12 September 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £6.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th September 2014

“In January 2014, Tom Baker celebrated his 80th birthday.

On March 19th, Tom sat down with Nicholas Briggs to look back over his 80 amazing years - his youth, his early acting career, his great success with Doctor Who and beyond… and his return to his most famous role with Big Finish.

This candid and intimate interview forms two fascinating hours of engaging entertainment in the unique company of Mr Baker.”

***

I’ve been watching a lot of Reeltime’s Myth Makers interviews recently, having taken full advantage of three-for-two offers on their DVD releases online, and as such have become accustomed to Nicholas Briggs’s voice gently putting interviewees at ease and teasing out questions in an affable, relaxed manner.  Sometimes he’s in a studio, sometimes he’s pretending to have been teleported into a snowy wasteland or a Zygon-infested beach, and sometimes he’s interviewing the floating head of Jackie Lane.

What I’ve always rather liked about his interview technique in these releases is how his focus on Doctor Who is often marginal, instead focussing on subjects’ lives outside of the show.  We all know that when they turned round they were all wearing eyepatches, but we don’t necessarily know what the eyepatch-wearers were doing twenty years beforehand: had they always wanted to be actors? Did they carry on in the theatre after Doctor Who? What makes them tick?

Listening to Tom Baker at 80, Big Finish’s lengthy interview with Tom Baker to mark his eightieth birthday (if you hadn’t already guessed from the title), I felt at times that I was listening to the audio track from one of those Myth Makers interviews, which is as big a compliment as I can pay for these sort of things, believe me.

There are going to be a host of fans out there no doubt disappointed by this release, let’s get this out of the way now.  Why? Because Doctor Who, especially as it was on television, is by no means the focus.  It gets its time in the limelight, but there is more attention near the end paid towards Big Finish than there ever is towards Baker’s era on TV (which to my mind at least makes sense given who’s making it), and that is bound to disappoint some people.

However, that’s not to say that Big Finish dominate proceedings either.  Far from it: most of the interview, across its two CDs, is taken up with Baker’s life before and after Who.  For my money, the first CD is the best, as it is almost exclusively concerned with Baker’s life before joining the show.  From his days in the army to his stories about Laurence Olivier, Baker is absolutely fascinating and hilarious, pulling you in with tales tall, small, humble, surprised and surprising, and told with a slightly detached air of bafflement, which only adds to the feeling that Baker is telling them all with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.  Quite simply, it’s a joy to listen to.

The Who stuff is undoubtedly interesting, too, and finds Baker perhaps more reflective than he has been in interviews before.  Briggs doesn’t push him too hard on certain points and is happy to let him skip over entire years with a few words, but is also keen on pushing certain points further: why the friction with Louise Jameson? Was he sad when he left, and if so why? Simple questions on paper perhaps, but hard to put forward in a subtle and caring way, so full points must go to Briggs for achieving this.

He steers the interview chronologically through Baker’s life, and whilst some may dislike his relaxed demeanour (he goes into this interview with almost no questions prepared and certainly no facts or figures: if you want to know when Baker was in shows such as Medics, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) or Monarch of the Glen for, or when they were first broadcast, be prepared to be disappointed with Briggs not knowing the answers any more than Baker does), it worked for me.  The whole thing feels like an extended and fascinating talk at a bar.

It must be said though that after the joys of that first CD, it’s less interesting than perhaps it would have been in a different context.  Similarly, the Big Finish talk is interesting enough, and given it’s Big Finish releasing the CD more than deserved, but I was far less engaged with it than I may have been at, say, the end of a Fourth Doctor Adventure release.  There were also a couple of moments I’d love to have seen expanded: how did working with Mary Tamm and Louise Jameson again feel all these years on?  And does Tom Baker agree with some fans’ belief that the Nest Cottage audios weren’t authentic enough, for example? Briggs mentions it in passing, but I’d love to have heard Baker’s full thoughts on this subject (especially as I rather love that trilogy of series from Paul Magrs’s hand).

In the end though, the thing that most stuck with me at the end of this release is death: the idea of it, Baker’s very vocal and open declaration that he is close to it (statistically speaking at least), the impact it’s having upon him and his demeanour, and how it has taken people away from him.

Because, whilst I am under no illusion that one day I am going to read those awful, awful words – Doctor Who star Tom Baker dies, aged... – it had never, in a strange sense, occurred to me before that this day will come and become anything other than a hopefully distant eventuality.

Oh Tom Baker, you simply cannot leave us.  You are the Doctor; you always will be, perhaps more so than any other Doctor that has ever Doctored.  And more than that, you are a person who is forever going to find yourself on people’s fantasy “who would you have round for dinner?” lists: if nothing else, Big Finish here have produced an interview over two hours in length that will see the number of inclusions on fantasy lists increase exponentially.

Well done to Briggs and Baker for making two hours fly by.  A worthy and cheerful celebration of 80 marvellous years. 

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