Monday, March 12, 2007

Things That Make Me Cry

I'm butch, I am. Damn tough. Hardened and instinctively restraining my emotions because half the time no one gave a damn anyway. Plus my eyes get really blotchy. Not a good look and those that know me, know how ugly as sin I am. No need to make it worse.

Thus we have a list of things that shattered my resolve. Including

Rose's departure in Doomsday
The end of The Legend of Robin Hood
The Monkey Magic episode Such A Nice Monster.
The last proper episode of Round the Twist (which I would name if I could remember the title, plus the fact every episode after was so shithouse I will never again acknowledge its existence.)
The Tom Baker Years.

The what?!?

I picked up my copy of The Tom Baker Years during a rainy Saturday afternoon trip to the ABC - and thoroughly disappointed that the only other Doctor Who stuff there was an eye-catching Dalek poster and newspaper comic strip about them. I won't spoil it for you, but it involved stairs. So, I grabbed this lovely orange colored box with that smiling face, impressed that what was clearly one video was advertising itself as a two-cassette box. I was either getting more than my money's worth or less than my money's worth, but at the time I was so engrossed in working out who the bloke on the back next to Styre was. Turned out to be Soldeed in the end. I'm still kicking myself, you know.

So, the tape. It's set in that gloomy museum basement that all such tapes are set in, and Tom Baker wanders in - clearly having just stepped off the Shada reconstruction or just about to enter it - and gives a clearly scripted spiel that he never liked the idea of these tapes in general especially as the tape couldn't even follow the layout set down previously: there are no Tom Baker missing stories, or highly-regarded ones that weren't on tape back then.

Tom has been seduced into this because he has no idea what he'll be watching. True, there's an above-average probability it will be a Doctor Who story featuring him, but the details were live. Reality TV, you might say. And so, he watches a few minutes from every story he did - in the order it was on TV - and he regales you with what (if anything) he remembers. No, that's not fair. He comes to a complete blank only on a few stories, like Planet of Evil or Underworld. Story titles and dates he's normally quite good with, though a few mistakes are dryly corrected by captions at the foot of the screen. By the second tape, this is forgotten, letting him get away with calling Leela's first story The Face of Fear and simply shrugging over the name of The Androids of Tara. I get the impression that the captioner was as caught up in watching the stories and Tom as I to bother with such trivialities.

Of course, nowadays there's nothing Tom can tell you that Doctor Who Magazine can't - though, there is an exception but Tom refuses to explain on the grounds this is a family-oriented tape by God it was fun, though. Apparently. But Tom recalls something from 90% of stories and it's always interesting and probably corrected by the next clip. Tom's recall is, altogether very good. While I, fan that I am, could recite you every working title for his stories backwards (please, don't hit me), would be rendered open mouthed at having to recall every anecdote for seven years eleven years ago. Due to my age, it's impossible anyway, but that's a tall order by anyone's standards.

Tom Baker makes it quite clear that he never watches things he stars in - with noticeable exceptions like The Deadly Assassin, for example, which he felt he had to. As such, this is all pretty new to him and he enjoys it.

The early part of the tapes, with Tom grinning in front of us and on his TV are infectious. A real sense of melancholy falls over the second half of the tape, Seasons 16-18, but Tom Baker is, like the Doctor, having far too much fun to worry about things until Romana leaves in what has to be the longest clip - from her departure to the credits of Warrior's Gate episode four. From that moment, and the intrusive bit of film footage with the ever present "the marriage didn't last long you know" quote that Tom, perhaps for the best, doesn't say anything about, a real sense of... not quite bitterness, not quite depression sinks in. Mainly to me, as I can't judge Tom; the video has been edited slightly, I'm certain, as it shows his reactions to the Five Doctors before his reaction to his death scene, so his pathos moves backwards.

Watching those final scenes, with a brooding older Tom superimposed in the corner - a stark contrast to the chuckling figure watching the opening scene in Robot - make Logopolis seem even more poignant. As the Master shoves the glowering Doctor away from the controls, I get the strangest impression: denial. This can't be the end of Doctor Who. He's won before, he'll win now. He's not weak or old... is he? As Tom Baker says, he could have kept going after this. Maybe for Doctor Who it was best he didn't, but I don't think credibility would have been lost if the fourth Doctor survived Season 18.

Tom's final reminisces bring a lump to my throat as he explains he (at least tried to) leave Doctor Who, head held high and looking for greener pastures. He had the best part in the world behind him - surely things could get only get better?

They didn't.

The final anecdote where he left a hotel full of drinking Who fans hanging on his every word and return a haircut later to be barely noticed, sums it up pretty well. "They'd forgotten me," he whispers gently, "but I hadn't forgotten them."

He's not wallowing in misery, or cursing fate, just looking back at what happened, old and wise. As he says, no matter what happens to him from now on, for seven long years he lived the best life he'd ever had, a life that can be watched again. Proof it happened. How many people can say that? And, as he wanders off into the sunset again, cheerful and curious, you wonder just how much of the Doctor is Tom Baker and how much of Tom Baker is Doctor Who?

Well worth the cash, in my opinion, mainly because I didn't pay for it.

But I sobbed my heart out.

There, you damn paperazzi! YOU HAPPY NOW?!

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