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In Defense of Colin Baker

Guest contributor Russel McLean makes a case for 6th Doctor.

cbaker-capaldi

With a new Doctor on the way – in the form of Peter Capaldi – fandom is working itself into anticipation regarding the nature of Capaldi’s Doctor. What will he be like? What will define his personality? Will he be – as many suspect – a dark Doctor? Will he evoke any of his predecessors? Capaldi asks Clara whether he is a good man, and it is a question that echoes the sentiments of fandom – we want to know who this new Doctor is and whether he fits our ideal of the character. Every Doctor is different, of course, and every Doctor has both met and defied the expectations laid upon them. But none of them have caused quite so much… difference of opinion… as the man in the universe’s most retina-wrecking coat, Colin Baker.

The Big Finish audio adventures, that have now been running for 15 years, giving us new adventures with classic Doctors, have achieved many great things, but perhaps one of the most spectacular achievements was showing the Who fanbase that Colin Baker had the chops to be a magnificent Doctor. In audio, given room to breathe, and, more importantly, given scripts that were halfway decent, Baker finally started to edge his way up fan polls of “best Doctor”, something that justified his casting after years of lazily concocted character assassinations and general consensus that he was the reason Who in the Eighties started to wobble and fall from its once great height of popularity.

But I only started listening to Big Finish a few weeks ago (and, boy, am I impressed, especially with Baker, who manages to capitalise on the potential I’m about to expound upon), so have long been considered something of an oddball for daring to say that Baker was actually excellent in the role and that the Sixth Doctor was in fact one of the most daring performances given in the show (admittedly, even if it did backfire).

Now, I am in no way pretending that Colin Baker was better than, say Troughton, or even Tom at his best. No, that would be daft. But Baker’s performance was a breath of fresh air after years of Peter Davison who, through no fault of his own, always made me think of a slightly concerned primary school teacher trying to coral a bunch of disobedient toddlers through time and space (something that had changed only marginally by the time Peri came on board). There was something in the writing of Davison’s Doctor that was just too… nice. Even when he got irritated you felt as though it was something that would pass. On the plus side, of course, he neatly got set up the Cybermen so that they could get rid of Adric without the Doctor getting his hands dirty (oh, come on, was there anyone in the world really that upset by the death of the world’s most irritating traveller through time and space?).

colin-baker-profileColin Baker’s Doctor, on the other hand, arrived with a bang that echoed throughout most of his run. The idea that something went wrong with his regeneration and that he could not control his emotions (resulting in that near-strangulation when he believed Peri to be an alien spy) was brilliant, and of course there was initially a plan that he would soften over the course of a few years, coming to terms with who and what he was. A great idea in practice, but apparently not one that the writers of the time were able to signpost or properly build into the accepted narrative arc of Who. At that time, who had heard of multi-season plotting? Even the much vaunted Key To Time was merely a selection of standalone stories with an ever-so-slight fetch-quest connection between them. And so Baker appeared to the viewing public at large to be a much more violent Doctor for no apparent reason. This is probably what set forth the myths about his apparent continuing violence, something that greatly upset audiences and critics at the time.

But Baker is more subtle than that when you watch the stories more closely. His Doctor is loud, brash, egotistical and vainglorious, yes. But the Doctor has always been so to greater or lesser degrees in each incarnation. These qualities are merely turned up to 11 with his sixth regeneration, resulting in a character who – like Matt Smith would be many years later in comparison to the preceding David Tennant – appears far more alien than some of us are comfortable with. There are some great scenes at the beginning of the Two Doctors where he tries to tell Peri how he sees the universe in different terms, how there really is a bigger picture. Much like the beginning of Pyramids of Mars where Tom Baker’s doctor reminds Sarah Jane Smith that he is “…a Time Lord. I walk in eternity.”

Doctor Number Six is fascinating in his unpredictability but he is no more or less violent than his predecessors (people conveniently forget that Pertwee employed Venusian akido on an almost minute-by-minute basis and indulged in sword play with the Master during the Sea Devils when there was no earthly – or universally – good reason for him to do so at all). But he does react differently. The infamous acid bath scene in Vengeance on Varos does not show the doctor in such a bad light as people say. In fact, one could say that the death of the guard is a result of self-defence and as such unavoidable. Had the doctor not defended himself, he would have been killed. He is also unaware of what the guard is about to fall into. His apparent lack of remorse is not because he doesn’t care but because he knows there is nothing left for him to do. Unlike Davison before him, Baker’s doctor does not stand around hand wringing and fretting and letting events fall apart while he does practically nothing. He knows that he has to act and quickly. Although his haste is often his undoing, he acts with purpose and unerring self-belief. And his propensity for bad jokes means that at moments such as this, he seems more callous than perhaps he might otherwise be.

