Friday, 13 February 2015

No Taste For Carrot Juice: Why The BBC Programmed Whovians To Hate The Sixth Doctor

 by Shannon Lush

The 'Doctor Who' actor whose television tenure was, to use his own words, 'thwarted in it's progression', has in recent years been given renewed life and a character re-appraisal with Big Finish Audio...but why do so many Whovians continue to disdain this incarnation? Let's explore the possibilities...

Many decades have now passed since the dark days of the infamous 'hiatus' of 1985-6. Yet, it seems, no matter how much pumping the flesh Colin Baker has done at convention appearances around the world, there is still a segment of Whovians that will have you believe the actor's contributions to 'Doctor Who' ought to be minimized. They truly believe his era was deservedly shortened, and his Sixth Doctor was and is nothing but an unlikeable loudmouth.

Let's set the record straight: the Sixth Doctor is my personal favourite Doctor. In my days as a neophyte Whovian, sampling different eras of the classic series, reading the Target novelizations, and attending meetings of the local fan club where I picked member's brains about this cult British series that seemed to be on perpetual life support by 1990, I always gravitated to this one incarnation and his era. Why?

After all, long before I became a Whovian, the local PBS station aired old Tom Baker stories, seemingly every day. I had a passing familiarity with 'Doctor Who' at the time. I assumed he was some sort of intergalactic repairman...with a tin dog as a pet!  I stumbled upon Marvel Comics in dusty discount bins featuring the Fourth Doctor, who sometimes encountered Marvel heroes that I was familiar with. In pop culture, the mere mention of 'Doctor Who' inevitably conjured up images of the Fourth Doctor.

To quote Jon Pertwee, 'Doctor Who' was apparently about the fellow who was 'all teeth and curls'. The Fourth Doctor was by far the most popular version among the local fan club, featuring on the cover and appearing in stories in our magazine 'The Whostorian Quarterly' more often than any other versions. So why didn't I become a Tom Baker disciple, as many a Whovian before me?

The inextricable truth is that, by virtue of the belittling of the Sixth Doctor that went on with the local fan club, I paradoxically became a fan. First of the actor and of his plight, and then once I obtained the TV stories and had caught up on the Target novelizations, of the character. The fan members scorned this particular Doctor and his era...why? I was intrigued. I had to know more.

As time went on and I learned about the particulars of the Colin Baker Era, including the finger-pointing, the accusations, the recriminations, the behind-the-scenes turmoil, it became clear to me; Colin Baker in no way deserved the shoddy treatment afforded him by the BBC. Until 2005, BBC weren't exactly known for their respect or devotion to one of the biggest money-making properties in their stable, but never before had one lead actor suffered such wrath from fans, media, and his own BBC bosses.

I essentially became a fan of the Sixth Doctor initially as a thumbing my nose moment at the local fan club who collectively looked down upon the Colin Baker Era. I didn't understand how educated fans could swallow the 'party line' and transfer their aggression and anger at not only the lead actor of their beloved TV series, but upon the fictional character he portrayed. It wasn't Colin Baker's casting that led to the infamous 'hiatus'. It was BBC bean counters seeking to re-allocate funds away from the expensive 'Doctor Who' series and channel the funds towards the ambitious daytime TV programming they had planned.

Colin Baker was a well known actor in England by the time of his casting as the lead in 'Doctor Who'; among his credentials had been a critically praised appearance in a 'War And Peace' miniseries. He had the advantage of having appeared within 'Doctor Who' previously, unlike every previous lead in the series. His role in 'The Brothers' soap opera had made him a household name, as that series was also quite popular in Europe in general.

