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  1. #1
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    Default Si Hunt Brings Down... Tom Baker

    I know, I know. You're probably thinking this is a gut reaction due to the request for another sequel to the original thread. But that was a few days ago, and since then (and before) I've been thinking very hard about the next topic.

    During that time, I've been watching the "New Beginnings" set, in which Tom Baker, most popular Doctor Who of them all, apparently gives his most frank interview ever. Having heard about this in advance, what I eventually watched on the DVD's wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Whilst it's true that Tom mentions Lalla (although reveals little except that they apparently parted amicably, which is hard to believe given they seem to have avoided being in the same room for the past 25 years) mostly what comes out is pent-up anger. In short, he seems to demystify himself a great deal - aided by rare footage, we see a man that was unreasonable and rude while making Doctor Who from the start of his final year ("The Leisure Hive") right up until its last shooting session ("Logopolis").

    Previously we've smiled wryly when hearing stories about how Tom could be a "bit of a bugger" on-set, but suddenly a picture begins to emerge of a man who wasn't actually very nice to anyone, unless it suited him (or he happened to have not had a row with his co-star that week). His interview reveals not a flicker of remorse - in fact he explains, rather bitterly, that he always felt that HE was right, that he still thinks he was right, and there's little in the way of acknowledgement that this was ill-judged. This view, that everyone else apart from him was always so unimaginative and hacklike at making Doctor Who, doesn't exactly square with the common perception his era, which is now among the most popular and celebrated.

    Last night, I read the "Dr Who Meets Scratchman" synopsis - a project which, by the sounds of it, Tom caused trouble with for five long years. Not only did he know how to direct and produce Doctor Who better than the trained Directors and Producers he browbeat on set for doing their jobs, it seems at this point he decided, and relentlessly insisted, that he knew best how to write it as well. Of course, "Scratchman" sounds terrible, an aimless story with no solid characters or plot, and weird token cameos for Daleks and odd Cybermen rip-offs for no reason. Sort of like a cheap story, with hugely expensive set peices chucked in.

    Back with the interview, you wonder about Tom's final year and the reason why he was so difficult. But, sadly, you then recall that his history of being so unpredictable on-set stretches back through countless other popular anecdotes as well - his battles with Graham Williams, his two pre-Season 18 resignation letters, the time he ultimatummed the Head of Serials to sack the Producer or he would resign, the notorious shooting of "Horror of Fang Rock" when he wouldn't walk through a door properly... and you realise we're going back to his first few years here. It would seem the only time he was ever easy to work with was when Liz Sladen was around, right at the start of his tenure. It's impossible to blame the subsequent five years of Nightmare Tom on the Producers, or scores of different Directors he saw off, or on changes in the show. Not to mention the 20th anniversery special he almost wrecked by an about-face. You begin to wonder, with a shudder, if he was, or is, just not a very nice person.

    Which doesn't detract from the fact that he was a great Doctor. But previously we've worshipped Tom the Man because he gave good soundbites, because he was elusive, witty, because deep down we thought he was probably always right. But was he? "New Beginnings" unmasks an uncomfortable truth, one where outbursts like the "f**king dreary prop" don't make you smile, but just feel sorry for the poor people trying to make a TV show to the best of their ability in the face of a diva-ish star who now doesn't appear to be having an "off day", but is just always like this. Finally, Tom goes for one of his famous, quotable, sign-off mini-monologues to camera at the end of the documentary; "I'm still the Doctor". I'm afraid to say that it didn't make me go "aaah" and chuckle as usual. It just made me think "that doesn't really make sense. Sorry, but you arn't."

    But these are just thoughts, a point of view. Perhaps Tom IS all he's cracked up to be? This is your forum to argue the case either way. Restore my faith!

    Si.

  2. #2
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    I wouldn't want to direct him



    More thoughtful post coming soon!
    Pity. I have no understanding of the word. It is not registered in my vocabulary bank. EXTERMINATE!

  3. #3
    Dave Lewis Guest

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    Charming fellow... dreadful actor.

  4. #4
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    All the behinds the scenes stuff is fascinating, and it goes to show just how much playing the Doctor got under Tom's skin. In an ideal world he'd have probably given up after the Key to Time season and alot of people would have been happier- certainly Graham Williams.

