But Baker would still like a chance to realize more of the Doctor's potential and perhaps share it with a new audience. Toward that end, he wrote a screenplay for Dr. Who film, but hasn't been able to sell it.
"Nothing has come of it, as you would expect" Baker says with a sardonic chuckle. "Moviemakers are very cautious, aren't they? Dr. Who sells in every country in South America except two. It sells all over the Middle East and the Far East, in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and sixty-five places in America.
"It's a formula which is underpinned by hundreds of hours of television all over the world. They run it again, and again and again! And yet somehow, no one will enter into actually making a movie of it!
"You see, most of the science-fiction or fantasy movies are contingent upon special effects for their success. I'm not interested in special effects, and I think I have a kind of popular taste. I trust the audience. And I don't think that people are interested in just special effects.
"The only thing that is interesting, that makes life bearable, is sharing something with other people. All the rest is just whippetshit! It's only people in dilemmas that're interesting to anybody. What is especially interesting is people cracking the dilemma and pushing on, surviving.... I'm interested in ingenuity. I'm interested in characters who actually amuse me."
"I'll laugh, but especially at people who will inspire me with their fundamental sense of optimism—what they do isn't solved by the annihilation of the opposition. It isn't solved by some absolute decision, which means something is killed or destroyed.... Bores me to death!
"I mean, I think of a few successful shows like Kojak. I can't picture anything more despicably sentimental and appalling than the character of Kojak. So charmless! And when he tries to be charming he ends up shockingly sentimental.
"There's such a terrible simplifying of everything. What happens is such a waste of material and resources and a waste of technical possibilities, because they could all be so much more fun and interesting. I'm opposed to 'bang bang bang comma, boom boom boom exclamation mark! On popular television there are too many exclamation marks. Really, the punctuation's pretty awful. Too many dashes and exclamation marks!"
Baker breaks up laughing at this, and then looks around. Everyone in the coffee shop has stopped to listen to him, and he smiles, enjoying his audience.
"You know, there's a big difference between television and film. The fundamental difference is the context in which it takes place. When you're going to the movies it's a formal affair. You get on a bus or you go in a car and you buy a ticket and, although the movie is a communal experience, it actually becomes instantly private when the screen lights up because the movie happens in the dark. It happens in the dark! That's what's so marvelously exciting about them! Television, as opposed to 'happens in the dark,' takes place practically by definition in a domestic context where the degree of concentration and the instance of distraction is stupendously higher! People are making tea, or telephones are ringing or babies are crying. People are having fights-all with the television on. You can't do that in a movie, not without being thrown out!
"So television is always domestic, isn't it? And that sense catches people also. Although their degree of concentration might be slighter and more intermittent, it gets people when they are terrifically vulnerable. And because of that amazing intimacy, there's a difference between television actors and film actors, because when I meet the audience that watches me in their living rooms, they feel much more proprietary about me than they do about-well, I don't know, say Jack Nicholson.
"Someone spots me in a restaurant and their kids come over and say, 'You're Doctor Who!' And I say, 'Yes, I am. HeUo there.' I'm the only man in England for whom 'don't talk to a strange man' doesn't apply." And Baker obviously loves it.
"I'm owned by my audience," he states. "I'm talking about the character as well as me, because I inhabit the character physically - and yet it devours me, it impinges on Tom Baker's privacy. But I understand that; the people who recognize me know me from their living rooms, so there is a difference. They are daunted by someone they see up on a 70-millimeter screen. But me? Everyone has a license to talk to me or touch me or kiss me because I am in their living rooms. So you see, television is infinitely more powerful than the cinema."
Does that explain why Baker stays with the show, despite TV's built-in limitations? "The reason I keep on with the character is that, first of all, it's my living, and secondly, when I consider the alternatives of what I could be doing.... You know, I'm really quite aggressive and self-destructive in some ways. I'm not frightened of unemployment, I'm not frightened of scrubbing floors or being a bartender or whatever. I'm too occupied with saving what little I have. But when I look around and see the alternatives.... I know something about my limitations. No one's going to give me a big part in the movies, mostly because I think the big movies are made in America and by definition are rooted in American subjects. So there's nothing for me in American movies.
"Then, when I look at the BBC and popular television and movies, when I think of how marketable I am... I look at things on the air: Well, I might get in that or that.... Do I want to be in that? I don't want to be prancing around in a costume in some bloody terrible Jane Austin series or terrible adaptation of Nicholas Nicholby. It's a lot better that I go to work and laugh my head off at Dr. Who, help promote it by coming crazily here for 48 hours. I may have a wit of a time. It's much more fun to do that, be involved in the books and the magazines. Oh, that's much more fun than to actually pretend to be real.
"I mean, I could never play parts like that bloody genius David Janson who plays those paralyzing bores.' How he does it I don't know. He's another fellow who could actually make anesthetic redundant. How could he play those parts?! I mean, I watch him, he's an incredible man, obviously a genius. He's a superior person. How he can actually walk through a door on television and say that stuff without cracking up, or walking through saying it without embarrassment. I know I can't compete with those kind of people.
"So I settle for jolly Dr. Who, which is terrific fun. I'm not into anything that isn't fun.
"You know, when I got the character I was desperately out of work and glad to have the contract. Fortunately, I signed the contract before anybody else did. I remember the wonderful feeling I had when I signed this beautiful contract, which was going to put me into television history because of the formula. Even if I had been a disastrous failure I would have gone into history as the first failure, because no one has failed Dr. Who.
"That means I never mistake myself for the character, and I never, ever underestimate the formula. There are certain actors who fed nothing could go on without them and sometimes they're right. What is constantly vital about Dr. Who is the delicious formula.
"It doesn't matter who takes it on, given professional expertise. Some hunchback or ... well, it doesn't matter. It's what the character stands for, what the formula allows, which is a success. So I never actually think my contribution is bigger than the formula."
Tom Baker may play down his contribution to the Dr. Who series, but he is the catalyst that makes the formula work. Intense and opinionated, he performs every word with style, drawing on a dictionary of gestures and expressions that would make a mime jealous. Weaving warmth, humor and verve into an entertainment medium that all too often settles for the commonplace, Tom Baker is a renegade in his field. And like the good Doctor, he thoroughly enjoys it.