Today Tom Baker’s first and what he says is only Doctor Who novel Scratchman is released. The story was conceived by Tom Baker and Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan) between set takes and pauses in filming during the Fourth Doctor’s era. The idea was so epic that the BBC planned to make into a full-length feature film on the big screen.
Despite great enthusiasm and valiant attempts, Scratchman never moved forward into its planned movie. For a long time, Scratchman was forgotten, until a script was found in 2006. Donated to the British Film Institute by former Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner before his death in 2002, the script has been revised and adapted by Tom Baker into a full Doctor Who novel published today.
As part of the release of this new story, we have an interview courtesy of BBC Books with Tom Baker on behind the scenes tales of this highly anticipated novel.
Here’s part one of the BBC Books interview with Tom Baker. Part two will be released tomorrow.
Question: Can you talk about the inspirations for the story? Did Scratchman and the scarecrows come about during rehearsals with Ian Marter (who played companion Harry Sullivan from 1974 to 1975)?
Tom Baker: During the last few months I’ve been doing some thinking about that. It’s so long ago, it had all gone a bit woolly in my mind. It had something to do with Ken Russell who was big in the news back then and was producing a film called Tommy, starring Roger Daltrey. I think there were scarecrows in it and a pin table – Ian and I cottoned on to that, and we used to go down to Soho and waste the afternoon – it was terrific fun – playing pin table while we dreamed up these terrific ideas that we had. It was still the days of afternoon drinking clubs and the real lowlife of Soho – the clubs were very glamorous and incredibly squalid. So we went down there and played about with these pin tables and talked. It was a marvellous time.
Ian, of course, was very young and I was full of the excitement of being The Doctor. Poor Ian, he died tragically young, He was careless, you know, about his condition[diabetes]. Suddenly he’d go woozy and someone would have to give him a biscuit, quick, and he was restored. But he was casual about it.
I used to live in Notting Hill Gate and Ian would come over. James Hill used to live in Notting Hill Gate as well – I don’t remember how he got involved. He went on to do Jon Pertwee’s fantastic Worzel Gummidge. He was rather a cool customer and he’d come round and look at our scenes, and he’d assemble and improve the narrative by moving the scenes around. That was really all he did. And then, James went on to other things as he was always quite busy and it went away from us as well. It just got set aside. You know when you’re just flying with energy and making good money and travelling and we thought “well, we’ll just put it aside,” and pick it up, but we went our separate ways.
Although it was briefly important to us, it wasn’t vitally important to us – you know we were young and full of hope and I was so caught up in Doctor Who. I didn’t realize it would be the rest of my life. So Scratchman failing didn’t seem that important then. And one was younger – you get over little griefs.
Question: Where did the idea for the character of Scratchman come from? Having the Doctor go up against the Devil?
Tom Baker: I don’t know how I came up with Scratchman. It must have been because I’ve been interested in the Devil all my life because of my religious background. I was brought up with great drama and very conscious of Sin. When you’re very ordinary in Liverpool in 1940 and you’re working class and have got nothing, you suddenly find an outlet. In those days there was no other outlet than the Great Drama of religion.
I loved the Roman Catholic religion because I have a sense of melodrama and it made me feel important. I loved it because I was dressing up all the time in women’s clothes, really – cassocks and surplices and so on. I loved it because, although I couldn’t do grammar and so on at school. I could learn Latin phrases. I loved the drama, the lies and the anxiety of confession – that dramatized by life. All that has never got away from me.
Question: What were the sides of the Doctor that you most wanted to bring out in Scratchman?
Tom Baker: I had a sort of effortless identification with the character – it was all self-love really. This kind of nonsense appealed to me, this kind of magic. I gave it the twist of being wry, preposterous, idiotic – which I am – all these little traits of mine which really should disqualify me from reality came together in that part.
The directors seemed amused by me, and the other actors seemed amused by me, and when the ratings went “wooosh!” on the first transmission Philip Hinchcliffe [Doctor Who producer from 1974 to 1977] rang me up and said, “Tom, you’re going to be a star!” And he was right, haha.
