The first three iterations of the Doctor are all powerful performances that stand the test of time. Indeed, each actor who gave their spin on the part put on a hell of a show. They’ll all be remembered as the greats.
Yet even they pale in comparison to the mountainous legend left behind by Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor.
To this day, Tom Baker holds the record for longest tenure as the character. Whereas most actors call it quits after three or four years, sometimes even less, he held the part for a whopping seven years!
All seven of those years are some of the best Classic Who has to offer! The fourth Doctor is wildly entertaining! He’s got this charming energy at all times. Dude gets punched in the face, and what’s his response? To grin from ear to ear, compliment the guy who did it, and get right back up. Someone’s pointing a gun at him? He takes the time to mess with him for laughs!
Even his outfit is one of the silliest in the whole series. Yet it’s this very silliness that makes it iconic. Even people unfamiliar with the classic series can instantly recognize that massive scarf!
Goofy as he is, the fourth still had a presence on the screen. When the script demands it, he brings a weight to his delivery that is nothing short of gripping. Tom Baker masterfully captured the age and wisdom of the Doctor, making him feel like this ancient being who has seen more than you could possibly imagine.
All of this is perfectly highlighted in the classic episode ‘Genesis of the Daleks.’ In it, we see the fourth Doctor at his most serious as he goes back in time to the creation of the Daleks with the intent to stop their creation. Here, he meets Davros, a long standing villain of the series to this day.
In this story, we’re presented with one of the greatest moral quandaries of the entirety of Doctor Who. The fourth Doctor holds in his hands the key to eradicate the Daleks once and for all. Yet he hesitates. Can he punish a race for crimes they haven’t committed yet? If he destroys them, is he any better than they are? For all the evil brought about by his enemies, can he ignore the good that comes from their presence as well, as other races might band together in peace to combat the Daleks?
This scene is masterfully sold by Tom Baker. You can see the conflict the Doctor is experiencing written plainly across his face, and his line delivery is nothing short of masterful. He could do dramatic and heavy just as easily as he could silly and carefree.
Unfortunately, the extended length of his tenure wasn’t without consequence. Towards the latter years of his run, you can really tell he was beginning to get exhausted with the role. Behind the scenes, he was starting to get testy with the new showrunners and writers and you can really feel that in his performances in certain episodes.
Even still, it’s clear to see why the fourth Doctor is so often cited as everyone’s favorite from the classic series. His influence over the series is still strong to this day, and not just because of his perfectly done return in the 50th anniversary. A good number of actors who played the character in the modern series cite Tom Baker as the primary influence for their Doctor!
Tom Baker left one hell of an act to follow. Anyone who came in and tried to do the same thing would definitely be unable to fill the shoes.
Luckily, the next actor to take the part would bring a whole new take on the character. One that would lead to my favorite era of Classic Who.