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Doctor Who for Newbies: The Fourth Doctor

After five highly successful seasons in the lead role, Jon Pertwee decided to leave Doctor Who. At the end of Planet of the Spiders, the Third Doctor staggers out of the TARDIS, much the same way he did at the beginning of Spearhead From Space, and collapses to the ground, having been exposed to extremely high levels of radiation. After a tearful goodbye from Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor dies and begins to regenerate. The frail, white-haired man fades away and a fresh-faced man with dark curly hair appears. And this was as much of a glimpse of the Fourth Doctor as audiences in 1974 would get for six months until the series returned, but who was this man?

Departing producer Barry Letts was having a very difficult time in casting the new Doctor. It was originally expected he would go with another older man, perhaps in the same age range as William Hartnell had been, so a younger male companion was being written into the show to act as the action hero. Letts was given the tipoff about a character actor named Tom Baker as the zero hour approached. Baker had done a few small but memorable character roles in BBC productions and was currently playing a villain in the film “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.” Letts walked down the street to the movie theater and watched the film, by the end deciding Tom Baker would be a terrific fit in the show, as he was tall and had a commanding presence and voice. After a meeting, Baker was cast. However, Baker was far from famous; in fact he made most of his income working construction. When he got word he was to be the new Doctor, he was onsite, hard hat firmly on head. Little did he know at the time that he would become the most famous actor to play the part worldwide and the longest-serving Doctor still to this day.

The Fourth Doctor is manic and wily, but with a firm sense of morality. He is incredibly irreverent and always tries to diffuse tense situations with a droll comment or the offer of a jelly baby. A near-180 turnaround from the Third Doctor, who was a serious action man, the Fourth Doctor is very much the light-hearted adventurer. Like all incarnations, this Doctor had a strong contempt for authority and would often curse the unseen Time Lords for putting him in various predicaments. He was a Bohemian character, known for his floppy hat, long coat, and even longer scarf, an accessory forever tied to the public perception of what Doctor Who is. It’s hard not to like the Fourth Doctor and indeed, his googly-eyed grin is the face most known in the role.

The incumbent producer was young Philip Hinchcliffe, who was eager to take the Doctor away from Earth and into new worlds. He was teamed with veteran writer Robert Holmes, creator of the Autons and Sontarans, who took over from Terrance Dicks as script editor. This would prove to be a winning combination as the next three seasons produced arguably the best Doctor Who ever to date. The Hinchcliffe-Holmes era is primarily known for taking the show into darker territory and delving into horror with a sci-fi edge. They also came under great fire from a group called the National Viewers and Listeners Association, lead by Mary Whitehouse, who basically thought the show was destroying the fabric of British youth and exposing them to too much violence. Holmes’ position in opposition had always been, “scare the pants off the little buggers,” which I for one can appreciate. If Tom Baker had only done three, even four, seasons, he would hands-down be my favorite Doctor, but unfortunately he decided to do seven. More on that later. Right now, let’s focus on the good stuff.

I would normally start by talking about the Doctor’s inaugural story, which in this case would be “Robot,” the very last Letts-Dicks serial and was very much just a Pertwee story with Tom Baker inserted, but I will instead start with the story right after it, which begins the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era proper.

Do I look weird?

Story 76 – The Ark in Space
4 episodes
The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and new companion, UNIT medical officer Harry Sullivan arrive in the TARDIS at a seemingly vacant space station. The room doesn’t have much air or heat and the travelers find it hard to breathe. Sarah Jane wanders off and gets trapped in a separate room while the Doctor and Harry examine the controls. The Doctor states that the station was most likely built in the 30th Century, but that it has sat abandoned for several thousand years. Sarah begins to lose consciousness from the lack of life support and lies down on a couch only to be teleported elsewhere in the ship. The Doctor and Harry go to find her and discover a slime trail, like that created by a giant gastropod. Sarah Jane is told by a recorded voice that she has made the ultimate sacrifice for her species and is preparing for the “final phase” of some process. The other two stumble upon a room with cryogenically frozen plant life and animal specimens, and then find a room filled with humans in the same condition. They find Sarah in one of these cryo pods and as they attempt to resuscitate her, Harry opens a cabinet where a giant insect nearly falls on him. It is long dead and nearly mummified. Some of the other pods begin to open and crew members start reviving, very concerned at the presence of three people not involved with the mission. Harry also keeps seeing glimpses of a larva-like being in the hallway, which is meddling with the interior of the ship. If the larva is that big, though, what would the adult look like?

Why it’s important:
As previously stated, this serial ushers in the Hinchcliffe and Holmes era, and what a way to start. Based on a story by John Lucarotti, Robert Holmes himself wrote the script which has an eerie menace from beginning to end. The production team does a wonderful job of making the space station sets feel lonely and haunted. The story itself is very similar to a film that would be made about four years later by Ridley Scott, a little film called “Alien.” It’s very much a gothic horror story in space, with a little Agatha Christie element, and one of the members of the crew is slowly infected by the creature and becomes a threat. Really wonderful story and one that Russell T. Davies cited as a favorite. Episode two had a viewership of 13.6 million people, the highest viewing figures ever up to that point. Tom Baker’s great in it too, by the way.


Story 78 – Genesis of the Daleks
6 episodes
The Doctor is intercepted by a Time Lord who instructs him to interfere with the creation of the Daleks on the planet Skaro in order to prevent them from dominating the universe some time in the future. The Doctor is given a time ring that will return his companions and him to their own time and the TARDIS upon completion of the task. Before the Doctor can register too many complaints, he discovers that he’s already on Skaro, in the middle of the bloody war between the Kaled and the Thal races that has gone on for generations. During a poison gas attack by the Thals, the Doctor and Harry are taken into the Kaled dome, while Sarah Jane is left outside, eventually meeting up with a group of Mutos, or people mutated by the chemical warfare early on. The Doctor tries to explain to his captors that they are not Thal spies but aliens to which Commander Nyder replies there is no life outside of Skaro, according to their chief scientist, Davros. Davros then arrives, himself a hideously deformed cripple with a mechanical eye in the middle of his forehead and a motorized wheelchair-like device. He shows the other scientists his new Mark III travel machine, which he later dubs a “Dalek.” After Davros leaves, Ronson, another scientist, confides in the Doctor that he and other scientists believe Davros’ research has become immoral and evil, using unethical mutations to create the Daleks, and seeks their help in stopping it. The Doctor promises to tell the Kaled leaders about Davros and the Daleks if Ronson helps them to escape. The Doctor meets with Mogran and other Kaled Councilors, and they agree to halt Davros’ experiments, but this is overheard by Nyder’s spies. Davros responds by preparing twenty Daleks under computer controller, and secretly meeting with the Thal leaders to give them a chemical that will weaken the Kaled dome and allow their rocket to penetrate it. After being captured again, the Doctor is interrogated by Davros who wants him to detail every Dalek defeat throughout the centuries in an effort to correct these problems. The Doctor escapes and finds the chamber where Kaleds are being mutated and turned into Daleks and he is faced with an important choice: whether killing dozens in order to save millions is the right of any being.

Why it’s important:
It’s a big, fat spoonful of back story for the fabled Daleks. Dalek creator Terry Nation wrote another script that was basically the same as the first Dalek script and was asked to write something about how they began. What we ended up with is the darkest and most allegorical Dalek story of the entire series. Davros, with his horrifying experiments and screaming rhetoric, is Hitler and Mengele rolled into one, played brilliantly by frequent guest star and Dalek voice actor Michael Wisher. Skaro is an apocalyptic, fascist world with the Kaleds looking like a mix between the Nazis and the Empire. The Doctor and Davros have a number of memorable confrontations and the hypothetical story about a vial containing a deadly virus perfectly sums up the two characters’ points of view. This story is largely devoid of the humor that came to define Tom Baker’s tenure, but as a dystopian vision, it’s aces. One side effect of this story is that from here until the end of the classic series, every Dalek story would feature Davros, usually as the main villain. When Doctor Who magazine ranked the 200 Doctor Who stories, “Genesis,” came in at number 2. What are you waiting for? Go watch it.

Sutekh needs a Sucrets.

Story 82 – Pyramids of Mars
4 episodes
In Egypt, 1911, archaeologist Marcus Scarman is excavating a pyramid and finds the door to the burial chamber is inscribed with the Eye of Horus. His Egyptian crew is terrified and leaves him alone in the chamber where he is blasted with a green ray emanating from a hooded figure. In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Sarah Jane are thrown off course and Sarah sees an apparition of an alien, jackal-like face in the console room. The Doctor states that any being that could have this kind of effect on the TARDIS must be powerful beyond imagination. He follows the energy signature back to its source, landing in the Scarman family home in 1911. As they investigate, they are met by the butler who tells them the house has been taken over by a sinister Egyptian man named Namin. The butler is soon strangled by something and Dr. Warlock, a friend of Professor Scarman’s, hears the scream. Namin attempts to prevent him getting help by shooting him, though the Doctor intervenes in the nick of time and Warlock is merely injured. The two men and Sarah Jane make their escape into the neighboring woods, but Namin sets a group of giant mummies after them. The fugitives make their way to a hunting lodge which is used by Laurence Scarman, brother of Marcus. Laurence, a scientist himself, has picked up a faint signal from Mars on his marconiscope. The Doctor uses a much more sophisticated and portable version of this device to pick up the signal, which says, “Beware Sutekh.” The Doctor explains that Sutekh is the last of a powerful alien race called the Osirians, and is a paranoid megalomaniac who came to believe that all life was his enemy. The Doctor knows if Sutekh has returned, the fate of the entire universe is in danger and he must devise a plan to stop the evil being.

