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A scarf, a robot dog, and some of the most fun ever. We discuss Tom Baker’s run as The Fourth Doctor.

It took us a little while, but we reviewed every single story of the Tom Baker era, and holy moly are we going to miss this chap! Join us for a chilled evening of picking some of our favourite (and least favourite) aspects of his time as The Doctor. The main categories ranked in this little bonus chat were—

  • Serial
  • Companion
  • Villain
  • Alien

—but obviously we veered off-topic now and then.

Also, as it’s mentioned in this ep, here’s that article about Tom Baker. Thanks @jethro_roose for pinging it across to us!

Here's what you think 8 Responses to “B071 Fourth Doctor Retrospective”
  1. Kieren Evans | @kjevans2

    Hi
    So as the fourth doctor era was the longest in terms of eps and stories, picking single best/worst is difficult so might two for each.

    Best Story: The Seeds of Doom (serious story), City of Death (fun story)
    Worst story: Underworld or Power of Kroll (though Invasion of Time is close)

    Best Companion: Leela, I just like her even if some of her stories aren’t the best
    Worst Companion: Adric, of course…
    Most underrated: Harry

    Best Villain: Sutekh
    Worst Villain: Vardans?

    Best Alien: Zygons, the designs are still very good
    Worst Alien: Erato from The Creature from the Pit, it just looks crap

    Cheers
    Kieren

  2. Tanz Sixfingers | @Tanz6fingers

    Greeting Who Back When team!

    I am Ben O’Neill (aka Tanz Sixfingers), and I just can’t get enough of your podcasts. I am trying to catch up, but I am still in the middle of your Troughton era. I am skipping serials I haven’t yet seen, as I want to form my own opinions and then listen to your reviews and insights.
    As time is moving quickly, I want to add my insight to your retrospective of the Tom Baker era, especially season 18.

    The Fourth Doctor’s era was different from all the other Doctors in several ways. First off, his is the longest by far, at seven seasons. Second, he had more one-off stories, and fewer stories with the traditional recurring enemies than the others. I know many people have complained about the new Who Doctors not facing traditional enemies, but compared to Baker, they have seen a lot. For instance, the First Doctor faced the Daleks 4 or 5 times, with a great number of episodes, and the cybermen in his final story. The Second Doctor, in three years, faced the Daleks only twice, but the Cybermen four times, and the Ice Warriors and yeti/Great Intelligence twice each. The Third Doctor, over five seasons, faced the Daleks three times, the Ice Warriors twice, the Nestene consciousness twice, and the Sontarans once, and the Master a multitude of times.

    In contrast, over the course of seven seasons, the Fourth Doctor only faced the Daleks twice, the Cybermen once, and the Sontarans twice, and most of those occured during his first season, the stories of which had been commissioned by the outgoing production team. He had one encounter with the Master during his tenure, until the very end, with a three story arc that included his regeneration story. All others were stand alone stories, or part of an arc that did not revolve around a recurring enemy. He did get to introduce the Zygons, but they wouldn’t return until the fiftieth anniversary special. He did have several stellar stories, including “Genesis of the Daleks”, “Pyramids of Mars”, and “City of Death”. Many people say he is the face of classic Doctor Who, and often is at the top of the opinion polls.

    Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor can be divided into his early (Goth) years, his later (campy) years, and his final season. Over the course of his time on the show, he had developed more and more creative control of his character, including dialog and actions. When John Nathan-Turner took over as showrunner, however, much of that was taken away, because apparently JNT was a control addict. This is in part why Tom’s Doctor didn’t have as much enthusiasm for the show, and why he left the show after the eighteenth season, and why he didn’t return with the other former Doctors in the twentieth anniversary special. I know other factors mentioned were his health, and his relationship with Lalla Ward during that season, but JNT was definitely a factor.

    John Nathan-Turner was as controversial when he took over as Chris Chibnall is now, and for similar reasons. He caused a lot of change to the show, trying to bring it back to its roots and also appeal to a larger demographic; some of his changes were well received, and others were not. Season 18 was a massive change, including everything from the opening title sequence, new music, and new logo to replacing Romana and K-9 with Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan, and Tom Baker was replaced with the controversially youngest actor yet to play the Doctor, Peter Davison. He improved the production values greatly, and most of the season was very well written.

