Friday, September 18, 2009

Thoughts on The Sixth Doctor

The Sixth Doctor:
Colin Baker (Born 1943)

Actor Brian Blessed, who guest starred on Doctor Who in a part specially written for him, commented in The Doctors: 30 Years of Time Travel & Beyond, about Colin Baker's interpretation of The Doctor. "With Colin", he said, "I got the sense that he hadn't made up his mind how he was going to play it". Baker would pursue one avenue halfway, Blessed continued, and then pull back. This seems as apt a description of Baker's tenure as any I've heard.
Colin Baker WAS NOT the worse Doctor on Doctor Who. If you see his performance prior to being the Doctor as a guest star in the Fifth Doctor story Arc of Infinity, you see he could be quite menacing (silly hat notwithstanding). If he had a strong producer to guide him, he could have been quite a dangerous Doctor, bringing a touch of menace to the role. God Bless John Nathan-Turner, but he was NOT that kind of producer.

Let me state that JNT deserves credit for keeping the show alive as long as he did. However, he did infinite damage to the show by making some awful decisions. However, we can't avoid that fact that Baker should have been more forceful to JNT. He should have also taken greater charge of his interpretation of the character.

It wasn't Baker's fault alone. He was the unfortunate recipient of the WORST costume in the series' history (and that's saying a lot). The eccentric wardrobes of Tom Baker and Davison now degenerated (pun intended) into a laughable patchwork that made Colin Baker look like Ronald McDonald's illegitimate son. It might have been done with the best of intentions, but to a first-time viewer, it only has the effect of making him look ridiculous, a figure of ridicule than of interest.

You can't take the character seriously if he's wearing the silliest of costumes. I don't hold the costumer responsible for the outfit: she merely did what she was told to do. THIS was all John Nathan-Turner's fault. It brings to mind what Milton Berle once said. Supposing someone comes out in a funny costume, Uncle Miltie stated. You get a laugh for a few moments, but then what? You've got to carry on with the scene, and now you have to work the funny costume into the act. When you are suppose to have a serious character, you can't accept the insanity of the outfit AND take things seriously. The costumer, I'm told via a documentary on Baker's tenure, created it almost as a joke, never expecting it be what JNT was looking for. She was appalled at the situation, but she did as she was told. Tragically, only Nathan-Turner didn't see until far too late what damage he'd caused by his obstinacy.

Another unfortunate circumstance that Baker faced was falling ratings. The BBC, in their stupidity, held that the reason was Colin Baker. It couldn't be with their decisions of not giving the series the money it desperately needed to bring the show up to the potential it had. Take for example the opening of the season-long The Trial of A Time Lord (aka Episode One of The Mysterious Planet). Even by today's standards, it's spectacular. In fact, I thought the first minute, with its camera movement over a spaceship and the TARDIS being taken into it, had been remade for the DVD release using 21st-Century computer generated effects.

I was stunned to discover that nothing had been altered in that sequence. It is proof positive that IF the budget had been increased it would have rescued The Doctor (far more than Doctor in Distress, an embarrassing We Are the World-type song that is still perhaps the LOWEST point in connection with the series).

In retrospect, it's unfair that Baker got the blame (and the boot) for the low ratings and dreadful stories, which were completely out of his control.  He did the best he could under difficult circumstances, and got nothing but grief over it.

Finally, Baker was saddled with perhaps the two WORST Companions in the series' history. Peri (full name Perpegilliam) Brown is a good idea on paper: the first American Companion. To her credit her American accent is good. However, Nathan-Turner's obsession with exotic names sinks her character, and she really isn't given a chance to do much except run around in skimpy outfits (not that I particularly object, though it does make her more an object than a person). She could have been endured.

Not so Melanie (Mel) Bush. Even as a child I hated her. To this day I still loath her. Brainless vapid twit. She exemplified the worst caricature of a Companion. My only memories of her are of her SCREAMING. A LOT. SCREAMING ONLY AND ALWAYS.

I hated her. I hated her looks, I hated her voice, I just hated her. What do I mean, 'hated'? I STILL HATE HER. Perhaps Bonnie Langford is a very nice person and a talented actress. The stories she was in, however, gave no indication of either. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I still wince whenever I think of Mel Bush. Can't help it. Never liked her. Still don't.

All this created a perfect storm from which no actor could have survived. Colin Baker was doomed: by bad stories, a silly costume, sinking ratings, and second-rate Companions. To his eternal credit, he still is active in Doctor Who-related events and activities, and appears proud to be part of the series (if not about how things ended, for which he has every right to be angry).

Even among the ruins, I find love. The slimy sea villain Sil, first seen in Vengeance on Varos and returning in Episodes Nine-Twelve of The Trial of a Time Lord (aka Mindwarp) is a great villain. We also had the first appearance of a renegade female Time Lord (The Rani), so it wasn't all disastrous.

Curiously, though he was the only Doctor to be fired, he will be the first to have all his stories released on DVD (out of the original series). Out of the ones available now, I still think Vengance on Varos is the best. In it's story about televised torture for the amusement of people, it's remarkably prophetic. As for the worse, I have to say The Ultimate Foe. This isn't a criticism of writers Pip & Jane Baker (though most Doctor Who fans seem to have a particular antipathy for them). It has more to do with Mel being there. She was in Terror of the Vervoids, but that story holds up pretty well IN SPITE of her. I also didn't quite understand The Mark of the Rani, but I give it props for the creation of another Time Lord baddie.

Now, what about The Trial of A Time Lord? One massive story, or four? This debate will be going on among fans from now to the end of time. Arguments for the ONE STORY thesis: the title is The Trial of A Time Lord, and they're marked Episode One, Episode Two,...Episode Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen. Therefore, it's ONE STORY.

Argument for FOUR STORIES thesis: they involve four distinct settings with four sets of writers. Therefore, they are FOUR STORIES. I can see why people would want this settled in terms of cataloging, but minus that I thinks it's a foolish argument. However, I will give my view. I'm with the Four Stories group. If you remove the setting of Gallifrey and the trial itself, I think the stories could be independent of each other. I liken it to The Key to Time. Nobody ever argues they are ONE story, even though all involve the same objective: finding the six segments of The Key to Time. Like Key to Time, Trial of A Time Lord was a season long. With that, and the fact that there was no one writer for one story, I count them as four. There it is.

Stories available: Attack of the Cybermen, Vengance on Varos, The Mark of The Rani, The Two Doctors, Timelash, Revelation of the Daleks, and The Trial of a Time Lord box set (containing The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Ultimate Foe).

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