The Doctor as I perceive him is not a jolly scoutmaster. There must be anxiety and tension. You remember Steed in The Avengers? Benevolent and charm itself and fabulous technique But no danger. It was all a lark. Patrick Macnee who played Steed was so marvellous, supported by those wonderful actresses. They had these adventures but never for a moment was there anything squalid or any bloodshed or anything cruel. In other words, it was all a lark. If only life could be like that.
But in Scratchman the Doctor reveals anxieties which have never been expressed before. We’ll see that he’s ashamed that he’s failed people. With the character of Scratchman, we have the idea of him looking for my weakness. He’s trying to identify with what I’m afraid of and use it against me. Scratchman has an absolute passionate appetite for weakness.
Question: Getting back to the original production, when did you decide to make it as a film? What was the BBC’s reaction to the idea?
Tom Baker: The BBC thought Scratchman was a good idea. They must have known better than I did – since they would have had a veto on everything. If the film had been successful they would have scored heavily and may have made another one. And so they were no discouraging – not at all.
Question: Can you remember going away to Italy to write it and nearly drowning?
Tom Baker: I don’t know if we did very much work on Scratchman at all. At the time I was in love with someone and she had a daughter and I thought how lovely it would be to go away with Ian and work on it. I’d never had a holiday before.
And Sophie (who was director David Maloney’s daughter) came alone and we took this house. It was fantastic, with a swimming pool and all those cliches and also it was infested with fleas. It was absolutely pulsating with fleas.
During that time, I got into the swimming pool. Terrible thing – I still can’t swim. And we were always larking about, these two little girls and Harriet and Sophie and Ian at the side laughing, great big burly Ian with his body like Tarzan. The children didn’t believe I couldn’t swim, and neither did Ian. One moment I was in the middle of this pool and I lost my confidence and started to sink.
It was absolutely terrible. I panicked and must have been flailing. Clear as a bell I thought it was going to die.
The children get agitated – “It’s Tom! Tom’s drowning!”
And Ian said, “Don’t worry girls. He’s just acting!”
Suddenly, these two girls were at the side of the pool and they reached out – and I caught a leg and it just gave me that lift and I came out and made it to the side.
Ian was horrified when he realized his contempt for my acting. It might have been extravagant but it was real.
We didn’t stay long after that. So it didn’t last long, this holiday.
Nowadays the idea of a holiday villa fills me with horror. I live in the country and am old and happy and have a dog.
Question: When you were playing the Doctor you were famous for coming up with ideas that the production team didn’t always agree with. Was it nice finally getting your own way?
Tom Baker: It was marvellous to have influence this time. Many directors liked my views, they really did like my ideas, and we could often bend something or recast a sentence. But it was a very delicate area.
One time I gave my notice in. I was angry about something. I don’t know about what exactly. I think I was getting a bit grand about what should be done and what shouldn’t.
I think the producer then was Graham Williams. He was a lovely man, but we didn’t always get on well. A very gentle man and he worked like a dog, but we didn’t always have the same sense of humour. And he could be a bit precious about how certain scenes could be done.
Anyway, (I sent my notice in) and I was sent for, by the Director-General, Alasdair Milne. I was taken up to his great office and he made it very clear to me that the programme was very important to the BBC and he wanted me to be a part of it. And so that was resolved – flattery from on high is very potent.
Question: When the script fell through, were you philosophical about the disappointment?
Tom Baker: Yes, I was philosophical about it. I wasn’t very steady in those days. I was caught up entirely in the programme. And, of course, the consolation was that there was always more novelties coming through – I was invited to America to go to conventions first class – this was for me superstar treatment. I became, in my own eyes, a big star. It was terrific.
So I didn’t spend much time worrying about Scratchman or anything. I was living from moment to moment, excitement to excitement. New scripts, photo sessions, arguing about jokes or what was funny and I got caught up in that. I was diverted from reality – I was caught up in my own activities [and] in the adulation of fans, and the respect that other people showed me because I was a well-known actor. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I am ridiculous! There you are, I’m telling you honestly.
Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker
What are you afraid of?
In his first-ever Doctor Who novel, Tom Baker’s incredible imagination is given free rein. A story so epic it was originally intended for the big screen, Scratchman is a gripping, white-knuckle thriller almost forty years in the making.
The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travellers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them.
With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…