In casting Baker, producer John Nathan-Turner was looking for an established, respected and experienced actor, and found one. The narrow-minded nature of anti-Colin Baker Whovians precludes the facts. Colin Baker was hired because Colin Baker was an excellent choice for the role. There are fans who would have you believe he was hired simply on a whim. The often-used story goes that he was hired because he happened to entertain Nathan-Turner at a party they both attended. A single glance at Baker's acting resume should dispel fans of that notion. Like the actors before him, Colin Baker was hired to star in 'Doctor Who' because he was a very good actor, not because he was a charming fellow at cocktail parties.

To suggest 'Doctor Who' was not ever in danger of being cancelled or interrupted prior to the Colin Baker Era, and that therefore 'Colin Baker was so bad he had to be taken off the air', is another fallacy that is bandied about to this day. 'Doctor Who' was almost cancelled before it  was a year old! The proof is to be found in many places, but primarily within the pages of several reference books about the history of the series, such as 'The Handbook' series.

 'The First Doctor's Handbook' reproduces production notes sent from the Controller of BBC1. The very first season of 'Doctor Who' was on such shaky ground, plans were afoot to simply cancel the series outright after it's initial 13 episode run. Fortunately, it turned out to be easier to simply continue to produce new episodes than to discard the entire concept and cast about for something fresh to replace it with. That was the same position the BBC took once again in the late 1960's, at the dawn of the Pertwee Era.

Thus, 'Doctor Who' behind the scenes had been 'cancelled' on paper several times. Terrance Dicks, co-creator of the Timelords, has stated this publicly as well. Colin Baker was not the lead actor when the series was canceled in 1989. Nor was Colin Baker the lead actor when FOX TV passed on the idea of making a new series. Yet Baker's era is singled out despite this, when numerous examples such as the ones cited here exist to demonstrate that 'Doctor Who' was not bullet-proof prior to or after Baker fronted the series. Yet this will not change some Whovians minds.

'The Hiatus' was publicly blamed on Baker and on his 'violent, unlikeable portrayal', but consider this: if indeed the BBC felt the Sixth Doctor was simply not working and in need of a creative overhaul, then why didn't they specifically direct the production team to alter his characterization at the script stage? Weeks before episodes were shot and aired?

The 'powers that be'  chose to not simply summon John Nathan-Turner to their corporate offices and command him to tone the character down. 'They were hostile to us in playbacks', stated script editor Eric Saward. That meant they waited until episodes were filmed as scripted to make negative comments. This was completely a waste of time, money, and resources. Once the episodes were filmed they would have been forced to be re-filmed or else heavily edited in order to remove or alter any material the BBC may have objected to. But the BBC never did. Not once.

They instead appear to have taken a 'wait and see' attitude instead of active and direct intervention. John Nathan-Turner had been their chosen producer of 'Doctor Who' since the dying days of the Tom Baker Era. Eric Saward had written several outstanding episodes, including 'The Visitation' during the Peter Davison Era. The BBC knew and appeared to trust these men with a TV series that had been running for decades and was well regarded by the public. At no point was either man 'called on the carpet' so to speak to answer for any perceived creative issues that may have be detrimental to the series in the short term. Why not?

If indeed the BBC as a corporation were so concerned over the so-called lack of quality of the episodes of the Colin Baker Era, then what, exactly, did they do about it? Nothing. They didn't tell the two men they were paying hefty salaries to, Nathan-Turner and Saward, to change or alter anything. Instead, they abruptly suspended the series, cited Colin Baker's portrayal as 'too violent', and then appeared to seriously contemplate cancelling the series.

Except, miraculously, the moment 'Doctor Who' is suspended, the plans for BBC's new daytime television programming proceeds rapidly! It's almost as if the claim of  the 'objectionable content of the Colin Baker era' was nothing more than a smokescreen to divert funds elsewhere!

Only dedicated fans of 'Doctor Who' were aware who John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward were, thus it would have made no sense for the BBC to publicly blame them for anything perceived to be wrong with the series. But the general public knew exactly who Colin Baker was. He was the lead actor, the one appearing in their homes every week on the television, the one dressed in the outlandish costume...who better to blame the woes of his era on than the man himself? Who better to blame the 'declining standards' of the series on than the man who had no hand in writing any of the episodes, who had no hand in producing any of the episodes, who had no contact with the BBC superiors on a creative level and who was merely being paid to act in the series?

