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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

12 Comments

  1. iainjcoleman
    September 30, 2011 @ 12:37 am

    There's a splendid shot early in the story that sums up the new Doctor's approach. The Doctor, the Brigadier and Benton have gone to examine one of the Robot's break-ins. There's a great big hole in the fence. The shot is composed with the camera on the inside of the fence looking out, and the two soldiers outside the fence looking in, one on either side of the frame. In a Pertwee story, Pertwee would be right in the centre of the frame in the foreground, between the Brig and Benton, examining the fence. But instead there's a gap where Pertwee should be – and through that gap, away in the background, is Tom Baker, lying on the grass contemplating the daisies.

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  2. Spacewarp
    September 30, 2011 @ 3:19 am

    A fantastic summation of why Tom Baker's Doctor was by the far the most popular. In fact an excellent article all round. Yes your obvious like of Baker shows through, but doesn't detract from the analysis, and I agree with you on all points.

    You don't allow your like or dislike for a particular character or actor to affect your analysis of them, and your recognition of Letts & Dicks' contributions to Doctor Who is most touching and very welcome.

    Sadly not all "fans" of Doctor Who are so magnanimous. I've recently seen a discussion on a certain forum in which one poster complained about the online dedication to Barry Letts in "Waters of Mars", freely admitting that she had never heard of him and that wikipedia said he was "some producer".

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  3. Jesse
    September 30, 2011 @ 5:34 am

    Confession: When I first saw this story as a boy, having already seen some of the later Tom Baker episodes, I assumed we would soon meet robots called "K2," "K3," etc., until we finally reached "K9."

    Yes, I understood the pun in the dog's name. I just thought the show was going to build to it.

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  4. elvwood
    September 30, 2011 @ 8:08 am

    When I saw Robot as a kid, I had mixed feelings:

    "Giant robot? Cool! Bring me more!"
    alongside
    "Who is this wacko? He's nowhere near as good as Jon Pertwee! I want the old days back!"

    Nowadays, while I still have mixed feelings, it's the robot I grumble about and Tom that saves the story…

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  5. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    September 30, 2011 @ 10:21 am

    I agree totally with what you say about Baker, but — predictably — not with what you say about Pertwee. And once again I have the impression that you're seeing a different Pertwee from the one I'm seeing. This in particular:

    "Pertwee was adored because he was dashing and manly. Baker is adored because he's clever. Whether clever in a humorous sense or clever in a solves problems sense, Baker is the first Doctor where his intelligence is overtly the source of his charm."

    Whereas I would just have taken it as obvious that with Pertwee's Doctor too, his intelligence is a major source of his charm. (I'm pretty sure I don't adore Pertwee for his "manliness," whatever exactly that term means.) Pertwee's intelligence just shines off the screen in a way that just doesn't (for me) seem to happen with Troughton (much) or Hartnell (at all). That's another part of what I mean in saying that for me the Doctor first becomes the Doctor with Pertwee.

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  6. Gavin
    September 30, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    "Naturally. The others were all foreigners." is a fairly important line of dialogue in the development of the series. Half in the line itself, half in Baker's delivery. (One can imagine Pertwee saying it, but on some level he'd undercut it by trying to present it as a serious condemnation of the Brigadier's parochialism.)

    It's the first time – well, I think – that the Doctor so directly draws attention to the fact that the central premise of a plot doesn't really make any sense, and says to the viewer "We know that. Just go with it."

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  7. WGPJosh
    October 1, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

    It would seem you and I have a similar history when it comes to this show: "Robot" was my first episode of Doctor Who in more ways than one. It was the first episode I saw as a child just getting introduced to it. My prevailing memory of my initial thoughts were that I thought the titular robot looked incredibly silly and I wanted to see more of the dude in the scarf and less of the rather annoying damsel in distress. That aside, it was also the first episode I watched on a number of occasions when I went back to re-watch the series later in life.

    Like you, I also immediately fell in love with Tom Baker. You did an excellent job analysing why his interpretation of the character was so wildly successful and popular and I'd not thought about in quite those terms. Put that way, and especially in light of some things to come in a few years or so, Tom Baker's Doctor as a geek icon makes a great deal of sense.

    What I'd add to that, and what immediately attracted me to the show and him in particular when I was young, was his overbearing sense of free-spirited bohemianism and the way he so wholeheartedly embraces abject alien eccentricity and staunchly rejects authority and anything else that limits his freedom or that of others. That was something I'd never really seen before at that age, and it did wonders for my blossoming sense of independence and cultural rebelliousness.

    For a very long time Tom Baker was my favourite Doctor and this was my favourite era of the show. For a number of reasons once I started re-watching the entire series in recent years he stopped being my favourite and was in fact knocked down several pegs in my personal hierarchy. Even so, I still maintain a very strong fondness for his portrayal and interpretation of the character. However, time has not been so kind to my memories of the era itself: I actually have quite a few problems with the Tom Baker era nowadays, especially the earliest years and the very end. That being said, I am very much looking forward to hearing your opinions and experiences with the show during this period and comparing our personal fandoms-I'm sure there will be much to discuss!

