Friday, 13 September 2013

The Colin Baker Years

Colin Baker was introduced as Peter Davison’s successor on 20th August 1983. Public interest in the show even warranted the announcement to make the BBC’s evening news. In brief interviews prior to the broadcast of The Twin Dilemma Colin Baker confirmed that he intended to play the role of the Doctor for some considerable time, even suggesting an intention to exceed Tom Baker’s seven year stint. Sadly, Colin Baker’s time in the show is marred by difficulties the show underwent at the time; initially the hiatus between his first and second seasons and later by the decision by BBC executives to fire him.

The idea Colin Baker and the production team decided on was that the sixth Doctor would be darker than his predecessors, drawing on the initially irascible first Doctor and building on that, focusing on the fact the Doctor is alien and making him a complex character who the audience would grow to like as we found out more and more about him as the series progressed. During his first three adventures (The Twin Dilemma, Attack of the Cybermen and Vengeance on Varos) we see how unpredictable and egoistical he is, with his garish multi-coloured attire reflecting his somewhat volatile personally. The sixth Doctor is certainly manic, displaying mood swings, bombastic outbursts and is sometimes even fatalistic.

When we are first properly introduced to Colin Baker’s Doctor in The Twin Dilemma he suffers a number of violent fits, at one point attempting to strangle Peri. Even when he appears to calm down he is seen to experience a number of rapid changes of mood, ranging from self-pity, to cringing coward, to narcissistic bluster. Never before (or since) has a new Doctor been introduced in such a daring and negative manner where audiences are left puzzled to see whether they may like this Doctor or not. By the time the story comes to an end it is perfectly clear he remains a hero and will continue to fight injustice. However, this is an issue but only because of Colin Baker’s truncated time in the role. It is perfectly reasonable to introduce a Doctor in such a bold way (although they did arguably go too far) but given how short Colin Baker’s tenure would turn out to be it is such a shame a different approach wasn’t taken, simply because Colin Baker is magnificent in the role.

Attack of the Cybermen sees the Doctor considerably calmer since his first adventure but he still makes mistakes of judgement with the story ending on making this a point. Vengeance on Varos is thankfully a major improvement. Although the first episode shows some moments of resigned overtones the Doctor is now the hero, bringing down an evil regime who exercises torture for entertainment and bringing the end of a tyrannical leadership in Timelash. The Mark of the Rani continues this theme by allowing him to shine in comparison to two Time Lords: the amoral Rani and the evil Master. Already the show is allowing the Doctor to slowly develop with each successive story demonstrating how heroic and moral the sixth Doctor is despite initial perceptions, even becoming a vegetarian in The Two Doctors.  By the time we come to Revelation of the Daleks we see how compassionate he is when dealing with a dying mutant and how he comforts Peri.

However, the problems arrive here. The decision to rest the show due to apparent concerns of Doctor Who not having enough humour and being too violent would have major consequences and when the production team were forced to reinvent the show we were given The Trial of a Time Lord.

This adventure has many strong moments and is enjoyable to watch and in terms of the Doctor himself there are defining moments such as when he displays outrage at his own people for their part in a plot and cover-up which resulted in the death of most of the Earth's population. In short, this Doctor is more determined than ever in his universal battles against evil, being more visible than his predecessors to do what is right. However, despite some impressive special effects The Trial of a Time Lord wasn’t the major change people expected and audience figures were the lowest they had been in years. The drop from Colin Baker’s first year to his second is certainly noticeable.  

Sadly Colin Baker received the blame for the show’s poor viewing figures and was fired from the role, bringing to an end one of the most difficult periods of the show but with such a waste of talent. Colin Baker’s Doctor was interesting, engaging and never dull and he played the part incredibly well. Only in 8 televised stories (total of 30 episodes) it is frustrating to watch due to how brilliant he was in the role and despite how badly the BBC treat him he still remains, rightly, proud of his time in Doctor Who  and continues to promote it. 

Best Story of the Colin Baker Era: Vengeance on Varos

Worst Story of the Colin Baker Era: Attack of the Cybermen

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