    JNT would go on to bring back the Daleks, Cybermen, Silurians, Sontarens, and the Black Guardian, as well as having the Master return at least once in every season. Some of his less popular changes were destroying the sonic screwdriver (on grounds it was being used too much as a plot device), having an Australian and then an American companion, and the outfits of the fifth and sixth Doctors, and of course the Sixth Doctor’s personality.
    Season 18 also saw the Doctor sporting a new red coat (which returned to be a plot device in a serial of season 20) and a new red scarf which would be unravelled in the first episode of the following season (thus saving his original one from destruction).

    Other odd bits from your reviews of season 18:
    The sequence in “The Leisure Hive” where the shot zooms out from the beach on Earth and goes to Argolis is just to highlight the new production equipment and special effects capabilities.

    In “Meglos”, you talked about the Chronic Hysteresis, and mentioned parallels in other science fiction, but failed to mention two great examples from a couple of my other favorite shows:
    1) from Stargate SG-1 there is the fan-favorite episode “Window of Opportunity” in which two of the characters are stuck repeating the same day while the other characters are oblivious;
    2) from Red Dwarf there is the episode “White Hole”, where the crew encounter the inverse of a black hole, which is spewing time out, causing pockets of time to occur out of order and repeat at random.
    Also, Jack Harkness mentioned one in Torchwood, wherein he and another time agent repeated the same 2 week period for over six months.

    If Alzarious is at the same coordinates as Gallifrey, but in another universe, does that mean the native Alzarians are actually what time lords would have been if they had not developed scientifically? Consider their extremely fast regenerative powers…

    Also, while not a great story, “State of Decay” adds the Great Vampires to Time Lord lore, and is referred back to a number of times in the novels.

  3. Paul Waring | @pwaring

    There’s so much I could write about the Fourth Doctor, but I’ve picked out a few of the things that I remember and enjoy most from his era.

    Favourite story: There are many contenders, but I have probably watched Pyramids of Mars more than any other.

    Favourite companion: Sarah

    Companion I wanted to stay longer: Harry

    Favourite new recurring villain: Davros – he brings another dimension to Dalek stories

    Favourite guest actor: Julian Glover as the Count (City of Death)

    Funniest references for the adults in the audience: Corridor P45 and the Inner Retinue (The Sun Makers)

    Most “so bad it’s good” story: The Horns of Nimon

    Favourite insult: “You know, you’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain” (Robots of Death)

    Creepiest villain: Mr Sin (Talons of Weng-Chiang)

    Villain with the best lines and delivery: Pirate Captain (The Pirate Planet)

    Notable stories: Deadly Assassin and Genesis of the Daleks, for their backstory of the Time Lords and Daleks

    Funniest special effect moment: Noah talking to what is clearly green bubble wrap (Ark in Space)

    Most blatant production error: The hand on Sutekh’s chair

    Deadliest stories: Pyramids of Mars and Horror of Fang Rock – everyone dies except the TARDIS team

    Best story for anyone new to Classic Who: Genesis of the Daleks

    Overall, I think the average of my ratings for the individual stories, and therefore the era as a whole, is: 4/5

  4. Neil James | @neilandrozani

    Hello legends,

    In answer to your shout out on Facebook here are my choices:

    Fave story – Talons, Genesis and Pyramids are all up there but the top spot goes to…. Terror Of The Zygons. The creepiness of the opening few episodes gets me every time. Tom Baker is at his most alien here and, as well as being surrounded by the wonderful line up of Sarah Jane and Harry, we also get a massive spoonful of the Brig and Benton – what a treat! The Zygons are terrific villains, I love the Scottish setting, the music is majestical and the finale at the River Thames is fucking mental. ADORE THIS STORY!

    Fave companion – I have a lot of love for Sarah Jane. And Romana 1 is GORGEOUS but this has to be the awesome Harry Sullivan. What a gent! Like Romana 1, poor Harry only got 6 stories but he was such a good presence and so much fun to watch. The skipping rope scene with Tom Baker in Robot is a prime example of what a joy this character was. Wish he’d done more.

    Fave villain – Man, there are so many. Huge shout out’s to Count Scarlioni, Sutekh, Harrison Chase, that fucking nutcase Captain from The Pirate Planet, and of course, Davros. But let’s look at this in terms of horror. The character that absolutely terrified me the most as a kid was easily Li H’sen Chang, the menacing magician who kidnaps prostitutes after dark to give to his alien master for supper.
    Yes, since growing up I now realise this was not, and still is not, cool racially, but as a kid I had no idea the actor wasn’t Chinese and John Bennett’s stunningly scary performance is still to this day incredible. A chilling villain in a fantastic story.

