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The 6th Doctor: What Worked & What Didn’t

Guest contributor Elliot Durwood examines the difficult Doctor.

colin-baker-sixth-doctor-6th

I have to admit something that could get me exiled from some factions of the Doctor Who fandom: the Sixth Doctor is my favorite. Lower your pitchforks for a moment; let me explain! I love Six because he was so wildly different from all the others, and yet remained, at his core, the Doctor; he is unique amongst the rest, and introduced a new spectrum of emotion to the Time Lord. As we near the era of the Twelfth Doctor, it is important to look back on the past, but especially Six – there is much to be learned from him.

What Worked

The Doctor – The Sixth is quite unlike any other man, in no small part because he isn’t one. He’s an alien. The Doctor seems human, but the fact of the matter is that Time Lords aren’t humans – they hide vast power and knowledge incomprehensible behind human faces. It stands to reason, then, that they should not always act as humans do. While all Doctors have had their tawdry quirks, Six wasn’t human at all. He was completely and utterly unpredictable. Despite this, he remained the Doctor. Though he could be harsh to foe and friend alike, he was always, without question, on the side of good. Earlier on, he seemed to act only in self-interest. However, as time progressed, seemingly malevolent behavior was revealed as simply how this strange man related to the world. His shouting matches with companion Peri were merely how he communicated with someone he perceived as a friend, uncomprehending of how they might seem to her. Buried under the Sixth’s overly passionate alien surface is the same Doctor we’ve always known. Unraveling that disguise is extremely exciting. In his second season, he is a much kinder Doctor – though his character development was rushed, it worked. If Colin’s time hadn’t been cut short, his character arc likely would have been far better received.

The Companions – The Sixth Doctor’s first companion came in the form of the aforementioned Peri. Peri was, as far as companions go, not terribly unique – she couldn’t have been. Her duty was to remain normal in the face of so dramatic a shift. She had become a companion under the Fifth Doctor, the polar opposite of his successor. More than ever, the companion was needed as an audience surrogate. Peri’s job was to expose all of the Sixth’s idiosyncrasies. Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker had excellent chemistry, whenever they actually stopped to be friends, making both their animosity and friendship believable. Six would do anything for her – the Doctor was still there. Peri was followed by Mel, who is widely regarded as shrill and useless. This may be because she was shrill and useless. However, under Mel, we saw a future Six – calmer, less contemptuous or bellicose, content simply to wander the universe as a more standard Doctor. Sadly, we never got to see this Doctor or how he got there – not on television.

What Didn’t

The-Twin-Dilemma-dvd

The Twin DilemmaThe Twin Dilemma killed Doctor Who, simply put. The Sixth Doctor’s first story is what everyone immediately jumps to when describing his character. Within his first few minutes, he has dawned the Satan-Clown’s Nightmare Rainbow-Coat and attempted murder. Always endearing. He proceeds to spend a good portion of the serial as an utter coward, a complete perversion of the character. On paper, it seems like a good idea – a regenerative episode where the trauma is so severe that we can’t be sure if the Doctor is still there. Unfortunately, the story itself is rather poor, especially in comparison to the much beloved Caves of Androzani. The application of the Doctor’s trauma seems less like trauma and more like the Sixth being an utter psychopath, which couldn’t be further from the truth. A Doctor’s first episode should show us what he is actually like. Compare Dilemma to the far superior “The Eleventh Hour”, which shows the Eleventh at his best, and you see where it fails – this is the Sixth at his worst. Not only that, but it was positioned awkwardly at the end of Season 21, and it would be ten months before a proper look at the Sixth Doctor would be given. Thus, for nearly a year, this is the image that sat in the head of the viewing public. When we meet Six in Attack of the Cybermen, he hasn’t much improved, still suffering from regenerative trauma, killing a man in cold blood. The Sixth Doctor would settle over the course of the season, but the damage had already been done.

Season 22 – There is no denying that the majority of the Sixth Doctor’s run was, well, “Love and Monsters” bad. At least, on its own. Colin Baker’s amazing performance makes it quite enjoyable, but a lesser entertainer certainly couldn’t have pulled it off. Attack of the Cybermen is a horrid, campy mess starring the 1980s’ god-awful excuses for Cybermen, ridden with plot holes, logical errors, and awkwardly-inserted attempts at call backs. None of this is the Sixth Doctor’s fault, of course, but the failings of script editor Eric Saward, who wrote unnecessarily dark and impossible-to-emphasize-with Who. Vengeance on Varos is better, but darker. In combination with the darker Sixth Doctor and the public’s idea of the Sixth’s nature as a craven killer, it’s a volatile combination that got Who put on hiatus out of fear it had grown to be too dark for children.

