Now Just a Moment: The Doctors Revisited (Tom Baker)

(32 comments)

That this should prove so difficult is in many ways revealing. First, we should start with what this isn't, which is an account of Tom Baker as the definitive Doctor. Satisfyingly, this isn't accomplished with some deconstruction. This is unabashed hagiography - just not to the exclusion of other eras. The result is on a basic level satisfying: the joy that is Tom Baker's Doctor is celebrated, but without the distorting effect that the era sometimes has.

But it's curious that there's no real attention given to the sheer span of Baker's tenure. Indeed, what really jumps out about this is that Baker's tenure is reduced almost entirely to its first half. There's some clips from City of Death, and K-9 makes the companion list, but for the most part there's not a breath of acknowledgment of anything that wasn't part of the Hinchcliffe era. Romana isn't mentioned outside of the City of Death clips. Davros is talked about entirely in terms of Genesis of the Daleks. The other stories to get decent clips are Terror of the Zygons, Robot, Talons of Weng-Chiang, and The Ark in Space.

It's not full-out erasure, and there's certainly no overt misrepresentations, but it's strange to see the Hinchcliffe-only take on Tom Baker, simply because it opens a weird gap in the chronology of this - there's a chunk as long as the Hartnell or Troughton eras that's all but cut from the official history.

Some of that is a product of the focus only on actors. The good old "gothic horror to comedy" transition that is part of the history of the program through this era is, fair enough, outside the remit of The Doctors Revisited. And the aspects of the Doctor's character that are focused on are mainly the more comedic ones, so in a way, even if all the examples are Hinchcliffe-era, it's the Williams-era version of the character that's remembered. Which has kind of always been the case.

But another way of putting that is that this is account is almost completely uninterested in the stories. Tom Baker's performance consumes everything around it, even today. The fact that this is the first installment of The Doctor's Revisited to have the Doctor in question on hand to interview adds to that, although the actual use of Tom Baker tends to be as a slightly unreliable narrator of his own era. But the focus is very firmly on the character, which Tom Baker as good as says at the beginning, when he admits that the line between himself and his character got blurred.

None of this is helped by the choice of stories to show afterwards. The Pyramids of Mars is not a bad story, although its fourth episode is a bit of a mess. But it's a tragically safe choice, and it's telling that Moffat, in introducing it, finds himself mostly talking about Tom Baker's performance once again before adding a few sentences about how the story's pretty good. The Ark in Space, The Terror of the Zygons, The Brain of Morbius, The Robots of Death, and City of Death were all the right length, and all perfectly defensible choices. All of them, one suspects, Moffat could have said more about than "it makes sci-fi out of a mummy movie."

So in an odd way, despite avoiding the trap of proclaiming Tom Baker to be the best Doctor, this special ends up falling into all of the same problems. No matter what you do, somehow, even now, the sheer charisma of Baker's performance seems to crowd everything else out of the picture. But after this many decades of that being true, one almost has to concede that the performance might just actually be that good and that charismatic.

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 4 months ago

City of Death is so hard to find on DVD here, and if that were the story to be included in this documentary, I would've bought it. Instead, it's another instance of Pyramids of Mars which I have as a special feature on a Sarah Jane Adventures disc...

I remember watching this and also being a bit puzzled at how little focus the second half of Baker's tenure got. But it feels like maybe they could've spent an hour on this if they wanted to touch on everything.

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Jarl 2 years, 4 months ago

This episode, and indeed this recap of this episode, reminds me of an old review of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band I once read, which I'll paraphrase since I don't remember the exact words:
"The first thing you need to know about St. Pepper is that it's the most overrated record in history. The second thing you need to know is that beside that fact, it is still the best record in history."

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Chris 2 years, 4 months ago

The problem with Tom Baker was that he honestly believed that every second he was on camera was pure television magic. And the worst part was that he was absolutely right.

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John 2 years, 4 months ago

Excluding Romana was very weird. I've watched the first five, and Romana is by far the most important companion they exclude. Surely there was some fat to trim that could have let them have a brief bit on her? Between the two actresses, she was in 71 episodes. The former puts her behind only Jamie, Sarah Jane, Jo, Ian, and Barbara. Ward on her own was in more episodes than Leela. Is it just that Louise Jameson gave an interview and Lalla Ward didn't? Did Tom Baker not want to talk about his ex-wife?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 4 months ago

A warning to u.s. buyers: a big batch of City of Death sets are defective, with disc 1 being a duplicate of disc 2 (and so not containing the episode). At least this was a problem a few years ago.

