In what must surely be some sort of record, Tom Baker has his name on the cover of the current issue of Radio Times, in which he’s interviewed about the role he left almost four decades ago – despite there being no upcoming broadcast of any of his episodes on a UK channel.
But Tom never really left Doctor Who behind, of course, as he recounts to guest editor David Walliams who, given the chance to select a childhood hero to speak to, opted for the Fourth Doctor:
“When Radio Times asked which childhood hero I would most like to meet, it had to be you. I can remember sitting on the sofa with my dad watching you in Doctor Who and being in total awe of you. I thought that you were magic. And that awe has actually never gone. That was why Matt Lucas and I chose you to voice Little Britain.”
Tom is always good value in interviews, even if many of his anecdotes are familiar. The religious upbringing which culminated in becoming a monk, the time spent labouring on a building site in Pimlico before he found out he’d been chosen to be the new Doctor, hanging out in bars with the likes of Francis Bacon and Jeffrey Barnard… the tales may be well-worn, but are told with that inimitable Baker charm:
“Becoming a monk in Catholic Liverpool was a way of getting three meals a day. And my mother was a terrible cook. I was about 14 or 15 when I joined but I was very religious all my life. I was also poor and terrible in school, and thought the only way to be extraordinary was through religion. And I really liked being dressed up in a cassock and surplice – I’d always had an impulse to wear women’s clothes…”
Other stories are less familiar, such as when Tom recounts a tricky time as a guest star in an episode of Blackadder II (“Some people were amazed I ever worked again. Rowan Atkinson was so anxious – he wasn’t very fun to work with”).
But Doctor Who fans are always happiest when Tom Baker talks about Doctor Who, and it’s wonderful that after all these years of talking about the series he can still describe his time as the Doctor in such an engaging way:
“When I got it, they said, “What are you going to do with it?” I had no idea, which made them a bit anxious. In the end, I was just entirely myself. A man with a sonic screwdriver, who could put a band around a planet, who could dematerialise, who could go backwards and forwards in time – it’s what we all do in our imagination all the time, isn’t it?”
David Walliams’s interview with Tom Baker appears in the current issue of Radio Times (dated 16- 22 March 2019) but if you missed it in the shops you can read the full interview online. You can also enjoy Baker’s final season as the Doctor as a Blu-ray, out today.