Why it’s important:
This story is a great example of the gothic horror-used-as-sci-fi model that exemplified this period of the show. The beauty of Doctor Who is that it can really include anything as long as things are explained scientifically, even with completely erroneous science. Thus, we can get a Hammer Horror-style mummy story in the middle of this series about a Time Lord from Gallifrey. This one is also a great example of the chemistry Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen shared. They make a fantastic team and bounce off each other wonderfully. Sutekh is one of the series’ best villains and his scenes with the Fourth Doctor are a treat. Voted number 7 in the DWM 200 ranking.


Story 84 – The Brain of Morbius
4 episodes
On the planet Karn, an insectoid alien called a Mutt (the focus of the Third Doctor story, “The Mutants”) stumbles out of a wrecked spaceship and crawls along the ground. It is ambushed and killed by a large, lumbering man named Condo with a hook for a hand. Condo decapitates the Mutt and takes its head back to a castle on a cliff. The castle belongs to Condo’s master, Dr. Solon. The head is unsuitable, however. Solon needs a humanoid, warm-blooded creature with a central nervous system. The TARDIS materializes on Karn during a lightning storm and the Doctor rushes out to curse the unseen Time Lords for diverting him here. Sarah investigates the area and sees a valley full of wrecked spaceships. As it begins to rain, the friends make their way to Solon’s castle while a girl in a headdress watches unseen. The girl reports to the elderly Maren, leader of the Sisterhood of Karn, a quasi-religious cult of women who worship the Flame of Life, which they use to make a special elixir that prolongs existence. Maren is skeptical that any aliens could land on the planet without them sensing it, and then laments how low the Flame of Life is burning these days. Back at the castle, Solon is overjoyed to meet the travelers. He compliments the Doctor on his “magnificent” head. The Doctor has heard of Solon, an authority on microsurgical techniques and tissue transplants. He also mentions he’d heard rumors that Solon had joined the Cult of Morbius. The Doctor notices a clay sculpture of Morbius, one of the most despicably criminal-minded Time Lords in history. The Time Lords put Morbius to death many years before. Little does the Doctor know that Solon has been using pieces of travelers from the wrecked spaceships to create a new body for Morbius, whose brain is in a jar in the laboratory. He only needs the right head. The Sisterhood of Karn have hated the Time Lords since Morbius’ time and abduct the Doctor to execute him. Sarah Jane must rescue the Doctor and get to the TARDIS before the Sisterhood destroys them and Solon takes the Doctor’s head.

Why it’s important:
Sound a little familiar? This story is an alien world Frankenstein. I happen to love this story for its morbid and darkly comedic themes. Solon, played by frequent Who actor Philip Madoc, is perfect as the obsessed analog to Dr. Frankenstein. Morbius’ beastly new body is a terrific monster, lumbering around and destroying things with his enormous lobster claw. The violence in this story, both depicted and implied, led to a lot of criticism from Mary Whitehouse, and while it is more explicitly brutal than was common, as a horror story it works brilliantly. It’s also very funny in a sick way, which is the way I love the best. It’s also cool any time we get Time Lord villains, and Morbius is a fantastic one. There’s a scene where the Doctor and Morbius have a battle of minds and we get a glimpse of all the Doctor’s past incarnations, as well as several ones we’ve never seen. It’s unclear whether these faces are meant to be Morbius’ earlier selves or not, but Philip Hinchliffe has said that he thought these were earlier versions of the Doctor and was trying to indirectly imply that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor, something that was swept under the rug in later serials.

The Time Lords’ gun sight technology is well ahead of ours.

