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9/20/12

Tom Baker as the Current Doctor Who: Could he thrive?

How would Tom Baker do in the milieu of today's Dr. Who -- that is, if he were the current Doctor. We have better scripts, directing, production values, with a stronger array of secondary characters. Could he thrive?

Yes.

All three of the modern Doctors have received a more complex raison d'être than the early rendition of the show. Before the reincarnation of the show, we knew little about the personalities, plots felt like stiff radio episodes, the companions were more prop-like than characters, and the sets had a bad off-Broadway theater look to them.

I love Dr. Who. Enthusiastic friends pulled me into the BBC classic my sophomore year of high school, during the Tom Baker era. Baker was done with the role, but we watched reruns on PBS (Channel 11 in Chicago). Daleks, K9, Romana, Leela, Harry Sullivan and so on. And the scarf. I have one of those scarves. Bought it then. Still have it.

Back to the Doctors.

I think Christopher Eccleston could have been fantastic if given more time. He captivated a kind of rage not seen in any Doctor before of after. There was a tension that could snap at any time of it weren't for the incredible Rose Tyler (Billie Piper).

David Tennant is a brilliantly textured actor, and he and the writers had time to figure his Doctor out. More on him below.

Matt Smith seems too young for the role. Karen Gillan's Amy Pond is a much stronger personality and it shows. It feels too much like he is acting, as opposed to his three modern predecessors who "were" Dr. Who. They owned the role. Smith is passable, but still too green to get it.

[Speaking of Matt Smith, my children's tale Mr. Smith and His Delicious Ice Cream: A Bluster County Tale is free on Kindle for a limited time. A different Mr. Smith. Plenty of fun, calorie-free.]

Tom Baker had plenty of time to develop the Doctor Who persona, but the writers and producers never gave him a chance. Even episodes written by the late, great Douglas Adams felt wooden and thinly layered.

Part of it was the times. Technology limited the BBC's options. So did budget. But, so did talent. The sum of who works on today's Dr. Who trumps the, say, 1978 version tenfold. Consider how popular the Fourth Doctor remains, despite all of the drawbacks the 1970s Dr. Who offered. Survey after survey finds him at or near the top. Baker is the singular reason.

Baker played the Fourth Doctor from 1974-1981. Quite possibly the most eccentric of all the Doctors. Tennant could be vary his personality a thousand ways, showing great emotional depth. Always, however, Tennant's Doctor had a Shakespearean dimension, and with that, a kind of predictability. Baker, in turn, was often so playful and goofy. Tennant's theater training makes him among the strongest of the lot while, at the same time, limiting him.

In the long run, Tennant's acting career will be richer, with more interesting roles than Baker could imagine. Already, his resume is vastly impressive. But, if Tom Baker were to be the 13th Doctor, though in his prime in his 40s, I think he'd nail it. He was born to be the Doctor.

What do you think?

The video below looks at some of Tom Baker's sillier bits. (Justice Carmon, comic/fantasy blogger, will enjoy the first scene.)



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