Remarkably, sadly, and unbelievably, this nefarious strategy worked! To this day, the overall reaction of certain segments of Whovians to the Colin Baker Era is 'oh, that was crap', or 'wasn't he the one they fired?' or 'I thought his Doctor was too violent or not likeable at all'. You will never hear the proper blame given to the proper people, because nobody involved in the decisions at the time were or are as high-profile as Colin Baker was. John Nathan-Turner certainly wasn't (outside of established fandom). The general public wouldn't know who the producer of 'Doctor Who' was any more than they would know who the producer of 'Dallas' was. This was the mid-1980's, when such information was not readily available on the internet. As flamboyant and media-savvy as Nathan-Turner was, he was not a household name, unlike his lead actor. Colin Baker was scapegoated, and, sadly, in many ways, still is.

To suggest that there wasn't time to overhaul the series in a major way that would have satisfied BBC's supposed objections ignores the fact that 'Doctor Who' had seen it's format altered several times in the past without missing a beat or causing any noticeable interruption.

The most notable example of this is, of course, the departure of Patrick Troughton and the debut of Jon Pertwee. The BBC, again according to Terrance Dicks, considered simply canceling the series prior to the Pertwee Era; inflation was striking the UK, sets were expensive to build, contractors were expensive to hire to build futuristic bases and believable monsters on a weekly basis.

But instead, the BBC calmly allowed the series' production staff to pitch a solution; ground The Doctor on contemporary Earth, eliminate the need for expensive sets by setting the majority of the scenes at UNIT headquarters and environs. Turn 'Doctor Who' from a science-fiction, outer-space series into a modern-day action-adventure series with spy-movie overtones. Once the decision was made and mutually agreed upon by BBC and production staff, the changes were narratively incorporated well in advance. Crisis averted, problem solved.

Thus, if the BBC were 'so' upset at the Colin Baker Era, then why did they not simply make a similar command? Why was the series suspended? Why was Colin Baker scape-goated? Why did the BBC anger millions of 'Doctor Who' fans? Why did they allow one of their most popular series to become fodder for tabloid newspapers of the day? Why didn't they just quietly change the format? The answer is, because the hiatus was never once really about 'Doctor Who'. It was about diverting money.

John Nathan-Turner was on record for his preference of retaining Colin Baker as the lead actor. Colin Baker certainly wished to remain, even going so far as to allow his contract to lapse on the understanding that, once the proper paperwork was filed, he would be re-contracted. Even after having his professional career placed in jeopardy by the BBC, Baker still trusted that the dark days were over, and that he would fulfill his commitments to 'Doctor Who'. After all, the Head of Series himself, Johnathon Powell,  had specifically asked for Baker to agree to at least four years, which meant re-signing after the expiration of the initial two year deal. But instead, the BBC misled Baker, and he was not re-contracted.

The idea that Baker was 'fired' is completely false. He simply was not re-contracted for 'Doctor Who' once his initial contract had been fulfilled. Yet, the myth persists that the man was 'fired from the role'. According to Baker himself in numerous interviews, this simply was not the case. He had agreed in 1984 to play the role until at least 1988, and by 1986 was lied to and misled until the BBC's obligations to pay him were ended. He was cast aside. His professional career, his job and his ability to earn a living, were impacted heavily. So heavily in fact that, to this day, 'Doctor Who' remains his highest-profile role. An actor who, prior to 'Doctor Who', had juggled theatre runs with film and television work, was after 'Doctor Who' relegated to plays with limited touring runs.

