Doctor Who fans are eagerly awaiting the adventures of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor when the show returns later this year. But while we can’t zip forward to avoid the long wait, we can do what the Doctor would do: go explore another time period and come back later. And while we don’t have a TARDIS, we do have YouTube, and it can magically transport us back to 1974, when a curly-haired eccentric named Tom Baker was about to take over the beloved sci-fi series as the Fourth Doctor, picking up from Jon Pertwee’s number Three.
At this point, there have been so many rumors, denials, accusations, reversals, and un-reversals about who is or isn’t in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special that it feels like I’ve been reporting on the damn thing for five decades myself. With only a few days left until The Day of the Doctor premieres and provides definitive answers, you’d think there wouldn’t be much room for casting speculation at this point, but this the Doctor we’re talking about. Time is no barrier! And wouldn’t you know it, now one of the classic Doctors has sounded off at the eleventh hour, suggesting that perhaps — just perhaps — Steven Moffat and company might still have some surprises waiting for us.
The wily trickster in question is none other than Tom Baker, beloved by many for playing the be-scarfed Fourth Doctor from 1974 – 1981. The official word has been that The Day of the Doctor would feature only three incarnations of the Doctor: the most recent two — David Tennant and Matt Smith — and the mysterious Doctor played by John Hurt. That obviously leaves out all the surviving classic Doctor actors, which was controversial among both fans and the actors themselves. But then along comes Tom Baker, that cheeky bastard, and he tells The Huffington Post that “I am in the special. I’m not supposed to tell you that, but I tell you that very willingly and specifically; the BBC told me not to tell anybody but I’m telling you straightaway.”
Alternative Doctors: Tom Baker (Again) Or Judi Dench Instead Of Eccleston, And Bill Nighy As The Twelfth
The notions of roads not taken is a topic that’s popped up quite a bit over the years in Doctor Who — par for the course for a show that can go anywhere and anywhen. We’ve seen Rose Tyler alter the past and save her father…and learn why doing so brings about even more tragic circumstances. We’ve seen the Weeping Angels, frightening not only because they move when you’re not looking, but because they drop you alone in the past, feeding off what had been your potential future. But for a show that regularly recasts its main character, there are countless real-life roads not taken, choices that would have given us a very different Doctor Who than the one we have now. For instance, what if Russell T Davies’ 2004 relaunch of Who had starred not Christopher Eccleston, but former Doctor Tom Baker, or even Judi Dench?
They may sound far-fetched, but these were ideas that were tossed around in the early days when serious thought was finally being given to resurrecting the franchise, which had been off the air since the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. There are some fascinating looks into that period included in The Unquiet Dead, a featurette on the special edition DVD release of The Green Death, which hit shelves this past summer. It includes interviews with former Who executive producer Russell T Davies and former BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning Jane Tranter.
Current Doctor Who lead Matt Smith got one hell of an introduction in the 2010 episode “The Eleventh Hour,” culminating in a rooftop confrontation with a giant floating alien eyeball and one of the coolest callbacks to the show’s long history ever seen. Now it seems that the modern incarnation of Who is set to honor its forbearers in a big way: former Fourth Doctor Tom Baker will be putting in an appearance in Doctor Who for the show’s epic 50th anniversary celebration next year.
The news comes from the Daily Express, who quotes an unnamed Who insider as saying, “It will be fitting to have Tom back to mark the 50 years. He was a big part of the show’s success and is much-loved by the fans.” Naturally, sources both official and unofficial are keeping mum about the nature of Baker’s appearance. Will he be playing the Fourth Doctor? If so, how will they explain the fact that he’s, well, three decades older? He could just be playing an entirely different character, but I’m sure the fans would love to see him return in the role that made him famous, and which some fans still consider the quintessential Doctor. Of course, this is Doctor Who, so I’m sure they can come up with some sort of technobabblish explanation for his current appearance if they so wish.