As Tom Baker’s Doctor is currently enjoying a renaissance on Twitch, Whovian Leap decides to put the Fourth Doctor’s era into the spotlight.
Tom Baker’s mammoth run as the Doctor spanned no less than seven years. But can it really be considered as just one era? As Doctor Who fans, we are always “seeing patterns” and so it’s quite easy to split up 1974-1981 into three distinct parts. Philip Hinchcliffe’s Gothic Horror, Graham Williams imaginative whimsy and JNT’s serious sci-fi. But is it quite so simple?
The Fourth Doctor’s first story, “Robot”, set on earth and featuring UNIT, was essentially traditional Pertwee fare, a deliberate move to ease the transition between Doctors. Most of Season 12 had already been set up by the outgoing production team, Letts and Dicks, with a Dalek and Cyberman story thrown in to guarantee the season’s success. Although incoming producer Hinchcliffe had yet to make his mark, his new script editor Robert Holmes would polish up the already commissioned scripts and give them a darker tone – and this was but a taste of the Gothic Horror which was yet to come. Hinchcliffe and Holmes would then indeed go on to produce what is considered the “behind the sofa” heyday of Classic Doctor Who, giving us gems such as “The Seeds of Doom” and “Pyramids of Mars”.
Yet this successful period came crashing to the ground, when moral crusader Mary Whitehouse kicked up a fuss with the bigwigs at the Beeb, when she took a dislike to the drowning scene in “The Deadly Assassin”. Soon after Hinchcliffe was replaced by Graham Williams.
Again there was some overlap in style. “Horror of Fang Rock” and “Image of the Fendahl” would have fitted in very well in the gruesome Hinchcliffe era. However, Tom Baker was now starting to inject humour into the role, K9 trundled in and Douglas Adams became script editor. The imaginative and whimsical Williams period would soon start to take shape and make its own distinct mark, with “City of Death” being an unforgettable highlight.
The fun and frolics came to an end with the arrival of überproducer JNT. He stamped out the humour and the show now felt serious again, perhaps too much so. His new script editor Christopher H Bidmead introduced high concept sci-fi stories. This time, there had been no overlap.
The Fourth Doctor’s first and last adventures, “Robot” and “Logopolis”, almost feel as if they are from different TV shows. The changes that Doctor Who underwent may well be obvious to a diehard Whovian, but audiences at home might not have perceived them, as the lead actor was always the same. Doctor Who had become, after all, to a certain extent “The Tom Baker Show”.
When looking at the Fourth Doctor era, I would agree that there are indeed three distinct periods, despite some overlap at the beginning of Hinchcliffe’s and William’s periods on the show. However, JNT’s sombre Season Eighteen is stand-alone and unique.
In conclusion, we might say that Twitch has put the whole of Classic Who into a kind of “miniscope” and made it easier for fans to trace the evolution of the show. But Tom Baker is to Doctor Who what a Drashig is to that fiendish contraption. He is larger than life and a force of nature. There is no holding him back. We may analyse him as much as we like, but Tom Baker’s Doctor has in a sense broken free from the show. Because, for many, Tom Baker is still the Doctor.
And he always will be.