Saturday, 7 September 2013

Doctor Who at 50: The Fourth Doctor (1974-81)

Tom Baker (1934-  ) played the Fourth Doctor in 172 episodes and 41 serials, airing over seven seasons. He had eight companions (counting the two models of K-9 as two, but the two actresses who played Romana as one). His era is notable for introducing the Zygons and Davros as recurring enemies. His era also introduced the character of Borusa, the White and Black Guardians, and expanded greatly on the mythos of Gallifrey and the Time Lords. Baker was briefly married to his co-star Lalla Ward, who later went on to marry scientist Richard Dawkins.

The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker (1974-81)
The arrival of the Fourth Doctor in 1974 marked the end of an era. Long-term producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks both left along with Jon Pertwee and Philip Hinchcliffe took over as producer, with Robert Holmes as script editor. Holmes had already written several scripts under the old regime but they were constantly being toned down, with scary or disturbing elements removed or reduced. Hinchcliffe was firmly of the opinion that the show was rarely truly scary any more and wanted to ramp up these elements, giving Holmes freer reign. The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, encompassing Season 12 to Season 14, is sometimes regarded as the show's 'gothic horror' period. This period is highly-praised for featuring several of the most critically-lauded Doctor Who stories of all time (The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, The Deadly Assassin, The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang), but is also controversial for episodes featuring material deemed too horrific for young children to watch.

The incoming new Doctor, Tom Baker, was a relative unknown. Originally the producers had been thinking of casting an older actor and new companion Harry Sullivan, played by Ian Marter, was introduced to take on more of the action elements. Baker was younger than the producers had been anticipating and more able to actively participate in action storylines, so they wrote Harry Sullivan out in Season 13. Later, they admitted this was a mistake, as the chemistry and contrast between the stiff-upper-lipped, old-school Harry and the feminist, independent Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) was extremely popular with fans. Most surprising was the speed with which Baker made the role his own. He had the iconic scarf and coat sorted out pretty quickly and soon the writers were relishing giving him speeches and iconic lines other Doctors couldn't have sold:

"Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds! They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable."

The new team soon moved away from the UNIT format, keener to get the Doctor back out to alien worlds and battling strange alien menaces which they felt was more at the heart of what the show was about. Season 13's Terror of the Zygons marked the final appearance of the Brigadier for seven seasons and UNIT itself bowed out after The Seeds of Doom, not to reappear for a full thirteen years. Season 13 also marked the departure of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Having played the role in three and a half seasons, Sarah Jane Smith was the longest-running companion to date (though not the most frequently-appearing, due to the lower number of episodes per season compared to Fraser Hines's run as Jamie) and her departure occasioned the sort of press coverage normally reserved for the departure of Doctors. Sladen would return to the role in a pilot for a never-commissioned spin-off series, K9 and Company, before reappearing during the David Tennant era. She finally got her own ongoing series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, in 2008, which ran for four seasons before Sladen's tragic death in 2011.

The next serial, The Deadly Assassin, was a hugely important story in the history of the show. It was the first serial portraying the Doctor without a companion and was set mostly on the Doctor's homeworld of Gallifrey. It introduced a huge amount of lore about the Time Lords, revealing that the founder of Time Lord society was called Rassilon and that Time Lords could only regenerate twelve times before dying. It introduced elements such as the Matrix, the huge computer network that keeps track of Time Lord activity (and, quite a few years pre-cyberpunk, features a VR interface). Most importantly, it brought back the Master for the first time since Roger Delgado's tragic death four years earlier. The new Master, played by Peter Pratt under a not-really-convincing mask, was his fourteenth incarnation, a near-impossibility. The Master had tried to regenerate anyway at the end of his life and became trapped in his own body, a dying husk. His attempts to find a new body and a new set of regenerations would inform much of the rest of his storyline in the show.

The Sontarans invade and briefly occupy Gallifrey in The Invasion of Time, probably the most embarrassing defeat ever suffered by the Time Lords. Later on, the Sontarans couldn't even get an invite to the Time War.

Hinchliffe and Holmes both departed at the end of Season 14, though Holmes was convinced to stay on for a few more episodes into Season 15. They had introduced a new companion, Leela, a 'savage' warrior-woman played by Louise Jameson. Just before his departure, Holmes hit upon the idea of introducing a robotic companion, possibly influenced by the droids in the first Star Wars film. Star Wars (as it was then titled) had debuted aired in the USA between Seasons 14 and 15, though it didn't reach the UK until 1978. K-9, a robotic dog, was introduced in The Invisible Enemy and became a recurring character.

