Friday, April 4, 2014

Why the "Doctor Who" Fandom Must Embrace Colin Baker

This time last year I was in the midst of my so-called Sixth Doctor Challenge as I tackled every Doctor Who story which featured the Sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker. One year on, my opinion of the Sixth Doctor has not dramatically altered. He was, and still is, my favourite Doctor of the Classic Series, and I thought it's about time that some fans see why it's not impossible to love the Sixth Doctor.

This post (or would it better to call it a rant) will be structured somewhat differently from the usual analysis. I will take on a few of the common problems viewers have with the Sixth Doctor and turn them on their head. The first such criticism is his personality. It would be a severe understatement to say that the Sixth Doctor is over-the-top. That in itself is not a problem. The Sixth Doctor is a nice contrast to his predecessor who was up to that time, the most humane and reserved incarnation of the renegade Time Lord. To have another such interpretation of the role would I think simply be too much of the same, and the vast change was welcome (let me make it clear that I do like Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, so don't get me wrong). Besides, in the past, a regeneration had brought about a dramatic change in the Doctor's personality. So, a Doctor filled with bombast and theatrics was a nice new direction in which the series could travel. Perhaps the facet of this Doctor's personality which most fans take umbrage with is his cold demeanour and condescending attitude.

Interestingly, it is this aspect of the Sixth Doctor which I like the most. Despite the fact that the Doctor is a good man and a hero, it doesn't mean he always has to be a goody-two-shoes. The Doctor has lead an incredibly damaged and harsh life, things which any normal being would not have been able to handle. To think that he can simply brush all this off and move on is ludicrous. What's more, the harder, rough-around-the-edges personality manages to make the Sixth Doctor more understandable and realistic - well as real as an alien with a time-travelling space ship can get!

And while we're discussing things which fans dislike about this Doctor, I can hardly avoid the elephant in the room - the coat. Yes, Colin Baker's vibrant, patchwork coat of many colours is pretty distasteful. It is surely a bit of an eyesore at first, but after a while I actually got used to it and found that it was not as bad as people make it out to be. Since the Sixth Doctor's tenure, people more creative than I have been altering the Doctor's look, and recently some nicely recoloured pictures (such as the one at left) show what the Sixth Doctor may have looked like in a less outlandish wardrobe. One final thought concerning the Sixth Doctor's costume: Colin Baker wasn't fond of it either and urged to wear all black, in keeping with the Doctor's darker character. He was of course overruled.

Those who have come to the Sixth Doctor's defense have lifted some of the blame from Colin's shoulders - and relocated the blame onto the writers and production staff at the time. If this is true, who behind the scenes is to blame? John Nathan-Turner, who had taken up the reins of Doctor Who in the early '80's? Eric Saward, script editor and writer? Or BBC executives? Let's take a quick look at these three potential suspects (this is a mystery blog after all). John Nathan-Turner (who preferred to be called JNT and the nickname has stuck) took over the series during Fourth Doctor Tom Baker's last season, which has garnered mixed reviews from fans. Things improved a bit once Peter Davison took over the part of the Doctor who has appeared in some fan favourite episodes, and to this day current showrunner Steven Moffat has voiced his praise of this portion of the series' history. This, in conjunction with the fact that Nathan-Turner helmed the series during the Seventh Doctor's years, which included a number of other well-received episodes, seems, in my opinion, to clear Nathan-Turner of blame.

The finger of suspicion is next directed at Eric Saward, script editor and writer. Saward in part instilled the series with its dark themes. Evidence of Saward's dark style is glimpsed in all three of the episodes he wrote for the show: Earthshock, which killed off one of the Doctor's companions, Resurrection of the Daleks which is the closest Doctor Who has ever come to be an absolute gore-fest and Revelation of the Daleks, which relocated the focus from the Doctor to the villain and dealt with murder and cannibalism! Yet, for the most part, Saward's work as script editor was pretty good, and with the exception of such episodes as Mark of the Rani and Timelash, the entirety of the Sixth Doctor's tenure is pretty enjoyable, even if it's not the highest quality in Doctor Who's fifty years of existence.

Cut Colin Baker some Slack
So, we turn to the BBC, who in the 1980's seemed to take one of their most popular shows for granted, and very nearly drove it off the air. This lead to the Sixth Doctor having one of the most disjointed tenures in the history of the series, which included scrapping an entire season's worth of episodes. By getting rid of all these episodes, the plan to have the Doctor mellow out over time never came to fruition, and Colin Baker, understandably upset by the whole thing, bowed out of the whole enterprise. Since then, the views of the fandom has turned against the Sixth Doctor, and he sadly appears on the bottom of most people's "favourite Doctors" list. So, why am I writing this? What change will I bring about in the world in my crusade to vindicate Colin Baker? Well, Colin Baker is such an overlooked actor in the history of the legendary franchise, something which is criminal. As much as I love the ever-wonderful Peter Cushing, his two minimal contributions to the legacy of Doctor Who seem to garner more recognition than this canonical Doctor.

So, if you're a Doctor Who fan I'd love to hear from you. Are you a fan of the Sixth Doctor like me and do not understand all the hatred leveled at poor Colin Baker? Or do you hate the Sixth Doctor with a passion? If so, why? Is it his personality? The writing? The coat? Feel free to leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. I regard Colin Baker to be among my all-time favorite Doctors and it's really thanks to his performances in Big Finish audio dramas that I was able to give this much maligned Doctor a chance. Some of the finest stories I have ever experienced in Doctor Who fall under this Doctor's belt - The Holy Terror, The One Doctor, Jubilee, and so many more - and it is thanks to the quality of the scripts at Big Finish that I have been able to revisit the Sixth Doctor's televised tenure with a new sense of appreciation.


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