If you want to see Baker at his finest, you watch Revelation of the Daleks. His pomposity is tempered by his compassion when dealing with the mutant that Peri accidentally kills , but more importantly we see, towards the end of the story, his willingness to understand a situation. He may seem harsh to us in the way that he allows Orcini to explode his bomb (he did, earlier, state that, “I wish to explode it”) resulting in death and casualties throughout Tranquil repose, but he is a Doctor who has become aware of the bigger picture. Almost compensating for his previous incarnation’s inability to pull the trigger on Davros when he had the chance. It is an overcompensation, of course, but that is part of what makes Doctor Six so fascinating: he is a more morally complex man than he has been before. He disapproves of violence almost as much as his previous incarnations and yet he is reluctantly aware of this power.

In today’s Who, Baker would be granted scripts that explored his Doctor’s personality and quirks, allowing them to develop over time and in planned and appropriate fashion. Back in the 80’s, Baker had to bring more to the role than the scripts allowed and indeed he often managed in subtle and strange ways to do this. His time on television is often an example of the show at its worst, but when it shines – and most of the time it shines through Baker himself – you can see a Doctor with the potential to be one of the most intriguing, unsettling and yet still-Doctorly Doctors of them all.

Step back in time...

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133 comments
measkren
measkren

A very good article, but a bit short to my mind.  I would have enjoyed more examination of Baker's stories, including some of those from Big Finish, to show his gradual softening, and perhaps some comparison with Capaldi.  However, I have always felt that Colin Baker got a bum deal in the way he was treated on televised Who.  He really is a very good actor and is very warm and personable in real life.

AuntieKate
AuntieKate

So delighted to read this article!  Colin Baker is "my Doctor", and both he and the series appeared in my life at a time of great emotional challenges that kept me off-balance and looking a bit "strange" to outsiders.  Watching the Doctor deal with these issues while nonetheless repeatedly saving the universe was a beacon guiding me to my own inner strength.  I can honestly say that I wonder if I would have survived the mid-1980s with my sanity intact, if it had not been for the Sixth Doctor. 

davidbrummy
davidbrummy


Colin's time as the Doctor was beset with bad decisions, run of the mill companions and poor stories.  Let alone Grade wanting the money for Eastenders.  

JJJ567
JJJ567

I've definitely grown to appreciate his Big Finish run from what I've listened to. He's toned down a lot and he has good material to work with. I enjoy Colin as an actor and I'd love to meet him someday. He's not my favorite Doctor. I actually prefer my Doctor a little more..."human" if you will like Davison, McGann, and Tennant. However, Colin has a special place in my heart as the Doctor as well. 

DamianChristie
DamianChristie

Fantastic article - you sum everything I have ever said about the Sixth Doctor. I'm also a great admirer of Colin Baker, who I've met a couple of times. He is easily one of the nicest guys in the business and his passion for Doctor Who remains as effusive as ever! He deserved the opportunity to prove himself on TV for longer than he did and it is fantastic that he has been able to redeem himself through the Big Finish audios.

Polyphase
Polyphase

What a great article, well done. I must admit that I can't argue with any of it. I have always felt for Colin and the way he was treated at the time :)

Seaborn W Deadman
Seaborn W Deadman

Colin Baker is not the top of my list, I'll admit, but honestly half of that owes to his costume. Very dreadful decision in my opinion. Otherwise, once you can look past the rainbow, he really is a very lovely Doctor. He's complex, and harder to love at first, and it made for a very unique and interesting period of the show. I think he gets a bit of a negative reputation mostly just from first impressions. He's a Doctor you have to stick with for a bit to learn to like him.

TimeLordVictorious
TimeLordVictorious

I've never felt the need to defend colin simply because his performance as the doctor was sublime, regardless of the writing. the stories were wobbly yes but colin baker has not and never will need defending. I should add that the article is fantastic though :)




Sue_DeNimm
Sue_DeNimm

Did Colin have cr*p scripts and indeed, very bad input from the producer - oh yes. But he is one of those actors who could rise above it and put in a thoroughly watchable performance, making what wasn't very good far better than it had any right to be. And in the Big Finish episodes he is IMHO clearly the best, developing his Doctor in the way he should have developed. He took a dreadful idea for a costume and strode round in it, making even that ghastly object seem reasonable, to the point that I actually grew to like it. His character - passionate, far from infallible, genuinely angry at injustice, his willingness to stride into danger. Dammit - He was the Doctor when the bad scripts and production values made it impossible to get it right. But he was also the Doctor more than anybody else. Before or since. (What's the point of a good quote if you can't change it...)