The rest of this season’s stories were maimed in other ways. Executive producer John Nathan-Turner was averse to bringing back old writers, so the end roster was made up mostly of newcomers. The results were the nonsensical The Mark of the Rani and Timelash, both of which are excellent examples of what the Sixth could have been had he come to act simply as the Doctor, but this is because neither display much ingenuity or creativity in any facet whatsoever. Robert Holmes returned for The Two Doctors, which brought back Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. However, despite the talents of all three, the story is a thinly-veiled excuse to film overseas and the two Doctors barely have any time together. At the end of this limping mess of a season, Doctor Who was ailing.

The Trial of a Time Lord – It was the idea of the production staff, when Doctor Who returned, to reflect the environment behind the scenes on screen. As such, the Season 23 that had been planned was scrapped for a story arc reflecting the “trial” environment and incorporating A Christmas Carol-esque peeks at the past, present, and future of the Doctor, presented as evidence. It fell apart. The writers weren’t told how to handle the fact that the Doctor was looking into his own timeline, and the actual trial scenes were written by Saward himself without any discussion. As such, they’re difficult to make sense of in a linear fashion, especially as Saward incorporated the idea that the wicked Valeyard was doctoring evidence. It’s impossible to say what actually transpired – is Peri really dead? Why did the Doctor act so vilely in Mindwarp? Does the Doctor remember the trial in his future, when dealing with the Vervoids? Then we come to the Valeyard himself, the antagonist of the piece. Despite Michael Jayston’s amazing performance as an evil mastermind on par with the Master, laugh and all, his evil plan doesn’t make any sense. The Valeyard is a future version of the Doctor, a byproduct of a regeneration gone wrong and the accumulation of all of his negative traits. However, the Valeyard cannot regenerate as the Doctor can, so his plan is to… go back in time and steal five of his own regenerations? The end product of Trial is a confusing mess, which garbled some potentially good stories. At the end of the season, the BBC demanded Colin Baker be fired – despite the fact that none of this could really be blamed on him.

Conclusion

Despite marking the end of the Classic series, the Sixth Doctor’s reign is not without good qualities. Colin is truly a fantastic Doctor, and his character would see greater success under the banner of Big Finish. The idea that the Doctor didn’t have to be likeable was unprecedented and echoes in every Doctor since. When Series 8 comes around, as long as it is made clear that the Doctor is still there, the production staff can give us a new take on the character. Twelve should be nothing like Eleven. As we’ve been promised a darker Doctor by Moffat himself, I hope he looks back at Seasons 22 and 23, at ol’ Sixie (as Colin calls his Doctor), and I hope Moffat can learn from it. The Sixth Doctor does not need to be shunned and forgotten, because in doing so you only deprive yourself of a great performance and a better understanding of what Doctor Who needs to do to secure its future.

Step back in time...

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103 comments
YaelMoise
YaelMoise

I think, in the end, even after all these years, the one thing that bothers me about the 6th Doctor... is how much he disliked the 5th Doctor. 


Sorry, bucko... no one insults my Doctor!

davidbrummy
davidbrummy

JNT for some reason wanted the public not to be without a Doctor at the end of season 21 so he threw in the Twin Dilemma.  It did not work.  Instead it left season 21 rather than ending on a high ending on a very low note with apparently our hero the Doctor no more.  Season 22 was ok but with Michael Grade out for blood so he could fund EastEnders we needed a great Season 23.  What we got was Robert Homes dying and Eric Saward leaving thus the plot fell apart.  Then to end it all they cast Bonnie Langford.   Noel Coward had the right idea about her.  Things did get better in Season 24 but the die was cast.  The show was scheduled against Coronation Street in a time when Video Recorders were only just becoming popular and that was that.





