Originally broadcast between August 1980 and March 1981, Tom Baker’s final season as the Fourth Doctor is out on Blu-ray this week. “Bravo, Tom! Bravo, Lalla! Bravo, baby!” cries the actor, at the end of an all-new commentary on the season’s four-part opening serial, The Leisure Hive – one of a plethora of bonus features on this sure-to-sell-out-soon Doctor Who box set.
And what a commentary! It’s 87 minutes of Tom (“Yeah, but don’t forget, I’m an alien”) shooting the breeze – or what little’s left of it, on the radioactive wastelands of the planet Argolis – with journalist Matthew Sweet.
Here are seven things we learned from Tom and Matthew’s tête-à-tête…
The Leisure Hive sees the Doctor and his best mate, Romana, visit Argolis, the surface of which is uninhabitable following a 20-minute nuclear war between the native Argolins and the reptilian Foamasi. The surviving Argolins built a holiday resort there, the Leisure Hive, with some curious attractions…
It’s all based on some solid, real-life scientific theories, you know. Tachyons. Baryon Shields. A Schrödinger Oscillator… probably. Was Tom on top of it all? Well, no. “It’s as if I didn’t quite know what was going on,” he confesses. “I spent a lot of time trying to hide that.”
And his quick fix? He’d deliver the lines as fast as he could (“You need to be snappy,” Tom explains), so no-one would suspect a thing: “I deliberately used to race the dialogue – I liked to do it at a 100 miles an hour – because it wouldn’t bear listening to slowly!”
“In those days, I was quite agile for a big man, wasn’t I?” Tom points out, as he watches his 36-year-old self dart around the Leisure Hive set. Later, when the Doctor almost crashes through an Argolin-made wall, Tom reconsiders: “Ah – I’m not the most graceful mover at all. I had to be very, very careful not to knock over scenery or damage props.” he concedes.
At the end of Season 17, producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams left Doctor Who. They were replaced, for Season 18, by John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H Bidmead respectively. “I don’t know that I relished it,” Tom says of the regime change. So he didn’t get on with JN-T and Bidmead? “They put up with me,” he says, diplomatically.
But Nathan-Turner was a “much more robust character” than Williams had been, suggests Matthew.
“Oh, he was,” says Tom. “John Nathan-Turner was quite tough in his way. You know, he was quite tough and convinced about what he liked… He did not give way… I didn’t really like John’s taste, and I didn’t trust his taste,” adds Tom.
“There was a certain kind of unease,” admits Tom, “because of course Lalla Ward is in this, isn’t she?” Lalla, who was Tom’s then-girlfriend and soon-to-be wife (they tied the knot in December 1980, but the marriage lasted only 16 months), played Romana throughout Season 17 and for the majority of Season 18. “It was an extraordinary period of romantic madness, really,” says Tom. But tensions between the two stars ran high. At times on set, Tom refused to even make eye contact with her. When Matthew points out one such instance in The Leisure Hive, Tom explodes with laughter, then says: “Oh, you have the eye of a gossip columnist!”
“What big eyes you’ve got, Tom,” marvels the man himself, as he watches The Leisure Hive. “My eyes are now quite small, really.”
“They’re not!” insists Matthew, making Tom roar with laughter again. “Were you conscious of the power they had? Do you ever try to mesmerise anybody with those eyes, Tom?”
“Well, I try,” he begins. “I try to fascinate my interlocutors. I try to amuse, you know. I want to please.” No, but seriously: if Tom’s eyes seem bigger and more boggley in The Leisure Hive, is it because he was a little thinner? “I was suffering, I think. There’s nothing like suffering to thin you out… I suppose I was going through this kind of thing of being in love, really, and that’s always painful, isn’t it?” So we’re watching a man in love acting in The Leisure Hive? He’s starry-eyed? “I suppose so, yes – a man in love and, dare one say, suffering for it.”
The cliffhanger to Part Two sees the Doctor aged 500 years by the Argolins’ Tachyon Recreation Generator. “Rasputin’s dad!” exclaims Matthew, when ‘Old Tom Baker’ steps out of the machine.
“Rasputin’s grandad!” counters Tom. In The Leisure Hive, his “old age pensioner’s outfit” (Tom’s descriptor) – impressive hair and make-up work by Dorka Nieradzik – includes wrinkles, a long white beard and a thinning pate. “Now, of course, I could walk through that scene as I am,” chuckles the actor, who turned 85 in January.
The green-skinned, bug-eyed Foamasi may have ‘creeped out’ viewers in 1980, but Tom simply adores them. “I can’t believe my eyes!” he hoots on the Blu-ray commentary, when the creatures turn up on the screen. “These are really good horror scenes, aren’t they?” But the production team would have made the Foamasi scarier, says Tom, if they’d thought they could have got away with it. “They’re constrained by the accepted standards of the time. They wanted it horrific, but not too horrific. That was a typical BBC request.”
Well, at least Tom enjoyed acting opposite Foamasi. He looks them in the eyes. “You can’t underact. You overact,” he says. “It was lovely, pretending that, you know, terrifying things were in the air – anything could happen at any moment…”