It’s with huge sadness that we report the passing of the Doctor Who writer, Bob Baker.
He wrote some fantastic stories, but will probably be best remembered as the co-creator of that iconic dog, K9, a true legend of Doctor Who. And actually, I think he’ll have been proud to have K9 as a major part of his legacy because he seemed so pleased to have come up with such a fantastic part of the Who universe — and because Bob had quite a history of working with fictional dogs.
What many do not know is that Bob worked on some of your favourite Aardman stories too: with Aardman architect, Nick Park, he co-wrote several Wallace and Gromit stories, starting off with The Wrong Trousers, then A Close Shave, Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention, and the award-winning The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Plus, he’s one of the few writers who penned his own death scene: for A Matter of Loaf and Death, the model of Baker Bob was clearly our dear Bob Baker.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that he worked so closely with Aardman (which has a home in the South West): Robert John “Bob” Baker was born in Bristol in 1939, and, with Dave Martin, came to be known by the Doctor Who production team as one of the “Bristol boys”. Baker and Martin first teamed up in the 1960s, writing stage plays, although Bob had previously trained as a stonemason — restoring houses and engraving gravestones (“so I was always a writer!” he once mused). It was fortunate for us that his career moved into writing, but again, no great shock: he was a natural, witty, and imaginative writer who could always be counted on.
Creativity was in his DNA: he’d created animations and live-action short stories as a child; went to the West of England College of Art in Bristol; worked in magazine creation; played saxophone in a jazz band; scouted locations around Bristol for the film, Some People (1962); and worked as a cartoonist for the BBC.
But it was through his house renovations that he met Dave Martin, who would go on to be his long-term writing partner. Bob had converted one house into a shop, and was manning the tills when he came to know Dave (then a copywriter). Their partnership initially resulted in the TV play, Thick as Thieves (1971).
They also sent a script to the BBC riffing on the antics of Bob’s good friend (and future chef legend) Keith Floyd, and through this, a production company recognised their talent, commissioning them to write a four-part story which would become The Claws of Axos.
It’s an iconic story: full of luminous ideas and equally luminous aliens, in the Axons, we were presented with motives as fascinating as their hive minds, globular avatars, and thrilling designs. It’s a wonder they’ve never returned on screen.
But of course, for the duo, it would kick off a long association with the programme, and they were quickly invited back to script The Mutants and then the 10th anniversary celebratory tale, The Three Doctors.
I was lucky enough to meet Bob three times: once at a convention; once in Forbidden Planet, in which he was signing his 2013 autobiography, K9 Stole My Trousers; and once at a pub in Bristol, in which he was giving a talk about writing. It was a warm, intimate affair, in which Bob’s laid-back and comedic manner immediately eased the audience.
Sure, some of the old anecdotes were trotted out again for those who were unfamiliar with old Who lore (for instance, his questioning why he wasn’t invited back after Dave Martin decided he needed a break from Doctor Who, and his astonishment that the BBC thought they always came as a pair — fortunately, this led to Baker’s only Doctor Who singular writing credit, 1979’s hugely underrated Nightmare of Eden, a sublime commentary on drug abuse).
At the start was a presentation of some of the things Bob had written, and I vividly recall the wave of laughter that erupted after a clip from The Three Doctors. You know the one: “I am he and he is me.” “And we are all together, goo goo ga joob?”
While Bob remained the last surviving writer to script the Third Doctor era, the core of his credits came for the Fourth Doctor. Following The Three Doctors, Baker and Martin returned for The Sontaran Experiment, Underworld, and The Armageddon Factor — not forgetting having the monumental task of writing out the beloved Sarah Jane Smith in The Hand of Fear.
And K9 was introduced in The Invisible Enemy as a one-off robot character, who seemed to steal the hearts of (some of) the production team and (some of) the fans. He was notoriously difficult to operate on set and some stories had to be reworked to either write him out (like The Power of Kroll and The Leisure Hive) or find something unusual to do with him.
K9 remained an iconic companion, and starred in the spin-offs, K9 & Company, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and his own show. After departing in Warrior’s Gate, he’s also return to Doctor Who, in School Reunion and Journey’s End.
Away from Doctor Who and Aardman, Bob wrote such shows as Sky, King of the Castle, and Into the Labyrinth. The former two were even adapted into novels, while the villain of The Hand of Fear came back in a Cutaway Comics script, Eldrad Must Live!, written by Baker, and published in August 2021.
He was truly a giant of the small screen, but again, that’s no surprise: he displayed how natural a writer he was at that aforementioned talk in a Bristol pub: when asked how he wrote conclusions to epics that saw the odds overwhelmingly stacked against the Doctor and his companions, Bob blinked, took a minute, confused by the question. “Well, endings are easy, aren’t they?” he replied. He knew that the important thing was the story you tell to get to that ending, and Bob’s story was one of the brightest.
We’ll miss you, Bob. Our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.