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

THE IRREPRESSIBLE TOM BAKER

THE ULTIMATE INTERVIEW

PART FOUR

“Honourable man, mine eyes, ev’n sociable to the show of thine, fall fellowly drops.”

– Prospero, THE TEMPEST

DAY THREE:

ROBERTSBRIDGE TRAIN STATION EAST SUSSEX 14/03/11

‘ The Brigadier is dead,’ declared Tom Baker on his website, on Wednesday, 23 February 2011. Twenty-four hours earlier, his friend and former co-star Nicholas Courtney – Doctor Who’s Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart – passed away, aged 81, in a hospice in London’s Belsize Park, following a long and difficult battle with cancer. ‘I went to say goodbye to him on Friday at the wonderful hospice,’ wrote Tom. ‘It was so distressing to see him so weak and yet so strong in resignation. My jokes were received with a generous effort from Nick to smile… He was a wonderful companion. We shall miss him terribly.’

Between 1965 and 1989, Nicholas appeared in 108 episodes of Doctor Who, and Tom in almost 180, and yet they only worked together on eight (nine if you count the cliffhanger to Jon Pertwee’s 1974 swansong, Planet of the Spiders): these comprise Tom’s four-part début serial, 1974/75’s Robot, and 1975’s Terror of the Zygons. But Tom and Nick’s friendship endured for decades afterwards. Their fondness and warmth for each other was palpable, and genuine, and something rather special. Their friendship seemed… impregnable? “Never cared much for the word ‘impregnable’,” the Doctor told the Brig in Robot. “Sounds a bit too much like ‘unsinkable’.” An unsinkable friendship? Well, almost. Very almost.

Three weeks after Nick’s death, I’m in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, to interview Tom – at his invitation. He wants to pay tribute to Nick in the pages of DWM – a magazine of which both men have, over the years, been loyal supporters. Since Tom and I last met, in Soho in 2010, I’ve dyed my hair red. This worries Tom. “Is that your hair, or your hat?” he exclaims when he picks me up at Robertsbridge station, a few miles down the road from Tom’s house. When I explain that it’s my hair, he looks alarmed. “Is that for a laugh or…?” Charming.

Sorry I’m late, by the way. I had to change trains at Tunbridge Wells.

“Oh yeah, that’s a dreary place. It’s like purgatory.”

Actually, it’s where Doctor Who Magazine is based.

“(Laughs) Is it really? I should come round for tea. Or we can have lunch at Wagamama’s. Do you know Wagamama’s?”

Wagamama, yeah.

“It’s lovely stuff. When you go to Wagamama’s, it’s all there. We’d have to get in early, though. It fills up.”

How long have you lived around here? Didn’t you move to France a few years ago?

“We were four years in France. When Sue and I married, we lived in Kent, then we went to rural France – I thought maybe I’d be a Frenchman – but that didn’t really work out. We were so bored. I said, ‘I want to be in a town again. I’m tired of this anonymity.’ When we came back here, we had the idea of going to a quite large town, so we found a lovely place in Tunbridge Wells. It was a beautiful house, with a wonderful walled garden and a fishpond. But we made a fatal mistake: it was on the busiest road. The noise! We were so thrilled to find it, it didn’t strike us, but we could only last a year. I tell people I lived in Tunbridge Wells for a year ‘due to a misunderstanding’. (Laughs) But then we found a woman who was stone deaf, so it was fine for her. She paid up, and we moved to a little paradise that Sue found, about 600 yards off the road. We’ve got some people working on the house, otherwise I’d take you there instead of Rye. C’mon, we’ll find a pub.”

“The one thing that happens to us all is we die. Life is frequently coming to terms with a sense of loss, isn’t it?”

IN TOM’S CAR DRIVING FROM ROBERTSBRIDGE TO RYE

[We’re bombing through the East Sussex countryside in a 4x4, with Tom behind the wheel, as he waxes lyrical about our most recent interview, the one with June Hudson, published in DWM 427.]

“My wife, who doesn’t enjoy reading about me and my stories, said she loved that interview you did with me and June. June is such a darling, isn’t she? She’s simply wonderful. She’s so quintessentially theatrical. Where do they sell Doctor Who Magazine?”

Well, WHSmith. And all good newsagents.

“WHSmith? F***ing hell! Who would voluntarily go to a WHSmith? Jesus Christ, what a dump. Whenever I’m in WHSmith, I put my head in my hands, or try to open a vein.”

RYE, EAST SUSSEX WALKING DOWN THE HIGH STREET

It’s rather nice here, isn’t it?

“It’s quite pretty, but a bit dull. I was in another very dull little town yesterday: Hailsham – do you know it? There’s quite a famous wine shop there, so I said to my wife, ‘Let’s go.’ The town was empty. It’s obviously suffering terribly. It’s nearly derelict, apart from Waitrose. I’m very well known in Waitrose. This very nice chap stopped me and introduced me to his little son, who couldn’t have been more than four. This fella took a picture of me and his four-year-old, and then he gave the phone to his son, who took pictures of me and his dad. (Laughs) It was very sweet, and this fella – I guess he would have been about 40 – was electrified to see me. He was trying to explain to his little boy how important I was, and his little boy was looking at me, like, really?!

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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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