The Fourth Doctor: Five Favourites
Guest contributor K-Ci Williams picks out five favourites from Tom Baker’s era.
Tom Baker is the longest running onscreen Doctor of all time, and much like William Hartnell, he captured the hearts of many Whovians across the globe. Donning a colourful scarf and having wonderful companions, Tom Baker defined the Doctor. In what is set to be an amazing year with long waits in wilderness, Tom now reaches his birthday. Here are five of my favourite serials from the Fourth Doctor in tribute to the legendary Tom Baker.
Genesis of the Daleks
The composition of elements in this serial function admirably; concepts, characters, plot, exposition of morality, emotion and humour. At the core of Genesis is the fundamental dilemma which defines the Doctor and his choices – when you have seen universes freeze and creation burn, when you have seen menacing beings beyond terror, if you had the chance to rid the world of that evil – would you?
The underlying tale of Genesis tests the Fourth Doctor in what is perhaps his greatest story. There is a parallel with the Daleks and the Nazis that I feel harks back to the very beginning of the Daleks when they first appeared in The Daleks. But the grand master of the serial is in fact, Davros. Just kidding, it’s Tom Baker. A chilling and fitting opposition to the Doctor, Davros is masterfully brought to life in dialogue and appearance. His development is superlatively written, and opposite Tom Baker, the character shines (in evil). Time for more on Tom Baker: he portrays a troubled Doctor very well; troubled in the sense that he has the choice to stop the Daleks or to let them go. The Doctor does not commit genocide! This is a major memory of this serial that made me adore Tom’s Doctor.
Pyramids of Mars
The villain is one of my favourite things from Pyramids of Mars. Sutekh is one of the most memorable of the past fifty years, with a legacy sprung from just one serial. The power he possesses knows no bounds – evidenced by the fact that he can mentally control the Doctor and destroy him, along with very colourful effects from the seventies. Gabriel Woolf portrays Sutekh with suitable malevolence and sinister gravitas. In an interesting development, Sutekh becomes a villain worthy of the rare superiority privy to very few Doctor Who monsters. Elisabeth Sladen is wonderfully poised in this serial – although I find it difficult to name a time when she wasn’t. There is a scene where the Doctor is very cold when Lawrence is murdered by his brother. Acknowledging that he tried to warn him, the Doctor appears detached from the respect Lawrence should have been afforded in his final moments. This earns really spectacular acting from Elisabeth as an upset Sarah (sorry, Sarah Jane) but then blossoms into a warmth of companionship further in. To describe Tom Baker, well he’s… Tom Baker. Enough said.
Talons of Weng Chiang
For all the Wholock fans, Talons is as close to an actual Sherlock/Who crossover we are likely to ever get. Masterfully written by Robert Holmes, this serial presents a Victorian murder mystery that develops splendidly in the Victorian era (something that other, more modern episodes should strive to achieve). As this serial is comprised of six episodes, I will point out a couple of delightful parts they presented. Firstly, the direction of Mr Sin – who appears as a gruesome and creepy ventriloquist puppet in the first parts – was chilling and sinister that supports the new tone the show was to be taken in at the time. This was for me, the largest lure into the serial. Following from this, the Doctor’s two allies, Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago were a very exciting team. Can you imagine my joy when I learned they were involved in Big Finish? On a side note, the Paternoster Gang with Jago and Litefoot, that’s all I’m saying. I must entertain the fact that Tom Baker was just magnificent in this. I don’t know if it was the Sherlockian get-up, but he certainly had me gripped into the story. Talons is one of those serials that I will gladly rewatch over and over again.
City of Death
This is a serial in which the cinematography is astonishing. Comprised of exquisite landscapes, the story exploits unique spots through location filming. The use of establishing shots is meritorious; they set the scene admirably well and offer a broader sense of scale by which the concepts of the plot can expand. Very early on in the show’s history, you generally would not be presented with wider shots, but City of Death manages to expose grandeur in the opening scenes of the story. Tom Baker is spectacular in this serial, as is Lalla Ward as the second incarnation of Romana. City of Death is highly acclaimed by the fandom so it is no wonder that it navigated the way onto this list. There are a few intriguing concepts that are on display in this plot, namely the split of the antagonist across time; acquiring the Mona Lisa to possess multiple copies in the present in which the Doctor and Romana were visiting. Upon my first and only viewing of this serial I was overcome with fatigue, yet I can still remember the core concepts of this story – a testament to the all round well written and performed serial that City of Death is.
Some accuse this serial of being very padded in the first half of the story, before changing to a fast paced second half. I must acknowledge the fact that while tension builds in the first parts, it is released in the remaining parts which make for a stable set up that features interesting things such as the ring of the cloister bell. I tend to reserve harsh judgements of regeneration episodes because of what they symbolise – fortunately, Logopolis didn’t receive any negative reviews in my mind, so this was not necessary. Logopolis introduces Tegan Jovanka as a woman who just wants to live her normal life, but gets taken away into the TARDIS. I subscribe to the theory that people have a motive for flying away with the Doctor; the lure of adventure, the escape from reality, or the sheer wonder of the stars are all things that make people want to travel in time and space. For the character, Nyssa, as she loses her father and her world with it – she gains a motive. Overall, this story will always be highly treasured by many because of where it stands in chronology – it was the end of the longest era of Doctor Who, and fittingly, this serial is an all time great!
Honourable Mention: The Day of the Doctor
That moment when a familiar voice boomed through the speakers of my television, my heart stopped. Tom Baker made a return to Doctor Who after years of being away from it. I was close to tears with emotion, and the return was executed so beautifully. In fact, I believe that Tom could have stood there for a few seconds with no dialogue and it would have been as wonderful either way.
Now we come to the end of the five favourites for the Fourth Doctor…
“It is the end. But the moment has been prepared for.”
Mr T. Baker, thank you so very much for your long-serving time as the Doctor. For years you played the part in tonally and stylistically different serials that I can now enjoy as a young Whovian. You truly are an amazing Doctor, and I’m so glad you were in the fiftieth special. Thank you again.
Happy Birthday to the spectacular Tom Baker!