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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 501 > THE INSATIABLE TOM BAKER

THE INSATIABLE TOM BAKER

PHOTO: OLIVER MCNEIL

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

– Ariel, THE TEMPEST

THE ULTIMATE INTERVIEW

PART TWO

DAY ONE:

PRET A MANGER, BROADWICK STREET SOHO, LONDON 18/08/10

The first time I met Tom Baker, I walked in to find him clutching a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, inside of which was a challah bun. It was a gift for me. He’d autographed it. ‘Best wishes, Tom Baker. Aug 18th 2010.’ Already, he was giving a performance. Later, he’d acknowledge as much. “Shovelfuls of Tom Baker,” he’d call it, “this performance that I’m doing for you.” So that’s what this is?

The plan had been to pair Tom, then 76, with his favourite Doctor Who costume designer, June Hudson, for a two-hander chat. June worked on eight Tom Baker serials, including his 1981 swansong, Logopolis. It was Tom who proposed two interviews instead: one with just him, and a second with June to make a double act. ‘June is a perfect darling of exquisite manners and discretion,’ Tom wrote in an email, ‘whereas I… I mean, I am none of those things.’ (This, by the way, is when the unnerving emails from Tom started. Another read, simply, ‘Dear Ben. I’m thinking. Keep watching. Tom.’)

PHOTO: DYLAN THOMAS

So we meet one Wednesday morning in August 2010, for this one-to-one – with plans to reconvene tomorrow, when we’ll be joined by June. Today’s interview takes place entirely in a Pret A Manger. That’s Tom’s suggestion, too. Pret is his Mecca. Thirty years ago, he’d have opted for a gin and tonic (his chosen tipple back then) in one of Soho’s less reputable drinking dens – he spent half his life in them, with painter Francis Bacon in the French House, or journalist Jeffrey Bernard in the Coach & Horses – but today it’s a Soho Pret. As I try to decide what to do with my challah (eat it? Or do I keep it intact, as a souvenir? Won’t it go mouldy?), Tom orders us drinks. Mine’s a hot chocolate; his is an espresso. And, lo, the performance continues…

PRET BARISTA: “Strong?”

TOM: “I’m sorry?”

PRET BARISTA: “Your espresso. Do you want it strong?”

TOM: “I’d f***ing hope it’s strong. (Dropping coins into the charity box on the counter) Is this for tips?”

PRET BARISTA: “No, sir, for charity.”

TOM: “Charity?! F***ing hell, hand me a screwdriver.”

[Etc. Etc. We take a window seat, and I read Tom a quote from my recent interview with the then-incumbent Doctor, Matt Smith.]

“ The other actors grew to hate me. I had no sense of morality or respect for texts.”

“Tom Baker is probably the most definitive Doctor. I go to America, and that’s who everyone dresses up as. It’s Baker. It’s the scarf, and the hat, and that long personality thatmatches his coat. It reminds you of what a wonderful history you’re part of. Once you’re in this show, it really latches on to you… His Doctor is absolutely the same man as mine.”

“The difference between Matt Smith and me is that he’s an actor and I’m… well, I’m just Tom Baker.”

The actor Matt Smith.

But are you comfortable with that accolade: ‘the most definitive Doctor’?

“I don’t much care. I can afford to be gracious and say generous things about the people who took over from me. It’s terribly important not to hurt people, isn’t it? Especially people who are following on. Especially Sylvester [McCoy], who’s a wonderful comedian – oh, marvellous! It’s easy to be generous about this little gnomish fella with a Scots accent.”

You don’t often talk about your successors in the role. Why is that?

“I haven’t seen much of them. I didn’t watch David Tennant, though he sent me sweet messages because he’s obviously a nice man. I’ve seen him in other things. I don’t watch much television, but I saw him in Casanova [BBC Three/One, 2005]. I thought he had wonderful vitality in that, and I would dearly like to have seen his Hamlet. I bought it to watch on film. He was absolutely excellent; wonderfully modern. To see a fresh Hamlet is a very thrilling thing. To have pulled that off, and Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost [Tennant played both parts in the same RSC season, in 2008], was a prodigious achievement – especially at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“When I was at the RSC, it was like being in a bloody monastery; actors worked from dawn to dusk, in several plays at once. It became very camp. They all listened to The Archers [BBC Radio 4, 1951-present], and I remember one actor saying to me, rather pathetically, ‘Tom, it’s our only link with the outside world.’ I thought, ‘Oh, f*** off! The Archers? You think that’s the outside world?’ My wife actually quite likes The Archers. I was mooted for it a couple of years ago. At the time,I was terribly enthusiastic, but the editor, a very high-powered lady [Vanessa Whitburn], decided I was too f***ing opinionated. I’ve talked my way out of a lot of jobs. Now that I’m so happy in my old age, I don’t want to be chasing work; I need to be wooed. Anyway, Berowne is an amazing, romantic part. The language of that play is so tricky. When I was at the National Theatre, I understudied about five parts in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Berowne wasn’t one of them. Jeremy Brett was Berowne. He was amazing.”

Fiddling about: Tom Baker’s turn as Sherlock Holmes.

This would have been in ‘68, ‘69?

“I think so, yes. Jeremy Brett was an even more amazing Sherlock Holmes [Brett played the detective in a series of Granada TV films, 1984-94]; you really believed that this man was mad, that he shot up. Now, of course, Sherlock Holmes uses nicotine patches – that’s a f***ing joke. [1] Soon you’ll have a Long Day’s Journey into Night where James Tyrone doesn’t drink. Back then, to be an actor, all you had to know how to do was light a cigarette. You couldn’t be an actor and not smoke. Someone I know won the gold medal for smoking at RADA! Hardly anyone I know smokes now.”

You’ve played Sherlock Holmes twice, haven’t you? – in a BBC mini-series in 1982, and inthe theatre.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Doctor Who Magazine's 500th birthday celebrations continue! DWM 501 is a Tom Baker Special: a bumper 100-page souvenir issue that features the mag's biggest interview ever with the man himself, and dozens of rare photos. Plus, the start of a brand-new comic strip, The Pestilent Heart, which introduces a new companion; a look at all the latest Doctor Who CD releases; and much, much more!
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