The Doctor Who actor Tom Baker has made a surprise return as the Time Lord in new scenes filmed to complete a lost episode of the BBC show.
Baker last appeared as the Doctor in 1981, when the character regenerated and the role was taken over by Peter Davison.
Nearly 40 years later, he has been persuaded to don the familiar hat, long coat and stripy scarf again to finish off an episode for which filming began in 1979 but was abandoned due to a BBC strike.
By the time of the walkout, around seven hours of filming was in the can for an episode called Shada, which was intended to be the celebratory end to the 17th series of Doctor Who and was written by the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Adams.
The corporation’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide has pieced the scenes together and, using the original scripts, filled in the gaps by creating animated versions of the characters, voiced by the original actors.
Baker appears in new, live-action footage of the Doctor as an old man. The producers used 1970s TV cameras and the original Tardis set and K9 robot dog model to make it look part of the original lost episode.
The actor said it was “a matter of regret” over the years that Shada had not been completed. Asked why he had agreed to reprise the role, he said: “I think it never left me and that’s why I can’t stay away from it. It was a lovely time of my life. I loved doing Doctor Who because it was life to me. My real life was really rather drab compared with the life of Doctor Who when we were making it.
“Doctor Who for me was an asylum and when I was in [it], in full flight, making silly suggestions or pulling funny faces to make actors laugh, then I was happy.”
Baker remains the longest-serving Doctor – his stint ran from 1974 to 1981 – and for years fans have lamented missing the chance to see him in the Shada episode.
Asked why his portrayal was so popular, he said: “Because I was the silliest. When I got it I felt this benevolent alien personality which was part of me and I embraced it. It took me over.”
Special effects and model work on the original production were never completed, so new visual effects have been done, using only the techniques that would have been available at the time of the original filming.
The producer Charles Norton said he had been inspired to show Baker as he is now by a line in Adams’s original script, about how the Doctor might be seen in years to come as “a nice old man”.
“It’s a nice way of waving goodbye to an era of Doctor Who and the 1970s and to Tom Baker in general,” he said.
Another member of the original Shada cast, Daniel Hill, said he had felt “haunted” by not having the chance to finish it.
He recalled that when the actors – including Lalla Ward, who played Baker’s assistant Romana – were reunited to do the voiceovers for the animation, “we said who’d ever have thought in a million years we’d be here doing this … it’s completion”.
The BBC is releasing Shada as a download on iTunes on 24 November and as a DVD on 4 December. With Jodie Whittaker due to become the 13th Doctor, replacing Peter Capaldi this Christmas, it means fans will be treated to three different Doctors in a month.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010