This Easter weekend sees the classic Doctor Who series find a new berth on British television after years away from the screen in the wake of the continuing success of the 21st century reinvention. An initial run of thirty classic serials - a “specially curated season” - begins on Horror Channel on Friday 18th April with the very first story, ‘An Unearthly Child’ which back in November 1963 introduced a curious television audience to the mysterious Doctor (William Hartnell) and his extraordinary Space and Time machine, the TARDIS. A special ‘Who on Horror’ weekend season will feature one story from each of the classic series Doctors with weekday double-bills in daytime and evening slots, screening chronologically, starting on Monday 21st April. Many of the stories are carefully selected to showcase the ‘scary’ elements of the series from the first appearance of the Daleks to iconic adventures featuring giant spiders and maggots as well as some of the controversial 1970s serials starring Tom Baker which aroused so much ire from anti-violence campaigner Mary Whitehouse.
And it’s Tom Baker, now Doctor Who’s elder statesman and a legend in his own right, who is on hand to launch this new run of classic serials on Horror Channel. “Horror is my very favourite genre,” he says, “so I am thrilled the classic Doctor Who series have been picked up by the Horror Channel. There was clearly a darker edge to my storylines, which I think brought a new dimension to the series.” On April 14th newspaper reporters, bloggers, webmasters, tweeters and, yes, STARBURST, were in attendance at the swanky Ivy Club in London’s West End to mingle with dusty Daleks and crumbling Cybermen and, more importantly, to spend time with the astonishing Tom Baker as Horror Channel launched its latest cult TV acquisition. Now a sprightly 80 year-old who walks with the aid of a stick, Tom Baker is still sharp, quick-witted, outrageous and occasionally downright scandalous. During a lively thirty-odd minute round-table Press conference the most popular Doctor of them all captivated his audience with tall tales of the life and times of the TV’s most famous Time Lord…
Here’s some (extremely) edited highlights of Tom Baker at Horror Channel…
TOM BAKER ON…
…horror in Doctor Who.
"I thought they were all great comedy when I was doing it but I suppose the obvious ones are ‘Talons of Weng-Chiang’ and ‘Pyramids of Mars’. I think it should be whatever people want it to be. I’m very interested in horror - not so much now because horror is an actuality with me now - but we like to be frightened and I think that’s what reading crime fiction is about. I heard a woman in Waterstones the other day saying ‘have you got anything gruesome’ and when you look around that’s the biggest-selling thing, isn’t it? We all want to get away from sanity and chastity and virtue and to be frightened and to enter another world when in reality of course we want nice neighbours and no crime and no drugs but I think it’s that nice area of our minds which says ‘let’s get out of here and into our imaginations’."
…on meeting fans today.
"Seeing fans’ enthusiasm today donkeys years after I left is really quite extraordinary and so is the intensity of their emotions. I still get lots of mail, probably ten a day or something and they’re all emotional and people are thanking me and being reminded of when they were children and how happy they were. In those days television allowed us to cohere more without video recording; you had to watch in real time and talk about it the next day otherwise you were out of the loop and so people stop me and say sweet things. A man stopped me in Oxford Street and said ‘Tom Baker? I can’t believe it’ and I caught a glimpse of myself in a show window and thought ‘I can’t believe it either’. He said ‘When I was a boy I was in a care home in Wales, nobody wanted me’ and his eyes filled with tears and he said ‘And you made a difference’. I was terribly touched by that and I went to speak to him but he couldn’t speak so he just gave that little eloquent ‘punch’ that people sometimes do and then he was gone. Then the other day a man wrote to me and said he was getting married because he met his girlfriend in a queue where I was signing books and the queue was so long he was introduced to this girl and by the time he got to me he was engaged. In America of course the queues were so long they’d meet in the queue and by the time they got to me they were married! So this fellow - he doesn’t understand the law - wants me to undertake the wedding service which, he said, would complete his happiness. I had to write to him and tell him I’d Googled it up because I thought it might be a fun photoshoot but it’s not allowed. I’d have to do a course and I’m not in the mood for becoming a registrar."
