WHO 50: 1978:
The Ribos Operation.

TV In the early 90s, BBC Video released what would come to be known as the “Years” videos. Initially they were an opportunity to release orphan surviving episodes with some kind of linking material, (“Daleks: The Early Years” etc) but later plastic boxes with things in featured surviving Doctors talking about their time on the show, Pertwee, Colin Baker and most expressively Tom Baker (Sylv and Pete entirely shut out of the process for reasons unknown) (I mean I know Slyv had only been off air for a few years, not enough time to really appraise his contribution, but Pete?).

Unlike the other releases in which the titular Time Lord chose their favourite episodes and extra-curricular clips, The Tom Baker Years majestically spread itself across two video tapes and featured the actor sat in comfy chair in front of a television in a large, stately room with a remote control watching clips from all of his stories, specially selected by John Nathan Turner, the idea being that he’d be able to ambitiously offer anecdotes and memories of them all, over a decade before the advent of the dvd commentary would force him to do it all over again.

As a fare weather fan in that period, this was really my first introduction to the off-screen personality of Tom in all its miscellaneous glory and as it turned out in that period he could seemingly barely remember half the stories, including the titles. Many fans spoke in unison with the small caption which appears correcting his titling of The Seeds of Doom as “The Invasion of the Krynoids or The Krynoid Invasion” (surely the first production subtitle extra in Who history).

From that moment on I could rarely say Lalla Ward without stressing the consonants in her surname (“I got to know her quite well…” he says coyly after watching a montage sequence about their marriage), or talk about Tom without affecting the voice and his guttural approach to umming and aaahing and until the dvd release, my only impression of most of the stories was the clip and Tom’s ensuing giggle (The Power of Kroll in particular which was served by the climactic struggle between the Doctor and rubbery Kroll on the oil rig) ("Haha ... well ...").

So often have I watched The Tom Baker Years, that sometimes it’s now quite strange when seeing the whole episode that Tom doesn’t pop up in his chair at the end of the relevant scene with his anecdote before turning away and suggesting, “let’s watch another…” If only the dvds had included a branching option. The reveal of Romana in The Ribos Operation is never quite the same without a cutaway to Tom smirk and the following explanation:

“Also, you may have noticed I had a scabby lip. That was because a few days before we shot that I’d been in a pub, gosh, and a chap, an actor there had a dog called George that he’d brought. George had been in care at the Battersea Dogs Home, a sort of Barnardos for dogs, and George was a very jumpy little terrier, and had been short of affection all his life until he met this actor, and aaah, and one of the tricks people did, the actor did was to make a sort of clicking noise like so (at which point Tom makes a popping noise with his finger in his mouth using his cheek) and George used to go absolutely crackers, I think he must have associated it with some sort of violence in his childhood, aaaaaaahmmmm, this tiny little terrier, and I had gone to buy him a sausage because I’m a sap for deprived dogs, and errr trying to attract his attention I went to do that and he flew across from this actors knee and errr I thought he’d bitten my lip off. Apparently I remained amazingly calm, I tried to calculate what would have happened if he had bitten my lip off, there was blood everywhere and everyone was screaming and shouting and the more they screamed and shouted, the more I enjoyed being the centre of attention even though I was bleeding to death and I thought to myself, “Gosh, if he’s bitten my lip off, I’ll have to play smiling parts for the rest of my career.” Fortunately as you saw he hadn’t bitten my lip off, they patched it up and hid it so that I could play those scenes…”

Let’s watch another …

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