'THE ROBOTS OF DEATH'
|All aboard the Sandminer (Image: BBC/2 Entertain)|
of being the first Doctor Who at 50 event to feature the man who played
All of these BFI events have been special, but you could tell by the amount of people queuing up for return tickets – from 10.30 in the morning, with one man bringing his own collapsible stool: serious stuff – that this one was extra special. The focus of appreciation from this afternoon was to be the still unbeaten seven-year stint of fourth Doctor Tom Baker, with the great man himself appearing on stage after a screening of ‘The Robots of Death’.
|1974-77 producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Louise Jameson (Leela) and |
the Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker. (Courtesy BFI)
A surprise guest was Mathew Waterhouse, who played companion Adric in Baker’s last season, helping to bridge the transition to Peter Davison. Surprisingly nervous for an actor, he spoke endearingly of how he’s been the first regular cast member to have been a genuine Doctor Who fan, remembering discussing ‘The Robots of Death’ at school “as the mystery thickened,” and confessing to being “in love with Leela, even if [I was] gay.”
Mr Moffat was correct with his assessment that ‘Robots’ is one of the few, classic Doctor Who stories that is absolutely perfect. Much as we love the series, it used to have a charming tendency to let the side down in an otherwise immaculate production with either some appalling acting or a duff special effect (like a certain giant rat). ‘Robots’ succeeds on every level, and as was often the case in Tom Baker’s early years, presents a consistently realised fantasy-world, which for the audience is a look inside an exotic environment but which the characters believably react to as an everyday setting. Interestingly, for a Doctor known for his off-beat humour, Tom’s performance is light on laughs in this story, with Leela getting a lot of the one-liners. One thing I thought people might laugh at was mad scientist Taren Capel’s robot make-up – they didn’t, a sure sign of how much the audience was caught up in the story – and the chuckles went instead to the amusing dialogue of the dead pan robot detective, D84.
|Sir Tom Baker (Courtesy BFI)|
It was perhaps inevitable that, in a smaller panel than usual, Philip Hinchcliffe and Louise Jameson would be eclipsed by the natural eccentricity of Tom Baker. Neither seemed to mind, as the leading man’s noticeable loss of weight and reliance on a walking stick aside, here was a Tom content with Doctor Who – in stark contrast to how he felt about the series in the 1980s – and in an amiable working relationship with Jameson, as opposed to the fractious association they had in the 1970s.
If ‘The Robots of Death’ showed a Fourth Doctor more serious than the one of popular memory, seeing Tom on stage on stage at the BFI on 20 April 2013 was like an audience with the zany, quipping (if slightly more bawdy) Doctor of his Graham Williams-produced seasons, when Baker’s personality began to bleed more and more into the Doctor’s character. The one-liners came one after the other: “I wanted to play Macbeth in the style of a crumpet lover”, “quite a lot of people who have anything to do with me die suddenly afterwards”, “I’ve no sense of direction, which is why I’ve never had children, I suppose” to the memorable advice he gave Jameson when she joined: “Well, I hope you’re into bondage, darling, because you’re going to spend 90% of the time tied up!” There was also an outrageous story about Tom signing the coffin of a dead fan, which he confessed was totally untrue.
|The warrior of the Sevateem,|
Louise Jameson (Courtesy BFI)