Baker Street is scared... LISTEN...
Baker Street is scared... LISTEN...

Thanks for writing this article, I myself have always been a fan of Six. I love his loud, authoritative and erratic behaviour, and think that it just makes for a really interesting character. Of course, the incarnation wasn't developed too well thanks to, as mentioned in the article, no multi-series arcs and poor character writing (although I do rate his two seasons quite highly thanks to the cool plots), and it's a shame we never got Season 23, which, in my opinion, would not only have saved Colin Baker's Doctor from criticism, but might have even ensured the show wasn't cancelled when it was. Although, who knows with Michael Grade there!

I also love the idea about the way Six reacted in Vengeance on Varos, I've never really thought about it like that before! And I agree about Peter Davison - while he was good, I do agree that he could sometimes be a bit too nice.

Great article!



ajl117
ajl117

I would actually like to see an article in defence of Adric. For some reason I never picked up the hate from him that everyone else has. If anything I find him LESS irritating than  Tegan!

Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

What kind of sick minded psycho who dares to call himself a Doctor Who fan would even consider writing an article justifying the crazed luntic that is the 6th Doctor? There's no need to justify him because he's a brilliant Doctor and one of the best there is.

In all seriousness, great article. Old 6y will always be one if my favourites, in no small part thanks to the efforts of Big Finish.

mczolly
mczolly

I think most of the classic fandom appreciates his Doctor now. If not, maybe they should hate the stupid BBC leaders back then. I've recently listened to the "lost" Season 23 and it was wonderful!

ChristineGrit
ChristineGrit

Thanks for this article. I couldn't agree more, especially concerning your important points about Vengeance and Revelation. I've been listening to the BF audio dramas of the 6th Doctor for quite some time now, and the only thing left to say is that you should continue listening. They get better and better and Colin is excellent! There's a new Trilogy coming up, and I'm really looking forward to them.

jmzlink
jmzlink

I can't say enough nice things about the man, and it's good to hear him getting the praise that he richly deserves. "He was the Doctor on the day it was impossible to be the Doctor" as they kind of said in the Day of the Doctor, but as Six said "What's the use of a good quotation if you can't change it". 

I love Colin Baker's portrayal. For me it will always be linked with my teenage years and I really identified with a Doctor that had gone from being perceived as good, friendly and loveable into an unpredictable, egotist with really awful fashion sense. 


I met Colin Baker back in 2005 and he asked what I thought of the new series. I said I was really enjoying it, but that I had really enjoyed his incarnation of the Doctor, that I had been really upset when he had left, and thought he had been treated appallingly by the BBC. He put his arm around my shoulders, thanked me and told me what a thoroughly decent chap I was. 


Great Doctor, great guy.

Diana van der Pluijm
Diana van der Pluijm

Thank you for this lovely article. I keep hearing from a friend that Colin is amazing in the audio books and  I've been thinking about listening to the Big Finish audio books, but you've convinced me to start RIGHT NOW!

12th Doctor
12th Doctor

I don't know why people don't like Colin Baker's 6th Doctor. I like him. I've got 2 Baker DVDs in my Classic-Who collection: The Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors. I love both these episodes and I think Baker is excellent in them.

Ottoman14
Ottoman14

Baker was let down by the producers and writers. If he had been allowed more creative freedom, his Doctor would have had a black leather jacket, which would have been an excellent contrast to the 5th Doctor. I blame JNT and the BBC for the perceived failure of his tenure. The 6th Doctor remains very interesting- I personally much prefer watching him than say Davison, because he was so unpredictable.

Christoph1337
Christoph1337

The problem with Colin, I feel is that he was the classic victim of people not being ready for change. The Sixth Doctor followed hot on the heels of Tom "Do I have the right?" Baker, and Peter Davison, who refused to pull the trigger even on Davros, the man responsible for creating the greatest force of hatred in the universe, so it was a bit of a jarring change to see the guy choking Peri in his very first episode. Audiences in the 80's simply weren't ready for his kind of character, which is why he is often look poorly upon in retrospect. (Well, that and "The Twin Dilemma". As unfairly criticized as 6 is, there is absolutely no excuse for that story.) If anything, Colin reminds me a lot of what we've seen of the Twelfth Doctor. "Yes, she's my carer: she cares so I don't have to." 

Switcharoo
Switcharoo

Ah Colin. Poor Colin. 

If true Doctory greatness were to be measured by dedication, ambition and commitment to the role, then you'd surely be held aloft by your peers on a throne of brash, Technicolour brilliance. 

