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The Three-Fold Man: The Fourth Doctor, part 1

(The last LJ posting I ever did. I disliked it so much, I stopped in the middle of a series.)

General note for this entire series: this will, obviously, be a terribly subjective analysis. Firstly, because I'm me, and my ideas of good and bad will certainly vary differently from those of others. Secondly, because I will be basing my musings on an incomplete assemblage of sources. This includes all of the classic serials on DVD, but no others--I know, I know, but I'm fairly new to Who fandom, and I am not buying VHS tapes that won't even fit anywhere in a year or so. It also includes selected Big Finish audios, which are delightful on the whole. A parting note before I dive in to Doctor number 4: I love the new series, I love the old series, I love all the Doctors, and I love pretty much every companion, so, any criticism or picking which follows, comes from a place of love.

Tom Baker. THE Tom Baker. His reputation as the most popular and longest serving actor ever to play the Doctor is well-established and essentially immutable. However, I would contend that Tom Baker played three distinct characters during his time as the Doctor: his first period begins with his first story, "Robot," and ends, in my opinion, with "The Horror of Fang Rock," over 3 years later. The second period overlaps roughly with K-9's tenure on the TARDIS and begins with "The Invisible Enemy" and ends with "The Horns of Nimon" (or "Shada" if you count it). The last period is Baker's last series as the Doctor, series 18, starting with "The Leisure Hive" and ending with his regeneration in "Logopolis." In a way, the length of Baker's tenure allowed there to be development in the Doctor's character, something we hadn't ever really seen before and wouldn't really see again until David Tennant's tenure as the Doctor. Note: these three periods roughly coincide with changes in producer and story style, so I'll touch on those as well.

Now, on the Doctor 4.1: the early Tom Baker. Doctor 4.1 is my favorite of the Baker Doctors by far, and a contender for my favorite Doctor, period. Debuting in "Robot," we immediately get the sense of this Doctor as something "other." Whereas Pertwee comes across as a very suave, very brilliant human, Tom Baker immediately brings a genuine alien-ness to his performance. The scene where he picks his costume is tremendously over the top, but Baker pulls it off, and makes us eager to see what he comes up with for an encore. As soon as he says, "I am THE Doctor, the definite article, you might say," we believe him.

The production team for this first era is the amazing pairing of producer Phillip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. Now, I'm not as in love with this pairing as many other fans are, but they did create a pretty amazing run of episodes. (Note: Baker was cast and his first series of stories were commissioned by the outgoing team of Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts--so at least some of the credit for this era should go to them.) The balancing act was tremendous: the Doctor was alien, but not so alien as to seem distant; the companions were believable and wonderful, but never stole attention away from the Doctor; the villains and stories were familiar, but were given a fresh feel; the show was darker and more mature, but it never felt gratuitous.

The most impressive balance of all was Baker's as the Doctor: still new in the role and trying to differentiate himself from Pertwee, he comes across almost like an idiot savant. There's something almost off-putting about him, yet engaging at the same time. Most importantly, while he loved his comedic touches, he never let them interfere with the seriousness of the situation--stories like "Genesis of the Daleks" and "The Pyramids of Mars" are possible only with this version of this Doctor. That's not to say these adventures would have been rubbish with McCoy or even later Baker--they merely wouldn't be the stories we know and love.

Much of the credit for the early Baker years must be given to the companions: Liz Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan, and Louise Jameson as Leela. Of the three, Leela is my least favorite, but that's mainly because she was dragged down by her later appearances. In episodes like "Robots of Death," she is truly wonderful, and a brilliant departure for the show. Harry Sullivan was a wonderful force in Baker's first season, and letting him go was almost certainly the biggest mistake made in this era (except, perhaps, for "Revenge of the Cybermen" which I haven't seen but do not expect good things from). The chemistry between Sarah, the Doctor, and him is magical. Lastly, a few words need to be said for Sarah Jane Smith, according to some fans, the Doctor's greatest companion--ever. Firstly, she got along well with Jon Pertwee, working well with him in his last season (and in "The Five Doctors); the character blossomed, however, with the Baker Doctor. The two of them together are perfect--don't believe me? Rewatch the last few minutes of "The Hand of Fear"--Robert Holmes wrote the scene in outline, and Baker and Sladen rewrote the scene. It's simply brilliant, and one of the best companion exits in the classic series.

The departure of Sarah, in a way, marks the end of an era, and it could be used as a break-off point for the Baker Doctor. However, he didn't really start to change drastically until K-9 came aboard, and that happened in "The Invisible Enemy."


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