    I find the whole resignation thing with Graham Williams towards the end of Season 16 very interesting. There was a definite power struggle there, and Graham came out the loser, because the BBC very quickly responded that Tom was the show's star and a very visible one at that and Graham was simply a faceless BBC producer. For the good of the show they recommended keeping Tom and getting rid of Williams. Tom did a lot of publicity for the show after all...

    But despite this, despite him being insufferable to direct, insuffarable in rehearsals etc, does any of that really show on the screen? I know that i have a natural biad towards the end of Tom's era and so maybe I'm blinkered and can't see the truth on the screen, but before we were told about it, did anyone actually notice that he never looked Lalla in the eye when their relationship was on the skids? Did any of the tensions behind the scenes actually make it onto the screen? I don't think it did. I find Tom's performance compelling to watch, even when he's ill during Season 18 because I truly don't believe he ever gave a bad performance.

    As we know Tom was very unwell through much of the making of season 18- look how gaunt he is Meglos and State of Decay for example. Of course you're going to be short tempered when you're ill. I am, especially if I find I'm working long hours.

    Maybe he wasn't a very nice person. Maybe he was rude, arrogant and grumpy behind the scenes. But that doesn't matter, because what came to the screen was wonderful.

    Tom is as human as the rest of us. None of this changes the fact that he's my hero.

    Si xx

    I've just got my handcuffs and my truncheon and that's enough.

  5. #5
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    It's a tricky one because I think Tom could play the Doctor in his sleep by three or four years in. Depending on what you think of his humour, his input into the show definately benefitted it - but at the same time, you can see moments where it was threatening to go too far and feel glad that someone put their foot down. The scores of great jokes in Tom's middle-to-late years have endured and give his era today a hilarious, student-type appeal. Yet you only have to look at "The Horns of Nimon" to realise it couldn't go on - we love it today, of course, but only because we safely know that serious Who returned shortly afterwards. Watch it in consideration of it as the ongoing show and it's startlingly alarming. It's basically The Tom Baker Sketch Show.

    I do think the point is though that Tom was tremendously egotistical in not trusting the people that made the show more. His tenure comes accross as a power struggle that he fights continually to win, and very rarely do you ever get the impression that he is working with, rather than against, the producers and directors. It's a shame he couldn't deploy his obvious comic talents with some respect and patience for his superiors as well.

    I have to disagree with Si that his moodswings don't show on screen however - his Doctor appears aloof and snappy on screen throughout Season 18. Today it somehow makes sense in light of his pending regeneration, but all the same it does seem on occasion as though Doctor Who has got the most dreadful hump about something.

    Si.

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    his Doctor appears aloof and snappy on screen throughout Season 18. Today it somehow makes sense in light of his pending regeneration, but all the same it does seem on occasion as though Doctor Who has got the most dreadful hump about something.
    Unlike all those other times throughout his early years when his Doctor was aloof and snappy? You see this demonstrates what makes me defensive about Season 18 Tom. For example, his performance in Fang Rock is regarded as a highpoint of doomy surpressed anger, as are similar performances in Pyrmaids, Seeds for example, but as soon as Tom is moody in Season 18 it's a different matter all together- he's tired of the role, he's not giving his all, he can't be arsed.
    To me it's just re-inforcing some of his earlier character traits. Why should it be any different just because it's his last year?

    Si xx
    Last edited by SiHart; 8th Feb 2007 at 9:27 AM.

    I've just got my handcuffs and my truncheon and that's enough.

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    But he was being a sod in "Fang Rock" as well! Poor Paddy Russell!

    Si.

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    I'm a huge fans of Tom's and I don't like to see any kind of criticism of a man who in my opinion was in the part when Doctor Who was at it's zenith during seasons 12,13 & 14 a period that had never before or since been matched.

    I've not actually seen the interview yet so can't really comment on it yes we all know that Tom, was a very difficult man to work with arogant and rude
    but he did passionatly care about the show and what he honestly believed
    he was right. Perhaps one of the problems was he was in the part to long and became far to poccessive about it and that he knew what was best and not some knew producer or actor whom he probably considered had no right to be telling him how to run what he considered his programm.

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    I haven't seen the interview either, but in this issue I'm very much on Si's side (er, Si Hart that is). No, I don't think any of the personal, behind-the-scenes stuff shows on screen, so in that sense I think Tom was always totally professional in respect of what ended up on screen, even if (as the behind-the-scenes stuff from Leisure Hive shows) he wasn't always very happy about doing it.

