Doctor Who: Colin Baker - The Marmite Doctor

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Starting today, and continuing throughout June, we're celebrating the Sixth Doctor. Christopher Morley gets things underway with a cup of tea and some toast...

It's fair to say that perhaps more than any of the twelve men to have played the role of the Doctor, Colin Baker polarises opinions more than most- a Marmite Doctor, to put it one way. You either love him or hate him, or if you've yet to make up your mind, we can help! Think of this as Trial Of A Time Lord all over again, only this time a lot fairer.

Stepping into Peter Davison's shoes as the final act of The Caves Of Androzani, it soon became apparent that the Sixth Doctor would be markedly different from his last incarnation.
PERI: Doctor?
DOCTOR: You're expecting someone else?
But just how did that "someone else" land the part?

He'd actually already appeared as Commander Maxil in Arc Of Infinity alongside the man he would later replace! Before that his first big acting job had come in a 1972 adaptation of War & Peace, in which he played Anatole Kuragin. Two years after that he popped up as Paul Merroney in The Brothers before proving his science-fiction mettle as Bayban the Butcher in a 1980 episode of Blake's 7.

And so we come to the main focus of our deliberations. 1984 found him taking the key to the TARDIS (, making his full d├ębut in his coat of many colours in The Twin Dilemma, almost universally acknowledged as one of the worst scripts ever written for Doctor Who!

The Doctor's latest regeneration left him teetering on the brink of sanity, and caused him to do the unthinkable- attempt to strangle his companion...............

DOCTOR: Well, Peri, what do you think?
PERI: It's terrible.
DOCTOR: Oh, never mind about the clothes, they're easily changed. What about me?
PERI: I meant you.
DOCTOR: Sorry? I'm afraid I don't understand.
PERI: Well, neither do I. I mean, people don't change like that. I mean, physically, just in a flash.
DOCTOR: I'm not people, Peri. I happen to be me.
PERI: But why?
DOCTOR: Natural metamorphosis. A form of rebirth. I call it a renewal, and this time, positive triumph. I can sense it in every fibre of my being.
PERI: Have you the faintest idea what you look like?
DOCTOR: My outward appearance is of no importance whatsoever.
Of course, we would later find out that underneath the coat and sense of blustering pomp & circumstance the new man was still the Doctor we knew & loved. You just had to look far harder than before to find it for yourself, with not much help from a production team who seemed to take it upon themselves to foist weaker & weaker material upon poor Colin- who does his best with the scraps he's given.

Even the garment he'd later dub "an explosion in a rainbow factory" wasn't his choice! He would have preferred a leather jacket of the sort which Christopher Eccleston favoured as the Ninth Doctor, so you can forgive him the occasional ponder as to how it could have been if Six was Nine with him trying it out in a bid to cement his darker ideas for the character.

And if you happen to be a New-Who fan with a soft spot for the man he would become three selves on, what better jumping on point than Vengeance On Varos...

...which may well have inspired Russell T Davies to conceive the Game Station for Bad Wolf? Ignore the fact that Sil appears to be a talking poo, of course.

Violence was a talking point of the Sixth Doctor's era, too! Attack Of The Cybermen drew much critical ire, as just one example. As The Geek Agenda saw it:
"The Sixth Doctor’s first season is one of the most controversial in the history of Doctor Who. Underpinned with graphic violence and black humour, highly contentious subject matters were tackled."
Not for the faint-hearted, then! And of course there's the small matter of the series being put on trial by the BBC itself in what turned out to be his last stand. After scrapping the original plans for Season 23, The Trial Of A Time Lord arc reflected the internal struggle over the future of the programme as the Doctor railed against the evils of the universe just as forcefully as ever.

Ultimately after a hiatus Baker was given the push reportedly at the instigation of then-controller of the BBC Michael Grade.

According to production manager Gary Downie in a Doctor Who Magazine interview, the root of it all stems from Colin's divorce from actress Liza Goddard:
"There's a history between Michael Grade and Colin. Liza Goddard was Colin's wife. And she was Michael Grade's best friend. The divorce was acrimonious and she moved into Michael Grade's house while she was getting over the divorce. And I'll say no more. Michael Grade was determined. He did not want Colin working for the BBC."
Somewhat unsurprisingly the request to film a regeneration sequence was declined, with the result that Sylvester McCoy simply donned his predecessor's costume & a blonde wig (You can even see a ''new effects'' version featuring Colin's features blurring into those of Sylvester here).

Perhaps stung by his treatment, the Big Finish audios have sought to rectify several discrepancies in continuity from the Sixth Doctor's era.

In audio Colin Baker has been given room to breathe, and, more importantly, given scripts that were halfway decent. Finally he began to edge his way up fan polls of "best Doctor". As our very own Tony Fyler said:
"The Sixth Doctor has long been heralded as the big success of the Big Finish audio world. Whether that’s just a joyful rebuttal of the verdict on his TV stories, or whether he really does outshine all other Doctors in the audio environment is a matter for individual Whovians to settle to their own satisfaction."
So like the lovely/disgusting, depending on point of view, toast/sandwich spread, the best way is surely to dip in and give it a try?

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