Dr Who's Tom Baker is My Real Dad

I am not really Emilie Zoey Baker.

I was christened ‘Emma Moyle’

Moyle means Jewish circumciser, and although I do get a little bit Jewish when I’m drunk, or unexpectedly called upon to make a speech, that’s kinda where it begins and ends in terms of lineage. I got called ‘Emily Oil with a Boil’ when I was at school and I hated it. Moyle is the family name on my mother’s side. I never met my father by blood and I know nothing about him, so there were no alternative name options there – I had to stick with Moyle, all the way to the oily boily end of high school. By the time I turned twenty-one, I realised I could do whatever the hell I wanted, including taking myself off to deed poll, where I became . . . Emilie Zoey Baker.

So why did I choose Baker? It has absolutely no family connection. There’s nothing even remotely Baker-ish, no matter how many twigs you snap on my one-sided family tree.

No, I chose it instinctively. I chose it out of the air. But when I thought about it more later, I realised why it had resonated with me. Why? Well around 6pm every weeknight it felt like I’d definitely made the right choice of surname. It was because of Dr Who. I’d subconsciously chosen the name Baker because when I was a kid, I wanted Tom Baker to be my dad.

I even thought he looked a bit like me, with his mop of hair and, er . . . bold nose. I even thought that maybe it was possible, seeing as I didn’t know my real dad, with exquisite kid logic, I thought that maybe I could be related to him. I wanted to hang out with him. Be a jelly baby that he could put in his pocket, so I could bounce around as he strode about in that urgent way, scarf trailing. I dreamed of taking little naps in his curly hair. I wanted his soft pita-bread voice to wrap me up like a falafel. When I was little I imagined him stretching that scarf from his shoulders to mine, looking down, smiling and telling me everything was fine.

I felt safe when he was on screen. I loved the way he would joke with terrifying monsters: telling the evil Timelord legend Morbius that perhaps he should change his name to ‘Potpourri’, because that’s how lame he was. He’d mock the Master, wisecrack with the Wirryn, sneer at the Zygons and quip with the Krynoid. There wasn’t much that scared Tom Baker’s Doctor. He beamed fatherly confidence that won my 10-year-old heart like a giant toy elephant at a fair.

But I worried about him sometimes. When it came to encounters with the Daleks, those metallic hexagons of horror, I was frozen with concern. Their heartless-Nazi gliding approach, and Davros, that shriveled mung bean of malevolence, that black Goji berry in a bin. He was the most terrifying thing of all. Turns out I needn’t have been concerned. Tom Baker knew what he was doing. He knew how to deal with such a menace. I remember once he slung his hat over one of the Dalek’s eye stalks, and it wheeled around screaming, ‘Malfunction! Loss of visual Control! Vision impaired. Malfunction! Malfunction!’ And then it pretty much blew itself up. That was my first life lesson from a paternal figure.

At the time, chaos ruffled the carpeted floors of my family home, hard words were being fired about, insults lasered across the lounge room, and divorce papers bombed my mother and stepfather’s bedroom. Peace seemed a million parsecs away.  I desperately wanted to lie around on the floor of the Tardis, play chess with K9, and discuss black holes, the infinity of space and time, the fabric of existence. Talk about the thin line between good and evil with my broad-smiling, bug-eyed TV dad. If things got extra heated at home, I’d try and smile, try to make a joke, or ask the ol’ girl Tardis to deliver me from harm.

There’s a Tom Baker scene I remember really vividly. The Doctor is in a room alone with Davros and he asks the evil little scrotum – like Phillip Ruddock sitting on R2D2 – whether, if he had somehow managed to create a deadly, highly contagious virus, which could destroy all other forms of life . . . whether he would unleash it. Would he let loose an unstoppable universal pandemic?

And Davros says: ‘An interesting conjecture!’ Because, back then, before Michael Bay and CGI and 3D, things moved slowly enough for despicable alien villains to get down with philosophical hypotheticals. Davros says he would love to possess such power over life and death, to know that he could kill everyone with the press of a button. He says he’d do it. Suddenly Tom Baker – the dad I always wanted – grabs Davros’s tiny woollen sock of a hand and holds it over a switch on the control panel of Davros’s space wheelchair. Davros wobbles in terror and says, ‘Don’t touch that! It controls my life support systems, I’ll die in 30 seconds!’

Because that’s where you’d keep that switch, right? Right there at the front, where you might just accidently lean forward with a cup of tea. ‘Oh that’s an inter— ARGHHH!’ Is it just me or should it be maybe hidden away underneath, or something? And maybe not labeled ‘Critical Life Support’?

Anyway, Tom Baker looks into Davros’s fleshy eye sockets (or that third eye that was just stuck on) and he flips the switch! I gasped a 10-year-old’s gasp! Davros gasps like a guppy on the riverbank. Then Tom Baker flips the switch back on. Even though he had the chance to totally un-life Davros, he doesn’t. He lets him live.

I couldn’t believe it – Tom Baker could have destroyed the evil Davros simply and easily, and ended the multiverse’s problems with a flick of a switch. But he chose not to. Why? Somehow – probably well after the BBC Radiophonic Workshop had torn my mind a new one with that awesome scream sound effect that led into the throbbing glory of the Dr Who soundtrack – somehow, I absorbed that it had been a lesson in something important. Something more than just that, despite their zappy lasers, the Daleks and their little prune leader were stupidly vulnerable, to hats, to people just  standing behind them, and, of course, to stairs. No, there was a larger message from my Baker father.  He was displaying the truth that good and evil aren’t necessarily absolutes, easily determined. That you can see your enemies as victims of themselves. That instead of violence and force you should seek to solve problems with logic and kindness.

Subconsciously, I think those seeds were planted. Little tiny shoots sprouted in my 10-year-old heart. I knew after that day I’d be different, trying harder to understand why people, like my parents, found themselves fighting. And not hating them for it, but trying to find a jelly-baby-way to help them stop it. And so, many years later, as a grown adult making my way in the world, with a phase of flamboyant felt hats and over-long scarves (almost) behind me, when I determined to make my own way and change my name to something I felt I could inhabit wholeheartedly, consciously or not, I chose to become a Baker. A mop-headed force for reason and robot-taunting. And the fact that I later learned that Tom Baker married Lalla Ward, the blonde Romana, and they broke up after just 16 months of fighting, didn’t ruin anything. I’ll always be Emilie Zoey Baker, daughter of Tom – it’s Dr Who I am.

                                                                    Welcome to the family

Splendid Chaps logo hi-res
Splendid Chaps logo hi-res

This piece was  originally written for The Splendid Chaps a year-long celebration of Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary: eleven live performances recorded as podcasts. This one was at the Toorak library as part of the Stonnington Libraries’ [untitled] Festival,  November 2013