For many people around the world, there’s only one man that springs to mind when they hear the words “Doctor Who” – iconic series actor Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor in the 1970s and 80s and made the character even more of a pop culture icon.
In the end, Baker ended up being the longest-serving Doctor in the series’ history – a record he still holds to this day, technically – but it now turns out his time in the Tardis could have been truncated entirely at one point during production, when an accident on set led Baker to worry he might be cut from the series entirely.
This interesting piece of Doctor Who history emerges now courtesy of production designer Roger Murray-Leach, who worked on the BBC sci-fi series during Baker’s tenure and was on set for the filming of one of the Fourth Doctor’s first adventures (and the second serial shot), The Sontaran Experiment.
As Murray-Leach recalled, it was a fairly damp but otherwise normal day – until disaster struck when Tom Baker slipped on the wet ground and seriously injured himself.
“Tom turned and slipped,” Murray-Leach told Doctor Who Magazine in a new interview.
“He fell on the rock. And everything stopped. He was obviously in trouble. We called an ambulance.”
Baker’s injury at this time isn’t exactly a secret, but what may surprise many fans is just how worried the actor was about what it could mean for his time on Doctor Who, with Baker apparently believing that a serious injury so early into filming would force the BBC to cast another actor in his part.
“He was in a lot of pain and understandably a bit concerned, because was he going to be able to carry on as the Doctor?” Murray-Leach recalled.
“He’d only just become the Doctor and obviously was very excited. It was a great new thing for him.
“He was so worried that day. If this was a bad break, were they going to have to re-cast?”
In the end, the production team managed to work past Baker’s injury (a broken collarbone) by use of a hidden neckbrace under his scarf and sneaky use of a double for more active shots, and the Fourth Doctor went on to become the most recognisable incarnation of the Time Lord.
In the magazine, Baker himself reflected on why exactly he felt so drawn to the series, as well as why his particular Doctor was such a hit.
“You know, Doctor Who is nothing to do with science fiction,” he said.
“It’s nothing to do with anything. It’s a bit like religion really, in that all you have to do is believe it. And I can believe any old nonsense.
“That’s why I was a success in Doctor Who, because it’s so easy for me to believe all that. I’ve got a magic wand called a sonic screwdriver and we don’t just travel through time, we dematerialise. And no-one really questions that.
“It’s absolutely incredible, isn’t it?” he concluded. “You just believe it. And so the improbability of the thing appealed to me.”
And we’re sure many fans will be grateful that an accident all the way back in 1974 didn’t end up destroying that legacy before it had even begun.