There are Whovians who will denounce Baker for refusing to appear in 'Time And The Rani', in order to facilitate a regeneration scene.  Yet John Nathan-Turner also revealed something quite damning and surprising...the overall feeling was not that Baker was 'terrible' and needed to be fired. Quite the opposite. 'They said nothing derrogative about your performance', Nathan-Turner reported to Baker. 'They simply feel a new Doctor would give the series a leg up'.

Let's analyze that statement, shall we? So, are Whovians to believe that Colin Baker was a 'terrible choice', as has been the party line for decades? That his Doctor was simply 'unwatchable'? Despite, as I said, no proof that would lead anyone to believe the BBC ever put the time and effort into salvaging the series, if they felt that strongly about it?
Then why would the Head of Series and Serials, Johnathon Powell, tell his producer John Nathan-Turner, that Baker was fine? Why would he lie to both of them? Especially as they were not renewing Baker's contract anyway? The decision was made to bring in a new actor to try and gain back the fans who had left due to all the turmoil, therefore if, indeed, the truth was that BBC felt Baker was terrible, then why not just say so?

Answer: because the BBC screwed up and the only person to pin the blame on that would stick was Colin Baker. Remove Colin Baker, hire a new Doctor, problem solved, was their way of thinking. The geeks will return to their beloved 'Doctor Who', BBC daytime programming would continue to be a new venture, and all would be right with the universe. Right?

Except the part where, under the BBC-approved new lead actor, Syvlestor McCoy, 'Doctor Who' found it's ratings dip lower than the 'Titanic's' bow. Rather than suspend the series, rather than even bother to make McCoy a scapegoat, and rather than try another format change or anything of note whatsoever that would indicate they cared one iota about salvaging the thing, the BBC simply, finally, cancelled the series. Colin Baker was not the lead actor when the series was cancelled. And many of his stories had far superior ratings in their original broadcast in the UK than his successor McCoy. Sometimes the difference is calculated in the multiple millions.

Let's review, shall we? The BBC publicly decried the Colin Baker Era as being so unlike what they expected 'Doctor Who' to be, that they suspended the series, claiming it would be 'rested and revamped'. Were that strictly true, why did BBC Controller Micheal Grade, the man primarily responsible for pulling the trigger on the whole thing,  immediately go on holiday to avoid the newspaper's inquiries into the BBC mentality on this matter? When he did finally meet with the brain trust of 'Doctor Who', the meeting according to Eric Saward lasted 'less than ten minutes'.

All Grade demanded was the series be 'less violent and more humorous'. The result was 'The Trial Of A Timelord'. Any viewer of that particular shortened season can see plain as day that, other than slightly softening the relationship between the Doctor and Peri characters, there is, simply put, not glaring differences in the overall structure and tone of the series from it's previous season. The Sixth Doctor is still flippant, defiant, still a spirited and theatrical figure. Peri is still cheeky. There are still monsters. There is still violence.

If the BBC objected to the 'violent content', is there anything more violent than Peri's essence being forcibly killed and replaced with the Mentor Kiv in what is scripted and directed as a shocking moment? If the series was intended to be 'less violent', then why did the BBC not object to the creation of The Valeyard, literally the 'dark Doctor' who was meant to be the shadowy, malevolent version of the Doctor's dark impulses?

Answer: because the claptap about the 'violent' Colin Baker Era was just that. Nothing more than excuses, lies, and made-up reasons to justify diverting funds from a popular series to serve the BBC's own empire-building. If indeed this was not the case, then the 'Trial' season would have been afforded the proper allocation of funds necessary to produce a full 23-episode season instead of a truncated 14 episodes. The BBC would have scrutinized the scripts from day one, ensuring their supposed desire to see 'Doctor Who' re-formatted to be more appealing to the public had been met.

