When Tom Baker popped in to watch Doctor Who

Tom Baker
Image caption,Tom Baker played the Doctor from 1974 until 1981

Intrepid voyager Doctor Who has been travelling through space and time for 60 years, with a Christmas Day special to mark the anniversary. But one former Radio Rentals worker has been recounting a surreal adventure of her own with the Time Lord. He once landed in her front room to watch an episode of the show, leaving her children wide-mouthed.

The time is November 1976, and the space is the Nuneaton branch of Radio Rentals, the old TV stockist that was once a familiar high street fixture. Pauline Bennett remembers being on shift there when a “very smart chap” walks in with a strange request.

“He came in about five o’clock and said he and Tom Baker needed to watch the Doctor Who episode that was going to be on shortly,” she said.

Titular star Baker had been travelling back from the show’s exhibition in Blackpool with BBC manager Terry Sampson when the pair were delayed by fog.

They had turned off the motorway heading for the town, hoping to persuade someone to let them watch the show, the first to feature filming at an outside location, she explained.

“Given that this was a TV rental shop, which was full of TVs, I would have thought it was quite obvious what should have happened, but it didn’t,” she said.

“[My boss] said ‘well we’re closing shortly’, so I said ‘you can come back to my house to watch it if you’d like, and they jumped at the offer’.”

Pauline Bennett
Image caption,Former Nuneaton Radio Rentals worker Pauline Bennett offered her front room to Tom Baker

With his long scarf and love of Jelly Babies, Baker’s fourth Doctor remains one of the most instantly recognisable incarnations of the Time Lord.

“Tom was dressed as you might have hoped with an iconic long scarf and long coat,” said Mrs Bennett.

She described how she turned down a lift home in the limousine in which the pair were travelling, saying it would have been too inconvenient to leave her own car at work. She told them to follow her instead.

But as they neared her Bulkington home, she said her car stopped “and wouldn’t start again”.

“I told them to go to my house and my husband Alan would let them in, but they were not about to desert me,” she explained.

“They both got out and pushed my car – a pale blue Hillman Imp – the rest of the way home.”

“The limo followed along and was duly parked outside our house and we went in.”

Tom Baker
Image caption,Tom Baker sent the family Christmas cards after the event

Once inside, Baker “pulled up an easy chair straight in front of the TV”, she said, “stretching out his long legs” in time to watch the episode.

“Our children Karen and Martin couldn’t believe their eyes of course.

“There was this man on the TV and he was sat here watching TV with them.

“They didn’t know what to do so just sat and watched him with their mouths open.”

On 13 November that year, they joined about 13m viewers who had tuned in to watch The Deadly Assassin: Part Three which saw the Doctor enter the virtual world of the Matrix in the hope of tracking down The Master.

After the show “he was very grateful”, Mrs Bennett said. “He gave the children signed photos, took our details and off he went.

“We had a letter from him, and Christmas cards as well,” she added.

Radio Rentals window
Image caption,Radio Rentals “missed a trick”, said Mrs Bennett

The retiree, who now lives in Taunton, Somerset, said she had dined out on the story “several times”.

Radio Rentals had “missed a trick”, she added.

“I would have been on the phone to the local http://ceretemas.com/ paper and had all the lights blazing, but unfortunately they didn’t – they thought ‘we’re closing the shop and going home’.”

She added: “The whole episode had been quite surreal.

“My husband said to me ‘I bet we didn’t even offer him a drink’ and I don’t think we did.”

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