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William Whyte 2 years, 4 months ago

http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/005164.html

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Terry 2 years, 4 months ago

You know, I think I'd like to see your opinions on the music that's been featured on Doctor Who over the years. Especially given that you said Keff McCulloch is the worst thing to happen to Doctor Who music - I'd be particularly interested in that because I disagree.

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curlyjimsam750 2 years, 4 months ago

"Davros is talked about entirely in terms of Genesis of the Daleks."

I'm not surprised. His appearance in Genesis so eclipses that of Destiny that my initial reaction to reading that sentence was "What? Davros appears in another Tom Baker story?"

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Alan 2 years, 4 months ago

Honestly, outside of one great scene with Sylvester McCoy, was there any reason to ever bring Davros back?

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Jarl 2 years, 4 months ago

I think he was fantastic in The Journey's End. That performance, man. Admittedly, it doesn't totally fit with his performance from Genesisi, but it's been hundreds of years of high tech robotics and prosthetics developments from his perspective, I'm sure they could get that spine working somewhere along the line.

When I was a teenager and thus a moron, I liked to think there was a period in the Time War where Davros stomped around in giant Mr. Freeze/Imperial Space Marine armor decked out with Dalek details. Like, the two lights on the clear dome over his head, giant pauldrons and boots with the bumps on them, wrist-mounted Special Weapons cannons, etc.

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ferret 2 years, 4 months ago

Remembrance of the Daleks - I love the music, very glad they put an isolated core track on the DVD. *Especially* the synth-drum heavy "dalek hunting" sequence. People complain it's out of place for the era depicted, but was the music ever really period-appropriate?

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

People are all "Julian Bleach!!!!1*!!!!*#" but I dunno -- I think I'll have to watch it again, which I really don't want to do because, well, it's fucking "Journey's End." I've seen it twice now and all I really remember is moustache-twirling tedium -- more RTD's fault than Bleach's, but still -- that's impossible to buy because it's so transparently an attempt to problematize the Doctor's relationship with his companions.

There are only two Davros appearances that have any reason to exist as far as I'm concerned. One is "Genesis," when he is played (perhaps even written) as an actual person, albeit a pretty far gone one. The other is "Revelation," when he actually seems to have something rational if totally evil going on. Both, you'll note, involve actual plans to build something (horrible) as opposed to just "seriously, you thawed me out for this shit?" or whatever the hell he was doing in "Remembrance."

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

After my passionate defense of the Pertwee era, I feel obligated to say something about the Baker era, but it's obviously a totally different story, because so little of it really needs a passionate defense. He is of course My Doctor, which is a little like being a fan of chocolate or oxygen -- a seriously boring position to take, but it's true, for both historical (my very first exposure to Doctor Who: the novelisation of "The Android Invasion." Lucky me) and preferential reasons.

I mean, yeah, the leading man's charisma, but the stories too, man. It's one of the few eras of this show where it's easier (for me) to pick out lowlights than highlights. You have to go all the way to "The Invisible Enemy" to find a story where the bad finally outweighs the good ("Android Invasion" is getting a pass from me for the aforementioned reasons), and after that maybe only "Meglos" is as weak. Even clunky old "Underworld" has its moments. It's a really, REALLY good seven years.

I love episode 4 of "Pyramids," but I'd agree that any of the others you named could have been a treat in its place.

As for "Sergeant Pepper," it's fine, but yeah, I'd go with either "Revolver" or "The White Album" if I have to choose, depending on my mood.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

Glad I have the non-defective one, then!

It's going to be sad listening to the commentary, knowing that Michael Hayes has passed, now... :-(

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

Geoffrey Burgon's work doesn't get enough love, I think. Don Harper's, on the other hand, is probably justly unremembered -- the "wacky comedy" pieces he uses stand out, and not in a good way.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 4 months ago

Considering how much Moffat has extolled the story, I'm surprised he didn't go with "Horror of Fang Rock". Better use of Paddy Russell as a director than "Pyramids", anyway...

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Blueshift 2 years, 4 months ago

And the aspects of the Doctor's character that are focused on are mainly the more comedic ones, so in a way, even if all the examples are Hinchcliffe-era, it's the Williams-era version of the character that's remembered. Which has kind of always been the case.

See, I think this is a really interesting point that is worth exploring further. The popular public memory of the Tom Baker era that has become embedded in cultural memory never actually existed. People remember Tom Baker, Sarah Jane Smith and K9 (who were of course, never together, but ever since then Sarah-Jane has been paired up with K9 in some strange remembrance of an era that never was). People remember the scary monsters and the comedy. I imagine how grim some of the Hinchcliffe stuff is would throw people, and the Williams era never had that level of iconic villains.