They did none of this. They afforded 'Doctor Who' ten minutes of their precious time, and they made useless directives they didn't intend to follow up on. Had 'Doctor Who' been what the BBC told fans it was, unwatchable, then they would have replaced the men directly responsible for the creation of it, namely John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward. They did neither. They didn't even assign anyone to overlook the series, as had been done before with former producer Barry Letts assigned to 'ride shotgun' on John Nathan-Turner's initial season.
What they did do, what is remembered now decades later, is create a blame-game and choose the one person who they felt would bear the brunt despite his being just the lead actor...Colin Baker. It worked so well that it's still working.

Finally on this point, IF the BBC truly, in their heart of hearts, felt that Colin Baker simply was not a good actor, not a suitable choice for the role of The Doctor, and felt he was not capable of portraying different aspects of The Doctor that what he was permitted to in his brief television appearances, then the anti-Colin Baker Whovians will have to explain away why not a word of protest was drawn when the man they didn't fire, John Nathan-Turner, cast Sylvestor McCoy.

Unlike Colin Baker, who as stated previously, was a well-known and respected actor with decades of acting experience and high-profile appearances in well-received programming, Sylvestor McCoy was a children's series regular! The man had a light-entertainment background, zero acting experience outside of plays and theatre work, and not one high-profile role to speak of. Yet he's supposed to give 'Doctor Who' that 'leg up' that, somehow, Colin Baker wasn't trusted to? 

McCoy was a virtual unknown, and his initial season amply demonstrated his lack of formal training and experience. Thus, IF the BBC truly were looking for a lead actor that would kick-start the series into another period of ratings success, then why didn't they veto the choice of McCoy? Why didn't they provide the 'Doctor Who' production office with a list of their preferred actors, people they personally felt would be more suitable choices to take the series, at the damaged and bruised stage that it was at the time, into a new phase?

Indeed, every actor personally cast by Nathan-Turner turned out to not match Tom Baker's ratings or his tenure in the role. At what point wouldn't the BBC figure out that, perhaps, they should take a more hands-on approach with casting? Why didn't the BBC at the very least hire a consultant to work with Nathan-Turner? After all, it was and is a pivotal decision-making process. Answer: because prior to the idea of producing day-time television that could only be afforded by pilfering profits from 'Doctor Who', which would require a cover story to explain disrupting such a massively popular TV series, BBC never cared about 'Doctor Who' in the slightest.

Why wasn't Colin Baker retained? He was the established Doctor, after all. Merchandising streams were created in his likeness. He had agreed in the early contract negotiations to stay at least 4 years, as the BBC were looking to 'get more continuity' out of the next Doctor than they had with Davison, who left after only 3 years. The simple and easy solution would have been to keep Colin Baker, and fire or else demote John Nathan-Turner, with an eye towards doing the same to Eric Saward.

If the entire problem with the Sixth Doctor's Era was the perception that the Doctor was 'too violent', then why didn't they make any easy decisions? Why was every decision like pulling teeth? Answer: because if you are doing unkind things to your TV properties, (primarily 'Doctor Who' but other series as well at the time were abruptly canceled or interrupted to divert the money flow to daytime TV), and you truly wish to take the heat off yourself, then you don't make the logical decisions, you make the ones that benefit you the most.

Logically, financially, creatively, it made the most sense to retain Colin Baker. But emotionally, if you are seeking to pin the blame for all the series' woes on one person in order to take it off yourself, then you have to fire him. Publicly. You have to make it stick, you have to make it memorable. You have to make the public and the Whovians who watch the show by the droves, buy the VHS tapes, buy the merchandise, and need a scapegoat for all the bad times caused by BBC actions, hate Colin Baker. And, by extension, hate the Sixth Doctor character he plays.

Decades later, the main players, the Micheal Grades and the Johnathon Powells and the tabloid journalists, have all been forgotten in the whole sordid story. But Colin Baker can't be and won't be. He wears that fan scorn like he wore the multicolored coat.

