Born: 20th January 1934 (as Thomas Stewart Baker)
Born in Liverpool, Merseyside, Tom Baker was attracted to the stage at a young age, only to be forbidden from auditioning by his mother. He turned to religion instead, and spent six years at monasteries in Jersey and Shropshire before deciding that his future lay elsewhere. Baker then served with the Royal Army Medical Corps during his national service and, in the late Fifties, attended the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama. One of his classmates was heiress Anna Wheatcroft, whom he wed in 1961. Their union produced sons Daniel and Piers, but Baker was a fish out water amongst the wealthy Wheatcroft clan, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1966.
A stint in repertory theatre led Baker to a successful audition for Laurence Olivier's National Theatre. Around the same time, he began making television appearances in programmes such as Z Cars, Dixon Of Dock Green and Softly Softly: Task Force. Olivier recommended Baker for the role of Rasputin in the 1971 film Nicholas And Alexandra, and he went on to make several further cinematic appearances during the early Seventies, amongst them Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1972 adaptation of The Canterbury Tales and the 1973 anthology The Vault Of Horror. Television in the early Seventies included an episode of Arthur Of The Britons and an edition of BBC Play Of The Month, where he was directed by Bill Slater. Between acting jobs, Baker worked as a language teacher.
However, when several prospective projects fizzled almost simultaneously around the start of 1974, Baker found himself making ends meet as a labourer on a construction site. In desperation, he wrote to Slater, who was taking up a new post as the BBC's Head of Serials. In this capacity, Slater was assisting the outgoing Doctor Who production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks in their search for an actor to play the Fourth Doctor, replacing the departing Jon Pertwee. Slater recommended that Letts and Dicks view Baker's most recent film, the adventure movie The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, and the two men were deeply impressed with his performance. Within days, Baker had landed not just an acting job, but a contract as the new star of Doctor Who.
Baker made his first appearance as the Fourth Doctor during the closing seconds of Planet Of The Spiders in June 1974, with his first full adventure, Robot, following six months later. Baker soon forged a strong working relationship with his co-stars, Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) and Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan), but perhaps even more so with the new Doctor Who production team of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. Baker, Hinchcliffe and Holmes were all keen to embrace the alien qualities of the Doctor's personality, and to push Doctor Who into territory that was scarier and more graphic than the programme had previously explored. The result was three seasons which attracted unprecedented viewing figures, and equally unprecedented condemnation from media watchdogs.
Baker soon developed a strong sense of creative ownership towards Doctor Who, as manifested by his abortive attempts to develop a feature film -- entitled Doctor Who Meets Scratchman -- with Marter. However, it also led Baker into increasingly frequent conflicts with directors, and he took out his unhappiness over the 1977 introduction of new companion Leela on actress Louise Jameson; it was only many years later that they overcame this rocky period to become firm friends. Baker had a particularly tempestuous relationship with Hinchcliffe's successor, Graham Williams. A low point in their relationship came in 1979, following Baker's fifth season as the Doctor, when he repeatedly threatened to quit Doctor Who unless he was granted greater creative control. Head of Drama Graeme McDonald was forced to intervene to placate the series star. Nonetheless, the following year saw Baker thriving under the humorous influences of script editor Douglas Adams, who was fresh from creating The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
Baker's seventh season as the Doctor, spanning 1980 and 1981, found the actor at his most volatile. Not only was he frustrated by the creative decisions implemented by new producer John Nathan-Turner, but Baker also spent the first part of the year suffering the physical toll of a serious illness. Furthermore, he was now engaged in an on-again-off-again relationship with Lalla Ward, who played the Doctor's Time Lord companion, Romana. With Nathan-Turner eager to put his own stamp on the role of the Doctor, he expended little effort in dissuading Baker when the actor suggested, in the autumn of 1980, that his departure from Doctor Who was overdue. By the time the Fourth Doctor's final story, Logopolis, was broadcast, Baker and Ward's rollercoaster romance had culminated in marriage. However, they found little to unite them away from Doctor Who, and divorce followed after just sixteen months.
Baker then found work scarce for a time, before Barry Letts offered him the lead role in a new adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Baker's somewhat improbable rendition of Sherlock Holmes was followed by more Eighties television like Remington Steele, Blackadder II and The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil. He rekindled a romance with Sue Jerrard, whom he had originally met when she worked as an assistant editor on Horror Of Fang Rock in 1977, and they married in 1986.
In 1983, Baker was invited back to Doctor Who for the twentieth-anniversary special The Five Doctors. After extensive contemplation, however, Baker concluded that too little time had elapsed since he left the series. The Fourth Doctor was instead represented by clips from Shada, the planned climax to the 1979-80 season which had been cancelled by an industrial dispute midway through filming. Baker did put in an appearance as the Fourth Doctor in the 1993 Children In Need programme Dimensions In Time. Other Nineties television included the Narnia serial The Silver Chair, a year as Professor Plum in Cluedo, and a regular role in Medics. Riotous autobiography Who On Earth Is Tom Baker? was published by HarperCollins in 1997, and was followed in 1999 by a novel, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, from Faber & Faber.
Baker returned to the silver screen in 2000 with Dungeons & Dragons, based on the fantasy role-playing game. The same year, he enjoyed a recurring role in the revival of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and was featured on This Is Your Life. Over the next decade, Baker could also be seen in programmes like Swiss Toni, Monarch Of The Glen and Agatha Christie's Marple. However, it was a purely vocal performance that won Baker an entirely new set of fans. Having long been in demand for voiceover work on radio and in commercials, Baker was cast as the narrator of Little Britain; the comedy debuted in 2003, and soon garnered tremendous popularity.
Likewise, it was voicework that brought Baker back to Doctor Who. He had repeatedly declined the overtures of Big Finish Productions, holders of the license to produce Doctor Who audio dramas, to reprise his role as the Fourth Doctor. However, when the BBC-affiliated AudioGo decided to create their own range of Doctor Who audio plays, Baker agreed to participate. The first installment of what became known as The Nest Cottage Chronicles, The Stuff Of Nightmares, was released in 2009.
Baker finally relented and joined Big Finish's stable of Doctors with Destination: Nerva in 2012. Then, in 2013, he covertly recorded a cameo appearance in the fiftieth-anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor as the enigmatic Curator, who may or may not have been an incarnation of the Doctor. By now, Baker was primarily concentrating on vocal work, including episodes of Star Wars: Rebels. Nonetheless, in 2017, he was in front of the camera for a new coda recorded as part of an updated DVD release of Shada, which was finally being completed with the addition of animated footage. Baker also collaborated with James Goss on a novelisation of his unmade Fourth Doctor movie, and Doctor Who: Scratchman was published by BBC Books in 2019.
|Updated 16th October 2020|
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