If you’re any kind of science fiction fan, Doctor Who — the British TV show that has been running, on and off but mostly on, since 1963 — is kind of a big deal. And if you’re any kind of Doctor Who fan, Tom Baker is kind of a big deal: he played the Doctor from 1974 to 1981, the longest tenure for any Doctor to date. (If you’re no kind of Doctor Who fan, an explanation: The Doctor, a do-gooder space bum and centuries-old Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, is able to “regenerate,” or, in practical terms, morph into another actor at convenient intervals. Kinda like how James Bond does that, but with an actual, in-story acknowledgement of what is happening.) And if you’re any kind of Tom Baker fan, then his final story, “Logopolis,” is kind of a big deal.
Because if, like me and many other American fans of a certain age, your introduction to Doctor Who came when PBS scooped up the Tom Baker–era episodes to blast out weeknightly in the early 1980s, the thought that Baker was leaving the show induced spasms of anxiety. How could Doctor Who even exist without the goofy-wise intergalactic clown that Tom Baker embodied, he of the ridiculously overlong scarf and the jelly-baby candies and the robot dog K9 and, oh, absolutely everything wonderful and silly and profound about his manifestation of the Doctor? I vividly remember, as a geek in my early teens, approaching “Logopolis” with equal measures of anticipation and dread. I honestly wasn’t sure then, as a melodramatic adolescent nerd, if I would be able to carry on in a world in which Tom Baker was no longer the Doctor…
That said, I was infinitely less stressed out approaching “Logopolis” again recently as an adult, not least which because I know that I survived the end of Baker’s stint as the Doctor, and that the show itself has not only survived but thrived since, certainly since its 2005 reboot. Now, “Logopolis” is coming to a big screen near you — if you’re in the United States, anyway — for a one-night-only Fathom Event on Wednesday, March 13th, in advance of a new blu-ray release of Baker’s entire seventh and final season. (I attended a special one-off screening of this program in London recently. And yes, I absolutely concede that my teenage brainwashing by Doctor Who has definitely contributed to the fact that I, an American, have been living in London for the past eight years.)
For all of Doctor Who’s reputation, especially pre-2005-reboot, as cheap and cheesy, “Logopolis” holds up today with its deceptively simple yet ultimately rather sophisticated story about mathematics as the underpinnings of all existence. What starts out as a rather straightforward chore by the Doctor to take a trip to the mathematically inclined planet of Logopolis to enlist the locals’ help in fixing the chameleon circuit of his TARDIS (if you don’t know what any of that means, then this Fathom Event is perhaps not for you) quickly becomes a race against time to protect the foundations of the entire universe from unraveling as math goes bad.
The Doctor’s adventures are often this intensely and literally existential, and this story — four 22-ish-minute episodes presented in episodic format — reminds us that hardly any of the characters apart from the Doctor seem to grasp quite how ominous what they find themselves in the middle of is. Like Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding), the Australian flight attendant on her way to her first job at Heathrow Airport who accidentally wanders into the TARDIS here and is far more concerned with getting back to Earth to make her flight than anything else. Tegan will eventually become one of Doctor Who’s most iconic and longest-running companions, and so “Logopolis” is noteworthy not only as Baker’s last outing as the Doctor but as Tegan’s first as companion. (“Logopolis” also features the Doctor’s archenemy, the Master, newly regenerated into a form played, deeply creepily, by Anthony Ainley, who will appear again in future episodes.)
For the blu-ray, and for this presentation, “Logopolis” has been cleaned up, digitally, and it looks terrific projected on a big screen, much better than you’d expect from a budget production that was hardly expected to be seen again, ever, never mind like this. (A lot of BBC stuff was very throwaway in the pre-digital era.) The FX have been cleaned up, we’re told, but seamlessly and unobtrusively so; they didn’t do a George Lucas job on it, tossing in flotillas of new spaceships or whatever because they could. Fathom says these one-off screenings will also feature “a tour of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory, the setting for the planet Logopolis, led by companions Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding and an appearance by the Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker.” (I’m assuming this latter is some sort of prerecorded welcome or the like.) These were not part of the presentation I saw, so I cannot comment on them. What I did see, and what you may as well, were teasers of the blu-ray extras, and though I’m no huge fan of so-called bonus materials, I was intrigued. Apparently there’s a whole series of extras called “Behind the Sofa” (an allusion to the notion that British children used to watch the show from behind the couch because it was just that scary), which involves Tom Baker and others watching these stories and commenting on them, Mystery Science Theater style… and the clips shown here are so brilliant and funny that now I want to see all of them.
I’ve been a Doctor Who fan for most of my life, and I didn’t think there were new ways to get me excited about it. And now I have discovered otherwise. Cool.
Doctor Who: “Logopolis” will screen across the US at a one-night-only Fathom Event on Wednesday, March 13th.