    The other thing I think we ought to consider is that even if he was a pain to work with... so what? We've all, I'm sure, worked with people who were difficult, obstructive, full-of-themselves, whatever. Because 25+ years later it's being discussed on DVD it gives it more importance and significance than perhaps it warrants - at the end of the day, all the people working on the show were being paid to do a job. Obviously it would have been lovely if they all got on, and if the leading man wasn't so difficult; but nevertheless they all had a job to do, and should have been (and I would say, clearly were) able to get on with those jobs regardless.

    I think I said it on the mighty Verve (discussing 1980) but basically, if Tom was difficult to work with in 1980... I don't care. The end result on screen is superb, and at the end of the day, that's what they were all there to produce.

    I might just add, though, that I agree totally with Si (Hunt this time) about Nimon - I love it, and all of season 17, but if it had gone on another year under the same regime, it would have gone too far. Whatever else you might say about JN-T, I do think that in 1980 he was the right man for the job. And it's interesting that he was able to get rid of Tim where Graham Williams apparently wasn't.

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    And it's interesting that he was able to get rid of Tim where Graham Williams apparently wasn't.
    Fruedian Slip?

  11. #11
    Captain Tancredi Guest

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    After a fair bit of thought down the years, I think the key to Tom Baker's performance (and indeed behaviour) as the Doctor is that he felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the finished product. Some of his best performances are in weaker stories (he more or less holds 'Underworld' together single-handedly) and I can't help feeling that at the root of the whole Fang Rock coming-through-a-door legend is his sense that as the lead, he should always be at the very least visually interesting. And many if not most of the stories about his "improvements" to the script can also be accounted for by trying to make the finished episode as interesting or amusing for the viewer as possible- OK, the script may not be up to much, but we can at least play it in a way which makes for entertaining viewing.

    The other thing is that - and I don't think it's any great secret- he's also something of an autodidact who's picked up most of his erudition in middle age. That was always bound to create friction with the Oxbridge-educated types in the BBC who were content to produce safe and mediocre programmes and thought they knew best.

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    lets not forget that William Hartnell, was also a right bugger to work with - but as Andrew says it never effected Tom's performance on screen and at the end of the day that's all that any body cares about.

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    You can't take down these Tom Bakers.

    Tom did have a large number of higher quality scripts, paticularly in the latter half of his reign and the other Doctors might have had a chance to shine if they had been given a similar range of stories.

    Would Tom have shone so much with Battlefield, The Tenth Planet or Planet of The Daleks? Or Paradise Towers?
    Pity. I have no understanding of the word. It is not registered in my vocabulary bank. EXTERMINATE!

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    I might just add, though, that I agree totally with Si (Hunt this time) about Nimon - I love it, and all of season 17, but if it had gone on another year under the same regime, it would have gone too far. Whatever else you might say about JN-T, I do think that in 1980 he was the right man for the job. And it's interesting that he was able to get rid of Tim where Graham Williams apparently wasn't.
    You're probably right about that. In the long run the approach of season 17 couldn't really have been sustained without dmaging the programme. Still, it was a glorious year and I'm glad it's the way it is.

    Si, can I ask, what do you think about Jon Pertwee being similarly difficult during the making of the show. He may not have been quite as difficult to work with as Tom was, but he did stop Christopher Barry going to his sister's wedding because he refused to change recording dates, and stuff like that. Does that change your opinion of his stories?

    Si xx

    I've just got my handcuffs and my truncheon and that's enough.

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    To be completely honest, I've never heard of Jon Pertwee being difficult. I've not heard the wedding story, so I don't know the circumstances of that one - are you sure it's correct? I've not heard that anecdote in all my years of Who scholaring!

    And I can't think of any other occasion when Jon was difficult on set, and certainly not one when he swore or was rude. This may be just lack of information, but the studio recordings we do have, for "Axos" and "Death", show him as sombre and dedicated, but completely polite and professional.

    Incidentally, I've never said Tom being difficult changed my opinion of his stories.

    Si.

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    Jon Pertwee refused to change filming dates on The Daemons to allow Christopher Barry to go to his sister's wedding, as the new date would interfere with some lucrative cabaret work Jon had arranged. I suppose on the face of it's not a big deal, and probably not as bad as Tom's antics. It's mentioned in all the Christopher Barry interviews ever Si!

