Doctor Who: the film careers of Patrick Troughton & Tom Baker

In the next part of his series, Alex talks us through the film careers of the second and fourth Doctors, Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker...

Read Alex’s retrospective on the film careers of William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee, here.

Like their fellow Time Lord actors, William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker also shared certain genres of film. Both appeared, before and after their time as the Doctor, in horror movies and both worked on Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films.

Patrick George Troughton was born in Mill Hill, London on March 25th 1920. He made his film debut aged 28 in the 1948 B-Movie The Escape. Troughton’s was a very minor role. Among the better known cast was William Hartnell, though even Hartnell’s role was small and the two didn’t share any scenes together. From the late Forties, Troughton found more success on the small screen, where he established himself as a dependable television character actor. He appeared in Gunpowder Guy with Barry Letts, the man who would later direct Troughton’s dual roles as the Doctor and Salamander in the recently rediscovered Doctor Who serial, The Enemy Of The World.

Troughton won the small role of (ship hand) Roach in the 1950 Disney film version of Treasure Island, alongside Robert Newton, a legendary larger-than-life character actor who pretty much created the archetypal Long John Silver performance, arguably, made even more famous by comedian Tony Hancock’s impression of Newton in his radio and television shows of the late Fifties, whenever ‘the lad himself’ was required to “ham it up”. Among the remaining cast look out for future Dad’s Army star John Laurie as Blind Pew. Some twenty-seven years later, his great friend Barry Letts, now in charge of the BBC’s Sunday afternoon classic serials strand, cast Troughton as Israel Hands in the 1977 adaptation of Treasure Island. This time Alfred Burke,best known as private eye Frank Marker, was Silver.

Ad – content continues below

Troughton worked on the drama Chance In A Lifetime (1950), this relatively rare film was recently given a matinee slot on Film4, Troughton is particularly impressive and holds the attention of the viewer despite being in the presence of many other highly-skilled character actors. 1950 also saw him in Waterfront – not to be confused with the classic Marlon Brando film. Troughton’s early movie career was quite varied taking in the classic 1951 adaptation of The Franchise Affair and the vastly different White Corridors (1953). The mid-Fifties saw Troughton cast in a slew of historical dramas. There was 1954’s The Black Knight, followed by a 1955 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. 1957 saw a change of direction with Hammer Studios The Curse Of Frankenstein which inevitably also featured “movie Doctor” Peter Cushing and the mighty Christopher Lee, both at the height of their powers. 1958’s The Moonraker, not to be confused with the Roger Moore Bond flick, was the last film Troughton was to make for a while, his prolific and presumably lucrative television career began to take precedence at this juncture.

Troughton returned to movie acting in 1962 with The Phantom Of The Opera and the following year saw the first of his collaborations with the cult producer and modelmaker Ray Harryhausen on Jason And The Argonauts. Troughton played Phineas, a blind man rescued by Jason from the fearsome Harpies, themselves memorable Harryhausen’s models. The innovative stop-motion effects were (rightly) highly praised at the time. 1964 saw Troughton return to horror with The Gorgon and later the same year he featured in The Black Torment.

In the spring of 1966, Patrick Troughton found himself on an Irish hillside filming The Viking Queen (released in 1967), when he was called several times by the BBC. Doctor Who producer Innes Lloyd, very keen Troughton should replace the show’s star – the ailing Bill Hartnell – made several approaches to the actor. Troughton recalled Lloyd kept calling back with a better offer each time until it became obvious that he would be mad to turn down the opportunity – even though he didn’t feel right for the part. Apparently, William Hartnell once declared: “the only man in England who could posssibly replace me (as the Doctor) is Patrick Troughton.” Although, whether the increasingly better offers Troughton received are real evidence of the BBC’s keeness to secure his services based on Hartnell’s declaration is unclear.

Post Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton found horror films again served him well, he had roles in The Scars Of Dracula (1970) as the pitiful manservant Clove and Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell (1974), and yet his most famous film role – in this era and arguably of his film career – was as the priest in The Omen (1976) This classic horror about Damien, the possessed “child of the devil”, starred Lee Remick and Gregory Peck and featured a young David Warner. Troughton’s scenes are truly memorable, with one in particular becoming perhaps the most iconic in the movie and indeed amongst the most iconic in the wider realm of celluloid horror.

Troughton’s final major feature film role was as the ancient wizard in 1977’s Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger, an inferior and somewhat exploitative entry in the hitherto well-received Ray Harryhausen film series. Coincidentally, it was Harryhausen’s previous Sinbad feature The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad that alerted Doctor Who producer Barry Letts and his script editor Terrance Dicks to the mesmerising acting skills of Tom Baker, playing Koura the magician.

