Longtime British television & film scriptwriter Bob Baker passed away on November 3rd. He was 82 years old.
Baker, often paired up with creative partner Dave Martin, wrote for a number British television series throughout the 1970s, including the long-running science fiction series Doctor Who.
Baker & Martin’s first contribution to Doctor Who was the four-part serial “The Claws of Axos,” broadcast in 1971. A memorable story featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, it saw the shape-shifting vampiric entity Axos attempt to drain the Earth dry of its life energy. Their second contribution to the series was the six-part “The Mutants” broadcast in 1972. Containing strong anti-imperialist and anti-apartheid sentiments, it is one of the Doctor Who’s most overtly political stories.
Baker & Martin co-wrote a total of eight serials for Doctor Who between 1971 and 1979, with Baker working solo on a ninth story, “Nightmare of Eden,” which was broadcast in late 1979.
Among Baker & Martin’s contributions to the Doctor Who universe, they created the beloved robot dog K-9, who was introduced in their 1977 serial “The Invisible Enemy” during Tom Baker’s tenure as the Doctor. At the end of the story K-9 joined the Doctor on his travels, and the mechanical dog was a regular presence in the TARDIS for the next several seasons.
Although K-9 was written out of Doctor Who in 1981, the mechanical mutt has periodically returned over the years, and was paired up with fan-favorite companion Sarah Jane Smith, played by actress Elisabeth Sladen. Baker himself contributed to the K-9 spin-off series that ran for 26 episodes between October 2009 and November 2010 on Network Ten in Australia and on Channel 5 in the UK.
Among the other television series Baker contributed to was the police procedural Z-Cars (1974), the police action series Target (1977-8), the crime drama Bergerac (1981, 1983), and the children’s dark fantasy series King of the Castle (1977) and Into the Labyrinth (1981-2).
Beginning in 1993 Baker became associated with another iconic British dog. Created by Nick Park, the stop motion animation series Wallace & Gromit features the absent-minded inventor Wallace and his silent yet intelligent anthropomorphic beagle Gromit. Baker began co-writing the Wallace & Gromit series with the second animated short The Wrong Trousers in 1993. This was followed by A Close Shave in 1995, the feature-length animated film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005, and the short A Matter of Loaf and Death in 2008. Baker also worked on the six episode television series Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention broadcast on BBC One in November 2010.
Notably, A Matter of Loaf and Death saw Baker, in a bit of dark humor, write in his own death via the demise of “Baker Bob,” one of the victims of a serial killer who is murdering British bakers.
Baker wrote an autobiography entitled K-9 Stole My Trousers! which was published in 2013. He co-wrote with Paul M. Tam the 2015 anthology The Essential Book of K-9. Another short story collection, K-9: Megabytes, was released in 2020.
Baker’s contributions to Doctor Who and Wallace & Gromit made him a beloved figure of genre fandom. He will certainly be missed.
It’s a bit difficult to believe that it’s been a decade since English actress Elisabeth Sladen passed away on April 19, 2011 at the age of 65. Sladen was well-known for playing the beloved character of Sarah Jane Smith on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who.
Sladen was cast as Sarah Jane Smith in 1973 by Doctor Who producer Barry Letts and made her debut in the four-episode serial “The Time Warrior” which opened Season 11 of the series. At the time the Doctor was being played by Jon Pertwee, in his fifth and final season in the role.
Initially written as an investigative journalist & feminist, Sarah was intended to be a bit of contrast to Pertwee’s take on the Doctor, who could definitely come across as arrogant, headstrong and chauvinistic. For better or worse, the rough edges in the relationship between the Doctor and Sarah were quickly smoothed down. Sladen and Pertwee did seem to have a good rapport, although Pertwee choose to depart at the end of the season in order to avoid being typecast and to work on other projects.
Tom Baker was cast as the next incarnation of Doctor in 1974. As effective as the bond between Pertwee and Sladen had been, the chemistry between Baker and Sladen was absolutely amazing. The two actors played off each other incredibly well. The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are regarded as one of the all-time greatest Doctor-companion teams in the entire history of the series. And, yeah, I am definitely one of those fans who agrees with that assssment.
Sladen remained on Doctor Who for three and a half years. She left the show in the middle of Season 14, and Sarah’s departure from the TARDIS was seen in the final episode of the four-part serial “The Hand of Fear” broadcast 23 October 1976. It was a very effective, moving scene. Sladen and Baker apparently worked out most of the dialogue between themselves.
Sarah Jane Smith was well-loved by fandom, and Sladen found herself returning to the world of Doctor Who on several occasions over the next three decades, beginning with K-9 and Company, a pilot for a proposed spin-off that would have paired Sarah with the Doctor’s beloved robot dog that aired in 1981. K-9 and Company was not picked up, but Sarah would soon return again along with a number of other past actors from Doctor Who, in the 1983 anniversary special “The Five Doctors.” Sladen then reprised the role of Sarah in the 1993 charity special “Dimensions in Time” and the 1995 direct-to-video story Downtime.