Story 88 – The Deadly Assassin
4 episodes
At the end of the previous serial, the Doctor receives an urgent message from the Time Lords asking him to return to Gallifrey. He tells Sarah Jane that only Time Lords are allowed there and says he has to take her home. After a heartfelt goodbye, the Doctor leaves and Sarah Jane is on Earth…nowhere near her house. This serial begins with the Doctor in the TARDIS getting a precognitive vision of the Time Lord President being assassinated and himself holding the rifle. As soon as he materializes in the Citadel, he is surrounded by Chancellery Guards and Castellan Spandrell, who notes it is a Type 40 TARDIS which is no longer in service. Since the arrival was unscheduled, they have the authority to impound the vehicle and arrest the occupant. Hearing this, the Doctor realizes it was not the Time Lords who summoned him, but someone did. The Doctor manages to escape the guards and witnesses a hooded figure murdering a guard, in an attempt to frame the Doctor. All of this has been witnessed by the Doctor’s oldest foe, the Master, who is at the end of his regeneration cycle, causing his body to badly deteriorate. He mutters to himself that the Doctor is being all too predictable and confers with his hooded accomplice that the Doctor must die quickly to ensure success. The Doctor returns to the TARDIS, the guard having left, and watches a video broadcast of Runcible, a Time Lord reporter, speculating who the departing President will name as his successor. The odds-on favorite is Chancellor Goth, a well-respected leader on Gallifrey. The Doctor makes it to the Panopticon and, remembering his vision, goes up to an observation tower and finds the laser rifle. As the President descends the stairs, the Doctor grabs the gun and fires and the President falls dead. But the Doctor wasn’t the assassin. The Doctor learns that the Master sent the premonition to him via the Matrix, a vast electronic neural network which can turn thought patterns into virtual reality. The Doctor decides to enter the Matrix to do battle with the assassin, who has created a nightmare world inside.

Why it’s important:
This is one of the most important stories to the entire Doctor Who mythos. It’s the first time we see Gallifrey and Time Lord society, it’s the first we hear of the twelve regeneration limit, it’s the return of the Master after four years, and it’s the first time we hear of Rassilon, the ancient creator of the Eye of Harmony, which allows the Time Lords to travel in time and regenerate. This is also the only story where the Doctor does not have a companion. Plus, there’s the Goddamned MATRIX! Robert Holmes invented the Matrix, which more or less is the exact same thing as the Wachowski Bros. film. Anybody arguing Doctor Who isn’t relevant to science fiction needs only to watch this serial and drink a big cup of shutty.

Elementary, my dear grotty-faced guy

Story 91 – The Talons of Weng-Chiang
6 episodes
The Doctor and new companion Leela, a savage human from the future who is bright but unsophisticated, arrive in 1890s England so Leela can learn about the customs of her ancestors, specifically to see musical theatre, but they settle for seeing Chinese stage magician Li H’sen Chang. On their way, they are attacked by three Chinese men who have apparently just killed a cab driver. They attempt to silence the Doctor and Leela, but get scared off by a policeman’s whistle. All but one get away and he is taken to the station along with the heroes. At the station, Li H’sen Chang is called in to act as an interpreter, but unbeknownst to everyone else he is the leader of the group and he secretly gives the captive henchman a pill of concentrated scorpion venom, which the henchman takes immediately and dies. The Doctor, upon a brief examination of the body finds a scorpion tattoo – the symbol of the Tong of the Black Scorpion, devout followers of an ancient god Weng-Chiang. The body is taken to the mortuary where an autopsy is set to be performed by Professor Litefoot. There is another body in the mortuary, the cab driver killed by the Tongs. His wife had been one in a string of missing young women in the area recently and he had determined it was her visits to Li H’sen Chang that had lead to her disappearance. He confronted Chang and threatened to go to the police if his wife was not returned and Chang, fearful of being discovered, ordered his men, including his living ventriloquist dummy Mr. Sin, to kill the cabbie. Chang is in reality not serving the god Weng-Chiang, but Magnus Greel, a 51st Century despot who fled authorities in a time cabinet. The Doctor takes it upon himself, as always, to track down Greel and stop his nefarious deeds.

Why it’s important:
The very last serial produced by Philip Hinchcliffe is a doozy. It combines everything he had been doing over the course of three seasons and ties it in a nice little bow. We have Victorian literary and historical references, with the Doctor acting as both Sherlock Holmes and Henry Higgins. There are strong horror elements with the tiny killer puppet thing and giant sewer rats, and crazy sci-fi things with the melty-faced Magnus Greel and his time cabinet. It stands as of the best scripts Robert Holmes wrote for the show. Holmes would remain script editor for another three serials, but with the exception of the following story, the magic was not there. “Talons,” while brilliant, is sort of racist in its depiction of Chinese people, so just be prepared while watching it. It’s not super objectionable, but there are white Englishmen approximating Asians.

