86-year-old Tom Baker on why he’ll never rule out returning as Doctor Who
- Credit: Archant
Who was your favourite doctor? Tom Baker regularly appears in the top two in Dr Who polls, is still acting and would never rule out a come-back | Words: Bernard Bale
Tom Baker was an unmistakable Dr Who with his floppy hat, multi-coloured giant scarf, unique grin and a voice that could tame even the fiercest of Daleks. At 6ft 3ins he was also the tallest of the good Doctors and, of course, he played the part longer than anyone else.
“I’m still playing him,” grins Tom. “I still get people coming up to me wanting to talk about Dr Who. I don’t mind, I’m flattered. To be considered an important part of the legend of such a great sci-fi yarn is very fulfilling.
“I suppose that’s why if I was ever asked to go back – if they were ever that desperate – I would have to think for only a few seconds before I gave my answer.”
Tom doesn’t need much prompting when he is asked about his favourite parts of Britain. “I love Kent,” he says. “I know that might sound strange since we don’t live in the county at the moment, but Kent is very special.
“One of my many problems is that I get restless and feel that I have to do something different. It is amazing that I played Dr Who for as long as I did because I like changes.
“Mind you, having said that, I was struggling for acting work and doing a bit of brick-laying to make ends meet when Dr Who turned up and I thought it would be better to face the Daleks than build some more walls.”
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Tom often refers to himself as a one-role wonder but in fact he has always been a very talented actor and has worked regularly in films, on TV and on stage.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I left school, I think I was still recovering from the war years in which I grew up.
“Like most actors you start off with minor appearances and roles and you don’t even get a credit for most of them, so nobody knows who you are.
“You get various other jobs to make ends meet and then you find that you get that very special phone call or message that changes your life – for a while at least. What will happen after your big break, nobody knows.
“Some go on to become major stars while others return to take whatever comes along, because that’s what you have to do.
“They took a huge gamble on me because I was following the wonderful Jon Pertwee who had made Dr Who his own and is probably still the most popular Doctor. He is definitely my favourite, although there have been some excellent Doctors over the years.
“When I took on the role I knew it was pointless trying to play him like anyone else had done. The Doctor had to be a different sort of character if he was going to work so I modelled him on – me!
“I have appeared in countless productions but I am always at my best when I am obviously Tom Baker. I think I am a little quirky; it’s not a gimmick, I don’t work at it, I am just me. I do like quirky roles, though.”
There’s nothing quirky about Tom’s Kent connection. “I left school at the age of 15 with the idea of becoming a monk. I enlisted in Jersey and stayed there for about six years. I then decided it was definitely not for me and did my National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps.
“That was where I started to think about an acting profession. I knew nothing about it but it seemed to suit my personality.
“I got a scholarship for the Rose Bruford Training College of Speech and Drama in Sidcup, so it was ‘Hello Kent.’
“The college was pretty good. It had been started by Rose Burford with support from Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft and John Masefield, so I thought that if I didn’t do any good there I would have to think of something else for the rest of my life.
“As it happened it went fairly well and I came out of there an actor – an out-of-work actor, mind you, but nevertheless an actor.
“I managed to see a fair bit of Kent at the time and I liked what I saw – you could be on the coast in a jiffy and in London in a jiffy in the other direction.
“In my day classes were held in Lamorbey House, which was a Grade II-listed manor house dating back to the 18th century. Fabulous place and very atmospheric.”
“So that was my start in Kent and later I lived in London, life moved on and work came in and everything seemed to be going fairly well.
“The restlessness stayed with me though and the girl who was my partner, and became my wife, saw this wonderful house in Kent. We took a look at it and instantly said ‘Let’s buy that.’
“I was frantic to make a change. Even whooping it up in Soho was getting repetitive . . . So we moved to the countryside with lots of cats, and gradually I found a lot to distract me there.
“What a beautiful county – the Garden of England. It really is too. We loved living in Bell House, which had been a school until the 1950s and had a coach house attached. It was a wonderful place to get away from it all.
“To be truthful, there is a part of me still there because I bought a plot in the churchyard next door for when I depart this world.
“It was probably the only bit of forward planning I have ever done. I am in no rush for that particular plan to come to fruition but it does seem likely that it will happen one day and I shall be back in dear Kent again.
“You might well ask why I left Kent in the first place if I like it that much. I do like it that much – such fresh air and beautiful countryside.
“It is still geographically the same as well – London up the road and the coast down the road and a train to take you in either direction, a train that can even take you all the way to France and that is what happened. I got restless again and we sold up and moved to France.
“That was nice but I wanted to return to England and we ended up in Sussex. That’s quite nice too but I have successfully hedged my bets with a foot in both camps.
“The house is in Sussex and the burial ground in Kent. I cannot think of a better place to be buried.”
Dr Who timeline
13th Doctor: Jodie Whittaker (2017-present). The first female Doctor.
12th Doctor: Peter Capaldi (2013-2017).
11th Doctor: Matt Smith (2010–2013).
10th Doctor: David Tennant (2005–2010). Voted the nation’s favourite Doctor.
9th Doctor: Christopher Eccleston (2005).
The War Doctor: John Hurt (50th anniversary episode)
8th Doctor: Paul McGann (1996, 2013).
7th Doctor: Sylvester McCoy (1987–1989, 1996).
6th Doctor: Colin Baker (1984–1986).
5th Doctor: Peter Davison (1981–1984).
4th Doctor: Tom Baker (1974–1981). Currently the longest-serving Doctor.
3rd Doctor: Jon Pertwee (1970–1974).
2nd Doctor: Patrick Troughton (1966–1969).
1st Doctor: William Hartnell (1963–1966).