Now, let's turn to the supposed 'violent, unlikable', Sixth Doctor character. It will be yet another well-worn defense on my part. There are those who will still maintain, in true BBC puppet fashion, that this particular incarnation of the Doctor is 'so' over the top and degenerative, that he simply had to be voided out. Forgotten about, cast aside and not even afforded a proper regeneration story or a chance to say goodbye to those fans he had managed, against all odds, to build.

In order to begin the defense of the 'violent' Sixth Doctor, it is necessary to look at the nature of the Doctor characters that came before him, as well as those that came after, in order to put the Sixth Doctor in his proper context. An often-repeated assertion was that this particular Doctor was simply 'unlikable'. Much of this can be attributed to intentional design, John Nathan-Turner having publicly stated that he desired a Doctor that possessed an 'acid wit'. Script editor Eric Saward either instructed those penning stories for this era to adhere to this overall characterization or else inserted it himself into scripts. Over time, the Sixth Doctor came to be an especially arrogant and egotistical person, capable of great mood swings.

But is that 'so' dramatically different than, say, the majority of the Tom Baker Era? The Fourth Doctor routinely belittled opponents and allies alike, exclaiming 'Harry Sullivan is an imbecile' in 'Genesis Of The Daleks', engaging in petty one-upmanship with Romana for the duration of the 'Key To Time' season, and cutting the Brigadier, his trusted friend and long-time ally, down to size in 'Robot'. The Doctor on that occasion  openly wondered how he ever managed to tolerate life among the UNIT ranks for so long, and made it clear he was overjoyed to escape Earth and the constraints of UNIT. 'It's about time I did something more with my life than chase the Brigadier around', he says. So, yes, folks, the Fourth Doctor was moody, unpredictable, often unreliable, and...arrogant and egotistical. Yet, Tom Baker remains quite possibly the most popular lead actor ever to have appeared in the series, and the Fourth Doctor Era is not only critically lauded it remains financially lucrative to the BBC to this day.

Want further proof that the Sixth Doctor was certainly not alone in being 'unlikeable'? Why not revisit the early days of the series itself, when William Hartnell held court. Those who condemn the Sixth Doctor conveniently forget that it was the First, and not the Sixth, who not only kidnapped his first (on screen) traveling companions Ian and Barbara, but the reasons why he did so...because he feared being discovered hiding out in 1960's London. Such a pedestrian reason to explain removing two human beings from their lives on Earth and forcibly whisking them away to face Daleks, Zarbi, and all manner of strange creatures on far-flung worlds.

Then, there is the Second Doctor, condemned as 'too callous' by his companion Jamie. The Third Doctor utilized a martial art to defeat and overpower opponents. Read that sentence again. The Doctor literally developed a self-defense strategy in the event he was engaged in hand-to-hand combat. That presupposes that this Doctor fully anticipated and expected to fight people! Yet, no sort of reproach for these incarnations springs from Whovians. No, all rancor is reserved for the Sixth Doctor. Scenes such as the 'you'll pardon me if I don't join you' acid bath found in 'Vengeance On Varos', The Doctor being forced to shoot Cybermen in 'Attack Of The Cybermen', and the death-by-suffocation thanks to an ether-soaked cloth in 'The Two Doctors' have been isolated and picked apart as 'proof' of this Doctor's supposed mean streak.

The acid bath scene in 'Varos', attested to by Colin Baker himself, merely depicts a grisly final end to henchmen who were seeking to capture and potentially kill the Doctor. He evaded them, and literally moved to the side while they fell into the acid bath. He didn't push them, he didn't trick them into it, all he did was make what many seem to think is a 'cruel' joke at their expense after the fact. Yet, when placed in it's proper context, within a story that was concerned with the corrupting effects of television itself and of subjugating a populace through propaganda and suggestive programming, the comment stands out as nothing more than a justice-minded Doctor justifiably verbalizing relief that he avoided their fate.