Philip Hinchcliffe’s successor was Graham Williams who would remain producer for the next three seasons. Williams was pressured by the BBC and Mary Whitehouse to cut back on the horror and make the show more kid friendly, personified in the inclusion of the robotic dog companion, K-9. As such, it is this period where it started to take a dip, not only in script quality, but in special effects and production value. This saw the return of the questionable CSO and the silly looking monsters. Tom Baker’s performance also started to slip. Without Hinchcliffe to rein him in, Baker was free to start getting increasingly broad in his interpretation. He was incredibly famous worldwide at this point, so his ego began to overshadow the character. So over the next four seasons, there’s less I can recommend, but the stuff I can is pretty spectacular. Odd how that works.

My contacts are in backwards

Story 92 – Horror of Fang Rock
4 episodes
The TARDIS lands on the island of Fang Rock off the south coast of England in the early 20th Century. The Doctor notices the light in the lighthouse is behaving erratically and decides to investigate. After introducing themselves, the Doctor and Leela find the body of one of the three lighthouse keepers, which gets moved by someone not too much later. The other two keepers explain that something has been draining the electricity from the lamp and they’d seen a strange light falling from the sky. They can’t help but remember the old fables about the Beast of Fang Rock. Due to the lighthouse being burned out, a luxury yacht crashes into the island and four rather pretentious people are stranded there. The Doctor finds the keeper’s body and makes note that it has been used as an anatomy lesson by some alien force. One of the other keepers disappears and when he returns is noticeably different in demeanor. An alien light emanating from him makes it clear to the Doctor that he has been possessed by the alien, which seems to have chameleonic capabilities. The creature in the keeper’s body then begins to stalk and kill the others on the tiny island one by one. Eventually, it reveals itself to be a Rutan, a green amphibious blob and the Doctor and Leela discover it is a scout for a possible invasion force. They must stop this horror before it destroys the lighthouse, and then the world.

Why it’s important:
For my money, it’s the very last story that is of the same ilk as the previous three seasons. It’s like an Agatha Christie version of The Thing, with people being bumped off one by one. The script was written by former script editor Terrance Dicks who can always be counted on for a good gothic-style adventure (he co-wrote Brain of Morbius). This story also features, to date, the only screen appearance of a Rutan, the perpetual mortal enemies of the Sontarans. Dicks’ idea was that since the Sontarans were very straight-laced and soldier-like, their greatest enemies would be amorphous and ethereal. I wouldn’t mind seeing this war depicted in some later episode. I’m talking to you, Steven Moffat.

Sontarans performing New Kids on the Block songs

Story 97 – The Invasion of Time
6 episodes
The Doctor takes Leela and K-9 to Gallifrey where he immediately claims the vacant Presidency. He is definitely not acting like himself and spends a great deal of time picking a presidential chamber, which he asks to be lined with lead. At his swearing-in ceremony, he writhes in pain when he is connected to the Matrix. He is taken away to rest and recover when he suddenly instructs Leela to be arrested and thrown out of the Citadel into the wastelands, as aliens are not allowed in the Time Lord city. He then retreats with K-9 to the TARDIS where he details his plan about aiding an invasion of Gallifrey and instructs the tin dog to destroy the barrier that defends the planet from external threat. Upon returning to the great hall, three beings begin to materialize, to which the Doctor responds by laughing maniacally. The invaders are called Vardans, who are little more than people in shiny suits. The concerned Time Lords are made even more concerned when the Doctor instructs them to submit to the Vardan occupation. He asks to speak with his old teacher, Cardinal Borusa, in his chamber. He explains he had the room lined in lead so the Vardans could not enter it and then tells Borusa he sent Leela away for her protection and now wishes for Borusa to aid him in defeating the Vardans. The Vardans are, however, just pawns in a larger invasion plot by the Sontarans, who used the shiny people to enter the Citadel. The bulk of the rest of the story involves the Doctor being chased through the TARDIS’ enormous corridors by the Sontarans.

Why it’s important:
This is an uneven story to say the least. It’s interesting to see the Doctor appearing to be a villain for the first few episodes but even when he’s the good guy again, he is still far too manic for my liking. What’s really important about this episode is that it’s the first time we truly get to see any part of the TARDIS interior other than the control rooms and a few hallways. We see a big spa and pool, an art gallery, various staircases, and brick-walled expanses. This story also sees the departure of Leela (played by Louise Jameson) and K-9 Mk I (voiced by John Leeson), though the Doctor would immediately get a K-9 Mk II from a box in the TARDIS.

