In the eyes of the world, Tom Baker is Doctor Who. And also the Doctor, there being a difference between the two, at least most of the time.
Despite Tom Baker’s final story airing over forty years ago, and despite the cultural reach of the new series since 2005, pop culture still references Doctor Who through the lens of the Fourth Doctor: the long, variegated scarf, the floppy hat, the curly hair and broad smile. More than that, though, Tom Baker’s presentation of the Doctor hews closest to the stereotypical understanding of the enigmatic Time Lord. He’s quick with a quip, slow to anger but ready with intensity, all-knowing but a bit fuzzy on the details, indefatigable when confronted with impossible odds, and given to action over excessive reflection. A hero, in other words, not just for our time, but for all time.
Doubtless, much of this persistent identification of the Doctor with Tom Baker comes from his incredible tenure as the Fourth Doctor, a run of forty-two stories, spanning 178 episodes, if one includes the un-broadcast “Shada,” as one should. (William Hartnell, the next longest tenured Doctor, featured in 134 episodes as lead actor.) Baker’s tales stretch from December 28, 1974, the opening episode of “Robot” in Season Twelve, through to March 21, 1981, the final episode of “Logopolis” to end Season Eighteen, well over six years in the role.
But longevity alone cannot account for just how entirely Tom Baker made the part of the Doctor his own, particularly on the heels of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, who was no slouch in terms of personality and strong characterization. Much has been made of the star’s temperamental insistence, towards the end of his time on the series, that the scripts provide more scope for humor, spontaneity, and levity—centered, naturally, around the Doctor—but the entire tone of the Fourth Doctor’s run points in that direction from the very beginning. Producer Barry Letts and script editor Robert Holmes had to know what they had in Tom Baker right away, as evidenced by the sequence in “Robot” where the newly-regenerated Doctor tries on multiple outfits, including a harlequin costume. Shades of things to come…