Sladen was reunited with Jon Pertwee for a pair of radio plays featuring the Third Doctor and Sarah, “The Paradise of Death” in 1993 and “The Ghosts of N-Space” in 1996, both of which were written by Barry Letts. In 1999 Big Finish Productions obtained the license to produce Doctor Who audio dramas, and they released several stories featuring Sarah Jane Smith, with Sladen once again playing the role.
After a decade and a half long cancellation, Doctor Who finally returned to television in 2005. Series Two episode “School Reunion” by Toby Whithouse, broadcast 29 April 2006, saw the Doctor, now in his Tenth incarnation and played by David Tennant, reunited with Sarah Jane Smith. One aspect of the story examined the difficulty Sarah had experienced in adjusting back to a normal existence after her fantastic adventures with the Doctor across time & space, and her ambivalence about him once again entering her life. Sladen really did a great job with the material, and clearly enjoyed the opportunity to play Sarah as a more complex, rounded character.
“School Reunion” was very well received and quickly led to the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures which was broadcast from 2007 to 2011 on BBC, as well as further guest appearances on Doctor Who itself.
In addition to her work on Doctor Who, Sladen acted in a wide variety of British television productions, among them the soap opera Coronation Street (1970), police procedurals Z-Cars (1972) and The Bill (1989), sitcom Take My Wife… (1979), medical drama Peak Practice (1996), and the BBC Classics production of Gulliver in Lilliput (1982), the last of which she was cast in by former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts. Sladen also did extensive stage work, appearing on several occasions alongside her husband Brian Miller.
I was fortunate to have met Sladen once. I visited in London for several months in 1999. Sladen was doing a signing at The Who Shop in East Ham, London. At the time she was promoting the Big Finish audio play Walking To Babylon which was adapted from the Bernice Summerfield novel written by Kate Orman. (Bernice Summerfield is a time traveling archeologist who made her debut in the Doctor Who novels published in the early 1990s.) Sladen played Ninan-ashtammu, a priestess in ancient Babylon.
Even though Doctor Who had been canceled for a decade by this point, there was quite a crowd at The Who Shop for the signing, which really demonstrated how beloved Elisabeth Sladen was to fans of the show. I think Sladen was more than a bit surprised that this American fan in his early 20s (i.e. myself) was there to meet her, since at the time Doctor Who had basically just a fringe cult following in the States (it would not become really well-known here in America until several years after the BBC revived it).
I was really struck by how little Sladen appeared to have changed in the two decades since she had left the show. I said something to her along the lines of “You must have been very young when you appeared on Doctor Who.” She smiled and replied “I know what you’re trying to say. Thank you.”
I grew up watching reruns of Doctor Who on the local PBS station in the early 1980s, so it was definitely a huge thrill meeting Elizabeth Sladen. I’m glad I had the opportunity.
Last month my girlfriend got me the DVD of the Doctor Who story “The Android Invasion” as a birthday present. This story actually has something of significance for me, as part two of it was the very first Doctor Who episode I ever saw. Way back around 1981 or so, Doctor Who was briefly shown on one of the television networks here in the States on Saturday mornings. I only ever caught that one episode, and I didn’t remember much about it, but the cliffhanger ending always stuck in my mind. About two or three years later, when I discovered Doctor Who on my local PBS station, I immediately became a fan and, well, the rest is history.
Admittedly “The Android Invasion” is not an especially great Doctor Who story. One of the main problems is that for the first two episodes writer Terry Nation struggles mightily to build up this sinister, creepy mystery as to what is taking place in the village of Devesham and the nearby Space Defense Station. Unfortunately, most of the suspense is completely undone by the title of the story! Why are the inhabitants of the village, including old friends of the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, acting so damn peculiar? Well, it’s because they are android duplicates, obviously!
This serial had at least two working titles, namely “The Kraals” and “The Enemy Within.” While neither of these is nearly as dramatic as “The Android Invasion,” at least either of them would have maintained one of the main mysteries of the story’s first half, instead of blowing it wide open in the opening credits.
That said, the first time I saw this serial in full, it came as a complete & total surprise when at the end of the second episode the Doctor deduced that not only was everyone in the village a robot doppelganger, but in fact they were not even on the planet Earth. Instead, this was a carefully constructed replica built by the rhino-like Kraals on their homeworld Oseidon as a training ground for their duplicate agents, a mock run for their conquest of the actual Earth.
A much derided aspect of “The Android Invasion” revolves around the Kraals’ human agent, astronaut Guy Crayford, who spends the entire story wearing an eye-patch. Crayford believes that the Kraals rescued him from certain death on a space mission gone horribly wrong, and that is why he is assisting their invasion plans. He thinks he has to wear the eye-patch because when the Kraals saved his life, they were unable to restore his eye. That is until the end of episode four, when the Doctor convinces him to take it off, and Crayford realizes he has a fully function eye underneath.
