main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Kickstarter Message
TV Tropes Needs Your Help
Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
View Kickstarter Project
Creator: Tom Baker

"You may be a doctor, but I'm THE Doctor. The definite article, you might say."
The Fourth Doctor, Doctor Who, "Robot"

Thomas Stewart Baker (born 20 January 1934) is Doctor Who. An old story goes that if you don't know what Tom Baker looks like, all you need to do is close your eyes and think of the Doctor... and that's him. Curly hair, floppy hat, long multi-coloured scarf and toothy grin. Instantly recognisable. Even today, over thirty years since leaving the role, he's generally accepted as being the most well-known of any of the thirteen actors to have played it to date and has only now been surpassed in popularity by David Tennant; even newer and/or younger Who-fans, for whom Tennant is their iconic Doctor, list Baker as the Classic Doctor. Certainly he was the longest serving (seven seasons in total), so he is embedded in the public consciousness better than most of the others.

Born in Liverpool, Baker initially studied to become a monk, but he dropped out when he realised that a life of isolation wasn't for him. He gravitated towards acting, mostly as an understudy on stage. He gained plaudits for his role as Grigori Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexandra, and this led to several other film and television roles, among them the evil magician Koura in the movie The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

Nevertheless, the forty year old actor was working on a London building site as a bricklayer (and, by his own account, was of "no fixed abode") when he got lucky. Very lucky. Being known socially to the head of BBC drama and his wife (no sniggering at the back please), Baker's name came up in discussion as a possibility when the producers of Doctor Who were looking for somebody to replace the departing Jon Pertwee. A meeting was arranged between Baker and the two men who were in overall charge of the series, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, both of whom took an immediate liking to the actor.

At the time of his casting, Baker was by far the least well known actor to have ever played the Doctor. William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee had all been much-loved character actors, even before playing the role, whereas Baker had largely been a supporting artist. It's somewhat ironic, therefore, that Baker ended up being the longest-serving and most well-known of them all. His portrayal of the Doctor was (and remains) iconic: Baker himself attributes his success to having played the role as that of a Man Child, similarly to Harpo Marx — this characterisation was a contrast to the more august former incarnations and became popular in later ones.

In 1981, Baker left Doctor Who, handing over the reins to Peter Davison. Accounts vary on exactly why he left. One popular story is that Baker tendered his resignation to the new producer of the series as a joke, believing that his massive popularity with the public would never see it accepted, only to be surprised when the producer snapped back, "Sure! When do you want to leave?" Commentary in the "New Beginnings" DVD boxed set suggests that John Nathan-Turner, the new first-year producer of the series, wanted to put his own personal stamp on the series and felt Baker had become impossible to rein in. For his part, Baker wasn't fond of the changes Nathan-Turner began making and threatened, as he had done with other producers in the past, to resign if he didn't get his way. Oops.

He maintained his Doctor persona off-screen to a large extent, never smoking or drinking in public and being on his best behavior around children. The pressure eventually led to endless in-fighting and even a few live television crack-ups. Later actors testified that the Doctor, not unlike Sherlock Holmes, is a tough character to get inside of; extended time there can take its toll. Baker's example is probably a major consideration in most actors leaving the role after three or four years.

He subsequently took on roles as diverse as Oscar Wilde (that must have been a sight to see), Redbeard Rum in Blackadder, Sherlock Holmes (in a production so bad that the BBC publicly apologized for it), and an elf in the Dungeons & Dragons movie, as well as the role of Puddleglum in The BBC adaptation of The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. He had a regular role as Donald MacDonald in the later seasons of Monarch of the Glen. He has found a niche as a voice actor in recent years (that's him doing the narration in Little Britain and the opening cutscene of Hostile Waters Antaeus Rising), but he will forevermore be remembered as the Doctor.

A good decade after the other actors who played the character, he's now finally reprising the role in Big Finish Doctor Who, and now speaks fondly of his time as the Doctor. He also appeared at the end of "The Day of the Doctor" as a museum curator, implied to be a future incarnation of the Doctor who willingly regenerated into Baker's form again.

He married one of his former Doctor Who co-stars, Lalla Ward (who played companion Romana II), shortly after they both departed the series. The marriage didn't last very long. Neither wishes to elaborate further (though Baker contends that their relationship lasted a whole year, which is rather good if one adopts a long perspective), and she is now happily married to Richard Dawkins, whom she met through Douglas Adams.

Tropes associated with this actor include:

  • Cheshire Cat Grin: His Doctor is very famous for his.
  • Crazy Awesome: Both in and out of character, assuming that distinction is even relevant. Pretty much defines the stereotype of the English eccentric.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Promotions for Nicholas and Alexandra (in which he played Rasputin) made much of his large, mesmerising, compelling, shockingly-coloured blue eyes. The cinematography in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad lavished attention on them to indicate his character's Black Magic powers, and even built whole visual effects around them. And as the Doctor he boggled them constantly out of his head to make himself look alien, which the scripts exploited by bringing Hypnotic Eyes and Mad Oracle powers to the character's repertoire for the first time.
  • I Am Not Spock: Tom Baker will always be the Doctor, and the Doctor will always be him.
  • Iconic Item: The scarf. Just the scarf. Consider that even people who have never seen classic Who recognize the scarf, and some still wear it to cosplay, even as other Doctors. Even the other Doctors wear it at events, such as Matt Smith.
  • Large Ham: Even his eyes are hammy. Especially in Blackadder.
  • Lost in Character: Tom Baker claims he never feels real unless he's fictional, and has suffered from periods of poor mental health, which has occasionally metastised into this. While playing the lead in Macbeth, he developed a delusional conviction that he, like Macbeth, was destined to die and that this would happen when the run of his play was over, systematically giving away all of his money and his possessions before then (leading to the famously dire financial situation he was in just before taking the role of the Doctor). The line between himself and the Doctor became famously blurry for him, to the point where not only was he declaring himself the sole authority on the character and insisting on doing things his way, but he was also experiencing powerful urges to fight injustice and save people who were suffering in the real world, and tormented himself with his inadequacy at doing this compared to the Doctor. He even claims in his autobiography he 'began to think that the entire BBC was colonized with hostile aliens who were slyly spreading a hideous and incurable virus'.
  • Quirky Curls: In the 60s and 70s he had a great big curly mop of hair. He cut it all off after he finished being the Doctor and was upset to discover that no-one recognised him any more. Usually keeps his hair short as an old man, but he grew it out into a smaller mop for the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who celebrations. Illness during Season 18 actually caused his hair to lose its curl, requiring him to have a perm before "State of Decay" was filmed.
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: Courtesy of Orbital.
  • Type Casting: His performance as the Doctor was so iconic and beloved that he struggled and failed to be anything other than the Doctor for the rest of his life. His feelings towards his involvement with the role have gone up and down over the years.
  • Voice Of Dramatic: Possesses an unusual deep, commanding voice that depending on context can be powerful and grand, hypnotic and sensual, or the funniest voice in the whole world, all of which are exploited in his work as a voice over artist.
  • Wag the Director

Sylvester McCoyImageSource/Live-Action TVLive-Action TV
Jon PertweeTheNthDoctor/Doctor WhoPeter Davison
Josephine BakerActorsAdam Baldwin

alternative title(s): Tom Baker
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy