Doctor Who: The Tom Baker Years, 1974-81

Tom BakerDoctor Who

    Season 12: 1974-75

  1. Robot
  2. The Ark In Space
  3. The Sontaran Experiment
  4. Genesis Of The Daleks
  5. Revenge Of The Cybermen
  6. Season 13: 1975-76

  7. Terror Of The Zygons
  8. Planet Of Evil
  9. Pyramids Of Mars
  10. The Android Invasion
  11. The Brain Of Morbius
  12. The Seeds Of Doom
  13. Season 14: 1976-77

  14. Masque Of Mandragora
  15. The Hand Of Fear
  16. The Deadly Assassin
  17. The Face Of Evil
  18. The Robots Of Death
  19. The Talons Of Weng-Chiang
  20. Season 15: 1977-78

  21. The Horror Of Fang Rock
  22. The Invisible Enemy
  23. Image Of The Fendahl
  24. The Sun Makers
  25. Underworld
  26. The Invasion Of Time
  27. Season 16: 1978-79 – The Key To Time

  28. The Ribos Operation
  29. The Pirate Planet
  30. The Stones Of Blood
  31. The Androids Of Tara
  32. The Power Of Kroll
  33. The Armageddon Factor
  34. Season 17: 1979-80

  35. Destiny Of The Daleks
  36. City Of Death
  37. The Creature From The Pit
  38. Nightmare Of Eden
  39. The Horns Of Nimon
  40. Shada (never broadcast)
  41. Season 18: 1980-81

  42. The Leisure Hive
  43. Meglos
  44. Full Circle
  45. State Of Decay
  46. Warriors’ Gate
  47. The Keeper Of Traken
  48. Logopolis

In the wake of the announcement that Jon Pertwee would be relinquishing the role of the Doctor, Doctor Who producer Barry Letts mounted an extensive search for the fourth actor to play the role. At one point, actor and children’s show presenter Richard Hearne was a strong contender, and stories for Doctor Who’s 12th season were mapped out with an older, almost elderly Doctor in mind. Having impressed Letts in season 10’s Carnival Of Monsters, actor Ian Marter was drafted back into service as Dr. Harry Sullivan, a UNIT doctor who would treat the newly-regenerated Time Lord – and would then join the Doctor and Sarah in the TARDIS. Harry Sullivan was designed specifically to provide a younger male counterpart to Hearne’s Doctor, taking on some of the more physical tasks – including fighting – that Hearne would be incapable of.

And then Richard Hearne had a change of heart. Having spent years establishing himself as a children’s show host named “Mr. Pastry,” Hearne was considered by many to have lost himself in the role. He was concerned with the show’s content, and – by one account – even told Letts that he didn’t think “Mr. Pastry would be right for the part.” Letts continued his search, until a fortuitous call from a BBC executive led him in the direction of a little-known actor named Tom Baker.

As only the luckiest actors have the luxury of being in demand year-round, Baker was laying bricks at a building site when he was contacted by the BBC. Letts felt the interview was promising, and upon seeing some of Baker’s film work, decided that he was right for the part, his eyes conveying the otherworldliness of the Doctor effectively. Happy to not only be offered a job, but a job that was almost guaranteed to continue for as long as he wanted to work, Tom Baker happily signed the contract.

Ian Marter as Harry SullivanElisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane SmithTom Baker as the DoctorIn the 12th season, the fourth Doctor – with Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry in tow – faced off against an array of classic villains, from the Sontarans (introduced in Pertwee’s final season opener) to the Daleks to a curiously diminished platoon of Cybermen, a villain not seen since Patrick Troughton’s era. The Doctor’s eccentricity was played to the fore, and his new incarnation was more playful and yet more philosophical than the third Doctor. This Doctor was capable of defending himself in physical combat, but usually chose to outwit his enemies. The unanticipated change of lead actor left the character of Harry Sullivan at a loose end, but he was quickly retooled into a foil for Sarah, though without even a hint of sexual tension. The Doctor’s physical prowess also landed Baker in an extremely painful situation, as a fall on the location shoot for The Sontaran Experiment sidelined the actor with a broken collarbone. For much of this two-part story (the first story of that abbreviated length since 1964’s The Rescue), stuntman Terry Walsh played the Doctor in wide-angle shots, while close-up dialogue scenes were staged with a painfully propped-up Baker, his costume covering a neck brace.

Doctor Who: Genesis Of The DaleksTerry Nation returned to the fold with the surprising Genesis Of The Daleks, a six-parter in which the Daleks appeared only briefly. As the title implied, the story took the Doctor, Sarah and Harry to the Dalek homeworld of Skaro just before the Dalek terror was unleashed, where a Time Lord agent assigned the Doctor to prevent the metal monsters from ever coming into existence. The chief villain of the story was Davros (Michael Wisher), a gnarled husk of a scientist developing a protective casing for the mutants that his people would become after decades of atomic warfare. In a thought-provoking scene, the Doctor refused to disrupt established history – a timeline replete with unlikely alliances and peace treaties forged in the face of Dalek aggression – and merely set the Daleks’ exodus from Skaro back by several years.

Doctor Who: Terror Of The Zygons soundtrackSeason 13 brought the TARDIS team back to modern-day Earth for Terror Of The Zygons, which would also see Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s final appearance in the 1970s. And with his whole purpose in the series sidelined with the arrival of Tom Baker, Ian Marter left the cast as well, though he would return to play Harry Sullivan in a one-off appearance later in the season. Sarah continued her travels with the Doctor through some of the best stories in the Tom Baker era, crafted by the new team of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. Both fans of gothic horror, Hinchcliffe and Holmes aimed to make the Doctor’s adventures more mature and his enemies more sinister. With such stories as Pyramids Of Mars and The Brain Of Morbius, they succeeded brilliantly, though the increased violence – even often implied more than seen – was noticed by watchdog groups as well. The notorious Mary Whitehouse became a fixture of news stories about Doctor Who, and Hinchcliffe secretly reveled in it – every time she issued a public statement complaining about the show’s content, ratings increased as casual viewers tuned in to see what the fuss was all about.

Doctor Who: Pyramids Of MarsThe Mary Whitehouse connection persisted into season 14, particularly in a four-part story called The Deadly Assassin, in which the Doctor travels alone to his home planet of Gallifrey in an attempt to thwart the assassination of the President of the Time Lords. In a Gallifreyan virtual reality construct known – curiously enough – as the Matrix, the Doctor fought the assassin in a variety of tense situations, most of them requiring the application of brute force. Episode 3’s cliffhanger concluded on a shot of the assassin holding the Doctor’s head underwater. Mary Whitehouse again complained, but the stark realism of that scene caused others to take note, and the BBC brass quickly earmarked producer Philip Hinchcliffe for a transfer to an adult police drama the network felt was more suited to that level of gritty violence.

Doctor Who: The Robots Of DeathBut the rest of the season had already been completed by that time, and Hinchcliffe’s final stories were broadcast as written and edited, including the following story, The Face Of Evil, introducing Leela, a scantily-clad savage who took great pride in her skill killing enemies with her dagger or a dart made from her home planet’s deadly Janis Thorn. Though Hinchcliffe and Holmes had already made decisive moves toward a running theme of the Doctor trying to “civilize” Leela a la Pygmalion, not everyone took to the new character – least of all Tom Baker, who took every opportunity to voice his objections to Leela: during rehearsals, during script read-throughs, during filming…

The 15th season of Doctor Who saw a new producer – Graham Williams – and a new direction for the show, one which would come back to haunt it for years to come. Williams was under orders to tone down the level of violence and horror introduced by Hinchcliffe, and to steer the series toward family viewing. The second story of the season, The Invisible Enemy, firmly pointed the TARDIS in that more whimsical direction by introducing a new companion in the form of a robot dog named K-9. Stories like The Horror Of Fang Rock and Image Of The Fendahl didn’t reduce the violence as much as the BBC would have liked, and earned Williams a tap on the shoulder from his bosses. In the last story of the season, The Invasion Of Time, knife-slinging Leela was written out of the show, remaining on Gallifrey to marry a Time Lord security guard after fighting alongside him during a Sontaran invasion.