Doctor, welcome to my outside.

Stories 98-103 – The Key to Time
Five 4-episode stories and one 6-episode story
The White Guardian, a semi-godlike entity, appears to the Doctor and instructs him to track down and recover the six segments to the fabled Key to Time and warns him that the Black Guardian also seeks these pieces, but for an evil purpose. Helping him in his quest will be K-9 and the young Time Lady Romana (played by Mary Tamm), who is very smug at first, but soon comes to realize the Doctor isn’t a buffoon as he appears and has skills she herself does not possess. They go on various adventures on alien planets and old English countrysides, all the while tracking down the different pieces to the Key to Time. Eventually, they are confronted by the Black Guardian, who wishes to steal the completed key. The Doctor re-disperses the pieces, enraging the Black Guardian. The Doctor then fits a randomizer to the TARDIS to make it impossible for an enemy to track them.

Why they’re important:
I’d be remiss of I left off an entire season of television. None of these six serials are particularly great, nor are any of them particularly ungreat. They’re engaging and entertaining in their own right, with Story 100, The Stones of Blood, being the best of the bunch. You’ll probably enjoy these if you watch them, and a really great special edition box set of the whole saga is available with some excellent documentaries and commentary by Baker and Tamm. What’s cool is that this is the first season with a greater story arc, though each story does become a regular serial, but it still has the quest theme which is enjoyable to see. Mary Tamm is great as Romana, who is very much a peer to the Doctor and not as helpless as some of the earlier companions. I recommend, if you’re interested in such things, that you watch the whole shebang, and you’ll probably have a good time with it. Just try not to expect too much.

He really blends in with the leisure suit.

Story 105 – City of Death
4 episodes
The Doctor and Romana (now regenerated and played by Lalla Ward) travel to Paris to visit the Louvre museum. They encounter the Countess Scarlioni, who doesn’t seem to notice she’s wearing an alien bracelet, and also the English Inspector Duggan who has been tailing the Count and Countess Scarlioni, believing they intend to steal the Mona Lisa. The three go to the Count’s mansion where they are briefly detained, but escape and explore the grounds. They eventually find Dr. Kerensky in the basement, who is experimenting with time travel. They also find, behind a wall, six exact copies of the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci himself. The Doctor travels to Da Vinci’s workshop in the TARDIS where he encounters Count Scarlioni, calling himself Captain Tancredi. He reveals that he is actually Scaroth, the last member of the Jagaroth race, stranded on Earth and fragmented through time due to the explosion of his spacecraft 400 million years prior. He has instructed Leonardo Da Vinci to paint six copies of the masterpiece, so that when he steals the painting in the present, can sell it seven times over to excessively wealthy people who each believe they’ve bought the one and only. His goal is to have enough money to keep funding Kerensky’s time travel experiments with the ultimate goal of going back in time and preventing his ship from exploding all those millions of years ago. The Doctor escapes, but not before writing “This is a fake” on the back of the six copy canvasses. Now the Doctor must stop Scaroth from preventing his ship exploding, which is the very thing that causes life to spring up on Earth.

Why it’s important:
It’s one of the best stories ever. Co-written by new script editor Douglas Adams of “Hitchhicker’s Guide” fame, the story has the perfect blend of Adams’ unique brand of humor and sci-fi. This is in fact the only story in season 17 that’s worth watching, the rest ranging from rather silly to downright loathsome. Much of this was actually filmed on location in Paris, giving it a more cinematic quality than the series often has. The fourth episode of the story has the distinction of being the most watched episode of Doctor Who ever, with viewing figures reaching 16.1 million people. Ranked #8 on the Doctor Who Magazine poll.

Am I the only one who sees that guy?

