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The Other Baker Boy: The Sixth Doctor and His Times

General note for this entire series: this will, obviously, be a terribly subjective analysis. Firstly, because I'm me, and my ideas of good and bad will certainly vary differently from those of others. Secondly, because I will be basing my musings on an incomplete assemblage of sources. This includes all of the classic serials on DVD, but no others--I know, I know, but I'm fairly new to Who fandom, and I am not buying VHS tapes that won't even fit anywhere in a year or so. It also includes selected Big Finish audios, which are delightful on the whole. A parting note before I dive in to Doctor number 6: I love the new series, I love the old series, I love all the Doctors, and I love pretty much every companion, so, any criticism or picking which follows, comes from a place of love.

I have been stalling on writing this post for ages--months, literally. I adore Colin Baker's Doctor; I really do. But his era on the show...let's just say that it has some serious problems. For these, I blame quite a few folks, most notably the producer, John-Nathan Turner, and, more importantly, the script editor, Eric Saward. Saward's influence was starting to show itself strongly by Peter Davison's last season--the stories were darker, the violence more pervasive. Doctor Who has always had death--during Saward's tenure, however, violence came to be a way of being. In my opinion, Colin Baker and his Doctor suffered mightily because of it.

For almost his entire reign, THE Colin Baker was paired with Peri (Ha! paired with Peri...um, played by Nicola Bryant with an occasionally dodgy American accent), one of the lesser Doctor Who companions, I feel. She's generally written to be rather shrill and disagreeable which, paired with the 6th Doctor's pomposity and arrogance, makes the whole Doctor/companion pairing rather unpleasant at times. His time with Mel is so short as to almost be unable to judge; for my part, I actually prefer this pairing--to be fair, though, the Trial of a Time Lord season has much better dynamics between the Doctor and his companions troughout.

And so Colin Baker may never have had the chance truly to shine the 6th Doctor if it were not for the wonderful performance that he gives on the Big Finish audios. I've heard several of the 6th Doctor stories, and they range from rather good to quite delightful. It's still very much the 6th Doctor, but with more the feel of Trial than of The Twin Dilemma. Special notice must be payed to Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe, who is such a perfect foil for the 6th Doctor that it makes one wish that she had been his companion in the series.

It was a very interesting, and I think worthy, experiment to have a disagreeable Doctor who harkened back to the 1st Doctor in his rough edges and fussy demeanor. Unfortunately, though, the show has changed in the 21 years since it had debuted--the public no longer had an interest in a crotchety man--gruff was no longer suitable for the Doctor. It's a pity, really, especially as his characterization had toned down markedly by the time his tenure was abruptly ended. After just two full seasons and one episode, the Doctor was forcibly regenerated--but this time, it wasn't the Time Lords who forced the change; it was the BBC. I can't say I blame Colin for his decision not to come back and film a regeneration sequence, though I imagine that, if asked today about it, he might give a different answer. However, for the last time in the classic series, the time for a new Doctor had come and the show was preparing to enter what turned out to be its final flowering. But oh, what a flowering McCoy and his Doctor gave us.

As for recommendations, I say go for The Mark of the Rani, which I think is a lovely little story--and The Two Doctors which is much better than it has any business being, but I think a lot of that is down to Troughton's 2nd Doctor and the legendary Robert Holmes. The Trial season is very ambitious and occasionally quite good, but rather uneven and, I fear, mainly interesting as a curiosity. If you want to really experience how great the 6th Doctor can be, go for the audios. Sure they're not canon, but they're ripping stories. The One Doctor is a must-listen, and Doctor Who and the Pirates is one of the most gripping, interesting, profound, and moving stories I think Who has ever done in any format. Go listen to it. Now.

Comments

  1. I completely and utterly agree with you about Evelyn, she's bloody good. I'm looking forward to Colin's pairing with Jamie in next year's Big Finishes, at least he's getting some better companions now.

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  2. Hi Erik. Enjoyed this blog entry. I'm a big Sixth Doctor fan, always have been since day 1. You're right, of course, that Old Sixie really comes into his own in Big Finish. They've done an excellent job of writing not only good stories for the Doctor, but great parts for the companions. Peri and Mel are far more enjoyable in the audios. I personally love the "Trial" season, in spite of all its problems. And I think that the one proper story we get with Colin and Bonnie together ("Vervoids") shows that they had the potential to be a really great pairing. But you hear that again in BF stories like "The One Dogtor" (really brilliant, thoroughly enjoyable story) and "The Juggernauts". Great stuff. If you've not listened to BF's adaptation of the first story from the 'original' Season 23, "The Nightmare Fair", I highly recommend it. And the next one features the 'at long last' return of Sil! He was the best character the show came up with in the latter years. Anyway, thanks for the blog.

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