The sixth Doctor's era
The Sixth Doctor, ("I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not!"), adopted a garish attire and matching personality at first, but later mellowed and became a champion of those made powerless by the tyrannous.
A Review by David Rosenthal 20/6/06
Well Colin Baker... don't laugh, but he was my favorite Doctor. I even loved his multicolored coat and the cat lapel. I liked his crankiness similer to William Hartnell's Doctor. For example in The Twin Dilemma he said "stop addressing me as Doc Perpugilliam." He even said he didn't like Peter Davison the Fifth Doctor; he said bad stuff about him. That's never ever happened in the history of Doctor Who. You've got to award him for that.
Colin Baker was a great Doctor. He was crabby and touchy. He was just a great Doctor. He had a great first line after he regenerated in Caves of Androzani: "Change my dear and, it seems, not a moment too soon." This was the beginning of the Colin Baker era. Michael Grade hated his guts and that's why he got fired.
In Trial of a Time Lord he delivers one of the most famouse lines in Who history. It goes like this: "In all my travels throughout the universe I have fought against evil, against power mad conspirators..." and it goes on. His Doctor was very dramatic, very Shakespearean. He also had feelings, like when it looked like Peri had died in Mindwarp, a segment of Trial of the Time Lord, he is absolutley horrified.
Colin Baker was great. He had true emotion and worked great with Peri. Colin you were my favorite Doctor; too bad your era had to be so short. He was great his best story was Trial of a Time Lord. I loved him. I wish he would have lasted longer than just over two years and I almost fainted when I saw Sylvestor McCoy in a wig playing him in the regeneration sequence for Time and the Rani. So Colin you were great and you were my favorite.
"Molotov Cocktail" by Thomas Cookson 15/10/13
I think it's time I properly reckoned with my mixed feelings and issues with the Sixth Doctor, who, despite his faults, represented the closest JNT and Saward ever came to 'getting' the show.
I've joined in the lynching of Colin's era, yet I now feel slightly cheap for doing so. Just like I cringe at how fandom praised Eccleston's run, simply because fans felt reassured that the leather jacket had finally vanquished the multicoloured coat's spectre.
Paul Cornell even contrived a theory that the Sixth Doctor subconsciously killed himself (Warriors' Gate style) in order to put the mad pariah back in the attic, and allow the 'right' Doctor to come forth. The idea Colin was 'the regeneration gone wrong' bothers me, because the Fifth Doctor was the true failure. He just gets the pity vote that Colin doesn't.
I think Cornell was partly responsible for the fallacious PC thinking in fandom that only unenlightened macho undesirables could prefer the thuggish Sixth Doctor over Davison's more pacifist 'new age sensitive Doctor'. As though there's something 'beautiful' or (God help us!) 'inspiring' about the Fifth Doctor's impotence.
Frankly, I'd take the Doctor acting reprehensibly over him doing nothing.
But there's no escaping that Colin's Doctor only seems radical because he comes after the Fifth Doctor. If he'd followed Tom Baker, he'd probably seem like nothing special. Just a witless imitator. The inferior model.
With the show still ostensibly being made as soulless product, Colin's era nearly captured the show's heart, about facing the strange and unknowable, and the alien outsider providing a misanthropic, critical view of humanity's worst nature, yet was so far from it.
Perhaps had Colin's run lasted 7 years, he'd have still remained stained by The Twin Dilemma's moronic strangulation scene. Clearly no one had power of veto anymore on JNT's worst decisions. What's unclear is what the hell he was thinking. But I think by now he was simply chemically run, the show having long succumbed to his wino's vision.
Given JNT's desire to appeal to convention crowds, Colin as a knowledgeable long-term fan with concrete ideas about the character, seemed perfect casting. Colin suggested getting back to Hartnel's untrustworthy incarnation. Perhaps JNT figured it worked once and that he had a loyalty audience who'd 'get' it. This explains both the decision to make Colin's Doctor unstable and unlikeable and also the half-hearted aimlessness surrounding it. JNT was translating someone else's idea.
Still, it was a better idea than conceiving the character/narrative vacuum that was the Fifth Doctor.
