The era of the Sixth Doctor continues to summon up controversy and divide opinion amongst hardcore fans, but if there's one thing which everyone should be able to agree upon it is that he didn't have it easy! It really seems as if Colin Baker's days as the Doctor were numbered from the moment he first appeared at the end of The Caves of Androzani. With the seasons budget almost spent, a meager amount was allocated to his debut adventure, The Twin Dilemma, and he was gifted an opening story that will forever rank amongst the worst Who adventures of all time.
For Colin Baker it must have seemed like a no win scenario as viewing figures dipped, budgets were slashed and the show lost support at the highest levels of the BBC - namely in the form of Michael Grade. So it's with some justification that Baker himself feels disappointed and aggrieved in the manor in which he left the show. He spoke about his frustration:
"I couldn’t take [being sacked] in, it was a shock. I’d fought hard for the show, I was stunned. What I couldn’t accept is that Grade didn’t have the guts to tell me man-to-man. If I knew why I was sacked then I would feel better about it all. But I got fobbed off with excuses about Grade thinking three years as Dr. Who was long enough. The fact is I only made 26 episodes before he cancelled the show. When it started again there were only 14 episodes. Hardly a long run, is it? All I wanted was a proper explanation. Many people believe, as I do, that I have been treated shabbily.Grade's dislike of the star and the show itself have been well documented. It seems to be a complicated affair, with Grade allegedly abusing his power by exacting some sort of juvenile revenge whilst shacking up with the Baker's ex-wife, Lisa Goddard.
"Grade didn’t want me to say I had been fired. My boss, Jonathan Powell, the Head of Series and Serials, said that the BBC would stand by any statement I made [but] he strongly suggested to me that I should claim to be leaving for personal reasons. They actually wanted me to come back and do four more episodes, just so I could be killed off and fit in with their plans! I told them what they could do with their offer."
The show itself was in decline due to a number of factors, not just the reduced budget but also the brainless scheduling which did it absolutely no favours what so ever. Then there was John Nathan-Turner who was so busy trying to make his mark on Doctor Who that he lost his marbles and subsequently dressed the Sixth Doctor in a costume which resembled something from the recesses of Salvador Dali's mind.
A colleague of mine here on WarpedFactor bravely attempted to defend the costume, but when you have an outfit so absurd it hurts your retinas; so over the top that even Boy George may have declined to wear it behind locked doors, never mind on stage; so theatrical that it may have been part of Lloyd Webber's musical extravaganza "Joseph and his Technicolor Time Travels"; so laughable that it would have befitted a space clown (I could go on - but you get the point) - well, it's almost impossible to defend. Although Nathan-Turner certainly attempted to justify his choice by saying:
"There were some complaints about the [costume] and it’s nonsense. It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now. Colin’s costume is fine for the Doctor, he’s not a human like one of us, he’s an alien, he’s a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and so he’s bound to have different customs and different outlooks, and so it seemed logical to make it a bad taste costume. Bad taste in our opinion but not in his.Dr Tim Stanley, an American Historian and avid Who fan commented in The Telegraph back in 2013:
"I always liked wearing Hawaiian shirts, and Hawaiian shirts are very colourful, and I always felt that people took you very well, that they assumed you were a warm, friendly, funny, likeable, approachable sort of person if you were wearing a Hawaiian shirt, because of the bright colours and the patterns and so forth. So when it came to designing a costumer for Colin Baker, I thought why not make it a Hawaiian shirt, but make it Edwardian, like the other Doctors wore, like Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee would have worn, sort of Tom Baker meets the Hawaiian shirt. So we decided on a multi-coloured motif."
"Don't give your new actor a costume that makes the viewer want to throw up. Seriously, the Sixth Doctor's costume was not only an ugly design but a major production flaw. It meant that everything had to be exaggerated to compete for the viewer's attention. Peri's costume had to be smaller and tighter, the sets floodlit and Baker's acting much hammier – not that he needed much encouragement."In Baker's defense, he wasn't the only actor in the role to go a little over the top at times, yet some do say that it was his portrayal of the iconic Time Lord that was partially responsible for the shows failure. It could be argued that he struggled to breath life into a number of scripts, but that's because they were often so diabolically poor that anyone would've struggled with them.
Dr Stanley becomes a little more subjective by adding:
"I'm being unfair. Colin Baker can act and was sometimes quite affecting in the role. But he was the victim of a series of bad production decisions and bad scripts. It was decided to make his character initially unlikeable, to have him grow into a more sympathetic person as time wore on. The problem was that the development never really happened and he just stayed unlikeable. He bickered with his companion, Peri, and dispatched his enemies cruelly – using cyanide and even an acid bath."
Colin Baker didn't deserve the unparalleled levels of criticism received after Nathan-Turner tried to reinvent the Doctor by making him much darker. All the same, with the violence and cruelty levels of the show seemingly increased, even portions of the normally loyal and supportive audience were having second thoughts.
Of course, we now have a much loved darker Time Lord developed by Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi. The Twelfth Doctor is not hampered with the resentment, so perhaps the time was right to revisit this radical departure in the Doctor's character? Or maybe the audience are more susceptible to change nowadays? Or possibly the writing is substantially better? Or could it have a little something to do with Capaldi having an outfit that is understated and looks cool?
Colin Baker has made it clear that black was his preferred colour choice, but his ideas were not taken on board. It makes you wonder what might've been if they had gone for a more conservative costume. Maybe it would've affected the show at all levels, as without, as Dr Stanley put it, the "major production flaw", there wouldn't have been the need for all the "exaggeration".
Yet even though Colin Baker's era has become overshadowed by other events, he did deliver a handful of memorable on screen performances, and perhaps even paved the way for Peter Capaldi and the darker stories we are happily watching today.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter