Tom Baker: “There’s always a bloody inquest”

Tom BakerIt’s Tom Baker’s birthday today, and people are joyously sharing Tom stories and interviews online. It’s prompted me to dig out my own Tom transcript, from 14 April, 2014.

Tom had been pressed into service to promote reruns of old Doctor Who episodes on The Horror Channel. After helming an uproarious roundtable (bits of which, I wrote up here), he did some quick one-to-one chats. So, I jumped in, double-banking quotes that could possibly be used in the huge poll that featured in DWM #474 (in the end, I don’t think any appeared) and running past him a Q&A feature for Total TV Guide, pertaining to various ‘firsts’ from his career.

Here, opportunistically, is the full transcript, and note how he off-handedly seems to want to bring the interview to a close. But then carries on in fine form anyway.

Happy Birthday, Tom!…

I’m Graham.

Hiya Graham. This is Louise my agent.

Thank you so much for doing this.

It’s alright. You were a good audience.

I’m writing a piece for Doctor Who Magazine. They’ve done a poll and the readers like Genesis of the Daleks best. Why is that such a successful story?

I think that… Doctor Who and the Daleks sound like a team, don’t they? They’re the longest enduring enemy, so I think that must be it. And I notice when I go to promotions for Doctor Who or conventions, it’s always the Daleks that cause a sensation, even though the people inside the Daleks are invisible. It makes them feel good to be screaming and shouting. Especially the guys playing Cybermen, walking around being invisible. And yet they like that. I don’t know. The Daleks are iconic aren’t they? That’s part of it, really. It’s rather like the Devil having a forked tail, isn’t it? Or funny ears. Or drooling. Or whatever it is.

Did you remember thinking at the time, “This is a good one”? And with Davros arriving, thinking, “This is a great character?”

Erm. I knew Davros was going to be a great character. And there was another Davros played by Henry Woolf, wasn’t there?

In The Sunmakers

Yeah, yeah.

But he wasn’t Davros.

No he wasn’t. But Davros was very, very good.

That was Michael Wisher.

Michael Wisher. He took it so seriously and it was so funny. And he was always in costume. He used to smoke a lot. And in order to feel detached – a monster – he used to put a shopping bag over his head with holes in the top. He didn’t find it at all funny. And while he was doing all these threats, the chimney was smoking about his head. We once crept out – just for a minute – when a lunchtime came. Someone said lunch, and several of us crept out. It must have got very quiet. He lifted it up and we were gone.

People talk about scene where you debate with Davros…

That’s a kind of test of being humane. Blackguarding. They were never really very complex were they? It’s still always the same, the villains exist or invade another planet in order to exploit the scarce resources, destroying other people on the way. Which sounds like a popular appraisal of empire, doesn’t it? But that’s the way it goes. The Doctor has always got to be on the side of good, hasn’t he? But they never make it so difficult… If someone had a baby that they were threatening to throw out of a window unless I save the whole world… I’d have to think of another way of dealing with that. But I really love babies! Ha ha ha!

Do you look back at City of Death and think it was a cracker?

Well, somebody was reminding me recently… that was the only time we went abroad, wasn’t it?

And the most watched one ever.

Was it? Was it really? What I remember is marrying the girl! I do remember that. That would be an amazing thing to… Do you know – and then your time is up – I was once at Bafta and talking to some people from the BBC. A woman said… A voice behind me said, “Hello, Tom,” in a rather dainty actress-y way, and I turned round and there was a nice woman there of a certain age. And I said, “Oh, darling, hello, how are you?” And she said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”  I said, the way actors do, I said, “Of course I remember you, you were a marvellous Kate Hardcastle”. And she said, “No I wasn’t.” These two fellas from the BBC cleared their throats. In a crisis, people from the BBC clear their throats and then walk away. Erm, they walked away. I went through about eight things, “Was it the Royal Shakespeare Company?” Anyway, I got very tired. I said, “Look, I’m so sorry, I don’t remember you. It was a play, was it?” And she said, “No, we used to be married”.

That’s a hard one to come back from.

The BBC fellas overheard this. Amazing things would happen to me. Some people… actually, it was such an amazing thing to happen. People who heard it, they always thought I was a bit dodgy. Tom Baker; a bit strange. They said, “Tom Baker – he didn’t remember a girl he was married to!” It never occurred to them, because she spoke so nicely and was dressed so nicely, that she was loopy! I wasn’t married to the girl!