Doctor Who: The Pirate PlanetDoctor Who: The Ribos OperationFor the 16th season, Graham Williams and script editor Antony Read began to plan a season of stories linked by a single theme – the Doctor’s quest to recover the Key To Time and restore balance to the universe. Initially, Williams wanted to make the unprecedented move of bringing back a previous companion, but when Elisabeth Sladen turned down the chance to play Sarah Jane Smith again, the character of Romana – a young female Time Lord selected to help the Doctor on his quest – was created. The second story of the season, The Pirate Planet, was written by a relatively unknown but enthusiastic radio writer named Douglas Adams; Adams’ future claim to fame, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, had yet to air at the time his first Doctor Who script was commissions. But Douglas Adams’ mix of humor and speculative SF made him not only a shoe-in for the show’s writing pool, but a script-editor-in-training when Antony Read decided to move on.

Doctor Who: The Armageddon FactorDoctor Who: The Pirate PlanetThe final story of the Key To Time season, The Armageddon Factor, would see Romana out after only six stories. Despite earning nearly universal fan acclaim for her portrayal of the brilliant and glamorous Time Lady, Mary Tamm was ready to move on. Williams and Adams realized that this didn’t mean the end of the character, however: Romana, like the Doctor, could simply regenerate. And so she did, into actress Lalla Ward (an Armageddon Factor guest star whose performance had impressed the show’s makers), in Destiny Of The Daleks, the season 17 opener. But Romana wasn’t the only returning character in that story: Davros, the Daleks’ creator, appeared as well (with a new face of his own – under the mask at least), and began to take center stage in the Dalek mythos, to the degree that, as with Genesis Of The Daleks, the titular menace got less screen time than their fictional creator.

With Adams’ humor now driving the scripts, Tom Baker was now making less of a fuss, though the same couldn’t be said of Adams now that Baker was driving rehearsals. The actor had a growing tendency to play the part of the Doctor for laughs, something that Adams disagreed with. Adams professed a liking, on more than one occasion, for a style of storytelling that would include bizarrely improbable plots to their logical extremes, however terrifying those may be. Adams’ dark comedy was sacrificed to Baker’s tendency to milk the scripts for every tongue-in-cheek verbal or visual gag possible. But Baker had now surpassed Jon Pertwee as the most prolific, longest-lived Doctor to date, and the series was riding a wave of consistently high ratings. Adams was still an unknown radio writer, and not yet an international multimedia superstar. Baker almost always won any disagreements about interpretation of the material.

City Of DeathNext up was City Of Death, one of the highlights of the entire Baker era, with a witty and yet plausible script by Douglas Adams, writing under a pseudonym when another writer’s assignment fell through at the last minute. Filmed on location in Paris, and featuring an all-star cast including Catherine Schell (Space: 1999), John Cleese (Monty Python), and Eleanor Bron, City Of Death was a stylish adventure with just the right amounts of comedy and drama and science fiction. By comparison, the remainder of season 17 faltered: The Creature From The Pit and The Horns Of Nimon were graced with low production values and scripts that went too far in the direction of a tongue-in-cheek interpretation, while The Nightmare Of Eden combined those already unfavorable elements with an ineffectual, dead-on-arrival anti-drug message. It wasn’t unknown for moral messages to be written into the fabric of a Doctor Who story, but seldom did those parables misfire as miserably as they did in that case. And the final story of the season, a six-parter by Dougas Adams called Shada, became an enigma by virtue of never being completed. A strike at the BBC’s production facilities meant that many vital scenes were never filmed, and as a result Shada was never aired. If he had remained as producer, Graham Williams might have been able to campaign for finishing Shada, but Williams was keen to move on, and his production unit manager, John Nathan-Turner, was eager to move up to the rank of producer. The BBC promoted Nathan-Turner and allowed him to run the show, but brought back Barry Letts temporarily with the unprecedented title of executive producer, giving him the authority to approve or challenge the rookie producer’s decisions.