It takes a while before Colin even feels like the Doctor. Attack of the Cybermen would be a far better debut for Colin, but he still isn't there. It's obvious why, given the ambiguous joint authorship, it's inevitably patchy, inconsistent and falls between two stools. Same with the Doctor's characterisation. I can enjoy Colin's charisma in the junkyard scenes, but it's clearly overcompensating for poor character substance.
Then, when he's called to mourn over Lytton for no worthy reason, it's clear he's as much a puppet as his predecessor was in Warriors of the Deep. In fact, Lytton's inconsistent character motivations (Maurice Colburne's performance just about holding the character together) illuminates how badly Saward writes even characters he likes. No wonder the Doctor's gone off the rails.
Are continuity references really the problem? Well, Ian Levine completely missed what makes dramatic television when envisioning a plot revolving around the Cybermen plotting to undo an historical event that's not due for another year. Hardly 'race against time' material.
Like in Warriors of the Deep, it's also obvious the Doctor's voice has been co-opted by Levine whenever he's reciting pointless, inaccurate continuity references, or throwing hissy fits at any character who dares not recognise the importance of these past elements. There you're just watching a myopic cosplayer pretending to be the Doctor.
Vengeance on Varos is intelligent stuff that should work on the same all-encompassing terms as Genesis of the Daleks or The Five Doctors. This time as the Sawardiverse in microcosm. Where better to encapsulate this violent, nasty universe than a prison planet?
But it doesn't feel like Doctor Who. And this doesn't feel like the Doctor. There are no defining moments for him. Any that should be, end up coming off as too flippant. And there's no noble mission for him beyond picking up some fuel. So the unpleasant scenes stand out, from his crassly self-indulgent behaviour when the TARDIS breaks down, to the infamous acid bath scene, where the fact is he initiated that fight when he could have snuck away. But that in itself describes the thoughtless aimlessness on-screen.
It's not the first time weak directionless plotting and negligent production has given rise to morally sickening moments. See The Chase or Invasion of Time, where the Doctor is responsible for all deaths that take place and seems utterly calloused about it. But those stories had just enough charm to keep you on side. Here the graphicness of the violence leaves the more stinging, excessive impression. Somehow this story doesn't come together. It's half-baked, angry raw product. Plentiful foundations but no real plot. Fans usually hate Mission to Magnus with good reason (the audio version's worth hearing for Nabil's performance, but the arranged-marriage finale, with implications of marital rape, is sickening), but I think Philip Martin was closer to 'getting' Doctor Who there than he was here. I think Varos suffered because the ever-suspicious-minded JNT showed little faith in his script, and, unlike Terrance Dicks or Robert Holmes, Martin had no long familiarity with the show to fall back on.
Like Enlightenment, you could probably trace the story's roots and bedfellows to Carnival of Monsters and The Mind Robber, with bits of The Sunmakers and The Celestial Toymaker. Yet the story's playing field just feels far more limited and unenchanting, despite how many ideas have gone into this world to make it feel truly lived in. It feels constrained and convulsing, yet simultaneously stretched too long and thin.
Mark of the Rani is where Colin's Doctor begins to seem like the Doctor. The main reason being that Pip and Jane Baker are very self-important, humourless writers. Whereas the above stories felt adolescent and flippant, here Colin gets to play his part straight, and tap into his old talents as a former lawyer, and gets to play the moral missionary he always should have been. When holding the Master and Rani at gunpoint, or subjecting them to his razor sharp wit, Colin demonstrates both teeth and restraint, and actually brings a tension and cool to a dull story that's otherwise the furthest thing from cool.
The Two Doctors is the season's most full-blooded story, courtesy of Robert Holmes' richer brand of characterisation. Yet the aftereffect is distinctly sour and nasty. What's more, it doesn't actually feel like a multi-Doctor story. Sure Troughton is here, but it doesn't feel like a real occasion. It just feels gimmicky. A typical Doctor Who story split in two. And Colin is at his most brutish here, whether killing Shockeye or sniping at Peri.
Timelash bloats the worst, tackiest impressions of this season. Yet Colin gives it his all, milking everything from the line 'you microsephalic apostate'. Reinforcing the refreshing image of a Doctor you don't mess with.