Let me ask you a couple of quick things about your career. What was your first break?

Well… I worked as a stage-hand in Liverpool at the New Shakespeare. And I worked for Moss Empires. And then I went to drama school, and then I think the first real break was a season in Scarborough, in the very early 1960s, when I was in four or five plays, which ran for over 20 weeks. I loved being in Scarborough and I liked the plays. The other actors didn’t like me. I wasn’t… I used to get up to tricks; it was kind of insecurity. I like to make people laugh if I can. And if there’s one thing that makes actors very agitated, it’s the subject of comedy. When you’re in a comedy, when you’re in Macbeth or an Ibsen play, afterwards they say, “Good night! Good night everyone!” Or go to the pub or something like that. But when you’re in a comedy, there’s always a bloody inquest! Every time!

When you come off stage?

Yeah? People say, “Listen, you know that scene? You’re treading on my cue!” Or, actors actually become distraught if they don’t get a laugh. And sometimes… I remember one time in a domestic scene, because the audience laughed… it was in the round – I put nine spoonfuls of sugar in my mug of tea. That was in Scarborough. And the audience were counting it. Some poor actor had a big long speech, and I heard the audience saying, “Seven, eight, nine…” And then I stirred the tea, and he was still going on, and then I tasted it, put it down and put another spoonful in. There you are, you see.

So are you a scene-stealer?

No! I’m not now. I wouldn’t dream of it. But in those days – when you’re in rep and you’re under-rehearsed and things like that… But a lot of actors thought I was too extravagant and silly. And they were right.

Had you had recognition from the public before Doctor Who?

Yeah. Before Doctor Who

You’d been in films.

I’d been in a big international film, Nicholas and Alexandra. I’d toured America. And I’d also done, of course, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and I had also done… So I’d done several things.

So were you used to public recognition? Were you used to people asking for your autograph?

Ah, no. I mean that didn’t happen until I was in America with Rasputin, for the fans there. No, no. By the time the autograph-hunters arrived, I was Doctor Who. Before that, there was nothing.

Was that quite immediate after your first story went out?

Oh, yeah. Within a couple of weeks. Within about two transmissions my whole life changed, yeah. And people stopped in amazement in the streets and said lovely things. You know?

You’re smiling hugely. I would find that bewildering. But you loved it?

Yeah, I did. I did. Because I was so tired, at the age of nearly 40, of being nobody. I wanted to be somebody. And I think that’s a very common condition, really. Everybody wants to be somebody. Everybody needs to be – I’m talking in clichés – everybody needs to feel that they matter. And so when I was Doctor Who, the adoration came in and I lapped it up, and in return I signed their autographs and appealed to them and did whatever I could, yeah, to please them

Can you quote a review of your work? Do you read them?

No. Somebody might tell me about a review that I might read. I don’t read reviews, no. The review I found painful was when someone said they found my Macbeth… they had no idea he was such a nice man. Now, of course, I find that very funny. Oh no, I remember. I was in a Coward play, Hayfever, and I played the diplomat, and somebody said in Scarborough, “As for Tom Baker playing the diplomat, his performance is so bad there shouldn’t be an empty seat in the house”. And there wasn’t! People piled in to see it. Of course, I got worse and worse and worse. The worse I got, the more they liked it. The other actors didn’t like that at all. But then… that’s the way it is sometimes. Ha ha ha ha.

In an actor’s life, if you totted it up, are there more disappointments than successes?

Oh really? More than a Doctor’s life?

What do you think? Is there a big disappointment in your career, something that should have been bigger?

No, no, no, no. Doctor Who came up and I seized it, didn’t I? And it turned out to be a good decision. I had a lovely experience, and here I am still doing it in my ninth decade.

But you’ve talked about how it was tougher, post-Doctor Who. You must have expected you would go on to equally big roles?

I did, and it didn’t happen, did it? In fact I’m trying to remember what I did after Doctor Who.

You did Sherlock Holmes.

Yeah, that wasn’t a success. That wasn’t a success. Terry Rigby was a success. But really that’s a very bad… The Hound of the Baskervilles is not a Sherlock Holmes story. It’s actually a Dr Watson story, isn’t it? That wasn’t a success. Later, I was the first actor in the world to play Holmes and Moriarty in the same play! And made a mess of both of them!

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