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  • Tom Baker
  • Alec Charles (bio)

In the first half of the 1970s, Doctor Who had grown overt in its politics, reflecting upon the collapse of empire, environmental crises, industrial relations, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear Armageddon. But halfway [End Page 227] through the decade, as Tom Baker took over from Jon Pertwee, the programme shifted away from contemporary Earthbound adventures tied to the military and governmental institutions, and from such overt politicisation.

Produced by the outgoing producer and written by the outgoing script editor, Baker’s first story, ‘Robot’ (28 Dec 1974–18 Jan 1975), concerned plans by British neo-Nazis to use a robot to build a super-weapon. The previous year the National Front had polled 16 per cent of the vote at a by-election and the UK was witnessing a resurgence of far-right extremism. The story’s political urgency was reflected in its uncharacteristically mundane setting: a present-day Britain in which the threat was terrestrial technology. Its concern with far-right ideologies was reflected in other stories that season: from the discussions of race in ‘The Ark in Space’ (25 Jan–15 Feb 1975) and the Afrikaner accents of the colonials in ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ (22 Feb–1 Mar 1975), two years after the UN had labelled apartheid a crime against humanity, to the Nazi submariner look of the collaborator Kellman (Jeremy Wilkin) in ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ (19 Apr–10 May 1975) and the Reich-like Kaleds in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (8 Mar–12 Apr 1975). Yet, as Mark Bould argues, the latter story’s nostalgia for early 1940s moral polarisations did not confront contemporary tensions so much as it served to ‘disavow Britain’s ongoing history of colonial violence’ (218). The programme’s politics were thus becoming increasingly abstracted and distanced.

Any lingering concern with contemporary politics was soon replaced by an interest in pastiching and later parodying horror, sf and other genres (Tulloch and Alvarado 111). Towards the end of the 1970s, the programme’s rare attempts to wax political met with limited success: in ‘The Sun Makers’ (26 Nov–17 Dec 1977), a satire upon tax bureaucracies, ‘The Power of Kroll’ (23 Dec 1978–13 Jan 1979), an incoherent allegory of colonial exploitation, ‘Nightmare of Eden’ (24 Nov–15 Dec 1979), a ham-fisted polemic against drugs, and ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ (1–22 Sep 1979), a blundering defence of the Cold War.

Baker’s vintage adventures had instead offered stylish pastiches of classics of the horror genre. ‘The Brain of Morbius’ (3–24 Jan 1976) and ‘Pyramids of Mars’ (25 Oct–15 Nov 1975) make over the many earlier versions of the Frankenstein and the Mummy, respectively. ‘The Hand of Fear’ (2–23 Oct 1976) draws on the tradition of horror tales about severed hands with the power to possess or to commit crimes, such as The Beast with Five Fingers (Florey US 1946), while ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ (4–25 Sep 1976) echoes Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (1842). ‘Planet of Evil’ (27 Sep–18 Oct 1975) combines The Wolf Man (Waggner US 1941) with Forbidden Planet (Wilcox US 1956), ‘The Android Invasion’ (22 Nov–13 Dec 1975) is part Invasion of the [End Page 228] Body Snatchers (Siegel US 1956) and part Quatermass 2 (Guest UK 1957), and ‘The Seeds of Doom’(31 Jan–6 Mar 1976) builds on The Thing (Nyby US 1951) and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951). Other classic narratives also intruded: the legends of the Loch Ness monster, Noah’s ark, the Cailleach, the Trojan horse, the Argonauts, Tithonus and the Minotaur. Whodunits and crime capers inspired ‘The Robots of Death’ (29 Jan–19 Feb 1977), ‘The Ribos Operation’ (2–23 Sep 1978) and ‘City of Death’ (29 Sep–20 Oct 1979), while sources as diverse as Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959), Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) informed other stories, often via previous screen adaptations. At a time of economic and political decline, Doctor Who’s timeless fantasies offered an escape from contemporary realities. By 1978, Blakes 7 (UK 1978–81...


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