With all that, is season 16 actually the quintessential Baker?

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Blueshift 2 years, 4 months ago

I meant to quote the first bit, obviously!

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Terry 2 years, 4 months ago

Very good points. Don Harper... didn't he do the music for Invasion? Actually, I think that most of the composers for Doctor Who are bit underexposed. There's so very few soundtracks for Dudley Simpson. Although admittedly I enjoy the music of Keff McCulloch, Malcolm Clarke, and Paddy Kingsland the most.

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Daru 2 years, 4 months ago

One thing I love about Tom Baker the man is his brilliant skill with stories, telling anecdotes and the outrageous and wonderful digressions that he can take in interviews. I also heard a lovely little interview with Nicholas Briggs on the Radio Free Skaro recently where Nick chats about Tom and how he sees him as a person who is really in the moment. Tom makes all kinds of suggestions of things to include in Big Finish stories, then when he hears them he wonders who had those crazy ideas!

http://www.radiofreeskaro.com/

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BerserkRL 2 years, 4 months ago

I'm quite fond of Tom Baker's take on Sherlock Holmes.

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William Silvia 2 years, 4 months ago

Wibbly wobbly discy whiskey.

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Gallifreyan_Immigrant 2 years, 4 months ago

I just want to say that, as a new viewer with no nostalgia whatsoever, Genesis Of the Daleks absolutely holds up. If you can get past the old effects, it's still a very good story.

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Gallifreyan_Immigrant 2 years, 4 months ago

I honestly thought that would be a link to "Talons Of Weng-Chiang."

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Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 4 months ago

Someone say whiskey?

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Alan 2 years, 4 months ago

I dispute the suggestion that Revelation-Davros was "rational." His plan seemed to be working perfectly until he deliberately lured the Doctor to Necros for no discernible reason only to try and kill him by dropping a giant tombstone on his head (and then, when he survives, Davros never once simply orders a Dalek to kill him). His appearance in Remembrance is kind of random, but it does give McCoy someone more eloquent to play off of -- that "unlimited rice pudding" speech wouldn't have worked against a standard Dalek. And by the time we got to Journey's End Davros, with the omnicidal maniac whinging about how the Doctor was the Destroyer of Worlds, I thought the character had descended into self-parody.

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

I dispute the suggestion that Revelation-Davros was "rational."

Point taken. Maybe "interesting" is the word I wanted? "Proactive"? That is, he's doing something up until he drags the Doctor into it for no apparent reason. "Revelation" is far from my favorite story, but it's the only one that even comes close to "Genesis" in terms of having Davros be something other than the face of the Daleks ("Face of the Daleks," has that been used? "Sick of the Daleks?") and there out of contractual obligation. It's an interesting, nuanced performance of a mad scientist, as opposed to "Remembrance" and "Journey's End," where he's just there to be obnoxious.

It kind of takes the sting out of the Daleks themselves to have their dad there all the time, picking them up from school and lecturing all their friends. I'm glad the new series has only used him once.

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Jarl 2 years, 4 months ago

Personally, I don't think the Daleks in general can usually handle, to use your metaphor, driving themselves home from school and having deep conversations with their friends. Their voices and their mannerisms, though improved thanks to Nick Briggs, are really unsuited to long dialogue scenes with the Doctor. As a race, individualism is anathema to them, so it's very difficult for the Doctor to be able to even carry on any long term interaction with a particular Dalek. The eponymous Dalek, Sec, the Emperor, and Rusty are the only ones who've managed to have long, interesting conversations with the Doctor, and two of them are specifically described as being exceptions to the rule of Dalek conformity. I think more individual Daleks is a good start for replacing Davros, especially if they could be recurring villains. That's why I object so much to the treatment of the Cult of Skaro, a really neat concept for a set of recurring villains who get mostly massacred in their second appearance, with the only survivor being totally different the next time we see him. (Being as they were supposed to be individuals, I personally would have given them all different color schemes, but that's just me.)
Davros as a cackling omnicidal supervillain is, in my eyes, exactly the sort of thing Doctor Who exists to depict. The makeup, the physical performance, the voice, it all worked together to create a wonderfully over the top sci fi villain the likes of which Doctor Who is so perfectly suited to. Plus, they brought back the lightning hand from Revelation, which was neat.

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

Personally, I don't think the Daleks in general can usually handle, to use your metaphor, driving themselves home from school and having deep conversations with their friends.

EXACTLY the problem with them. Which makes their omnipresence in Big Finish plays all the more unbearable (save "Jubilee," and that alone).