The Doctor shooting the Cybermen in 'Attack Of The Cybermen' has also been seen by many as 'un-Doctor-like'. The Third Doctor was allied with a military task force that often used, as the Brigadier would say, 'five rounds rapid'. While The Doctor invariably decried the 'military mind' and in particular criticized The Brigadier for being willing to shoot first and ask questions later, he  also benefited from being a member of UNIT. He had access to state-of-the-art technology and laboratory other words, he talked the talk, but certainly didn't walk the walk. If he was truly as appalled as he proclaimed by UNIT's usage of military weaponry, then he would have resigned his position with them and sought refuge on Earth elsewhere. That he didn't do so is indicative of a willingness to accept the violence and firepower that UNIT offered...not to mention their protection. Again, this is also the incarnation that reveled in hand-to-hand combat. Yet, the Sixth Doctor is criticized for an act of extreme self-defense in a situation where he was out of other options.

Besides, since when is shooting Cybermen a bad thing? As has been often attested to, once conversion has taken place it is extremely difficult, often impossible, to reverse the process. Once a Cyberman is created, odds are it remains a Cyberman until it is destroyed. By the Sixth Doctor's Era, The Doctor had encountered the Cyberman literally thousands of times (factoring in the expanded universe work as well). He knew how ruthless and unrelenting they were. He was one of, if not the biggest, enemies of all Cyber-kind. He didn't expect any mercy and was literally trapped in a room full of awakening Cyberman. Though like all incarnations, the Sixth Doctor has an aversion to weapons, sometimes extreme situations call for extreme measures. He did what he had to do.

Taken out of context, these scenes can be damaging to the character of the Sixth Doctor. The only way in which they can be seen as offensive is precisely that, out of context. A simple rewatching of the episodes in which these scenes occur ought to be ample proof, if such is needed, that this Doctor is nowhere near as 'violent and unlikeable' as he is made out to be. As for his relationship to Peri, often criticized as being 'strained' at best, it is important to note that producer John Nathan-Turner intentionally directed Nicola Bryant to act in an accent not her own, which resulted in a distinct whine when speaking her lines. The concept of the Doctor and Peri continually arguing was brought forward into the stories based upon an initial regeneration other words, it was never meant to be as pronounced as it became and was never meant to carry on for as many episodes as it did.

When pressed on the subject by fans, Nathan-Turner acknowledged it was a carry-over from a semi-abandoned concept from 'The Twin Dilemma', of the Doctor continuing to be 'unstable', and he claimed it was being minimized (which it eventually was, though the mellowing-out of the characters towards each other was only depicted briefly in 'The Mysterious Planet'; the unproduced stories from the original Season 23 clearly show the characters have, indeed, grown far closer and into the traditional dynamic between Doctor and companion). Both Baker and Bryant were more than aware of this aspect of their characters and both were vocal in their determination that it be removed, so much so they both made a pact to speak their lines 'against type' if need be to ensure it carried over onto the screen.

Thus, while justifiably criticized, the relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri for the majority of their time together on screen was an issue that was addressed by producer, stars, and writers. Follow-up expanded universe work has largely replaced the contentious relationship with a much more relaxed and casual one, even in stories set in Season 22. Thus, one of the biggest hurdles to the audience accepting this particular Doctor was identified and was actively being downplayed during the production of the series. While steps were in place to eliminate it altogether, time ran out for Colin Baker and, unfortunately, the follow-up work being done to mellow the characters was not depicted on screen.

Now, we come to the coat. The 'explosion in a rainbow factory', to quote Baker. Had Colin Baker had his way, his Doctor would have pre-dated the Ninth Doctor by twenty years, dressing in predominantly black. His original intention was overridden by Nathan-Turner, who pointed out The Master was associated with an all-black ensemble. Thus, the birth of the patchwork, 'totally tasteless' costume. And oh, the derision it engenders!

