Mention the Sixth Doctor to a Doctor Who fan and you’ll get one of two responses. Most of them will tell you that he was so bad that the actor Colin Baker who portrayed him got fired in an attempt to save the show. They say the Doctor on this incarnation is a selfish, rude, arrogant, obnoxious and unstable man. They say he’s the worst of the lot.
Such a response is considered “normal” and if you think otherwise you’ll likely become the subject of ridicule. But I am one of the few who say to such a response [insert bad John Hurt impression here]: “No More!”
I think the Sixth Doctor is one of the best Doctors we’ve ever had on the show. He’s not my favourite but he is in the top four and the reasons for why he’s so high up in my ranking order is what I’m aiming to examine here.
Colin Baker described his costume as “an explosion in a rainbow factory” and you’ll have no argument from me about that!
However I think his costume suited him. It forces you to pay attention to him and that’s exactly what this particular Doctor needed because of his loud EVERYBODY LOOK AT ME I’M AMAZING personality.
It’s hard to defend his costume (but that hasn’t stopped my fellow Warped Factor contributor Tony Fyler from trying) but later stories have seen a change made to his costume by switching to a nice blue number. This could be said to reflect how he mellowed out a bit with his companion Evelyn, which leads me nicely into…
Initially with Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown, by default as the final companion to his previous incarnation, this Doctor comes across as brash and unpleasant. Their relationship is defined by the constant bickering between the two of them and seasons 21 and 22 often make for very uncomfortable viewing because of it. It’s this dynamic that most people think of when they call the Sixth Doctor to mind, likely because it’s this dynamic that features in all of his TV stories but for just under half of his last one.
But after the messy and uneven (but I’m rather fond of it) season-long The Trial of a Time Lord he regenerated… or so we thought! Big Finish productions have come to the rescue here fitting in a whole host of new adventures between “The Trial of a Time Lord part fourteen” and “Time & the Rani part one” and it’s here that we meet Professor Evelyn Smythe. Evelyn is one of the greatest ever companions to the Doctor and that’s partly because she’s awesome (if Wilfred Mott is the grandfather you always wanted then Evelyn Smythe is the grandmother) and partly because she’s one of the few who dare to call the Doctor out on his actions. He retains all his defining character traits but is also able to mellow out and become the Doctor we always wanted him to be. When the Doctor gives the eulogy at Evelyn’s funeral there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
Mel Bush is next and she’s a bit rubbish. That didn't stop Big Finish trying to do something good with her though, and they succeeded. I’ve never really warmed to Mel much but bless ‘em they tried! Other companions to this Doctor include a talking penguin named Frobisher – How can you not love that?! – and former companion to the Eighth Doctor “Edwardian Adventuress” Charley Pollard. He also shares some adventures with Jago & Litefoot.
So overall the Sixth Doctor has a good selection of companions and Evelyn is the one with whom he truly comes into his own. Nothing not to like here.
While there’s no denying that the writing for the Sixth Doctor’s TV tenure was generally fairly rubbish they still managed to create some wonderful monsters for him to do battle with. In his short on-screen time he gets the obligatory Daleks & Cybermen and multiple encounters with both the Master & Davros, but he also gets some newcomers.
Androgums are an interesting creation from the pen of Robert Holmes. Everyone’s second-favourite evil Time Lady the Rani makes her debut alongside Colin’s Doctor. A future version of the Doctor (maybe) called the Valeyard is one of his most constant recurring foes. The Borad is unforgettable with his deformed face being a real accomplishment by the production team and the acting of Robert Ashby being a thing of beauty. But the most memorable and most evil villain the Sixth Doctor came up against has got to be
The villains they face define any hero and the Sixth Doctor has an impressive rogues gallery if ever I saw one!
A Thirst For Justice
The Sixth Doctor may have been often a violent man with a sharp tongue and if you mess with him or his companions (especially his companions) you can’t hope to last long without him getting revenge and making you pay. When he sees injustice he will stop at nothing to right the wrong and nobody can hope to stand in his way, not even the Time Lords themselves.
“Vengeance on Varos” is about how he and Peri accidentally stumble into a corrupt system where people are regularly tortured for purposes of entertainment (basically Doctor Who predicted “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”) and the government’s decisions are made by public vote with a vote against their policies getting the President executed. It falls to the Doctor to free Varos from this scenario.
“Revelation of the Daleks” sees him reunited with Davros who is converting people into either new Daleks or processed food, and the Doctor takes it upon himself to put a stop to it.
“The Trial of a Time Lord” has him discovering that the Time Lords moved the Earth across space to keep their own corruption secret and he is outraged, giving one hell of a speech to put them in their place.
And that’s just for starters! No other Doctor comes close to the level of determination we see when the Sixth deals with injustice.
A “Star Trek” T-Shirt? I feel so betrayed!
Perhaps the biggest strength the Sixth Doctor has going for him is the fact that he’s played by Colin Baker. Not only is he an extremely good actor, this is also a man who knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of mistreatment and executive meddling. He was constantly falling foul of poor decisions from up high, with Michael Grade being the worst offender. Grade had it in for the show in general and it was Baker who found himself on the receiving end, being forced out by Grade (who was dating Baker’s ex-wife at the time) in the most humiliating fashion possible.
Yet Baker has never once let this get in his way. It would seem that he has something to prove because of this horrendous mistreatment and so when he was hired by Big Finish to work with them he managed to put that passion into his performance at every opportunity. On top of that he’s also amazing with the fans, always taking the time to do conventions and interact with us. He’s someone you can approach and he will gladly give up his time. After the way many so-called fans and the BBC treated him it takes real class to be so giving and so generous.
Plus he has that voice. It’s the sort that he could sit and read the phonebook out loud and I would listen to every word. Listening to him speak is always a pleasure but listening to him sing is in a league of its own. So what better way to leave you than with this masterpiece?
All of us here at Warped Factor wish Colin Baker a very happy birthday.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.