6 Ways the Sixth Doctor from Doctor Who Got Screwed

By Andy Hughes in Daily Lists, TV
Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 8:06 am
sixth doctor who.jpg
In 1984, Peter Davison left Doctor Who as his version of the Doctor, the gentle, much-loved fifth, regenerated into the sixth. Producer John Nathan-Turner and others on the production staff felt it was time to take the series in another direction and perhaps return to the darkness and ambiguity of the show's early years. The actor chosen to herald this shift in tone was Colin Baker, who had appeared in a smallish part on the show before and had made a good impression on Nathan-Turner and others at a party. The Sixth Doctor was deliberately designed to be a change of pace: brash, verbose, aggressive and manic, his on-screen behavior to become the stuff of infamy among fans. At the time, Baker was enthusiastic and speculated that he might go on to be the longest-running Doctor ever: the following debacle would make that statement seem like some sort of a sick joke, as Colin became not only the shortest-lived Doctor on TV (aside from Paul McGann's Eighth) but the most controversial as well.

Those three years have become vilified to Whovians as the low point of the entire series. There's no denying that these episodes make for rough viewing: ugly set design, unlikable characters, assloads of grim violence and hammy acting galore, to name but a few flaws. But somehow Colin seems to take the brunt of the blame for a lot of these cock-ups when he was against many of them from the beginning, or not involved with them at all. Delve deep enough into Who lore and you really start to feel sorry for the guy: he just wanted to be the Doctor. Instead he got the shit end of the stick too many times to count and still gets overlooked and ignored today. I'm not saying he's flawless as an actor or anything, and I'm definitely not saying he's my favorite Doctor, but here are just a few reasons to go a little easier on him, you microcephalic apostates.

6) He Didn't Get to Pick His Own Costume

Anyone with a pair of functioning eyeballs can point out the most obvious problem with this Doctor within seconds: that coat, those pants, that horrible baby-blanket tie. This clown vomit outfit, decreed by producer John Nathan Turner, is notorious to fans and has become kind of emblematic of all the other garish shit thrown at us during this era, from the vulgar Vervoids to Bonnie Langford's hair. It wasn't until decades later that we found out Colin agreed with us, and that his idea for a costume would have been something darker and more uniform to go with his Doctor's darker personality (watch the above clip and notice how much pain goes away after his costume "regenerates"). The harsh blow of his duds has also been lessened in recent years with the appearance of the far more palatable blue variant costume, which, while not "official", has shown up on the cover of audio dramas and even in action figure form.

5) The BBC Had It In for the Show, Regardless
It's hard to imagine a greater object of Whovian hatred than Michael Grade, BBC exec and symbol for "The Man." To many of us hardcore fans he will always remain an out-of-touch douche in a suit with more love for flash and presentation than story. It was he, the BBC Controller at the time, who condemned the show to an 18-month hiatus in 1986. Colin would have one more season ("Trial of a Timelord") before being forced to abdicate. It's true that Grade didn't like Colin, and called him "absolutely God-awful" (he was also then dating Baker's ex-wife, adding a fair amount of insult to injury, I'm sure). But Grade was not a fan of the show in general at the time and has been very vocal about his main point of contention: the production values (the reason this is kind of bullshit, as has been pointed out several times, is that Grade was in the position to give the Doctor Who team more money anyway). It's likely that the show would have met with the same fate regardless of who had been picked for Six, and I think it's fair to say Colin deserved maybe one more season than he got.

4) "Doctor in Distress"
In one of the behind-the-scenes documentaries on his era, Baker cites this as his "one regret", which is telling you something. With the show facing the threat of cancellation, 1985 must have been a desperate time for the Who production team. Somehow, though, I find it hard to believe anyone seriously thought a "Live Aid"-esque benefit single with barely any actual famous musicians onboard (unless you count The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward and a young Hans Zimmer on synth) was the answer, especially since roughly 97% of Who-based pop/rock music has been absolutely horrible ("Doctorin the Tardis" and that sweet Eurythmics mashup being notable exceptions). An astonishing amount of Who actors were roped in, including not just Colin but Nicola Bryant, Nicholas Courtney, and Anthony Ainley. I suppose they thought it was all for a good cause, and I admire their dedication, but in hindsight it seems only like one more embarrassing indignity poor Colin had to endure that didn't change anything.

3) The Other Doctors Openly Made Fun of Him
It started before he had even assumed the role. Peter Davison apparently told incumbent companion Nicola Bryant (Peri) to watch out for this crazy new guy. Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, in yet another behind-the-scenes feature, jokes about having to wear Colin's coat and "getting lost for three days". But the most blatant jabs come here when a bearded, disheveled Patrick Troughton (who wasn't exactly Slim Goodbody himself by this point) makes hilariously unsubtle fun of Colin's weight, calling him Miss Piggy multiple times on New Jersey public television. Of course he apologizes and it's all meant in jest, but it probably would have been easier to laugh had Colin got along in the role better than he did.

2) No Regeneration Scene
Admittedly this was Colin's decision, but you can't entirely blame him. According to him, he was dismissed from the show and then asked to do a regeneration in the same breath by JNT: wouldn't you feel a little insulted? Instead (and I hate to break this to you if you never realized it, but it must be done) Colin did not appear in the opening of successor Sylvester McCoy's first episode, "Time and the Rani" -- that's McCoy in a frizzy blonde wig with special effects all over his face. It's actually pretty well-done considering the circumstances, but it's still a shame Baker doesn't have a proper onscreen torch-passing death or any real last words (unless you count "Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice" from the previous episode).

1) His Character Would've Gotten Better Later On
The "Trial of a Timelord" season may have been a mess, but it would also have been a milestone had Baker's time not been cut so miserably short. See, much of the problem with the Sixth Doctor stems from his instability: in many of his early episodes, he is shown to have terrifying mood swings, strangling his companion one second and quietly feeling sorry for himself the next. Many fans were repulsed and non-fans seized the chance to pounce on the show's new violent content and more cynical tone. The thing is, this was never supposed to be permanent. As the later episodes show, Baker's character was only meant to start out repulsive and unpredictable: future events, especially the death of his companion, were to galvanize him and help him become more of a hero again. It may not have been handled the best, but this is still an example of character development over the course of a series. The many audio dramas Baker has done since attest to this.

So, essentially, the writers attempted to give their character an arc and everyone involved was punished for it. It baffles me that something so essential to television writing nowadays was apparently too much for the mid-eighties. The writing obviously wasn't up to par with this concept, but it's a still a shame it didn't get to come to fruition. Furthermore, Colin's "lost season" sounds awesome and would have featured the return of the Ice Warriors, the Master, and even the fucking Celestial Toymaker (who could have been played by the original actor, Michael Gough)! On the plus side, stories from this lost season have recently been made into audio dramas by Big Finish, available for download at their website: have at them, and spare a moment or two for what might have been...

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