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Sunday, 7 December 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Tom Baker at 80

Tom Baker
Interviewed by: Nicholas Briggs
Big Finish Productions 2014
Available from Amazon
Although I first encountered Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy as the lead, it was Tom Baker's electric portrayal of the Time Lord which made the biggest impression on me ultimately. Such is the amazing legacy of the bohemian, scarf-wearing Fourth official incarnation that he had an extra (and original) cameo in the Day of the Doctor anniversary special. In a scant few seconds of screen time a vaguely-named gentleman - maybe the Doctor, maybe Tom Baker himself - utterly stole the show.
Now Tom has reached his own milestone of 80 years living on this curious old world of ours, and what an eventful life he certainly has had. And he would appear to have only further gained in wisdom and self-awareness with age; a commendably thoughtful and intellectual artist of his craft.

This release - available since mid-autumn - is a chance for Nick Briggs to try and uncover further memories and defining events from Baker's past. The interviewee is more than responsive, helped in no small part to the pair's collaboration on documentaries specially released (when VHS was still the mainstream video format), and of course the 21st century Big Finish productions of 'missing stories' co-starring Louise Jameson and the late Mary Tamm.

The format is one that leads to casual, but not overly lightweight discussion. Recorded back in March of 2014 a lot of material was edited down into the 2 hours plus that fill this double CD release. Although Briggs is an unquestionable expert on Doctor Who, he chooses to play down his role and knowledge, therefore allowing Baker to speak at great length at all sorts of topics and to often throw in a great deal of spontaneous wit.

Some visitors to this site will know a good amount about how Baker fared during his time in Doctor Who, and this production does not retread too much material which is readily available elsewhere in various media. Consequently the listener is able to learn a little more of Tom's thoughts on his Catholic faith growing up, family life in Liverpool, and the status of being poor and unable to live as certain more fortunate individuals could. Discussion involves his markedly different job roles as a monk-in-training, army medic and building site labourer (with emphasis on tea-making over heavy lifting!).

There is also some welcome discussion of three major TV projects - 'Medics', 'Randall and Hopkirk Deceased' (where he was able to assist fellow ghost Vic Reeves) and 'Monarch of the Glen'. And of course Baker was able to use his fine vocals on the narration of 'Little Britain', which elicits his charmingly satisfied observation that the children who grew up with his Doctor in the 70s ended up giving him new work once they were established in the industry themselves.

Perhaps one nit-pick would be that the lack of a robust structure does sometimes lead to certain stream-of-consciousness material which gets in the way of further elaboration on topics that are quite fascinating. Yet Tom Baker is one of those people I would genuinely tolerate reading out endless definitions from a dictionary. His amazing voice is not the only selling point here either. He is warm, humble and supremely spontaneous and witty. There is the often observed point that Baker simply played himself as the Doctor, and he himself seems to go along with this line-of-reasoning. But Doctor Who would have hardly been as iconic and have such a legacy had not such a major charismatic star been involved.

A rather edgy aspect of the interview is Baker's sharp awareness of death and mortality - both his own and peoples in general. But rather than being maudlin he expands on this to explain how he has mellowed and tries to make the most of his time in a positive fashion. Baker also briefly illuminates his deep thoughts on his major romantic partners in life. Thankfully there is no 'Piers Morgan' style push for gossip from Briggs, who knows full well that despite apparent extrovert qualities, Tom Baker is in various aspects quite a private person.

Sometimes the small scale projects with a basic one-to-one dynamic can be as illuminating as a full scale documentary. This is one such example. Considering the many interviews available on the market this stands tall and is a great way to spend a spare afternoon, whether at home or on the go. If you are stuck for ideas this time of year then look no further for this interview as a small gift.