davidbrummy
davidbrummy

"Despite marking the end of the Classic series"  - wow



classic whovian
classic whovian

Oh boy where do I start? First of all get your facts straight Mr. Durwood...Colin's doctor did not kill anyone in "Attack of the Cybermen", he supposedly knocked out one of the 'duplicate' fake policeman left over from "Resurrection of the Daleks", the other one he didn't know he was leaving for the Cybermen! Also REALLY comparing Classic Who to 2005 Who is like comparing apples to oranges. This doctor was always quoting human poets & that's being a little human. He WAS very 'Doctorish' with his long, loud speeches that can rival any of his predecessors! You also CANNOT compare a 6-story series to a single one, his season 22 was hit & miss in my opinion, 'Attack': good, 'Vengeance': bad, 'Mark of the Rani': OK, 'Two Doctors': better, 'Timelash': BAD, 'Revelation of the Daleks': OK. When you watch Doctor Who or any sci-fi television you have to take the bad with the good; the actors & actresses performance with the story plot. Hey remember a time during the great Tom Baker era in between 'The Deadly Assassin' and 'The Invasion of Time' where to first was 'to violent', then the last story above being 'to silly'. A very thin line for the writers & producers to work around! This is unfortunately what happen to Colin Baker's era and three seasons later with the Sylvester McCoy years ending the classic series all together!! But this is just from a viewer's perspective!

craig33
craig33

I was 12 when I watched season 22 and loved it. I'll always love those stories and colins performance and Doctor. Nothing post ironic about that. Just fond childhood memories and I'll always love it. Coat and all. It wasn't colourful to appeal to kids, it was the mid eighties. Everything looked like a rainbow had been sick on it. Just watch music videos from that time. Its the era it was filmed in. Since the revival its been one drab suit after another. Can't wait for Capaldi but boring blue suit. However sharp, there's not much imagination there........ 80's Cybermen!!!!!! The best!!!!!

craig33
craig33

The 80's cybermen were the best. I love the coat. I loved season 22. A great Doctor. I recommend big finish to see the Sixth Doctors development.

Noybusiness
Noybusiness

It wasn't unprecedented. The First Doctor wasn't always likeable, and the Fourth Doctor had his abrasive moments.

WhoPotterVian
WhoPotterVian

I actuallly like the Twin Dilemma. Why? Because it's fun to watch. Simple as that.

Adric the Genius
Adric the Genius

I think the scene when the Doctor is rushing to save Peri in Mindwarp, yet he is taken away in his TARDIS by the Time Lords, is one of the best in the entire show.  The Sixth Doctor's reaction to the scene is so sad and tragic: "You... killed Peri."  Spoken in nothing more than a whisper, in this scene we realise how much the Doctor actually cared for Peri.

DeanAlexander
DeanAlexander

Colin Baker was an awful Doctor. Hammy, bombastic, melodramatic.

Jardi101
Jardi101

I love the 6th doctor himself, unfortunately none of his episodes are episodes I would rewatch, because they really didn't appeal to me. When I watched everything in order, it took an eternity to finish season 22, 23 and 24 (I know this season stars the 7th doctor).

ClassicWhovian
ClassicWhovian

I think he's a great Doctor! And even if he's your least favourite, you may still think he's great, because all the Doctor's are amazing! Personally I think Colin Baker's take on the Doctor is different, interesting and exciting. Plus Colin is a really great guy!

Liana21
Liana21

I like Six, I had my fears at the beginning for all the critics I'd heard, it was the last Classic Doctor I met and I did it "protected" behind one of my favourites, Patrick Throughton. But he grew on me, he's a great Doctor.

I like his chemistry with Peri, they're great together, and of course I don't like the coat, but that makes me appreciate more Colin Baker's acting, not everyone could play a high calibre badass in that coat.

I have to get into his audios, I'm just with Four and Eight right now, but I've got The Light at the end and his encounter with Seven is so funny, and few of the stories on the Big Finish look amazing, like the one with the Celestial Toymaker.

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

I think he would have been the greatest doctor of all if the BBC hadn't  turned against the show and if he had been given time to develop his doctor his big finish audios are really good

Gerard Morvan
Gerard Morvan

What didn't work : the costume. How can you take seriously a hero dressed as a clown ? Note, it would have fitted well in "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy", but apart from that... Yuck !

PERTWEE FOREVER
PERTWEE FOREVER

I agree 6 was the best no the second best but not the worst

GermanDoctor
GermanDoctor

"Why did the Doctor act so vilely in Mindwarp?" Because it was a lie. A pure lie! The Matrix was corrupted and controlled by the Valeyard. So nearly everything you see there is a lie. It was not the real Doctor who acted so vilely.




needcomicmoney
needcomicmoney

Colin's Doctor was no weirder than Sylvester's, he just had the unfortunate position of following Peter's relatively normal Doctor and was therefore such a jarring contrast. If Tom Baker had regenerated into Colin Baker we would have thought nothing of it.

SephoraNeedSeries8
SephoraNeedSeries8

What worked : Colin Baker. What did not work : just about everything else. 