…on getting the role of the Doctor.
"I was in the Ray Harryhausen film The Golden Voyage of Sinbad playing a wizard or something and it was playing at a cinema next door to the BBC, about 50 yards away. So when my name came up they all piled into a taxi - because that’s what they do at the BBC - and they went next door to the cinema. They liked what they saw so I went in for an interview and suddenly I was Doctor Who. I was working on a building site making tea - that’s all I was good for - and when they told me I’d got the part they said ‘you can’t tell anyone for a fortnight’ so I had to keep my mouth shut for two whole weeks and couldn’t tell anyone I’d got this big part. But I was happy to do it and that’s why I stayed for so long."
…on working with the late Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
"It was a terrible blow to me when she left because she mistakenly thought that a new producer would, at the end of her contract, want to chose his own girl - apparently that’s very common - and she anticipated that by resigning. It was a terrible shock to me because we got on so well; she admired me so much and people who admire me can be quite influential with me, I can be easily persuaded if I get enough admiration. But I had a terrific tender thing for Elisabeth although I never really saw her out of the studio. She was replaced by Louise Jameson. We’re good fiends now but Louise tells me I was very cold towards her and I tell her it was because I was shocked that Elisabeth had gone. It also changed the physical relationship a lot because with Elisabeth I could throw her into tunnels and scramble after her but when Louise arrived playing Leela and wearing very few clothes I couldn’t throw her into a pipe and scramble in after her without raising at least eyebrows! I think it was being mooted at the time that Lis began to be ill that I was going be in The Sarah Jane Adventures but I never got around to doing it. I don’t accept many jobs now because I can’t be bothered and what’s the point in having a rich wife and then chasing cheap jobs at the BBC. It doesn’t figure, does it?"
…on working with robot dog K9.
"I didn’t like K9 at all because it meant that every time we had a two-shot I had to get down on my knees - reminding me of the days when I was a Catholic and it was pretty bloody boring being reminded of those days. And of course back then the dog couldn’t move quickly. It was retrieved in rehearsal by John Leeson (K9’s voice actor) playing the dog and I said ‘Why can’t we give John a costume looking like a dog and moving around and he can answer the phone and play chess’ but by that time of course the BBC were marketing K9 and they didn’t want any discussion about that. But finally I got used to him."
…on his conflict with new producer John Nathan-Turner during his final season.
"I didn’t like his taste in anything at all and he knew that and he didn’t like what I was doing. But he wanted to make his mark on the programme, quite understandably, and when I offered my resignation he was very demonstrative and he embraced me with tears in his eyes and thanked me very much. I was a bit shocked because I thought he might have said ‘Are you sure?’ but I think he was relieved! He sent me some flowers afterwards and later we became quite good friends when all the tensions had gone and it didn’t matter any more but there were a lot of arguments about how things should be done because it’s often a matter of opinion over what‘s funny or what’s dramatic and no two or three people can agree about that. But it’s all in the past now. Then he died, of course. One of the reasons my career stalled after Doctor Who was because word got around that after working with me quite a lot of directors died unexpectedly, some of them in terrible agony. I once saw Trevor Nunn near Bow Street and he crossed the road to avoid me. People are nervous of actors who make them die which I think is a bit wimpish."
…on turning down the 1983 twentieth anniversary story ‘The Five Doctors’.
"I turned down ‘The Five Doctors’ because it wasn’t long since I’d left and I’d left because I felt I’d run my course but I wasn’t getting on very well with John and so when I realised he was going to produce it I just thought ‘No’. Anyway I didn’t want to play 20% of it, I didn’t fancy being a feed for other Doctors, it filled with horror. Now, if someone asked me do a scene with some old Doctor and they let me tamper with the script I think it might be quite droll."
