The prospect of a former Doctor returning to the role, be it for an audio drama, a charity sketch, or an anniversary special, is usually treated with a great deal of a fanfare among ‘Doctor Who’ fans. And why wouldn’t it be? After all, even the series’ less popular leads have their die hard followings. Which is why it’s so unusual that the return of Tom Baker – “The definite article, you might say!” – managed to sneak in under the radar.
But let’s back up a bit, shall we? Baker’s return took place in the form of a newly filmed scene for the upcoming DVD release of ‘Shada‘ – a story from the latter days of his tenure that has acquired a nigh-legendary standing among fans, partly because it was never completed (and thus never aired) due to a labor dispute and because it was written by then-showrunner Douglas Adams (who, suffice to say, is a sci-fi legend in his own right). Since ‘Doctor Who’ first went off the air at the end of 1989, ‘Shada’ has been revisited and released in several forms, including an audio drama, a webcast, and a home video release that combined the extant footage with linking narration by Tom Baker.
But this latest revisitation, however, may be the most ambitious yet. Following the lead of the reconstructed versions of classic serials such as ‘The Invasion’ and ‘The Tenth Planet’, the missing segments of the story are being filled in with newly created animation. There is one key difference between ‘Shada’ and those earlier stories, though, in that while two episodes of ‘The Invasion’ might be missing from the archive, complete audio recordings exist of each episode. In the case of ‘Shada’, however, no such audio exists as the scenes were never filmed in the first place. So how do you “reconstruct” those scenes? Why, by reassembling the original cast, of course!
And that, likely, is how Baker’s “return”, for want of a better description, slipped under the radar. After all, we already knew he was reprising the role! What we didn’t know, however, was that he would be filming a new live action scene for the release. Indeed, while Baker has revisited ‘Doctor Who’ in the past (most notably as the Curator in 2013’s ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and as the Fourth Doctor for a number of audio dramas produced by Big Finish), this scene marks the first time he has donned the scarf and stepped into the TARDIS since his departure in 1981.
The scene, which comes at the end of the story, sees Baker, now 83, emerge from beneath the TARDIS console to reflect on this latest adventure. In dialogue written nearly forty years ago (and which now cannot help but feel a bit prescient), the Fourth Doctor muses “I expect that sometime in the future – in about 200 year’s time – someone will meet me and say “Is that really the Doctor? He seemed such a nice old man.””
Of his unexpected onscreen return to the TARDIS, Baker had this to say:
When I was doing ‘Doctor Who’ it was the realisation of all my childhood fantasies… so I took to it like a duck to water and I still do. ‘Doctor Who was more important that life to me – I used to dread the end of rehearsal… that’s why I can’t stay away from it. ‘Shada’ was one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories. I have many fond memories of shooting the locations scenes in Cambridge, and it was disappointing not to finish the story in studio. I’m so glad that BBC Worldwide have found a way to bring fans a complete visual version.
According to producer Charles Norton, the prospect of getting Baker in front of the camera once again was one of the things that drew him to the project in the first place. But it wasn’t enough to simply stand Baker behind a vintage-style TARDIS console (the production used a recreation that had previously been displayed at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff). As Norton explains:
It was shot with 1979 tube cameras. We were working in a television studio as opposed to a film stage, so we could get the lighting right. We had a very good lighting guy who had actually worked on ‘Doctor Who’ in the 70s and 80s. We were able to get the look just right.
The latest restoration of ‘Shada’ is available now (for our UK readers, at least) as a digital download, with DVD and Blu-ray releases due on December 2, 2017. An American release is set to follow in 2018.