Even as an eight year old viewer, my first reaction was to think “What, in the two years he was a prisoner of the Kraals, Crayford never once took off that eye-patch to take a shower?!?” If one wants to be charitable, on two separate occasions the Doctor refers to Crayford as having been “brainwashed” by the Kraals, so perhaps he was programmed not to remove the patch. But if that was the case, why give it to him to begin with, other than to provide a dramatic, out of left field twist when actor Milton Johns yanks it off in the story’s final moments?
There are several other glaringly obvious holes in the plotting. I could list them all, but we’d be here for a while. That said, I think most of them only become obvious upon repeated viewings. And, as producer Philip Hinchcliffe commented, when he was working on Doctor Who, it was never expected that these shows would be re-watched over and over years later.
I also felt that “The Android Invasion” was an unfortunate exit story for the characters of Benton and Harry Sullivan from UNIT. This would be the last time that actors John Levine and Ian Marter would appear on Doctor Who, and it’s a shame that neither of their characters is given a substantive role. Hinchcliffe admits in hindsight that if he had known that this was to turn out to be the last appearances of Benton and Harry, he might have given the pair more of a presence in the story. As it is, it’s unfortunate that these two well-regarded characters have what amounts to little more than extended cameos. It’s also painfully obvious that Patrick Newell as Colonel Blimp, um, Faraday is a last-minute replacement for Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Although considering what a tiny role in the proceedings the Brigadier would have had if Nicholas Courtney had been available, it’s probably best that he did not show up, as he was given a much more dignified exit in the previous UNIT story, “Terror of the Zygons.”
Well, having gone on at length as to the faults of “The Android Invasion,” I will readily admit I actually quite like this story. A major reason for this is the team of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen as the Doctor and Sarah. Baker and Sladen had this absolutely incredible chemistry and rapport, and they work extremely well off of each other in “The Android Invasion.” Some of the serial’s best scenes are the ones between the Doctor and Sarah. They really were one of the greatest Doctor/companion teams in the show’s history, and that is readily on display in this story.
“The Android Invasion” has a really cracking script. I’m not sure what should be credited to Terry Nation, what goes to script editor Robert Holmes (who was known for performing extensive rewrites to make stories workable), and what was improvised by Baker and Sladen. Whatever the case, the dialogue is intelligent and witty. I especially enjoyed the exchange between the Doctor and the Kraals’ chief scientist Styggron in episode three. Baker does his usual routine of being threatened with death by acting silly and nonchalant. Left tied to a ticking time bomb by Styggron and his android henchmen who then shuffle off, the Doctor exuberantly calls after the exiting villains…
“Don’t go! Stay! Just for a few minutes, then we can all go together!”
The silly banter between the Doctor and Sarah later in the episode in the Kraals’ duplication laboratory also cracks me up…
The Doctor: I feel disorientated.
Sarah: This is the Disorientation Center.
The Doctor: That makes sense.
Martin Johns does a good job portraying gullible astronaut Guy Crayford. It would have been easy to play the role as an sneering villain. Instead, Johns imbues Crayford with both this boyish enthusiasm and a very pitiable quality. It’s obvious to everyone but Crayford himself that he is a mere pawn of the Kraals, and when the character belatedly realizes how badly he’s been manipulated, you genuinely feel sorry for him.
The direction by Barry Letts is top-notch. There are some marvelously effective, atmospheric shots. When a list of the top Doctor Who directors is drawn up, Letts’ name is not typically included. Understandably, most fans of the show focus on his considerable role as producer in shaping almost the entirety of Jon Pertwee’s five year run alongside script editor Terrance Dicks. It’s a shame. I don’t know if I would rank Letts alongside such amazing directors as Douglas Camfield, David Maloney or Graeme Harper. Nevertheless, Letts does some solid work on “The Android Invasion.” I think his directing on this serial would be better regarded if he’d had a stronger story, but considering what he was handed, Letts makes the most of it.
The audio commentary on “The Android Invasion” was entertaining and informative. The participants are Milton Johns (Guy Crayford), Martin Friend (Styggron), producer Philip Hinchcliffe and production assistant Marion McDougal. I’ve observed in the past that for the older Doctor Who serials, it’s worthwhile to have a moderator to guide the discussion and help jog everyone’s understandably hazy decades-old memories. Filling that role once again is Toby Hadoke, who does a superb job at leading the proceedings.
The extra feature “Life After Who” looks at Philip Hinchcliffe’s post-Doctor Who career. Hinchcliffe went on to produce a wide variety of material, ranging from gritty crime series to period dramas. Unfortunately, I’m unfamiliar with most of this material. I’d have to check to see if any of it is even available on DVD here in the States. That said, some of it looked very intriguing, and given the opportunity I’d like to be able to watch some of these projects. Particularly of interest is Nancy Astor, the story of the controversial first female member of British Parliament.
So, despite its flaws, “The Android Invasion” is an entertaining serial, and the DVD contains some interesting extras. As I said before, while it will never be considered one of the top Doctor Who stories ever made, it is a personal favorite of mine, in that, for all its silliness and gaping lapses of logic, it is a great deal of fun. Actually, having written this review, I now feel like sitting down and watching it again. That’s the hallmark of an entertaining story.