It is pointless to state that, like virtually every other big decision made during his era, Colin Baker had absolutely no say in how his character was outfitted. That decision fell to the producer, the same man who dressed Baker's predecessor in cricketing garb. The reason that Nathan-Turner alway gave for his preference for on-going characters to wear uniform-like costumes rather than simply off-the-peg clothing was down to merchandising; with one recognizable costume, a character is much easier to license for exploitation. Think of Superman and Spider-Man, in their instantly recognizable attire. While a sound financial strategy, this eye towards the bottom line versus realism strained credibility. In the audience's eyes, it simply made little sense why companions such as Turlough, Nyssa, and Tegan would wear the exact same clothing week in and week out, when it was clear even the Doctor availed himself in the past of the TARDIS wardrobe room.

To attempt a partial explanation for why this Sixth Doctor, like the Fifth and his many companions, wore the same clothing, with slight variations here and there, it was necessary to nail down an aspect of this incarnation straight away rather than develop it within the unfolding narrative of the series; this Sixth Doctor simply does not care a damn what you think. Though previous incarnations had been content to display varying levels of egotism, lack of empathy, and a flair for the melodramatic, this incarnation was the first one to which the axiom 'the clothes make the man' could truly be applied.

Though Tom Baker's later seasons saw him sporting question mark lapels, though Peter Davison was dressed in rather ridiculous cricket attire with a bizarre stick of celery attached, while also retaining the question mark lapels, though Sylvestor McCoy went so far as to don a full question mark sweater and carry a question mark umbrella, somehow, some way, they escape fan scrutiny and derision. Yet, Colin Baker's costume, which perfectly suited his doctor, is remembered with scorn. So much so that the cover art to many of his Big Finish audio plays depict his Doctor wearing muted blue colours, as if he dipped his usual costume in blue act of retroactively covering up the outlandish nature of his television costume.

So, there we have it...I've explained in this blog why the Sixth Doctor's television episodes were not considerably 'more violent' in comparison to his predecessors and successors, and it has to be pointed out also, in an era of such series as 'The A-Team', 'Doctor Who' was not even the most violent series on the air! Those who criticize the overtly sexual clothing of Nicola Bryant as Peri conveniently forget the skimpy loin-cloth the character of Leela sported in the Tom Baker Era, and, in fact, overlook the basic nature of the role of the female companion, which itself evolved from that of a trusted ally and friend to that of one, to quote from 'The Fourth Doctor's Handbook', ' involved a light-hearted space romp...with a pretty girl on board to keep the dads interested'. Sadly, 'Doctor Who' until the 2005 reboot was not a series with strong female characters. Even Tegan, perhaps one of the most progressive female companions, was reduced to eye-candy on more than one occasion.

Whether or not you agree with everything stated here, which quite admittedly has been written with a great bias for a great Doctor and a great actor, I ask you dear reader to admit in your heart of hearts...the Sixth Doctor remains by far a memorable incarnation, for good or for ill, and perhaps, just perhaps, deserves your re-appraisal. Re-watch a random episode from his era. Listen to a Big Finish Audio play featuring him. Read a BBC Books story featuring this Doctor. However you approach the character, in whatever medium, you may just find yourself smiling at his renowned 'acid wit', at his penchant for spirited debate, his no-nonsense approach to enemies and even allies alike...if you appreciate a Doctor who truly appears non-human, who truly 'is' a Timelord in every sense of the word, from the sneering pomposity to the bravado that accompanies a man who can master time travel, then look no further than my favourite Doctor, the Sixth Doctor!, just for fun, you may even see the seeds of the Ninth Doctor sown during the Colin Baker Era. Disdain for humanity? Check. Clothing that sets him apart from all those who came before or after? Check. An 'ends justify the means' approach? Check. The Ninth Doctor is the Sixth Doctor reborn...but that's a tale for another blog....


  1. Absolutely wonderful article in defense of Colin Baker!

    1. Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it, it was important for me to write and it's worth I'm proud of. Thank your for your interest :-). - Shannon