I’ve seen Colin Baker naked. That’s my entry into the ‘most arresting opening line for a DWM article of all time’ competition. It was about twenty years ago, in a touring production of Frankie & Johnny, with Colin in the role of Johnny. I don’t remember a great deal about the pay, but two things have stuck with me; Colin’s extremely impressive New York accent, and the sight, as he whipped off his dressing gown to get into bed, of the Doctor’s equally impressive bottom.
I’m not really one to judge these things but it was certainly a derriere worthy of a Time Lord of the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. But it also goes to show that occasionally, just occasionally, it’s not always the best idea to book front-row seats. Or to go to the theatre with your mum.
Going to the theatre to see the stars of Doctor Who was a regular occurrence for me during the '80s and '90s. Goodness knows how many Alan Ayckbourne plays I must have attended. I must’ve seen Noises Off at least half a dozen times. I even saw Paul Darrow in Dennis Spooner’s A Sting In The Tale; he gave a very thorough performance - no piece of scenery was left unscathed. And I saw Deborah Watling in a Wonder Woman costume in Ray Cooney’s Wife Begins At 40 – she was even more jiggly than Colin Baker.
Why did I do this? Partly to see my heroes in the flesh – quite literally in Colin Baker’s case - and partly out of admiration, to see my favourite actors doing something other than trying to run very quickly down very short corridors. I know some fans would go to the stage door after the show, to actually meet their heroes and solicit autographs. But I could never do that. I know that in presence of a star of Doctor Who I would be reduced to a quivering jelly.
I don’t think I’m alone in following the careers of the Doctors and companions on stage and screen. I want to support them in their future endeavours. I don’t want to feel that doing Doctor Who was a career move...Of Death, I want to feel they went on to bigger and brighter things. Sometimes they might even play a part like the Doctor – which is a bit like getting an extra little bit of Doctor Who. I’m thinking of Patrick Troughton in A Hitch In Time and The Box Of Delights, Paul McGann in Sea Of Souls, or even Sylvester McCoy’s turn as The Amazing Lollipop Man in Doctors. And let me tell you – Colin Baker was also, in his own way, an amazing lollipop man.
But for Doctor-ish cameos, you can’t really beat Tom Baker. Shortly after he left Doctor Who I remember seeing a feature on the local news about a play that Tom was appearing in – and I didn’t want to see him, because he’d cut off his curls and didn’t look like the Doctor any more. After that he suffered about a decade of being criminally under-used, his only major role being in The Life & Loves Of She-Devil*, where he also got his bottom out (it wasn’t a patch on Colin’s). But now he’s enjoyed a renaissance because the fans who adored him are now in a position to reward him, in Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), Strange, Monarch Of The Glen and Little Britain, playing either the Doctor or an exaggerated version of himself – as if there’s any discernible difference.
It’s interesting to trace the careers of each of the Doctors, both before and after Doctor Who. Before Doctor Who William Hartnell was one of the most accomplished film actors of his time; after Doctor Who he did a panto, an episode of Z-Cars and died**. Patrick Troughton went from prestigious costume dramas to Doctor Who and back again – and he also did The Omen (unlike Sylvester McCoy, who did the O-men before he was in Doctor Who). Jon Pertwee returned to his comedy roots with Worzel Gummidge. Peter Davison has enjoyed pretty much constant employment and acclaim, in both sitcoms and comedy-drama, from A Very Peculiar Practice to At Home With The Braithwaites – apart from a brief period in the mid-'90s where he couldn’t get arrested, not even for Ain’t Misbehavin'.
Sadly, we haven’t seen enough of Colin Baker (unless you also went to see Frankie & Johnny) and Sylvester McCoy; it seems, unfairly, they might be associated in some people’s minds with Doctor Who losing its way (which it didn’t). Though Sylvester has recently played the Fool to Ian McKellan’s King Lear, which will hopefully shut up those smarmy pundits who have used his name as a cheap punchline. Maybe more ex-Doctors should do Shakespeare? We’ve seen Sylvester give us his Fool, we’ve seen David Tennant give us his Hamlet – is it too late for Colin Baker to show us his Bottom?
But what does the future hold in store for David Tennant? Will he follow his predecessor to the states to appear in sci-fi-and-fantasy shows and movies (plus a Doctor-ish cameo in The Sarah Silverman Programme)? Or will he remain the UK? I daresay ITV are offering him the lead in various angst-ridden detective dramas at this very moment – he might even finally get that part in Taggart he’s always wanted. I daresay BBC One are offering him the lead in numerous aspirational comedy-dramas about thirtysomething couples who are having terrible trouble finding a decent babysitter. And I daresay BBC Four are offering him a whole list of famous dead authors, scientists and comedians for them to do docu-dramas about.
Or will he return to the stage? I hope so. Because we’ll all be there, sitting in the front row. Waiting for the bit where he takes the dressing gown off.
* This is not remotely true, he was in loads of things, Jonny 2015.
** This is also incorrect. He did a Softly Softly, a No Hiding Place and a weird Cliff Richard religious programme.