I think that in retrospect, everybody could see that Tom Baker was just too good. He wasn’t necessarily the best actor to play the Doctor. He wasn’t the first to think he owned the role, or even to get himself and the character mixed up. But he was the most charismatic incumbent. His ad libbing made him a de-facto co-writer. The credited writers naturally played up to his sense of humour. They wrote Tom-lines, and the audience tuned in to see Tom in a way they never had to see Jon or Pat or Bill. The TARDIS became less and less a fictitious space craft; and more and more a stage set or a TV studio. When Tom was discovered learning oil painting or playing chess with K-9, it didn’t occur to us to ask why, or what he was doing before, or what he did the rest of the time. It would have been like asking what Geoffery and Bungle did in the Rainbow House when they weren't singing songs or reading stories or making finger paintings. We understood, from a very early age, that people like Tom Baker and Rolf Harris and Zippy didn’t exist when the camera wasn’t pointed at them. Tom’s bundle of mannerisms and surrealism and jokes and gestures and one liners held the series together as the narrative around it became less and less coherent; less and less relevant; until it all but ceased to exist. You could have dropped Jon Pertwee into Web of Fear or Wheel in Space, or Pat Troughton into Silurians or Curse of Peladon, and very little about the story would have changed. Horns of Nimon or Nightmare of Eden or Armageddon Factor couldn’t be imagined without Tom Baker at the center. “Story” had become nothing more than a series of corridors to run along, monsters to offer jelly babies to, villains to deliver hammy speeches to. And it was all wonderful because Tom was wonderful but once Tom wasn’t there being wonderful any more it all started to fall apart: not because Peter Davison was a poor actor, but because Peter Davison was only an actor, and he could only deliver the lines he was given, in the script that was written. Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee were leading men in mostly well crafted costume dramas and thrillers; Davison, Baker II and McCoy floundered around in a star vehicle without a star. (McCoy could, in fact, have saved the series. But he didn't.)
And that’s pretty much all I have to say about “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.” As a wise man once said: “Piece of shit. Walk away.”
If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider buying a copy of The Viewers Tale or Fish Custard which collect all my writings about Doctor Who to date.
Alternatively, please consider making a donation of £1 for each essay you have enjoyed.