Incoming new producer Graham Williams wanted to explore the more comic side of Doctor Who and his tenure became controversial, with much fewer inarguable classics than the Hinchcliffe one and more of a focus on laughs. Williams later blamed this shift on BBC management, keen to avoid the controversies of the Hinchcliffe era. Apparently the directive filtered down to star Tom Baker, who was extremely keen to adopt a more active role creatively in the show. He now felt able to insert ad-libbed lines into scripts and come up with jokes and puns, some of which made their way into the final edit.

Anthony Read took over as script-editor and suggested a format change to shake things up a bit: the sixteenth season could be one huge storyline rather than lots of little ones. After some discussions they decided to compromise on having six stories as usual, but these stories would share a common thread in the hunt for the 'Key to Time'. Wanting to also bring in some new blood, Read commissioned several ideas from up-and-coming writer Douglas Adams. Adams had actually already written The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a radio play (it had been transmitted in early 1978) by the time he started work on Doctor Who and arguably his attention was diverted in several different directions. When Read left at the end of Season 16, Adams replaced him.

City of Death is both the Doctor Who serial with the highest-ever audience figures and also one of its most critically-acclaimed stories.
The resulting seventeenth season features several of what some fans consider to be the very worst Doctor Who stories of all time (Destiny of the Daleks and The Horns of Nimon) as well as what is often considered to be the very best, or at least the funniest: City of Death took advantage of the show's burgeoning popularity abroad (particularly in America, where it had started airing on PBS) to fund an overseas shoot in Paris. Douglas Adams turned in his best script for the show, with significant collaboration from Williams and others, and Tom Baker gave his finest comic performance on the show. The result was a tremendously entertaining serial, topped off with a cameo from Monty Python star John Cleese. When it aired, the rival ITV network was off-air due to a strike, so City of Death ran off with the ratings, scoring a record 16 million viewers. The rest of the season was not as accomplished and ended disastrously, when an electricians' strike saw the final serial, Shada, left incomplete.

Williams, apparently weary of criticisms directed against him, departed the show at the end of Season 17. Adams also stepped down as script editor to concentrate on The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which had turned into a major SF franchise of its own. Christopher Bidmead replaced Adams as script editor and was keen to bring elements of actual science fiction into the show. One of Williams's deputies, John Nathan-Turner, was promoted to head producer. Although no-one knew it at the time (Nathan-Turner least of all), he would be the classic series' final producer.

The new title sequence for Season 18. In 1981, this was cutting-edge.

Though Nathan-Turner later become a criticised and much-hated figure by Who fandom (perhaps, as in the case of his Star Trek counterpart Rick Berman, not entirely fairly with regards to the creative elements of the show), he started out his tenure with several goals. He wanted to bring the show more up to date with more advanced visual effects and more futuristic music and a new, contemporary title sequence. He and Bidmead agreed that Tom Baker's comic excesses needed to be reigned in as well. Previous attempts to do so had been handicapped by the fact that the BBC did not want to lose the popular Baker from the show, but Nathan-Turner was less-inclined to indulge him. As to be expected, Baker was apparently unhappy with his influence on the show being curbed and ultimately decided to leave at the end of the eighteenth season.

Baker's final season is notable for its more futuristic (from the point of view of 1981) vibe and its greater attention to continuity. The serials Full Circle, State of Decay and Warriors' Gate form a trilogy with the TARDIS trapped in 'E-space', a parallel universe. Soon afterwards the Master reappeared and stole the body of Councillor Tremas of Traken (played by Anthony Ainley), finally giving him a more active role to play in future storylines. Tom Baker's final story, Logopolis, was a complex SF story involving the TARDIS apparently materialising inside itself, causing dimensional chaos; it being revealed that the universe had passed the point of natural heat death and the portals into E-space had been created to vent the excess heat; and the Doctor's 'death' when he fell from a radio telescope.

Tom Baker had spent seven years as the Doctor, the longest run ever by any actor spent in the role. Later he would struggle to find acting work and acknowledged the dangers of being typecast. However, Baker also presided over both the critical and popular high-water marks of the series. Whilst behind the scenes he may have become too powerful, his departure was greeted with much sadness by fans and viewers. But the new production team were keen to usher in a new era and, controversial at the time as it would be thirty years later with Matt Smith, they cast an actor still in his twenties as the new Doctor: Peter Davison.