1978 saw the release of Saturday morning kids’ movie A Hitch In Time, the Children’s Film Foundation decided to produce a time-travelling adventure that would capitalise on Troughton’s former Time Lord role. He was cast as Professor Wagstaff, an eccentric inventor with a time machine. (a conceit not too far away from the Peter Cushing Dr Who movies, wherein Cushing plays “Doctor Who”, an inventor rather than the Time Lord enigmatically known as The Doctor) Wagstaff befriended two children, whom he then whisked back into the past for an adventure. A Hitch In Time, which was recently released on DVD by the BFI, is well worth a look. Troughton clearly relished playing a character akin to the Doctor and his performance in this short film is one of his best. Although made for the cinema this film and many like it have since filled several slots on children’s television, notably on BBC1 in the mid-Eighties. Sadly, by the end of the Seventies the popularity of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Tiswas had eroded the Saturday morning children’s cinema tradition.

Ad – content continues below

Troughton’s final years were largely devoted to his TV work. He twice returned to Doctor Who in 1983 and 1985, working with all his successors in the role bar Tom Baker. Some of his last roles were in the much vaunted, (then) state-of-the-art, BBC Children’s drama The Box Of Delights as the Punch and Judy man Cole Hawlings; the sitcom The Two Of Us and the opening episode of Inspector Morse: The Dead Of Jericho. His last role was in the ITV Sunday afternoon sci-fi series The Knights Of God which he made in 1985 but which was transmitted posthumously.

Patrick Troughton died on the 28th of March 1987 at a Doctor Who convention in America. After ordering breakfast in his hotel room, he collapsed with a sudden and fatal heart attack. He died in costume as the Doctor. He had just turned 67 and had been planning a family get-together to celebrate his birthday on his return to Britain. Rather touchingly, just the day before, Anthony Ainley recalled Troughton had asked him if he thought a Star Trek cast member would mind signing an autograph for his grandson. Troughton’s death came just days after the announcement of Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor.

At the start of 1974, Tom Baker was a talented but out of work actor making ends meet by labouring  on a building site, shovelling and mixing cement. He had worked with BBC producer Bill Slater on The Millionairess, a 1972 Play Of The Month which starred Maggie Smith. Baker wrote a speculative letter to Slater – now head of drama series and serials.

In his letter, Baker mentioned he was currently to be seen in The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, a film he’d made in late 1973 but which had only just been released in London cinemas. 1974 also saw the release of two other films Baker made the year before: The Mutations and The Author Of Belltraffio. In February 1974 he was announced as the fourth Doctor attending a photo call with companions Lis Sladen and Ian Marter and the Doctor’s canary yellow roadster, Bessie. By May he began filming Robot and in June made his debut as nation’s favourite Time Lord in the last few seconds of Planet Of The Spiders. By the end of 1974 Tom Baker was the star of Doctor Who a role that would change his life and make him famous, the contrast in his fortunes in the space of one year was palpable.

Thomas Stewart Baker was born in Liverpool, forty years earlier on January 20th 1934. He made his film debut in 1968 aged 34, having flirted with the idea of life in a monastry. Brought up a devout catholic, Baker eshewed religion once he realised one ate “the body of the lord” at communion and questioned his mother if that made him a cannibal. She struck her eleven year old (and already six foot tall) son, with such force, he was knocked beneath the sideboard! Despite this, Baker decided to pursue an ecuminical lifestyle, however the monastic life was revised when Baker “discovered” girls and found his true vocation in life… acting. 1968’s saw him cast in his first feature film A Winter’s Tale. But it was his next film role that remains one of his best. Nicholas And Alexandra (1971), about the fall of the Tsar and the Romanov family in the Russian revolution of 1917, starred Baker’s good friend Michael Jayston, later to become the Valeyard in the 1986 epic story The Trial Of A Time Lord. The two had shared digs and Jayston, when asked by the director for his thoughts on casting, recommended his wild-eyed, eccentric friend and former flatmate for the part of the intense, menacing monk, Rasputin.

Baker became friends with the much feted film director Paulo Pasolini, appearing in the italian’s 1972 masterpiece based on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a very risque movie for the times, Canterbury Tales was full of bawdy anglo-saxon humour and gratuitous nudity. Tom Baker would also work with Pasolini on his 1973 film Dear Parents.