Its tackiness overshadows the whole season. The other stories are actually quite lavishly produced, but flatly directed. JNT brought a dynamic visual flair to the show which burnt itself out on Earthshock and only occasionally returned when Fiona Cumming or Graeme Harper were behind the camera.
Revelation of the Daleks is the last hurrah. Mindwarp and The Ultimate Foe have visually striking moments, but the Trial season makes the whole thing blur into flatly shot courtroom tedium.
Yes, Revelation of the Daleks is the season's orgasm. Like City of Death*, if the show had ended here it would have died happy, and likewise it transcends its period, proving how our show has timeless durability, delivering stories no other show could.
(*- or Enlightenment)
It's Eric's vision at its most forward-looking. The thing is, Eric just about gets the art of euphoric visual storytelling. But, when writing the Doctor, he tends to project his own passive-aggressive personality onto him. In his own stories that just about works, allowing the audience to remain on the same page as our hero. When he edits other writer's scripts, the audience usually ends up left not even in the same book.
Eric believed Colin worked better as supporting character actor than leading man. In Revelation of the Daleks, this works (although the depressingly humourless 80s TV forum saddoes constantly bash its Doctor-lite format and comedy for apparently pre-empting the RTD era). The Doctor's only actions involve discreetly kicking a gun to Orcini and shooting a Dalek's eyepiece. Fans would say these are unDoctorish actions, typical of this maladjusted incarnation. But they're smart moves that pay off. By basing the story's model on Genesis of the Daleks, Eric finally gets it. The Doctor's not a pacifist, but he recognizes how even evil has its place, and he prefers using subtle, deflective action, whilst remaining stoic, contained, and conserving his energies. It's about doing 'the right kind of a little'.
Since Davison was such a rigid, sanctimonious, sanitised figure, there was no possibility of change or growth for him. He could only regress, as happens when the hero's journey becomes forcibly reversed. Davison started as a newly formed figure, only just piecing himself together. He seemed capable of a zero casualty success rate in Kinda, making him seem a step above his previous incarnations, yet this seemed more down to sanitised scripting. Then Season 20 diminished all hope in him, and Warriors of the Deep exposed his hopeless idiocy and incapability of competence or common sense. Nothing can ever redeem that.
The Sixth Doctor, however, was capable of actual growth.
Trial continued Resurrection of the Daleks' existentialist reckonings with the Doctor's moral purpose. It's also where Robert Holmes revisits the Doctor's fundamental duality as a rebel against a society of detached, sanctimonious snobs, whilst simultaneously being a product of that society. The shocking Mindwarp segment wouldn't be possible with any other Doctor, and Peri's death was so nearly Colin's most defining moment and turning point, where the once cavalier, reckless Doctor becomes driven by guilt and a determined conviction of 'never again'.
Alas, it never reached conclusion. Under Pip and Jane's emergency effort, Peri's death is undone, the Valeyard descends into pantomime villainy, the Ravalox business is forgotten in favour of the Vervoid story, rendering the Doctor's "I should have stayed here" speech moot. Whilst Holmes's script argued that information should be free from elitist control, Pip and Jane wrote about information thieves getting their comeuppance.
Then Colin got booted, but sadly the show now needed to jettison his era's mess anyway.
Peri's departure was particularly long overdue. She and Colin never worked. In the movie Like Crazy, when the romantic leads are arguing, you sorely want them to make it up because you like them. When Colin and Peri bicker like obnoxious children, you just want them to get off your screen.
The Sixth Doctor travelling alone as a dark, twisted shaman, helping mortals I think would've worked better. The 80's horror zeitgeist, which inspired stories like The Two Doctors, was crucially about the necessity of embracing a bit of the darkness in order to face and fight it. Unfortunately, Saward had no consistent understanding of where the line is, or how survival horror depends on characters exhibiting survival instincts. Davison's era gradually destroyed the crucial suspension of disbelief that the show depends on. That our hero has plausibly survived for centuries in a savage universe. With Davison, it's scarcely plausible he'd have survived a day, or that anyone would willingly take a bullet for him whilst he procrastinated. Colin redressed that believability, but too late.
Ultimately, the maladjusted, cavalier Doctor, who battles tyranny on its own terms, was a brilliant idea that happened to the wrong people.