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  8. Zoe Anderson
    October 3, 2011 @ 3:15 am

    I came to this blog via Adventures with the Wife in Space, and have fallen for the heady mix of alchemical leftist utopian celebration. Tom Baker was a formative part of my childhood, but I only saw Robot recently, when I started catching up on older Doctor Who.

    I love your analysis of Baker, but I also disagree a bit. I don't think Baker is the Doctor who is "adored precisely because he's clever". I think he's adored because he's bonkers. He's huge and confident and completely unselfconscious while being weird on an intergalactic scale.

    You said last week that Buffy and the Tomorrow People offered the image of special teenager who is persecuted but will save the world through their specialness, which is one way of appealing to the clever but socially awkward geek. Tom Baker goes beyond that. He isn't normal, he doesn't fit in, and his stunning charisma makes that seem like a straightforwardly good and even enviable thing. I can't imagine anyone persecuting Tom Baker for being weird, because he glories in it. As geek role models go, that's a revelation.

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  9. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    October 3, 2011 @ 9:02 am

    Incidentally, the last place I saw Tom Baker's goofy exuberant grin in the face of peril was on Warren William's face in Satan Met a Lady, the 1936 comedy remake/premake of The Maltese Falcon.

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  10. Henry R. Kujawa
    March 30, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

    My first Doctor was Peter Cushing. I adored him. My 2nd Doctor was Jon Pertwee. I had to watch from "THE SILURIANS" all the way to "DAY OF THE DALEKS" (that's the entire run they ran in Philly in the early 70's, go figure) before I got to like him. Strange… Roger Delgado was MUCH more charismatic and charming. Except for all the senseless murders, of course. (A friend recently suggested Delgado would have made a better Doctor than Pertwee. I agree.)

    So about 5 years later, "ROBOT" arrives here (May'79). I remember seeing a photo of Tom Baker, and thinking, "Him? This LOONEY is replacing Jon Pertwee? Are they kidding??" The same article had photos of the other 3 Doctors and I finally understood the connection between the show and those 2 movies.)

    So I watched "ROBOT Part One"… and by the time it was over, I had ALREADY gotten to LIKE Tom Baker's Doctor, INTENSELY. That says a hell of a lot about the difference between him and Pertwee, doesn't it?

    The Brigadier was always my favorite character on the show when I watched it before. Was so glad to see he was still around, along with Sgt. Benton. This Sarah Jane Smith character, though, SHE took a bit of getting used to. NO, REALLY. All I could see at first was a sort of "English Lois Lane". All arguing and bluster and getting herself into jams she needs rescuing from. And some VERY dodgy outfits. (That white hat! That flowered dress! What was she thinking?)

    The 2nd week (yes, they initially started out running ONE episode per week, Fridays at 10 PM– all CUT for commercial time, so, no "clothes-changing" scene– and they added those totally uncalled-for coming attractions narrated by Howard Da Silva– THE HORROR!!!!) I managed to get my best friend to watch with me. His intro to the whole series, he'd never even heard of it until that night. We spent an AWFUL lot of time in the 80's watching and discussing the show after that.

    I never even noticed Harry was "doing" John Steed (right down to the outfit) until later reruns. A couple years later, my PBS station began showing UNCUT versions of the Baker stories, and they were even better. Somehow I'd completely forgotten I'd SEEN Baker before… and in my ALL-TIME FAVORITE Ray Harryhausen movie, too. (Was there ever a better "special effect" designed to keep you glued to your theatre seat, than Caroline Munro??)

    And speaking of the outgoing team, the very 1st "Doctor Who" convention I ever went to, held in Philly, had 2 guests. One was Terrence Dicks (I never forgot his EXTREMELY thick accent). The other was John Leeson. NO, REALLY!

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  11. Franz
    December 19, 2014 @ 8:29 am

    The real highlight of this story is watching the robot body … robotdogsgirls.blogspot.com

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  12. Craig
    August 4, 2015 @ 12:28 am

    Love Tom Baker of course, even if he's not my favourite Doctor (that's Peter Davison). But in Robot, I have to admit to finding a soft spot for young Harry Sullivan. I know he's a bit wet and old fashioned and casually sexist, even for 1974, but he has a lovely charm that, I feel, sees him competing with yet ignoring the charisma of Tom Baker on screen. My favourite scene of Harry in Robot is an early one when he stops the Doctor from escaping in the TARDIS, and Harry just goes along calmly with the Doctors nonsense – the karate chop, the running on the spot, the two hearts in the stethoscope, and best of all the jump rope built for two. And all leading up to Harry being discovered hanging upside down in a cupboard as if it's the most normal thing in the world.

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