How can someone like Peri ? Every time I watch one of her episode, I feel like The Doctor's coat is there to appeal to very young children while she's there to appeal to their father. She's a complete damsel in distress.




My favorite Sixth Doctor's Story is without a doubt Vengeance on Varos. It's really dark and still relevant today. But even there... That scene when The Doctor laughs at the two men in the acid bath shouldn't exist. I don't understand how anyone could think this was a good idea. The Doctor's is sometimes violent, even a soldier and a warrior but he is never unfair or cruel. These guys weren't even baddies. That scene is the one I hate the most in all of Doctor Who History. 




sontaran17
sontaran17

The problem with Bakers era was the lack of passion and enthusiasm held by John Nathan Turner, he made bad decisions, with no passion for his work and passion for Who,  and it resulted in bad episodes. As Big Finish has proved over and over again- The 6th Doctor himself is a great character, and Colin is sensational

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

There were people at the BBC at the time who didnt like DW it was very silly to cancel it

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

I think its a shame, that the BBC were so against Doctor who, in Colin s era he might have been a better doctor . I have heard that JNT was desperately trying anything he could to keep DW going, things were starting to improve by the end, but it was too late


I have grown to like the multi coloured coat

Unibot
Unibot

Spot on analysis. Weak storytelling, a failure to balance the darker take on The Doctor with the optimism we're used to from Doctor Who and two companions that didn't always work well, made for a weak era. If they had stayed far away from Mel, given Sixth a decent costume and a more balanced personality, brought back some older screenwriting talent like Holmes and used it properly, I think a great series could have developed. 




Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

A bad combination, a Doctor who's deliberately confrontational and not 'nice' with an attractive but whiny (and hence not sympathetic) Companion (Peri) or a dreadful Companion (Mel). 

I loved your line Peri was followed by Mel, who is widely regarded as shrill and useless. This may be because she was shrill and useless. 

His Doctor wasn't all bad though, there's nothing wrong with a Doctor who is  grumpy and sarcastic, he's  an ancient Time Traveller not a social worker, who IS the smartest man in the room, and shouldn't be afraid to say so!






KristiStoneman
KristiStoneman

I adore the Sixth Doctor and his relationship with Peri.  Colin Baker's Doctor is my third favorite Doctor.  I actually like some of his episodes that are considered the worst of Doctor Who.  Peri is actually among my favorite companions.  However, I can't stand Mel at all.

Digglescratch
Digglescratch

If Evelyn Smithe had been introduced in the TV era, it would have done wonders to salvage the Sixth Doctor. I am still waiting for a PROPER regeneration story in audio or televised format. I refuse to accept "Time and the Rani" as such- a "bang on the head" is a disgustingly idiotic demise for Colin's Doctor.


MrRazza, the Newly Qualified Omega Identifier
MrRazza, the Newly Qualified Omega Identifier

To be honest I find the weakest part I find of this era is the companions. I don't like Peri, I find her bland and quite useless, and as for Mel... well... she's played by Bonnie Langford. 

Colin Baker himself is great, grumpiness and sarcasm appeals to me, but hardly any of his stories are well written, with the better ones of his era just generally being 'OK but with flaws'. I haven't dared move within a five mile radius of the Twin Dilemma, but I once voluntarily subjected myself to Timelash, which can only be described as a mess with some good makeup. Vengeance on Varos was intriguing and original (not to mention increasingly and disturbingly relevant), but slowed down a bit and was still rather bland. 

The Sixth Doctor was brilliant, but I'm afraid the Sixth Doctor's era receives a MrRazza's frown of disapproval and awkward look in the opposite direction.

KingOfTheInterWebs has Kidneys
KingOfTheInterWebs has Kidneys

Basically, the BBC ended up accidentally messing up Doctor Who during Colin's run and then fired him because they somehow got in the mind set that, playing the title role meant it was his fault. If this isn't the case I'm shocked as to why they let it come across that way, they shouldn't go round firing someone for something that's their fault and it's unforgivable. Poor Colin.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

I've grown quite fond of 6 in recent years. That's difficult for me to say, and surprising for me to note, because I was one of the people who fell by the wayside when The Twin Dilemma came about. I even like The Two Doctors and Attack of the Cybermen, despite what this article says. 

