I just had the pleasure of watching the first 4-ep [back when eps were 30 minutes apiece] adventure with the Fourth Doctor of Dr. Who. That adventure, Robot, appeared in 1974 and involved a morally conflicted robot being manipulated by elitist geniuses to promote nuclear warfare on Earth. Given that the Doctor was played at this time by Tom Baker, known for his indelible and classic portrayal of the Doctor, I was curious to see what Who Classic, as interpreted by a universally beloved actor, looked like.
I must say that I easily see why so many viewers adore Baker as the Doctor. With his buggy eyes, uncontrollable hair and facetiously long but always useful scarf, Baker projects an air much like Harpo Marx. Seemingly childlike in his non sequiturs and mood shifts, Baker conveys the impression of an intelligence and a personality moving much too fast for most humans to grasp. While light-years beyond humans in comprehension, Baker’s Doctor also enjoys playing with them, changing costumes, offering jelly babies and doing other performative flourishes that require an appreciative audience. I don’t think of him as an arrogant performer, but a self-satisfied one, always ready to prove how sparkling he is. His smugness, playfulness and utter confidence wrap up into an endearing whole.
As a whole show, Dr. Who was different in 1974 than it is now. With shorter episodes and stronger musical cues pointing out humorous moments, Dr. Who in 1974 comes across as more sit-com-like than dramatic. At the same time, the constant shooting, blowing up and cliff-hanging endings work against the sit-com frame, suggesting more of an old-fashioned serial drama. The show has an interesting hybrid form, and I can see why it appealed back then to viewers of all ages.