Andrew Jero presents the penultimate in his daily series revisiting each of the Doctors. Today it's the Sixth, Colin Baker.
My second favorite Doctor, Colin Baker, was given some of the show’s best stories. I’ve always wondered why more people don’t like him. We know he was unfairly treated by the BBC and that often clouds people's judgement of his era. Yes, his time in the TARDIS was cut short, but if you're a fan of Doctor Who then his portrayal of the Doctor is a really interesting one to watch and study. He plays the part brilliantly and really gives a nice touch of mystery to our favorite Time Lord.
As ever, we'll look at two of the best stories, two of the weakest and two that sit in between. Starting off with one of the very best and most memorable from the Sixth Doctor's era, Vengeance On Varos.
Season 22 made full use of the forty-five minute per episode running time, which meant that in Vengeance On Varos the Doctor and Peri don’t arrive on Varos until almost twenty minutes in. This story is one of the darkest we'd ever seen in Doctor Who, and makes the show feel a lot less childish than it sometimes had been. The most controversial scene ever (at least it feels like it as much as it was complained about) is the acid bath scene. But even if we believe that the Doctor pushed them into the acid bath... so what? It expands the character in a way that they never had before or since, until we had that close up on the Twelfth Doctor after the Half-Faced Man died during the end of Deep Breath. As dark as his Doctor Was, Colin Baker brings a lot of humor to the part too, and Peri does a fantastic job of supporting his role - they were a perfect Doctor/Companion match. We have an excellent supporting cast, and the first appearance of Sil, one of my favorites villains. The relevance of Vengeance On Varos is increased now and in fact makes
the story seem more realistic than maybe it at first did in 1985. The chilling quality of this story is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. I wish the production team(s) had had the balls to do a story as gruesome again, but we had to wait 29 years until one came close - Dark Water. Overall Vengeance On Varos does a great job of capturing the essence of Doctor Who. An easy 10 out of 10.
The Two Doctors is my favorite Colin Baker story. It treats the Sontarans really well, only their debut story, The Time Warrior, gives them as good of a script. The concept of the story is one of my favorites and the forty-five minute format works better than it ever has before or since. Each of the three parts never feel slow, you don’t feel like you’ve watched the equivalent of a six part story, you feel like you’ve gone through maybe four twenty-five minute parts. One of my favorite scenes in the story comes in part three, the scene where the Doctor kills Shockeye. Again, why people complained about this is a mystery, after all the Doctor’s character should be allowed to expand and grow and show us new sides - and not in a ridiculous way like they’ve often done in recent years. The Second Doctor and Jamie are fantastic, slipping back in to their respective roles effortlessly. The humor of the Jamie/Two relationship is retained (after all Robert Holmes did write both The Krotons and The Space Pirates featuring the pair in the 60’s), and the opening scene in black and white is a really cool touch, with it eventually going to color. A solid 10 out of 10.
Next up, a pair of Colin Baker’s middle of the road stories. I say middle of the road but they are both really strong adventures, the first being Attack of the Cybermen. This is a story which some claim to be slow and a waste of the Cybermen’s appearance. But I think it all moves along at a brilliant pace, plus it features one of my favorite
characters, Lytton. The Cryons are great too and it was nice to hear the many references to
classic series adventures, The Tenth Planet and Tomb of the Cybermen. Again, this
caused some to complain, saying thats only “hardcore” fans would understand the
references. Really? Doctor Who should be self referential as often as it can be, it has such a rich history to draw upon that I'd rather it was true to it instead of attempting to re-write it upon the whim of the current showrunner. Attack Of The Cybermen is another Sixth Doctor story that was criticized for its violence, when the Doctor takes up arms against the Cybermen for the second
time and shoots his second Cyberleader. I
always enjoy watching these moments as they help push the show in a new
direction. Something the Sixth Doctor's era was clearly on a path to do, if it hadn't have been cut short.
Colin Baker had the fortune to face all four of the Doctors “main” villains, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, the Master and the Daleks. His Dalek story, Resurrection of the Daleks, is perhaps the most gruesome of the Dalek stories ever, and has the highest ever death count in any story. The concept of the people of Necros eating the recently deceased, is as disturbing as it is original, and like the other perceived “un-Doctor Who” elements of the era, expand the range of the show allowing it to reach new depths. It really does seem that the Sixth Doctor was ahead of his time, as many of the concepts from his adventures could fit perfectly with the Twelfth Doctor today. Of course, Resurrection of the Daleks should've lead into The Nightmare Fair, but due to the idiot Michael Grade, the show was put on hiatus.
The two stories I have chosen as the weakest from Colin Baker's era, are two which I still very much enjoy, Timelash and the Twin Dilemma. Timelash is one of those stories that while the monsters themselves are entirely unconvincing, they don’t hinder the story due to a fantastically played villain, the Borad, who is mostly calm and incredibly intelligent, making it a very chilling foe. The plot isn’t one of Doctor Who’s greatest but it remains entertaining for a couple of reasons, one of which is the character of Herbert George Wells. His scenes during part two with the Doctor in the TARDIS are quite funny, as they are trying to take out the Bandril fleet of missiles headed towards Karfel. When the TARDIS is seemingly destroyed, the Bandril president is concerned at the fact that he took out the President of the High Council of Time Lords. You almost wish the High Council would destroy the Bandrils just for the sake of getting a look at the Time Lords’ weaponry!
Then there's The Twin Dilemma. We all know that it was not the best of debuts that a Doctor could wish for, but as for it having been twice voted the worst story ever, well that is ridiculous. It isn’t anywhere near that bad, there are plenty of stories from both the Classic and New Series that fall below The Twin Dilemma. The Doctor strangling Peri doesn’t bother me at all, he’s suffering from
strange and erratic episodes caused by his regeneration - imagine what it’s like being on his end of
it! While Romulus and Remus are annoying they aren’t all that bad to watch, we've had much worse 'child' actors featured in the show in recent years (Nightmare In Silver anyone?). The one part of the story which really doesn't work is the Mestor, due in no small part to the performance.
Colin Baker may have only made 11 stories as the Doctor, and had his era cut tragically short, but what we were presented with was simply fantastic. It was a time of controversy and complaints, but maybe it was just a few years too soon for many people, after all you can clearly see the Sixth Doctor's influence in the show today. Colin Baker is my second favorite, which means I just have one more Doctor to revisit, which we will do tomorrow...
Overall score out of ten for the Colin Baker era: 10/10
Andrew Jero lives in Iowa and has a very strong love of both Red Dwarf and
Doctor Who. He enjoys acting and writing plays, television scripts,
and short stories. Follow Andrew on Twitter.