Alas though.....its not.....so instead you're rather tragically dismissed by the masses as 'the one who got sacked'. Such a pity.....and a unfortunate legacy that could so easily have been avoided. 

In order to fully appreciate the character of Six, its best to extricate the 'man' from his era, or more precisely, his era's misplaced creative decisions.....decisions that ultimately led to his untimely dismissal. 

Y'see Colin - the actor - is great. Really, really great. Performance wise.....he never puts a foot wrong. Granted he's often loud, and a touch bombastic, but as a performer he's never anything less than totally engaging, and completely commanding. As a Doctor, he dominates every scene he's in, be it his playful cunning, exuberant pride or fearsome indignation. The man's a marvel. 

But.....and its a big but (no, not his big butt.....cheeky).....the programme's mid Eighties ethos and general direction (or rather lack of direction) was to be a major detriment to this rather magnificent incarnation. His stories were a mixed affair at best, with the occasional nuggets of narrative Gold ('Revelation', 'Vengeance',) often obscured by mediocrity ('Two Doctors', 'Trial') and outright dross ('Timelash', 'Twin Dilemma'). This unpredictable and often lacklustre level of storytelling, and the show's new found predilection for gratuitous violence - combined with the Doctor's new found fondness for unnecessary sadistic quips - often made for uncomfortable viewing. And all the authority imbued by Colin was seriously, seriously, undone by a total costuming misstep. Yes, the Doctor's attire is often eccentric, and always distinctive, but it should never, ever, be ridiculous to the point of parody.....and dressing the Doctor as space age clown was indeed an outlandish indulgence too far.....a total mistake.....and no amount of all new, retrospective, appreciation can disguise the fact that Six's attire seriously undermined the character's credibility, and ultimately contributed to a wider public perception that 'Doctor Who' had become a bit of a joke. 

Add to this a Doctor/companion relationship that was often fractious at best, and you can see why viewers started to look elsewhere for a bit of tea time escapism. Shame! But still, this audience exodus cannot be laid exclusively at the door of Colin. Yes, the decision to initially offer an abrasive, unpredictable Doctor was a risk, but the long term character dividends could have been immense. 

Still.....it was a brave creative choice, from Colin.....a very talented actor.....and a very memorable Doctor.




Venawesomeo
Venawesomeo

I think the main reason was that the character was before his time. Audiences back then simply weren't used to anti-heroes... especially an anti-hero which, a series before, had been the happy, fresh-faced Peter Davison. 

Nowadays we have loads so he'd probably be well received (as long as he wore his blue outfit rather than his traditional one). I mean, c'mon... how could anyone not love Trial of a Time Lord?

Xaven
Xaven

When I say that I like all the Doctors, and that all of them are my favorite, that includes the Sixth Doctor. One of my favorite lines from Doctor Who is one of his lines, from Trial of a Time Lord, when he learns of the actions of the High Council. 

"In all my travelings throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power mad conspirators! I should have stayed here! The oldest civilization: decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core! Power mad conspirators! Daleks! Sontarans! Cybermen! They're still in the nursery compared to us! Ten million years of absolute power! That's what it takes to be really corrupt!"

SonicTheHedgehogRules
SonicTheHedgehogRules

Colin Baker. The Sixth Doctor. Personally? He's my favorite incarnation of the Time Lord. There's something so interesting about this particular incarnation. He ditches his nice guy attitude from previous incarnations to something that's a little less nonsense and a bit more straight to the point. His clothing screams alien. but maybe that was so everyone knew he was there, in their presence.  I still want a replica of that jacket, BBC! I don't care how much it is, JUST GIMMIE!!! But seriously though, his costume is absolutely amazing, and perhaps the most detailed and eccentric thing the Doctor has ever worn in all his lives. His tenure without a Sonic is also a beneficial one, I feel. A bit more hands on and grittier with the situation at hand, and less "flick a switch to make stuff happen". I love the Sixth Doctor. I have all his episodes, I plan on getting all his Doctor Who Magazine strips, and one day, get every one of his Big Finish audio stories. I've always thought that when someone has a favorite Doctor, they pick it because it reflects a small part of their personality, and that's how I feel with the 6th Doctor. Colin Baker brought this incarnation alive and I cannot thank him enough for making his mark on a wonderful show.

ilyootha
ilyootha

Brilliant article. I don't do "favourite/least favourite Doctors", but if I did, I imagine Colin Baker would have ended up somewhere very close to the top of the list. He is a fantastic Doctor and it's a shame that he got some of the worst TV scripts (insert the obligatory Timelash anagram joke here) - fortunately, Big Finish helped him to become loved by many fans. From what we've learned about Series 8 over the months, it seems like Capaldi's Doctor will share a number of similarities with Bakers's, which is something I'm rather looking forward to - as long as it doesn't include starngling companions after regeneration, of course!




