Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor : A Defence

colin-bakerFollowing on from Doctor Who Magazine’s interview with Colin Baker I have my own musings on his Doctor and in fact feel that he is without doubt the most hard done by actor to ever play the role. Colin makes valid points concerning his reluctance to talk to DWM. Most Doctor Who fans often feel a need to quantify everything concerning the show, I too am guilty of this, regularly typified by DWM who carry out votes asking readers to rate Doctors, stories and merchandise for example. The problem with this is that everyone has different opinions. In the same issue of DWM as Colin’s interview is the result of their 2014 series survey. The best episode as voted by the readers of DWM from Peter Capaldi’s first year in the role was ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’. Now although I enjoyed the story I personally didn’t think much of it, the resolution was particularly poor, in my opinion, considering it to be a case of style over substance. However, credit where it is due the Foretold/Mummy was superbly realised and skilfully portrayed. I personally thought ‘Listen’ was by far and away the highlight of the series but that is only my opinion and apparently does not correlate with the opinions of the majority. The problem therefore with having votes of this nature means that for all the celebrated ‘favourites’ you have those at the bottom end of the scale. It is therefore no wonder that Colin Baker was left deflated when his Doctor was rated towards the bottom as is his debut story ‘The Twin Dilemma’.

the-twin-dilemma1There is no hiding from the fact that ‘The Twin Dilemma’ is poor, which is expected given the problems the production team had experienced with the script. For example, the twins are terrible. In their opening scene they speak very derogatory of their mother, immediately making them unlikeable and made worse when we discover they are mathematical geniuses. Boy geniuses in science fiction never appeal to the audience, modern US comedies yes, but not in science fiction. The costume design is also appalling, for example Kevin McNally’s character has a particularly garish multi-coloured top at one point and even Nicola Bryant’s costume looks like it has been thrown together. Mestor the gastropod is not brilliant either and the Jacondan’s do look like they have simply had feathers stuck to their heads.

the-twin-dilemma2‘The Twin Dilemma’ is one of the rare occasions where a new Doctor’s debut story is not the opener to a new season. In fact the only time this ever occurred before or since was with Patrick Troughton’s debut story, ‘The Power of the Daleks’. That decision was made to start the Sixth Doctor’s tenure with the final story of season 21, producer John Nathan-Turner feeling that “nine months was too long to wait to see the new guy”. This is the first decision which conspired against Colin Baker and sadly not the last. It was also decided that the regeneration process was to have a damaging effect and leave him disturbed. Following on from the previous incarnation this approach makes a lot of sense. However, this strategy doesn’t have the opportunity to be followed through properly. As a result you have a character that is a stark contrast to anything seen previously and as a result is deliberately unlikeable. The problem with that is the lengthy gap from March 1984 to January 1985 works against you. After that 9 month break the recollections of the viewer were of a character that is unpredictable and egotistical making it a difficult sell to get those people to engage with the programme again. Sadly the Sixth Doctor is often associated with strangling his companion and that remains a tough memory to break. But credit to the production team the lure of the Cybermen brought the viewers back and the remainder of Season 22 resulted in reasonably consistent viewing figures between 8 and 6.5million.

21st Century Doctor Who is often associated with story arcs that meander through the series or even multiple ones and this was precisely what the production team were attempting to achieve with Colin Baker’s Doctor. Starting with a Doctor disturbed by his regeneration, being more of an alien personality than had been previously seen but over time he would mellow, following a personal journey which would’ve seen him become the hero we all know he could’ve been. Over that period his companion Peri would’ve stood by him and supported the change, in a similar way to how Rose Tyler helps the Ninth Doctor overcome the trauma of the Time War. This could also have been reflected in his attire. The Sixth Doctor’s costume is one of the most ridiculed parts of the show’s history, a garish mishmash of colours reflecting his exuberant and jarring personality. As that temperament changed so too may his costume have developed, perhaps to the blue variant or black as Colin Baker had suggested? Ultimately, that interesting story arc was to be interrupted because of the disdain that the upper echelons of the BBC had for the programme.

sixth-doctor8 sixth-doctor

Michael Grade, Controller of BBC 1, and Jonathan Powell, Head of Series and Serials, cancelled the programme in 1985 but following the outcry the show would return, at a reduced length, with what became ‘The Trial of the Timelord’ season. As a result of this hiatus the personal journey of the Sixth Doctor never came to fruition. Also Nicola Bryant’s contract was expiring and her character had to be written out, which was certainly dramatic but then ruined by a rewritten revelation at the end of the season. Bonnie Langford was installed as the replacement companion but did not get any formal introduction. Her character was a health and fitness fanatic, making the Doctor exercise in a peculiar TARDIS scene, but in other accounts she is supposedly a computer programmer from Pease Pottage, not that that skill was put to any use during the broadcast stories. Also the continuity is nonsensical. We see her already established as the companion during the future events concerning the Vervoids but after the trial she leaves with the Doctor in the Tardis, despite them not having met at that point in his timeline. It is not surprising that such an error occurred given that the relationship between John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward disintegrated with the script for the finale being withdrawn and unusable. Having got through the Trial of the Timelord season the show would be rocked once again by a decision made by senior BBC staff.

In 1986 John Nathan Turner was instructed by his superiors to fire Colin Baker from his role as the Doctor. Michael Grade was correct in identifying the Sixth Doctor as an unlikeable character but the enforced hiatus had prevented his development so the brash and disagreeable personality shaped people’s opinions and those sentiments could not be changed. If Colin Baker had been given a proper crack at the whip, coupled with some better scripts which fully maximised the potential of the character development story arc, his Doctor would I’m sure be more highly regarded. Sadly, he was treated poorly and did not get the dramatic finale he deserved, which could’ve seen his Doctor complete his evolution and cement his position in the hearts of fans across the world.

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