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The Tom Baker Years

Reviewed by Alistair Hughes

'... once, I was a hero. Once, dare I say, I was absolutely adored, and I'm grateful.'

Despite myself, I had many preconceptions before viewing this tape. All I had ever heard was how dubious the choice of clips was and consequently how lost Tom Baker was to recall anything of the stories. Actually, it is a very pleasant surprise, entertaining, revealing and finally genuinely moving.

Baker gives a typically articulate introduction to the format, explaining that he has not seen the clips we are about to watch, so his recollections will be completely unrehearsed. An interesting zoom into Baker's TV starts us off, and soon I was remembering how much I love clips. Contrary to popular belief, the choice of footage shown is almost always appropriate to jog Baker's memory and fun for the viewer, too. However, there are notable exceptions; no jungle set in Planet of Evil and no Davros or Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks. Baker's recollection that the famous 'Have I the right...' line from that last story was taken from 'the American pop song' is surely a joke, isn't it? The Key to Time season appears to have left very little impression (unlike Mary Tamm) while Baker's final season seems to be the one remembered the most fondly, containing several stories he'd like to see.

Always charming, apologetic when his memory fails and clearly enjoying himself, Baker's comments are the cornerstone of this video. From a 'mini-sermon' on violence after watching The Deadly Assassin clip (the only one which he doesn't enjoy) to an infectious roar of laughter at the sight of his aged self from The Leisure Hive, Baker is the ultimate viewing companion. 'The sonic screwdriver could open any door in the universe,' he imparts solemnly at one point, 'unless it couldn't...'

For a Doctor Who tape we learn far more about the man behind the Fourth Doctor than expected. In fact, one feels uncomfortably voyeuristic, watching Baker obviously deeply affected by footage of his ex-wife, Lalla Ward. For once, what he leaves unsaid is far more telling than anything spoken. If you find Baker's affection for the role and the success it brought him touching, particularly as he appears to regard himself as a failure since, then the 'haircut story' will have you in tears.

This tape is an ambitious and truly original venture. It has to provide footage which entertains us but also prompts Baker in a format which could so easily have become annoyingly repetitive. And if it were anyone else it might have been. Instead, The Tom Baker Years is a truly fitting tribute to what he calls 'the happiest days of my life.'

This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).