Bob Baker, writer who co-created the robot dog K9 for Doctor Who and with Nick Park made Wallace and Gromit a global hit – obituary

Bob Baker
Bob Baker

Bob Baker, who has died aged 82, was a screenwriter who made an indelible mark with sci-fi adventures for the original run of TV’s Doctor Who and wacky stories in the Wallace and Gromit series of animated films, which won three Oscars.

Baker’s greatest legacy to Doctor Who fans was the robot dog K9, which he introduced with his original writing partner, Dave Martin, in the 1977 four-part serial The Invisible Enemy to assist Tom Baker’s flamboyant Time Lord in defeating a strange virus.

In one scene, the loyal, logical canine computer – with a striped collar replicating Baker’s trademark scarf – memorably fires a laser beam at the groin of a human who has used a gun to shoot point-blank at him.

K9 was intended only for the one story, but the producer Graham Williams recognised the metal mongrel’s attraction to younger viewers and had its fictional creator, Professor Marius (played by Frederick Jaeger), hand it over to the Doctor as a parting gift.

Over four series (1977-81), K9, Marks I and II – mostly voiced by John Leeson – became as much a companion to the Time Lord as Leela (played by Louise Jameson) and the two incarnations of Romana (Mary Tamm, then Lalla Ward).

Baker and Martin were among Doctor Who’s most prolific writers, scripting some of its best-loved serials, encompassing the third and fourth incarnations of the Time Lord, played by Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Baker wrote nine stories (1971-79), all but one with Martin.

Meanwhile, the pair ensured they held on to rights to their robot dog, which later returned for the one-off K9 and Company (1981), the 20th-anniversary special The Five Doctors (1983) and two stories in the revived series (2006 and 2008), as well as episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-11), starring Elisabeth Sladen as her popular Doctor Who companion – all written by others.

Baker and Martin revived the dog in the series K9 (2009-10), a production combining computer animation and live action. Baker wrote two of the 26 episodes in a British-Australian co-production.

Baker with his co-writer Dave Martin and K9
Baker with his co-writer Dave Martin and K9

By then, another dog had helped to bring Baker success in films. His new writing partnership, with the director Nick Park, put life into one of British animation’s most loved double acts, Wallace and Gromit – the absent-minded, cheese-loving inventor, voiced by Peter Sallis, and his faithful canine friend – in a string of stop-motion animation movies.

They had already been featured in Park’s 1989 short film A Grand Day Out – which he made at film school – when the production company Aardman Animations, based in Baker’s home city of Bristol, approached him with a view to scripting a second with the director.

He and Park hit it off immediately. “We are both keen Beano fans and before long we were laughing at some of the old Beano stories together,” Baker wrote in his 2013 autobiography, K9 Stole My Trousers.

The Techno Trousers in their first short film The Wrong Trousers (1993), could have come straight out of The Beano, and the duo added a scheming penguin as Wallace’s lodger.

Next came A Close Shave (1995), which brought the character of Shaun the Sheep to the screen for the first time. Both shorts, along with the 2005 feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, won Oscars, among many other awards.

Later came another short, A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008), which included the character Baker Bob, named after the writer – and bludgeoned to death with his own rolling pin.

Baker with one of his two Baftas
Baker with one of his two Baftas

He was born Robert John Baker in Bristol on July 26 1939, the younger of two sons, to Roma (née Coleman) and Stanley Baker, a signwriter.

While his brother Roger went to grammar school and then art college, Baker failed the 11-plus and attended Air Balloon Hill secondary modern school.

He had similar artistic ambitions but left with no qualifications aged 15 and trained as a monumental mason at the Co-Op, getting his first writing experience by carving inscriptions on gravestones, as well as installing and repairing them.

During six years with the Co-Op, Baker performed by night with jazz bands, playing the trombone, clarinet and saxophone – alongside the future actor and satirist John Fortune on trombone at one time.

On leaving the Co-op, Baker fulfilled his dreams by going to the West of England College of Art in Bristol to study painting but ended up taking an animation course.

When he started making short films with a group of friends, shot with a 16mm box Brownie, the director John Boorman suggested producing others for a satirical TV programme he was planning – but then left to make his first feature film.

For three years, Baker earned a living driving taxis and renovating houses. Then, in 1968, while working in one that he had turned into a shop, he met Dave Martin, who threw in his job as a copywriter with a Bristol advertising agency to help him to script his latest film idea. A director interested in making it died, but the pair carried on writing together.

A turning point for the two writers came after Patrick Dromgoole took over as programme controller of the recently launched Bristol-based ITV company HTV in 1969 with a brief to make productions for the network.

They were taken on, and began with Thick as Thieves (1971), a drama featuring Leonard Rossiter as a safe cracker just out of jail. He also starred as a debt collector and amateur sleuth in their 1976 TV movie Machinegunner.

But Baker and Martin’s best-remembered contributions proved to be the children’s series they created, Sky (1975), featuring a time-travelling teenager, King of the Castle (1977), about a boy’s fantasy turning into reality, and Follow Me (1977), a nautical adventure.

Away from HTV, Baker and Martin contributed to peak-time police series such as Z Cars (in 1974) and Target (1977-78).

This period coincided with their decade on Doctor Who. After having a drama script rejected that was based on experiences in the Royal Tank Regiment of their friend Keith Floyd, the TV chef-to-be, they were invited by the Doctor Who script editor Terrance Dicks to write The Claws of Axos story in 1971.

With Nick Park of Aardman Animations, home of Wallace and Gromit
With Nick Park of Aardman Animations, home of Wallace and Gromit

Baker considered The Mutants (1972), an allegory on apartheid, to be their best Doctor Who serial. Their other major character creation, the villainous Omega, a founding father of the Time Lords, featured in the 10th-anniversary adventure The Three Doctors (1973).

The Armageddon Factor (1979) was their last Doctor Who story together before Baker wrote Nightmare of Eden (1979) on his own, and – apart from a couple of collaborations – he and Martin went their separate ways.

Baker became script editor on the first series (1979) of the BBC’s detective drama Shoestring, then spent 10 years (1980-90) in the same role at HTV, where he and Peter Graham Scott devised another time-travel children’s series, Into the Labyrinth (1981-82).

Turning freelance, Baker revisited his musical past to script the 1992 television film The Jazz Detective.

His first two marriages, to Vicki Hollis (1959) and Angela Wynne (1979), ended in divorce. He is survived by his third wife, Marie (née Whitley), whom he married in 1991, a son and daughter from his first marriage, the son of the second, and five stepdaughters – one from his second marriage and four from the third. Another son from his first marriage died last year.

Bob Baker, born July 26 1939, died November 2 2021