let’s just leave it at that.'”

Yet as chummy as McGann is, it’s doubtful if he’d ever fully open up – at least in interview. Dubbing himself “a miserable bastard at the best of times”, laying bare his soul is unlikely to make him happy. Of his brothers, he says, “We get on OK. We get on fine.” The last time he worked with them was in 1995’s Irish famine saga The Hanging Gale, which the quartet conceived themselves. “The biggest obstacle is getting us all together,” he grunts, when asked if he’d consider working with them again. He’s better on his sons: 17-year-old Joseph is musically gifted, “one of those swines that can play any instrument”, while 15-year-old Jake “has been making funny noises” about following his father into acting.

Such reticence can be easily traced back to the mid-1990s, when McGann had his one uncomfortable brush with the limelight. Caught in the street kissing Catherine Zeta-Jones, his co-star from period piece Catherine the Great, by a photographer, it caused a minor scandal and the press descended upon him and his family. While Joseph and Jake “were really spooked by it” – to the point that they now hate having their photograph taken – McGann admits the gossip “rattled” his relationship with his wife Annie, a former assistant stage manager turned interior designer. “I felt like a kid who was being bullied,” reflects McGann.

Since Gypo, McGann has done what he’s always done, and worked steadily. He recently completed the lead in Poppies, a film about a playwright who becomes obsessed with the fact his grandfather and two great uncles were killed in the Battle of the Somme that will receive its premiere in November at the Imperial War Museum. And he is currently filming a short produced by Zoë Ball entitled Always Crashing In The Same Car, reuniting with Grant for the first time since Withnail and I. “It’s good when we’re together,” says McGann. “We’re still mates. Our kids know each other. Very occasionally we’re together in the same place – and then it’s difficult to pay for a drink. I like that.”

Tom Baker (2001)

August 5, 2009

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.