I genuinely don't blame Colin Baker for what happened back then. It was the system that failed him, not the other way around. I just hope that Moffat, being the fan that he is of the show, will learn from 6's mishandling. 





beskar
beskar

The problem is, Colin Baker is a chronic over-actor who eats the scenery. He should never have become the Doctor. That sounds so harsh, I know, particularly as Colin is probably the nicest of ANY of the Doctors you could hope to meet in real life. But his pantomime-friendly acting (so beloved by JNT), and that costume, simply made Doctor Who ridiculous for a period of time.

Liana21
Liana21

I know, I met him on an event, he's so sweet

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@Liana21 I love that part of TLatE!


The Sixth Doctor (About the Seventh Doctor): There he goes! Charming fellow. 

Peri: Uh... I believe you just gave yourself a compliment there, Doctor. 

The Sixth Doctor: Hmm? *laughs* Oh, yes. Well... credit where it's due!

TottersLane
TottersLane

I have to say, that's what destroyed my "faith" in Doctor Who - despite some good moments and valiant, heroic struggles by Colin against what he had to deal with, whenever that clown's outfit popped up on screen it destroyed the magic (I sometimes wondered if it had been done as a joke). Although I regret that I couldn't see past the costume, there were other elements (like the Doctor's casual acceptance of violence) that were just wrong and this was my least favourite period of the show. I'm pleased that we have since had the audio adventures, where at least we have better stories and I can imagine him wearing something that suits him!




Liana21
Liana21

I like Peri in certain aspects, but not in others. I think she had a good chemistry with The Doctor, but the writers could've developed her beyond the "screamer cleavage in shorts", with another tone or less damsel in distress, she could've been like Donna for Ten for example.

TheAfternoonoftheDoctor
TheAfternoonoftheDoctor

I agree with what you say about JNT making poor decisions, however I think it's extremely hard to say he had no passion for the show.

floppy_who
floppy_who

They did use Robert Holmes twice during the era. Sadly, not his best work and not produced well....

:(

floppy_who
floppy_who

Indeed... It's worth watching the DVD extras for the late 80s stories to see what was going on behind the scenes... I have a lot more respect for a lot of the poorer stories now

classic whovian
classic whovian

@Digglescratch  Hey I just view that regeneration as the Rani was 'attacking the tardis', thus she was attacking the doctor!

Liana21
Liana21

I agree with you, Colin Baker deserved a proper regeneration story, even Chris Eccleston forehead is better than a hit with the TARDIS console

Dudeist Whovian
Dudeist Whovian

An audio adaptation of Spiral Scratch, perhaps. Or something new by one of the Big Finish writers. I'm sure Johnny Morris or Matt Fitton could write a fantastic swansong. It's one of those continuity blips that I'd love to see addressed in the audios.. and I'm sure Colin would be fantastic, finally getting to do a proper regeneration story.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

Oh, and Peri killed the 5th Doc tor (My Doctor), and Mel was the worst, most annoying companion ever. 

DeanAlexander
DeanAlexander

@beskar At last, a sensible comment. As I have said in an earlier post, Baker was hammy, bombastic and shrill. The man doesn't do subtle. Awful choice.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@Liana21 I do find SOME redemption for her in that brief moment where she (silently) called 6 an asshole in The Two Doctors... and I do think that she, like 6, is better in audio (funny, when you consider she was meant to be... visual). Just saying.

sontaran17
sontaran17

@TheAfternoonoftheDoctor  John Nathan-Turner approached the BBC about leaving the series in the early 80's, but had been told that if he left, the series would be cancelled immeadietly - A Man that was forced to be there has no passion for the show



TottersLane
TottersLane

I think she did actually have a few good moments, but too much shrillness overshadowed the rest. My favourite scene was, sadly, the wicked impression of her by Kate o'Mara /The Rani.


beskar
beskar

@DeanAlexander Quite right. He's becoming a popular Doctor for hipster-esque fans to say they like because hey, it's so ironic and different to like something that everyone else thinks is unbelievably bad. But for those who have grown out of their hipster phase in life (or never had one in the first place), we just call it like we see it.

bluBob
bluBob

@TottersLane She was shrill, and normally... I can't stand shrill. But, probably because there is such a shortage of them nowadays, I love optimistic characters, and I can't think of any other companion more optimistic than her.

bluBob
bluBob

@beskar @DeanAlexander Seriously... dude? What part of "don't be insulting to other fans, just because their opinion differs from yours" did you not understand?

beskar
beskar

@bluBob Hmmm, sounds like my comment hit a bit close to the bone. At the end of the day... dude... it's my opinion and that same right to have an opinion that differs, that you're defending there, is what I'm exercising by making it. Have a good day.