The 10-year-old boy in me agrees with you about the lightning hand, but also thinks their source for it is just a little on the nose.

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Aylwin 2 years, 4 months ago

I don't think Davros's appearance in Remembrance is random or pure contractual obligation. When your premise revolves around two distinct races of Daleks fighting each other, putting Davros (the creator who sees his creation as an improvable work in progress, whereas it sees itself as perfection) at the root of it would have been almost inevitable even if his only previous story had been Genesis, let alone when the last Dalek story had been about Davros creating a new race of Daleks. The question may be not so much why Davros is in this story (or at the very least explicitly in the backstory) but why he is not in it more.

There is a rationale for that too, though - thematically, putting the presiding mastermind front and centre could obscure the race-war idea, making it a story about Davros's ongoing effort to control his creation. In a way, actually putting him in the story at the end enables his role in the set-up to be more discreet than it would be if he were kept off-screen altogether, because it means that the whys and wherefores of the Imperial faction can be taken as read, accounted for by his very appearance, rather than spelled out. Hence the story can account for the factional divide while still enabling the emphasis to rest on the metal-Nazi aspect of the Daleks, rather than on the Frankenstein's-monster aspect introduced in Genesis. (Incidentally, I assume stuff has been written about how Genesis of the Daleks and similar Frankenstein-echoes reflect an atheist cultural background in contrast to the questioning-Christian milieu of the original, with the creation turning on the creator not in tormented resentment of its deficiencies and unsatisfied needs but in self-exalting rejection of the idea that it has such deficiencies or needs. Anyway.)

His scheme makes sense too, even if you have to do some head-canon filling-in of the gaps. In Remembrance he has finally got to pretty much where he wanted to be (and briefly thought he was) at the end of Genesis, with an obedient race of Daleks which he can continue to shape and refine, and only a spot of mopping up to do to get rid of the buggy version 1.0. It's logical that the next big item on his agenda should be to safeguard his creation by ensuring that what so nearly happened in Genesis never does happen.

Especially since in the interim he has clearly learned a lot about the Time Lords, which means that he probably knows who was behind the intervention in Genesis, and why. In which case he knows that they don't mean to allow the Daleks to survive, or at least to survive as Daleks in any recognisable sense, precisely because of the real prospect of the Daleks fulfilling his own aspirations for them. He also knows that the Time Lords have means at their disposal which could negate all the Daleks' strength. That means that merely to ensure the survival of the Daleks he absolutely needs them too to have the Bomb. The abundance of other things that would flow from mastering time-related technologies, their capacity to provide unlimited rice-pudding, is, to mix culinary metaphors, all gravy.

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encyclops 2 years, 4 months ago

Aylwin, you're describing a fairly interesting story that I wish I could get on DVD. Instead I have Remembrance of the Daleks. :)

Which is a really good story with a lot to recommend it, but what I find as a viewer is that I can't keep track of which faction of Daleks is which; I don't get a strong sense that they have independent motivations or points of view (it's hard to add nuance to a race that basically just wants to kill everything it meets, and in this story has just added a few members of its own race to that list); I find it really easy to miss the human characters' fascist sympathies which are supposed to echo or be echoed by the Daleks (they're there, but you can easily ignore them and just see the usual batch of inexplicable quislings if you're not paying close attention); and, of course, Davros has appeared three more times after "Genesis" and before this story and it makes it much more difficult to perceive any kind of throughline for his character, unless, of course, you're thoughtful and insightful enough to fill in your headcanon, as you've done. For everyone else, it's really easy for all that just to skate by.

But sure, I'll grant you that "Remembrance" can make sense as a Davros story. I just don't think -- and this is what I was arguing -- that what was actually televised doesn't make the best dramatic use of the character, at least not compared to "Genesis" and "Revelation." For me the best you can say is that the double fakeout -- when you expect Davros and you get the little girl, and then when you expect a charming terrarium and you get Davros -- is clever and exciting. Otherwise my reaction every time I see it is just "oh for fuck's sake, HIM again." Your mileage, happily, varies.

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Daibhid C 1 year, 8 months ago

Which, in turn, reminds me of a bit in the comics podcast House to Astonish, where Paul says he doesn't understand all the hype about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen since when you get down to it, it's just a parlour game, and Al interrupts to suggest it's a very clever and entertaining parlour game.

To which Paul replies "Yes. You can think this is ridiculously overhyped and still think it's a really good comic. Because if Alan Moore lived up to the hype, he would actually be Jesus, instead of just having the beard."

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