Review ratings are only given for complete serials I have seen, which isn't very many. Those looking for an in-depth and unusual review of the entire series are directed to Adventures with the Wife in Space, in which a committed Doctor Who fan exposes his wife to the series and records her reactions.

Season 12: 28/12/74-10/5/75 (20 episodes)
4A: Robot (4 episodes)
4C: The Ark in Space (4 episodes) *****
4B: The Sontaran Experiment (2 episodes)
4E: Genesis of the Daleks (6 episodes) *****
4D: Revenge of the Cybermen (4 episodes) ***

Season 13: 30/8/75-6/3/76 (26 episodes)
4F: Terror of the Zygons (4 episodes) ****
4H: Planet of Evil (4 episodes)
4G: Pyramids of Mars (4 episodes)
4J: The Android Invasion (4 episodes)
4K: The Brain of Morbius (4 episodes)
4L: The Seeds of Doom (6 episodes)

Season 14: 4/9/76-2/4/77 (26 episodes)
4M: The Masque of Mandragora (4 episodes)
4N: The Hand of Fear (4 episodes)
4P: The Deadly Assassin (4 episodes)
4Q: The Face of Evil (4 episodes)
4R: The Robots of Death (4 episodes) ****
4S: The Talons of Weng-Chiang (6 episodes)

Season 15: 3/9/77-11/3/78 (26 episodes)
4V: The Horror of Fang Rock (4 episodes)
4T: The Invisible Enemy (4 episodes)
4X: Image of the Fendahl (4 episodes)
4W: The Sun Makers (4 episodes)
4Y: Underworld (4 episodes)
4Z: The Invasion of Time (6 episodes)

Season 16: 2/9/78-24/2/79 (26 episodes) - The Key to Time
5A: The Ribos Operation (4 episodes)
5B: The Pirate Planet (4 episodes)
5C: The Stones of Blood (4 episodes)
5D: The Androids of Tara (4 episodes)
5E: The Power of Kroll (4 episodes)
5F: The Armageddon Factor (6 episodes)

Season 17: 1/9/79-12/1/80 (20 episodes)
5J: Destiny of the Daleks (4 episodes)
5H: City of Death (4 episodes) *****
5G: The Creature From the Pit (4 episodes)
5K: Nightmare of Eden (4 episodes)
5L: The Horns of Nimon (4 episodes)
5M: Shada (6 episodes, incomplete)

Season 18: 30/8/80-21/3/81 (28 episodes)
5N: The Leisure Hive (4 episodes)
5Q: Meglos (4 episodes)
5R: Full Circle (4 episodes)
5P: State of Decay (4 episodes)
5S: Warriors' Gate (4 episodes)
5T: The Keeper of Traken (4 episodes)
5V: Logopolis (4 episodes) ****

The Fourth Doctor regenerated at the end of the serial Logopolis, having been pushed off the top of a radio telescope by the Master.

The Fourth Doctor's Companions and Recurring Allies
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen): Seasons 12-14 (4A-4N)
Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter): Seasons 12-13 (4A-4F, 4J)
Leela (Louise Jameson): Seasons 14-15 (4Q-4Z)
K-9 Mk. I (John Leeson): Season 15 (4T-4Z)
K-9 Mk. II (John Leeson, David Brierly): Seasons 16-18 (5A-5S)
Romana - first incarnation (Mary Tamm): Season 16 (5A-5F)
Romana - second incarnation (Lalla Ward): Seasons 17-18 (5J-5S)
Adric (Matthew Waterhouse): Season 18- (5R- )
Nyssa (Sarah Sutton): Season 18- (5T- )
Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding): Season 18- (5V- )
Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney): 4A, 4F
Warrant Officer Benton (John Leven): 4A, 4F, 4J
Borusa - first incarnation (Angus MacKay): 4P
Borusa - second incarnation (John Arnatt): 4Z


Paul Weimer said...

thanks, Adam.

As you no doubt know, the reason why the 4th Doctor is so iconic outside of Britain is that its the serials we usually got, and our public television stations put them on *heavy* repeat.

I got lucky--a station in NYC went 4-5-1-2-3-4 (although a different station just showed 4 over and 4).

Bob/Sally said...

Baker was my introduction to the Doctor, although it's a little disconcerting to realize he took on the role the year I was born. One of the wonders of being a child, I guess, is that concepts of repeats and syndication were meaningless. As far as I knew, I was watching a new episode every week - the fact that they'd been filmed years earlier, and were only then making their way across the pond, never occurred to me.