And Nathan-Turner had many distinct ideas on things he wanted to change: he wanted to do away with the logo and opening sequence that had been in place since 1974, with an eye toward replacing it with a more futuristic/space motif. The new producer also wanted a new arrangement of Ron Grainer’s immortal theme music, and wanted this new theme and all of the incidental music to be handled by the synth wizards of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. He also wanted to change the Doctor’s costume, but after much debate, it was decided to keep the basic shirt-tie-vest-overcoat-scarf combinbation that Baker had been wearing since his debut story, but change the color of all of these items to various shades of dark red. A question mark was added to each of the Doctor’s lapels, a move Nathan-Turner felt would make the show more marketable. He also wanted to do away with K-9, though leaks of this story to several newspapers resulted in an uproar among the children of Britain, even before a single frame of Nathan-Turner’s first season as producer had aired. According to some newspapers’ polls, children would’ve been happier to see the Doctor leave his own series than K-9! But despite the outcry, John Nathan-Turner held fast: K-9 would be leaving the series, but would not be killed off, as some newspapers had reported. He also wanted to bring a more dramatic feel to the series, eliminating the tongue-in-cheek humor of Graham Williams’ final stories.

It was this last change which didn’t settle well with Tom Baker; he himself had been the architect of the show’s shift toward humor, and through a series of meetings, it became increasingly apparent that Baker and Nathan-Turner could not see eye to eye. An agreement was struck in which Tom Baker would vacate the TARDIS at the end of his seventh year in the role. This would allow John Nathan-Turner to continue shaping the show to meet his requirements by recasting the Doctor himself, and the announcement of Baker’s impending departure generated unprecedented publicity. Fans and the general public alike speculated on Baker’s successor as the season began.

Doctor Who: The Leisure HiveThe new look, sound, and feel of Doctor Who was immediately apparent. With the advent of digital effects, the previously un-doable shot of the TARDIS materializing as the camera appeared to zoom out to a wider view opened the season. Disabled in the season’s first two stories, it appeared that K-9 would be benched until his exit. In the third story of the season, Full Circle, a new companion was introduced in the form of rookie teenage actor Matthew Waterhouse as Adric, an ill-mannered but brilliant math student from an alternate universe in which the TARDIS becomes trapped. That three-story arc, consisting of Full Circle, State Of Decay and the unusually abstract Warriors’ Gate, also saw off Romana and K-9 – though by this time Lalla Ward and Tom Baker had become engaged and gotten married. The following story, The Keeper Of Traken, began a trilogy of another sort, introducing Sarah Sutton as another new young companion, Nyssa, and bringing back the corpse-like husk of the Master, a character who had only appeared once since Roger Delgado’s death in 1973. At the end of Traken, the Master acquires a healthy new body – that of Nyssa’s unfortunate father, played by Anthony Ainley, and Ainley then continued in the role of the Master, comlpete with a black suit and goatee reminiscent of Delgado.

Matthew Waterhouse as AdricJanet Fielding as Tegan JovankaThe final story of the season, Logopolis, saw the Doctor and Master locked in mortal combat for the freedom of the universe, and introduced a third TARDIS crew member, Tegan Jovanka (played by Janet Fielding). At the end of part four, the Doctor sacrificed his fourth life to prevent the Master from enslaving the universe and regenerated into John Nathan-Turner’s new choice for the role of the Doctor, actor Peter Davison. Already well-known on British TV for his portrayal of veterinarian Tristan Farnon on All Creatures Great And Small, Davison was a good bet in the bankable-celebrity department. But with the first new Doctor in nearly a decade (indeed, the first new Doctor ever in some young viewers’ minds), a new cast of companions aboard the TARDIS, new music, a new look, and even a new Master…was this still the same show?