KristiStoneman
KristiStoneman

Colin Baker's Doctor is one of my favorites.  I like how he was a change from Peter Davison, who is another favorite of mine.  I enjoyed his relationship with Peri, which started out rough but they eventually became close friends who still argue.

They're all my favorite Doctor, even in Sherwood
They're all my favorite Doctor, even in Sherwood

"No more or less violent than his predecessors." Afraid I may have to disagree there. Swordplay and martial arts are one thing, but Six goes further. We all know about strangling Peri, but what always sticks in my mind when discussing the excesses of violence at the hands of Baker is the scene in "The Two Doctors" where he puts cyanide down a guy's throat and then holds his mouth and nose shut. That's almost more brutal than anything we've seen the Master do.

Now, I will challenge to a duel anyone says something against Colin's acting as the Doctor. ;-) mostly I just think it's a great example if what a terrible producer JNT was



BraydenAnsell
BraydenAnsell

@Seaborn W Deadman I agree, it was a very dreadful decision. But the thing is; it wasn't his decision. He wanted something similar to what Christopher Eccleston would wear.

saintiker1
saintiker1

@TimeLordVictorious Indeed seems to me that Colin gets a bad rap more through ignorance than anything else. Majority of fans who have seen his run hold him in high regard. 

chrisew
chrisew

@ajl117 I never got the hate for Adric, other than it seems like young actors in genre shows often take more heat than usual. Gaiman put children in one episode last season, and loads of people griped about it. As for Matthew Waterhouse's acting - is he really any worse than anyone else on the show during that era? I recall some horrendous acting, both from the guest cast and the regulars. I've heard Davison say that they were barely given time to rehearse, and it shows.

mczolly
mczolly

Don't you dare wait another minute! :) Maybe you can start with one of his short story antologies. The recent one, Breaking Bubbles is absolutely phenomenal.


Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@Manyname The Doctor can be mean and rude to everyone else, but there has to be a bond between the Doctor and Companion, as the Companion is ultimately the audience surrogate. The early relationship between Six and Peri as we know overstepped this mark, which tarnished his Doctor in the public eye...

They're all my favorite Doctor, even in Sherwood
They're all my favorite Doctor, even in Sherwood

@Xaven Totally agree! (as if my username weren't indication enough.) I just wish the program on the whole had lived up to his potential. Better costuming and more scenes like that one and he could've been universally held as one of the best.

Skylord Maldon
Skylord Maldon

@SonicTheHedgehogRules I agree :) I haven't seen a lot of Colin Baker but from what I have seen he is very enjoyable and I do like no nonsense attitude and I hope to see that in Peter Capaldi. On personal favourite Doctor, I like the 11th, the child like quirky nature speaks to me in a great way that makes me love the character and that darkness lurking behind that. :)


ilyootha
ilyootha

Also, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Sixth Doctor's "Technicolor Dreamcoat"! It's quite funny, and it just screams "look at me!", which suits his personality rather well


bringmeknitting
bringmeknitting

@saintiker1 @TimeLordVictorious Not necessarily ignorance. I have seen his entire TV run, more than once, and I don't like it.I won't hear a word against Colin Baker the man, he comes across as lovely and his continuing enthusiasm for the show after being treated so shabbily by the BBC is wonderful.  I'm sure most long-term fans have at least one era of the show they simply don't like, and unfortunately in my case it's the Sixth Doctor. Granted, I haven't heard much of his BF - although he sounded excellent in Light At The End to my ears. I personally don't like the TV run because I don't think much of the stories, I don't like the characterisation and the costume makes him look a more garish version of Colin Hunt in The Fast Show (yes I know that came later). He doesn't need defending from me, I don't hate him, I just didn't enjoy the TV run. I'm sure on BF he's awesome, he was in The Five(ish) Doctors. And certainly for some to blame Colin Baker for the downfall of Doctor Who in the Eighties is utterly ridiculous: he didn't write the scripts, he didn't choose to play Six as unstable and he definitely didn't ask for that monstrosity of a costume :)









chrisew
chrisew

@Planet of the Deaf @Manyname They often seemed like two people who couldn't bear to be in the same room together. All they had to do was play up the angle that Peri felt indebted to him for saving his life, and that possibly his actions had resulted in a slightly less than stable regeneration, and a lot of that would have been fixed.

thribs1
thribs1

Once you listen to most of his BF run, you'll forget all about his TV run and see him as one of the best.