…on appearing in the fiftieth anniversary episode ‘Day of the Doctor - - and nearly not appearing.
"I did contemplate not doing it but I was persuaded by a girl called Caroline Skinner who was the producer and she came to meet me in the Mermaid Hotel in Rye and she begged me to be in it. She’s a very persuasive girl and she was very charming and said I could tamper with the script so I said ‘yes’ to her. Then the script arrived a few months later and I didn’t much care for it so I rang the BBC and said ‘Get me Caroline Skinner’ and they said ‘Who?’ and I said ‘That’s the Doctor Who production office and you’re asking me who Caroline Skinner is - she’s the producer!’ Then a voice said ‘Oh, I’m so sorry she’s not with us anymore.’ I later found out she’d been murdered*, presumably by someone else at the BBC who was after her job but I never heard from her again. But by that time I’d agreed to do it; I’m not sorry now. Going to Cardiff on a winter’s morning at 4am couldn’t possibly be fun but it was nice although I didn’t understand the cameras any more - it was all HD so I was a bit uneasy. But Matt Smith was a charming young man and we did this little scene which people liked a lot."
…on ‘who’ the Curator in ‘Day of the Doctor’ was actually supposed to be.
"Typical of the BBC, nobody knows! He could be the next Director General for all we know. You’ve really got to suspend your disbelief when you’re working for the BBC, anything can happen. The monsters in Doctor Who were never so amazing as the monsters on the sixth floor; there were some very improbable-looking people up there."
…on finally being reconciled with the fact that other actors have played the Doctor.
"It’s only recently dawned on me that there were other Doctors! I don’t know them and I’ve got no desire to know them and of course I’ve never watched them which is only fair because I never watched myself, all I wanted to do was do it. I was playing Doctor Who before I got the part in truth, which is why I was so happy when I got it. I didn’t watch it because I was so opinionated about which shots they used, I thought ‘oh we did a better take than that’ so I just celebrated coming out of obscurity and becoming a children’s hero and not to be soppy about it. It really gave me enormous pleasure and I did a lot to promote the programme and still do. At ExCel , I was introduced by Nick Briggs in front of 3000 people and probably what he should have done was call us all on to the stage and introduce us together but he thought ‘I’ll start with the old man in case he’s dead by the time I get to him’ and he said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Baker’. I walked into the light and it was ecstasy. The applause as tumultuous, it went on and on and on; I was messing around to extend it and that was a terrible mistake because I know, as an actor, that there’s only so much laughter in a room, there’s only so much energy and I’d taken up about 30% of it in the first thirty seconds and I thought ‘If this goes on, the other boys are going to come on in silence’ - so naturally I went on. And then they came on to less energy in the room but, well, that’s show business!"
…on being the longest-serving Doctor and the continuing legacy of the role.
"It’s quite daunting. I’m now 29,200 days old and that’s pretty daunting in itself. All that time has passed but it almost makes me immortal because people are still stopping me in the street. Doctor Who informs my life almost entirely outside of my home because I am a famous fiction and everybody in the shops calls me ‘Doctor’ and I respond as the Doctor and they present babies to me and say lovely things. It impinges on me all the time but always in a very benevolent way. I’ve always thought of myself as a sort of benevolent alien anyway - how pathetic!"
Doctor Who - An Unearthly Child airs on Horror Channel from 7pm on 18th April
Doctor Who - The Mind Robber airs from 13.20pm on 19th April
Doctor Who - Terror of the Autons airs from 15.45pm on 19th April
Doctor Who - Brain of Morbius airs from 18.00pm on 19th April
Doctor Who - Caves of Androzani airs from 12.10pm on 20th April
Doctor Who - Attack of the Cybermen airs from 14.30pm on 20th April
Doctor Who - Remembrance of the Daleks airs from 16.50pm on 20th April
Check out www.horrorchannel.co.uk for details of future classic Doctor Who screenings.
* Caroline Skinner has not been murdered.
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