Story 115 – Logopolis
4 episodes
The TARDIS warns the Doctor of upcoming danger and he decides to stay out of trouble for a bit.  Instead he plans to fix the chameleon circuits of the ship and goes to Earth to get the measurements of an actual police box with the intention of giving the dimensions to the mathematicians on Logopolis. He is unaware, however that the Master is on to him and materializes his own TARDIS in a recursive loop with the Doctor’s. The Doctor and his new companion, boy genius and all around irritant, Adric, work out the recursion and attempt to flush out the Master by materializing in the River Thames, unfortunately landing on a barge instead. Outside, the Doctor sees a glowing white figure in the distance, The Watcher, who instructs him to get to Logopolis quickly. In flight, they discover they’ve picked up a passenger in the form of Australian airline stewardess Tegan Jovanka, whose aunt was killed by the Master. Upon arriving on Logopolis, they find that the Master has beaten them there and already killed a few mathematicians. The Master is using Nyssa (a girl from the previous story whose father he killed and stole the body of) to hold the leader of Logopolis hostage. The Master demands to know the secret of the Logopolitans’ science and the purpose of a replica of the Pharos Project on Earth. The Master shuts down the device, causing the mathematicians to stop their work. Entropy sets in and turns the city to dust. A bunch of stuff I don’t understand happens and eventually the Doctor, his now-three companions, and the Master all end up by the Earthbound Pharos Project tower. The Doctor must stop the Master from using it to control the minds of all of Earth and in the process falls from the spire. As he lay dying, the Watcher approaches and blends with the Doctor, triggering his fourth regeneration, emerging as the virile Fifth Doctor.

Why it’s important:
It’s the end of an era. Season 18 was a very different season than the rest of Tom Baker’s run. Young producer John Nathan-Turner had replaced Graham Williams, and Christopher H. Bidmead had replaced Douglas Adams as script editor. Their goal was to reel Baker in a bit and ground all the stories in hard science, sometimes (like the case of “Logopolis,” written by Bidmead himself) making them too scientific for anyone to understand. I actually quite enjoy Season 18 as a whole. It contains some interesting visuals and ideas, and it was the precursor to how the show would be for its next and final eight years. The entire season had a sense of change and death, as the now very old-looking Fourth Doctor saw the departure of Romana and K-9 and the resurrection of the Master, played with scene-chewing supremacy by Anthony Ainley. Logopolis stands as the exemplification of these themes, with entropy causing the downfall of an entire planet. Tom Baker, who for years had threatened to leave the show, was finally granted his wish.

These are just some of the Tom Baker stories out there. These are my favorites, or ones I find interesting. If you’re a fan of the show, and of Baker, you’ll probably enjoy most of them, but just be prepared for some in the middle to be poo. If you’re still reading this, God bless you. The Peter Davison regime begins next time and I promise there’re not nearly as many stories to mull over, as it only lasted three seasons.

Enjoy some Tom Baker action and gear up for Davison. I hope you appreciate what I do for you, my loving Nerdist readers. I need to go lie down now. Maybe I’ll watch “The Brain of Morbius” again.

Images: BBC

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  1. Godinho says:

    Great post, it will most helpful to me. In fact, I’ll use to guide me about which fourth Doctor episodes I’ll watch.

    But, am I mistaken or you got the number of Logopolis wrong?
    Isn’t it the 116th?

    Well, thanks a lot for your tips!

  2. Matthew C says:

    Tom Baker was mostly a great Doctor, but Graham Williams let him get a bit out of control and he ceased to be entirely believable.

  3. Craigination says:

    Hey Kyle, as a fellow Doctor Who fan, I’m curious how you like my own Doctor Who retrospective blog. I already covered all the incarnations of the Doctor, so now I’m covering all of his villains. This one is about The Master:

    Anyway, looking forward to the Fifth Doctor!

  4. juliaL49 says:

    mndrew, you forgot “The Two Doctors” and actually your thought is already: “The Four Doctors” is a Big Finish story with doctors five to eight that will be released in December.

  5. mndrew says:

    In reading the comments I had an interesting, and likely unoriginal, thought. They’ve done “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors”; with the new series they need to do “The Four Doctors”, with Smith, Tennant, Eccelston, and perhaps McCoy. McCoy was robbed of his chance to go out in style, and should get some closure. (I refuse to speak of ‘that movie’, ever.)

  6. Geoff says:

    I have yet to watch any Doctor Who. So far these articles have been really great, so great that I’m basically going to hold off watching the show until you’ve written about every doctor. 🙂

  7. Azza says:

    These are awesomely awesome, but I keep getting distracted into thinking maybe one of these classic enemies will be the person who made the cracks in the skin of the universe and who’s going to make silence fall. I reeeally hope its not davros

  8. Giggleloop says:

    I have the boxset of the Key To Time series, & would highly recommend it to anyone looking to get into watching the Tom Baker years. Plus I absolutely adored Romana, she’s awesome. 🙂

  9. energos says:

    OMG –
    this is a Brilliant review, recap, & cliffnotes.

  10. Nerd_Devout says:

    I love these articles! I just started watching Doctor Who last month with the new series (I prefer Christopher Eccleston over David Tennant, and from reading comments throughout the interwebs this is not a very popular decision but I have only watched 2 series so far so who knows if that might change…) As a “Who-bie” I love being able to read these great post and catch up on literally 40 years of back story. So thank you and keep up the great work!