    Incidentally, I've never said Tom being difficult changed my opinion of his stories.
    No you haven't, have you. I got that wrong!

    Si xx

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    Well I can see Jon's point there to be honest. If I'd arranged some work for which I was getting well-paid, I don't think I'd be obliged to cancel it because a colleague wanted to attend a wedding. You know, I'd change arrangements if I could to do him a favour, but why should I lose work so someone else can go to a social event, even if it was his sisters wedding! So I can kind of just about see Jon's point there.

    Jon always came over to me as severely professional, almost ruthlessly so, in that his conventions, pa's etc. were all work, and sometimes that made him seem false. But he was a pretender by trade, a showman, he was false for a living. Anyway.

    Si.

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    Yeah, you're right. Ruthlessly professional probably describes him very well.

    Anyway Si, have my arguments about Tom won you over? Have I done enough?

    Si xx

    I've just got my handcuffs and my truncheon and that's enough.

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    Well I think we'll always love Tom whatever he does won't we? He did, after all, give us seven years of his life and many wonderful myths and tales. He should stick with being elusive and preserve his mystique though!

    Si.

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    I think that perhaps Tom was rather consumed by Dr Who and was rather protective of it so maybe his difficultness was just that.
    For his credit, Tom was always lovely towards the fans of the show.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Monk View Post
    I think that perhaps Tom was rather consumed by Dr Who and was rather protective of it so maybe his difficultness was just that.
    For his credit, Tom was always lovely towards the fans of the show.
    agreed - Tom has all ways taken his responcibilities towards the fans especialy the chilldren very seriously and it's very evident that he realy enjoyed being around the young fans,

  22. #22

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    It's one thing to say that this attitude never came across onscreen, but to therefore say that he behaved professionally is a bit of a leap. Yes it MAY not have come across on screen but surely creating an atmosphere of nastiness and intimidation on-set (if that's what he did) can hardly be described as professional behaviour. Letting your own problems completely dominate and overshadow a team-effort is distinctly unprofessional in my opinion.

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    Tom Baker cared about his show, perhaps too much. That's to his credit, but of course we can all see how it became too much (especially when you feel it's not the show you once led).
    I don't think he showed a lack of remorse in the DVD interview. On the contrary, in that and the DVD commentary I got the impression he was saying 'sorry' in his own fashion, and admitting what an arse he had been at that time, and basically saying how ludicrous it was that he thought he always knew better than the writers, directors, producer and whoever else. He perhaps found it hard to avoid releasing the frustrations he felt at the time. As Matthew Waterhouse said, "he wasn't a fake".
    There's far more to Tom Baker than being difficult and propreital on the set of "Dr. Who", and to be fair the documentary was full of people he probably didn't gell with anyway. I personally thought Chris Bidmead was an uppity git throughout the whole DVD, trying to defend his convoluted script writing, but he's probably a perfectly nice guy in other ways. Probably the kind of bloke whos the polar opposite to Tom though.

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    It's one thing to say that this attitude never came across onscreen, but to therefore say that he behaved professionally is a bit of a leap. Yes it MAY not have come across on screen but surely creating an atmosphere of nastiness and intimidation on-set (if that's what he did) can hardly be described as professional behaviour. Letting your own problems completely dominate and overshadow a team-effort is distinctly unprofessional in my opinion
    I suppose it depends on what you consider his responsibilities to have been - was he there just to play the lead role, or did (does) that somehow automatically demand that he play the genial host to the whole team? Or put another way, who is an actor ultimately responsible to - his fellow workers, or the audience? Maybe it's because of my age, but nobody will ever convince me that Tom Baker wasn't one of Doctor Who's greatest assets, and (most of) the shows he was in speak volumes for him and his contribution. If he annoyed his fellow workers, then it may be awfully selfish of me, but I don't really care, sorry. If he had a major problem it was perhaps that he became too caring of it. Advertising the new comic free of charge, making sure never to appear boozing or smoking around kids, all of that was way above and beyond the call of duty.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Curnow View Post
    If he had a major problem it was perhaps that he became too caring of it. Advertising the new comic free of charge, making sure never to appear boozing or smoking around kids, all of that was way above and beyond the call of duty.
    Come on!!!

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