Short thoughts on Doctor Who, disc by disc (originally published June 2012)
The Masque of Mandragora
Tonight’s soundtrack: Mos Def, “Supermagic”
There’s a question we Doctor Who fans ask each other.
Comic book writer Joshua Dysart once said to me (no fooling, this time), “I don’t care who you are; if you’re an American of a certain age, it’s all about Tom Baker.” That’s tough to argue with. Check this, from outta nowhere on yesterday’s Back to Work podcast (approx. 23:15) -
Merlin Mann: My Doctor Who’s always been the guy with the scarf. I don’t understand all these young guys…
Dan Benjamin: You’re talking about Tom Baker.
MM: Yes! All these young guys, they look like they work in a Starbucks. I don’t understand how they can be Doctor Who.
Now, you can chalk it up to ignorance. A lot of kids in the late seventies caught a bit of PBS here and there, what little Who they glimpsed had Tom Baker in, they didn’t bother to find out more. Boom. “The guy with the scarf.” Or maybe they became fans, but succumbed to First Doctor Syndrome1 because, well, he was the first we could have possibly seen. There. “It’s all about Tom Baker.”
For me, I know I used to say Jon Pertwee was my Doctor, just to be clever2 and seem the sort of person who had bought the Programme Guide.
That was a lie.
Tom Baker played the Doctor for seven years and captured a generation’s hearts because he’s really fucking good at the job. He’s funny and he’s majestic and he’s barmy and he’s never, ever dull. This man did amazing, unpredictable things and if he’s the only memory of Who you cherish, that’s more than fine.
My answers are more nuanced these days, but the truth is still that Tom Baker’s performance is mad electric poetry from the heart of the sun. So he ranks third.
1 That’s where you imprint on the first Doctor whose adventures you actually watch. From then on, every other Doctor, no matter how good, just isn’t doing it right.
2 To be fair, there were only three I could legitimately pick from, and it wasn’t going to be Peter Davison, was it? (No offense, Peter.)