Ad – content continues below

Vault Of Horror, in which Baker played a tortured portraitist was a 1973 attempt by Amicus film producer Milton Subotsky to revive the all-star horror anthology. Back in 1964, he’d produced Doctor Terror’s House Of Horrors, which starred Peter Cushing as the eponymous Doctor Terror. A real curio by today’s standards, ‘House Of Horrors is something of a misnomer of a title, the framing device being a train journey rather than a house. The protagonists were a rarified bunch: Roy Castle, soon-to-be the movie companion Ian, is seen here blowing his trumpet in a smoky bar, in a scene encapsulating the possible cause of Castle’s sad demise from cancer in 1994, ironically the same year as Cushing, who was nearly twenty years his senior. Subotsky clearly felt the two worked well together and perhaps that was the reason they were cast in Doctor Who And The Daleks the following year. Doctor Terror’s House Of Horrors saw rare acting parts for the pop-picking, antipodean DJ, Alan “Fluff” Freeman (all together now: “Greetings Pop Pickers!… alright? right! Stay bright! Not ‘arf!!”) The singer Kenny Lynch, a very popular entertainer in the Sixties, is also featured. Vault Of Horror was at least set in a vault, the protagonists this time meeting in a lift on its way down to the basement vault. Baker’s co-stars are Terry-Thomas, whose on-screen wife ends up pickling him, Denholm Elliot who loses his hands in an horrific accident initiated by Tom Baker as a portrait artist, who meets a gruesome end.

By 1980, Tom Baker had been the Doctor for six very successful seasons. He was very keen to move on, he’d first put in his resignation after his fourth season in 1978. On that occasion it was rejected, he was too integral a part of both the show and the very successful BBC One Saturday night line-up put together by former controllers Bryan Cowgill and Bill Cotton. The BBC’s biggest stars, Morecambe and Wise and Bruce Forsyth, defected to ITV in 1978. Controller of LWT, one Michael Grade, scheduled Bruce’s Big Night, a two-hour song and dance spectacular which also featured a new TV version of The Glums and a new double act, Cannon & Ball, against several episodes of season sixteen of Doctor Who in hope of toppling the Time Lord. For a couple of weeks the tactic worked, Big Night earned fourteen million viewers dwarfing the BBC’s opposition but then the audience grew tired of the two-hour show which was a testing experience, even for the most devoted fans of Bruce Forsyth. Larry Grayson was building a cult following as Bruces’ very camp successor on The Generation Game and gradually the BBC once more had the ratings momentum and Bruce’s Big Night was axed after just four shows. A frustrated and embittered Michael Grade went to work in America.


In October 1980, new producer John Nathan-Turner accepted Baker’s resignation, being keen to reinvigorate the show which had been dubbed “The Tom Baker Half Hour” – evidence perhaps of its lurch towards light entertainment under script editor Douglas Adams. Just before they announced Baker’s departure from the series, he hatched a plot with Nathan-Turner, always one to garner maximum publicity: “Why not suggest the incoming Doctor MAY be a woman?” Baker asked with a mischievous toothy grin. Nathan-Turner leapt on the idea and milked it for all it was worth and so was born the inevitable “next Doctor may be a woman” report which has enlivened the casting process ever since. Tom Baker recorded his final scenes for Doctor Who in January 1981, his final episode being broadcast on Saturday 21st March.

Tom Baker’s slight disenchantment with the series had been building since the sudden departure in 1977 of Philip Hinchcliffe, who was “job-swapped” with Graham Williams, the producer of cop show Target, the BBC’s answer to Euston Films’ wildly successful series for ITV The Sweeney. Baker shared the vision Hinchcliffe had for the series and found script editor, Robert Holmes very receptive to his ideas. When Holmes departed in 1978, Baker felt he should go too. His resignation rejected, Baker reluctantly continued in the part, becoming more and more dissatified with the increasingly lascklustre scripts, the lack of money and new directors who struggled to contain his more outlandish ideas, such as having a talking cabbage as a companion perched on his shoulder.

He sought refuge in a feature film The Curse Of King Tut’s Tomb in 1980. In 1984 he appeared as “Sir Tom” in one of Eric Morecambe’s last TV movies – a short feature called The Passionate Pilgrim – appearing without his co-star Ernie Wise. Morecambe and Baker played two medieval knights. Baker trying to win the affections of Morecambe’s wife, played by Madeline Smith. Continuing the medieval theme, Baker also appeared in the (alleged) comedy The Zany Adventures Of Robin Hood, if film history has taught us anything it is this: never trust a film with the word ‘zany’ in the title to actually make you laugh.

Ad – content continues below

By and large however, after Doctor Who Baker’s TV work kept him busy. He played Sherlock Holmes in Barry Letts’ 1982 version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles; in 1986 he taught Edmund a thing or two about exploration as Captain Redbeard Rum in Blackadder II and had a memorable role as a conflicted priest in The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil. The Nineties saw him as the surgeon, Professor Geoffrey Hoyt in Medics; he was a natural as the eccentric Professor Plum in Cluedo and in 2000 he played Wyvern in Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s revival of the classic Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) the first episode of which, incidentally, featured David Tennant. More recently he has become associated with Little Britain, for which he provided the eccentric narration. Tom Baker returned to cinematic roles appearing in Dungeons And Dragons in 2000, and as the voice of Zebedee’s evil twin in The Magic Roundabout in 2005 and just last year he appeared in a film called Saving Santa.

Next time: The film careers of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.