Tom Baker, who’s best known for playing the fourth incarnation of the Doctor in “Doctor Who” is the best kind of British eccentric. Larger-than-life, never knowingly over-serious, and filling any room – and therefore any role – with an expansion of his own twinkling, mordant, grinning and easily-delighted nature, he’s the kind of person to whom you believe, when the cameras are turned off, bizarre adventures might quite like to happen.
Comedy series Baker’s End, from Bafflegab Productions and writer Paul Magrs, plays mercilessly – almost exhaustingly – with that idea, and takes us to the fictional village of Happenstance, where Tom Baker gets to play… Tom Baker, former TV star, who has by this third release has technically died at least once, and has been reincarnated as ‘The King of Cats’. Dressed in a human-sized cat costume and with a joyful fruity turn of linguistic indulgence, he now keeps an eye out for the strange and the peculiar, acting as a kind of seer of the unseen, and fighter of the nonsensical. He’s got his work cut out, to say the least.
Magrs’ village of Happenstance has always danced on the edge of certifiable, but in Tatty Bogle, the weirdness explodes right from the off, on the assumption that you already know the set up. Without being anything like an exhaustive list, Tatty Bogle involves: the return to Earth of a vengeful scarecrow god; inexplicable blood rain; human sacrifice by burning; a vegetable homunculus; whispered advice from Eric, King of the Goblins (apparently masquerading as a cabbage); a trip to Hades to visit the distinctly Thatcher-sounding Queen Of Hell; a kerfuffle at the entrance to an inner sanctum; a return trip via Middlesborough … and a shock ending.
What makes Baker’s End special is its unique combination of the darkly comic ‘knife-edge-of-lunacy’ storytelling style that Magrs has employed many times over the years, with performances by all the main players that anchor the clearly barking mad (or meowing mad, in Baker’s case) magic realism world by acknowledging how mad it is, then going with it anyway. There’s a sense that Baker’s End is a labour of love for both Baker and Magrs, their shared appreciation for the bizarre and for convoluted words harmonising into something custom-made to make those who enjoy it absolutely love it. The words ‘cult classic’ could have been conceived especially for this series.
You don’t actively need to have heard Episode 1 “The King of Cats” and Episode 2 “Gobbleknoll Hall” to get enjoy the rollicking adventure (with plenty of laughs along the way) that is Episode 3, but you’ll certainly get more from Tatty Bogle if you’re familiar with the style and the world. Of the three instalments so far, Tatty Bogle is the most complete, disposing with the notion of slowly growing the threat and hitting you with the idea of ‘the return of Tatty Bogle’ within the first few minutes. From there you’re locked into the world of Magrs’ king of cats and the weird things that masquerade as normality in that world.
Tatty Bogle grabs you early, and there’s nothing to do but run along with it, in the hope that at some point near the end, it all begins to make a kind of sense. And so, by the time we get to Hades, it actually does, tying the seemingly disparate elements of Magrs’ storytelling into something enormously satisfying.