    Fave alien – Adric.

    Love all you do,

    Neil

  5. Trenton Bless | @trentonbless

    What can be said about someone who is arguably the icon of their franchise? For seven years Tom Baker carried the Doctor Who torch. There were so many ups and downs throughout his whole era. But I can easily split his era into three sections.

    I suppose we’ll start with what I call the Golden Age. With stories like Genesis of the Daleks and Pyramids of Mars, so many classics were pumped out I’d exceed my word limit just listing them all out. Most fans will probably regard the darker gothic storylines of the early Fourth Doctor era to be his best. Of course, this all changed when certain individuals started making complaints, so by the late 70’s Doctor Who had ditched the gothic in favor of a fantasy driven direction.

    Which leads us right into the Silver Age. The Silver Age of the Tom Baker Era really began after the production team changed in 1977. The new producer wanted a more fantasy look and feel. Even though many classics were still pumped out during this time, such as City of Death and much of Season 16, the series pumped out stinkers like the overly green screened Underworld and the overacted laughfest that is The Horns of Nimon. Of course, how does a low budget show like Doctor Who compete with the likes of Star Wars? Surely a new production team would figure that out?

    Enter the Tom Baker Era’s Bronze Age. Consisting of his final season on the show, Tom Baker at times clearly looked as if he was not having a good time at all. What makes it worse is that many of the stories from Season 18 are simply a plot wrapped around a scientific concept. But many of the stories did have a great atmosphere, such as Tom’s final story Logopolis. Even though the story is mostly forgettable, it’s the final episode and the atmosphere throughout the story that really holds it up.

    In short, the Tom Baker Era of Doctor Who was a mixed bag. Unlike his predecessor Jon Pertwee’s Era, which was mostly perfect, the Tom Baker Era seemed to shine bright at the start before fizzling out at the end. Some consider 70’s Doctor Who as the show’s peak. I’m inclined to agree. Because with the 80’s began the slow decline of the show, and by the end of the decade Doctor Who would get the axe.

    Enjoy the ride, because it’s all downhill from here.

  6. Kyle Rath | @sinistersprspy

    A Tom Baker Retrospective by Kyle Rath

    ret·ro·spec·tive: /ˌretrəˈspektiv/
    adjective: retrospective
    “looking back on or dealing with past events or situations.”

    Rarely is there an actor so animated, so
    energetic; so full of joy. He oozed “alienness”
    K9, Sarah Jane, Romana 1 and 2 – a myriad
    assembly of companions and friends. A big
    blue box of wonder, with a wonderful man.

    Multifarious stories, from Daleks, to E-Space, and
    of course a handful of jelly babies. So hard to summarize
    the legacy, the legend, that is of The Fourth Doctor.

    Thank you, Caretaker.

    This has been a Tom Baker Retrospective.

  7. Peter Zunitch

    Okay not done listening to this yet but I gotta jump in here with a clarification because you are missing the obvious. The white guardian was not the black guardian in disguise from the start. Originally WG was indeed WG.

    When the doctor has the entire key, he pauses time. While the WG takes this opportunity to go out and set things straight (whatever he needed to do), the BG poses as him and tries to trick the doctor to turn over the key to the wrong guardian. The voice difference (that you indeed mention in your Armageddon factor review) should have been the obvious clue.

    Sorry for pod-splaining again, but I think this bit of info will help you to enjoy the key to time series more. I think it certainly adds to the personalities of WG and BG if you think about it.

  8. Peter Zunitch

    Nice one Kyle! Love it.

    Okay first, I dont know why I never think of submitting to the retrospectives until it’s too late.

    Second, I dont know why the autocorrect function on phones is so bad so forgive ant wrong words in this post.

    Maybe it was just the right time with the right people but it’s hard to deny the impact the banker era had on who. In the USA the average bloke of my era who know of the program and are not fans probably think he was the first, I’d not only doctor.

    Best companion, can’t pick. Maybe leela or Romana2, or Sarah, or…Theres really not once I don’t enjoy (IMO Adric does Get better). What mood am I in?

    Best villian, Davros. He changes everything for the daleks. Worst = Skagra. I’m sorry but he does nothing but play with his ball.

    Best alien = zygons. Worst alien, the Routan in its natural form (daleks can climb stairs better than you).

    Best robot = K9 and Kaldor robots tie. But there are many close seconds in this era.

    As for the rest, maybe I’ll make a podcast about it one day.

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