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I bought this in Hebden Bridge last July, but held off reading it for a while on the grounds that I was just way too invested in the character of the fourth Doctor, and couldn't bear the possibility of having my illusions shattered by finding out that the guy who played him was actually a jerk (cf. Christopher Lee, passim). I don't think I need have worried too much, though. There's certainly a touch of melancholy to Baker's life story, and the ending which sees him obsessive and paranoid about his lawnmower and his own gravestone is frankly kind of unsettling. But I ended up feeling more sorry for him than anything else.

He's a born escapist - something I can relate to myself - and spending his childhood being told that he was thick and worthless clearly didn't do much to help him develop goals or ambitions, or give him the confidence to pursue them. The result is that his life story is basically a series of escapes from reality into which he stumbled into more or less accidentally, each time completely sublimating his own identity to whatever dominant person or institution presented itself for the purpose - the Catholic church, the army, acting school, a disastrous first marriage, a contract with the National Theatre, and finally Doctor Who. There, of course, the match worked perfectly, because the character of the Doctor responds beautifully to someone who can bring to it both an awkwardly non-human quality and a total conviction - and Baker had both in spades. But it was a flash in the pan. He had very little ambition to build on it, even at the time - a television interview from 1981 shows the rather sad spectacle of him shrugging when asked about his plans on leaving the show, and saying, "Well, I'm going into oblivion I suppose" (about 3 minutes in on this video). And indeed he pretty much moved smoothly onwards into his next avenues of escape - initially pub culture, but later a clearly much more satisfying marriage to Sue Jerrard.

The book contains a great deal of information, yet somehow never reveals terribly much about its author. There's enough story and colour to make you feel you are living his life alongside him at certain points - particularly his Liverpool childhood. But he very rarely steps back to give the bigger picture regarding what all this meant to him, how he felt about it or why it sent him in the directions it did. And that's kind of the point, really. He still doesn't really know who he is, as the title of the book proclaims. He knows what he did, but as for why he did it? He never knew at the time, and he certainly doesn't know now.

The style is also quite impressionistic - as, indeed, his televised interviews and DVD commentaries usually tend to be, too. He jumps from phase to phase of his life quite abruptly, so that I sometimes had to spend quite a lot of time working out how much time must have passed between one event and the next in order to make sense of the story. The amount of space given to each period of his life in the narrative is also sometimes quite skewed in proportion to the amount of time it actually took up. This applies particularly to his post-Who years, which accounted for about 25% of his life (15 years) at the time of writing the book, but only get 10% of the space in it (two chapters) - a stark contrast with his childhood, which took the same length of time but gets six. That probably makes for a better read, as one of the post-Who chapters consists of very little else besides him sitting around in the pub, and wasn't terribly interesting to read. But I'd have liked to hear more about his life in the present day, especially since he does seem to have found some kind of settled happiness at last with his third wife.

I suppose the truth is that another chapter is needed now, covering the renaissance in his career over the last decade - largely, as he often says in interviews, as a result of the generation of children who loved him so much as the fourth Doctor growing up and into positions where they can employ him. Long may he be far too busy doing fun things on television to write it.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
nalsa
Feb. 25th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)
Funny; I had similar thoughts when I read that book, but I read it before Tom Baker's renaissance.

Him and Brian Blessed, though: what a dinner party that would be.
maviscruet
Feb. 25th, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC)
Your ear drums would never recover.... You'd end up with a serious booming in your ears...
big_daz
Feb. 25th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
I thought it odd that although he fills a lot of pages about his childhood, he never once mentions that his dad was Jewish.
strange_complex
Feb. 26th, 2009 08:46 am (UTC)
I guess it's because his father obviously wasn't a very important part of his life as a child. He'd have been away in the war when Baker was between the ages of 5 and 10, and then it sounds like the mother kicked him out not long after that. You're right, though - it's symptomatic of Baker's greater interest in the small details than in the bigger picture that we hear all about the guy's budgie, but not his religious beliefs.
pearlseed
Aug. 12th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
He's my dearest doctor too--I've loved him every day my life since 1982, in this quiet secret part of my heart. He made me laugh and cry and learn to dream again. He was my very own little miracle.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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