I say “should”, but y’know, I don’t want to gatekeep or the like; you might really not like the Fourth Doctor, in which case, sure, I JUDGE you, but I don’t want you to be miserable watching Fourth Doctor stories when you could be having a yayful time watching Pertwee or the Other Baker or Eccleston or such. SO. With that DUBIOUS excusing of the title of the post out of the way, it’s Tom Baker’s birthday! He’s Eleventy Hundred or something and is going to live forever! And here are five Doctor Who stories what he did where he was the most marvellous Tom Baker that Tom Baker can be.
Genesis of the Daleks – An obvious pick but DAMMIT, it’s obvious for a reason. It’s freaking GREAT. Don’t say Genesis isn’t great, it is; the only reason it might not FEEL great is because you’ve been told it’s great so many times that you built up some sort of televisual tolerance to its greatness. This is Doctor Who at Allegorical Best. It’s not subtle, but it doesn’t need to be subtle. It doesn’t WANT to be subtle. It wants to be the Doctor fighting fascism where there is a cause of death round every radioactive corner and you’re half-convinced no-one is going to get out of this mess alive. It’s about MORALITY, and how the right thing might not be the good thing, and there can be no good choices, but maybe there are cheats and temporary fixes, and oh God, WHILE THERE’S LIFE THERE’S HOPE. Also, there’s THE SCENE. “Would you do it?” It’s a great scene. A stupendous scene. Don’t ever diss the scene. (Alternatively, pick out ANY story from Season Eleven aka Tom Baker’s first year; they are all GOLD. (Yes, even Revenge, stfu haters). Tom Baker may not having a clue what the fuck he is doing but he is doing it MARVELLOUSLY. There is, arguably, no better season of Who, ever.)
The Deadly Assassin – I hate to rec this story, I do. It gets recced for terrible reasons, like “the Master is scary” or “the Master’s motivation makes sense.” WHATEVER. IMO, this is the very worst Master story BAR NONE (yeah, I said it, if we’re talking Master stories, I prefer End of Time to this, and I bloody hate End of Time) BUT as a Tom Baker story it is THE TOP. And I don’t say that just cause we get Tom Baker running around the place in boots and a very fetching poet shirt, though frankly, that is a plus. The Doctor is often tasked to outwit his opponent, and we are PRETTY CONFIDENT almost all of the time that the Doctor is smarter, and has more experience, and he will figure a way out. The great thing about Assassin is, sure, it’s his brain fighting, but what we see is the Doctor physically tested. He has to run all around a quarry TRYING TO KILL HIM, and get hunted in a jungle, drowned in a swamp, run over by a train, AND HE STILL KEEPS FIGHTING. We are getting a WHOLE OTHER WARDROBE of acting choices from Baker here, stuff with despair and exhaustion, desperation and fear that are so very rare for any Doctor. Also, Bob Holmes writes much more interesting Time Lords than we’ve seen so far. INTERESTING IS GOOD. AND they get the shiny skull caps and big collars and cloaks. What more does anyone want.
The Pirate Planet -WHAT?! Yes, I know, why didn’t I say The Ribos Operation, or City of Death? Well, yes, you should watch them too, they’re amazing. But I wanted to step OUTSIDE THE OBVIOUS BOX for a second to rec one of my beloved faves. It is forever written on my heart for the moment we get the full Tom Baker Doctor fury of “THEN WHAT’S IT FOR?” Rarely has a Doctor been so angry, so morally outraged, so MAGNIFICENT onscreen. It is worth watching for those seconds alone, dammit. It’s also got a lot of DELIGHTFUL SILLINESS. And if you enjoy this combo of drama and silly then you are WELL SET UP for enjoying practically any Doctor Who story. Also the Captain has a ROBOT PARROT. And there is a shoot off betwen the robot parrot and the Doctor’s robot dog. Oh, Doctor Who.
Horror of Fang Rock – The QUINTESSENTIAL Doctor Who story. Closer to the Platonic ideal than any other seventies Who story. It is MAGNIFICENT. A period piece, in a lighthouse, with an ever decreasing cast as the looming threat circles closer, and ALIENS of DUBIOUS DESIGN. This is a story to be CHERISHED. Obviously some fans may not enjoy it, sure, but try to argue this is a bad story TRY IT. YOU CAN’T, not unless you want to be a disengenous cabbage. It’s not just great Doctor Who, it’s top seventies British telly. Also, good game: which is the best directed Doctor Who story, Horror of Fang Rock or Heaven Sent? I DON’T KNOW.
Logopolis – Ah, the swan song. Tom Baker’s final year was a year of sadness, of doom, of heart-wrenching break-up with Romana. Sure, Logopolis has its flaws – an eighties computer can save the universe…hang on, I LOVE THAT, that’s not a flaw, that’s lolarious. But there is that bit with the Master and the tape recorder. Let’s ignore that, and focus on Tom Baker, who is magnificent, and commanding, and DOOMED, and he knows it. There is a majesty to his final performance, an invulnerability even as he knows he’s going to die. Sure it’s not a perfect story, there are messy bits, Adric is there, but there is a GREATNESS to it. It’s a final salute not just to this incarntion of the Doctor but, in many ways, to THE DOCTOR. And I say that with Troughton as my fave and Capaldi and Smith fighting it out with Baker for second place. No other actor so indelibly stamped the role as his, (the fact is, none of the New Series ones CAN atm, as we simply don’t know if they will stand the test of forty years, but Tom Baker has) and it is a heartwrenching farewell to a truly great Doctor.
And that’s the lot! Happy birthday, Tom Baker, and thank you for making my childhood that little bit more magical!