In recent years the return of former Doctors to Doctor Who episodes has become more or less de rigeur, with the likes of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor and even the First Doctor (played by David Bradley in the style of original star William Hartnell) making brief returns for specials and sketches.
But now, the BBC has gone one step further and brought back perhaps the most iconic Doctor of all – Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, with the veteran actor donning his trademark scarf and stepping back into the Tardis for a live-action scene filmed as part of a project to complete unfinished 1979 serial Shada (which was halted by strike action halfway through filming and never completed).
“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,” Baker said of his return to the role onscreen.
“Doctor Who was more important than 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 location 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.”
The new Shada is a mix of original footage and state-of-the-art animation voiced by the original cast (including Baker), but an exception was made for the final scene which sees a real-life Baker emerge from under his Tardis console as he is today, in footage shot earlier this year at BBC Television Centre.
“I expect that sometime in the future – in about 200 year’s time – someone will meet me and say is that really the Doctor?” Baker says in the scene, in eerily appropriate dialogue written by Shada screenwriter Douglas Adams (but never actually filmed).
“He seemed such a nice old man.”
And while Baker has appeared in Doctor Who-related media since his departure in 1981 (most notably as a mysterious figure called The Curator in 2013 50th-anniversary special The Day of the Doctor and in a few series of Big Finish’s audio adventures), this new scene marks the first time the actor has returned to play the Doctor on-screen in 36 years – quite the coup for producer/director Charles Norton, who took on the Shada restoration earlier this year.
“Actually wanting to do that sequence in the way we did it was the first thing I thought of that actually made me want to do Shada!” Norton told press at an early screening for Shada.
“And [Tom] was incredibly enthusiastic – we were really surprised actually, by how enthused for the whole thing he was. And he was very supportive, and he put a lot of work into it.”
And to truly get the look of the scene right Norton used all sorts of authentic filming techniques from the period, while also digging out a recreation of Baker’s Tardis previously on display in the now-closed Doctor Who Experience to serve as their set.
“It was shot with 1979 tube cameras,” he went on. “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.