  11. juliaL49 says:

    A big thank you from me as well 🙂

    I have watched most of these serials and would agree that The Pirate Planet is the best of The Key to Time. It is just so absurd and pure Douglas Adams. The strange thing is that some of my favourite serials (Talons, City of Death) are from Tom Bakers era but I would never include him in my top three. Maybe it is because he is so associated with the role and picked so often that my expectations are too high. Or I just want to go against the trend…

  12. Mariah says:

    I am loving all of these Doctor Who articles. They are pretty much my favorite. I look forward to the next one every time:)

  13. Kyle Anderson says:

    Thanks for the feedback as always, folks!

    And @yogahz, nothing can stop me writing about Doctor Who.

  14. yogahz says:

    Thanks again! You are appreciated and I also look forward to the next DWFN. I hope that after you get through the current Doctor you will continue to write about the show.

  15. Wodwose says:

    Great article. I do disagree, though, that ‘City of Death’ is the only good season 17 ep. I love ‘The Horns of Nimon’ as well, probably because my local PBS would show it all the time. It is worth looking at on a rainy Saturday.

  16. Mndrew says:

    The only thing that saves Adric from the title ‘worst companion ever’ is that he was followed shortly by “Turlow”.
    And how can anyone review “The Talons of Weng Chian” without using the term “Peking homunculus”; classic!
    Lastly, evidence that Baker was out of control was the replacement of the excellent Mary Tamm by his girlfriend Lala Ward. Ward wasn’t bad, but why take a step down in talent?

  17. Magnoliafan says:

    They need to bring Adric back for one episode but have Adam Scott play him.

  18. fletch says:

    Hmm I think that the first two episodes of The Key to Time are the best.

    The first one introduces us to Romana and has some classic lines. “If mine’s mines, what’s yours?” where Romana naively replies “We’re searching for the first segment of the key to time.” Duh! 🙂

    The second one, “The Pirate Planet” was also written by Douglas Adams. While I agree it’s not quite as good as “City of Death”, it’s still better than “Stones of Blood”.

  19. Parkcow says:

    I love these, man! I grew up watching the fourth doctor on PBS (we didn’t have cable, so this was pretty much the highlight of my TV viewing for several years), so I never got to see any of the episodes with the first three doctors. And then I fell out of touch after Davison until they brought the series back with Eccleston. So it was great getting some of the back story on those early series, and it was awesome reading through these and remembering–quite vividly with some of them–watching them, huddled in front of our Zenith in our basement.

    Thanks so much for writing these up! I check back here every day or so, eagerly anticipating the next in the series.

  20. Aaron says:

    Someone had to be the fanboy so it might as well be me. I just have to disagree. I think Baker was fantastic from beginning to end depending on the story he had to work with. Sure, every doctor has to go, but if he overstayed his welcome it was by one season at most.

    And look who followed him…a veterinarian with celery on his lapel! I’ve been watching some of the Pertwee episodes and they are fantastic as well, but I have never made it through an entire serial of Davison’s work yet…although I loved All Creatures Great and Small.

    I also enjoyed a lot of Tennant’s work, but go so tired of the obligatory homo/trans/bi sexual bit that I just quit watching the Doctor altogether.

    There just is no better doctor than Baker, and if he had quit after four seasons we would have that much less great Who to watch!

  21. TARDIS Tara says:

    And if you decide you need a nine-to-twenty-six foot knitted accessory of your very own, please feel free to visit for free, super accurate scarf patterns. 🙂

  22. Craigination says:

    I appreciate it! I did a retrospective on all the Doctors myself on my blog, and am currently covering all the recurring villains in the series, so I understand how much you probably grind away at this! Keep up the good work!

    BTW, I totally agree that Baker overstayed his welcome a bit. He was a fantastic Doctor, definitely a legend, but he made the mistake of not bowing out gracefully while he was on top (as David Tennant did, much to his credit!). I feel like 3-4 seasons is a fine run for any given Doctor (ya hear that, Eccleston?) – let’s hope Matt Smith does as well;)

  23. Doug says:

    “I hope you appreciate what I do for you, my loving Nerdist readers.” These are phenomenal, dude. Don’t you ever stop. Well, until you run out of doctors, I guess. I just put off grading a stack of student papers that need to be graded in order to read this. It’s always a red-letter day for me when there’s a Doctor Who update on Nerdist!