Colin Baker

7thThe three-year period which marked Colin Baker’s tenure as the Sixth Doctor were perhaps the most arduous and trouble-filled in the series’ 26-year history. This is, of course, in no way representative of the man in the title role; Colin Baker has for many years been a well-regarded, highly renowned stage and television actor with a long list of credits behind him. Indeed, were it not for the confluence of events that marked the era, it’s even possible that Baker would still be in the role today… having come aboard declaring himself the man who wished to be the Doctor longer than even Tom Baker’s seven-year stretch. It is unfortunate that he was the only person fired from the role; BBC authorities mistakenly identified him as the person behind the series’ ratings troubles, when in fact it is the extraordinary talents of this gifted actor that lifted the series above the sometimes-mediocre scripting and uneven production values.

Doctor Who was targeted in this era for destruction, and only luck and faith seemed to keep it going. After Baker joined the role for one story during the show’s 21st season, many liberations were taken with season 22: the stories were recrafted to 45-minute episodes, Baker was forced to play the Doctor as rather unstable, and so forth. Season 22 is, for many, the darkest year in tone of the series’ history. That, however, is overshadowed by the show’s ‘cancellation crisis’ in 1985, when the series was put on hiatus for 18 months, returning to life as a mere shadow of its former self… only 14 25-minute episodes a year. An entire season’s worth of stories were thrown out for the new format, a Season 23 which was encompassed by an arcing story, “The Trial of a Time Lord”. Failing to gain in the ratings, Baker was sacked and the production team changed; producer John Nathan-Turner, who desperately wanted to leave, was instead forced to stay, while script editor Eric Saward departed in a very bitter and very public fight with his former boss.

While uneven and sometimes very violent, there were a host of new characters and creations during the era. The Valeyard — an amalgamation of the Doctor’s darker nature, somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnation — was the prosecutor at his trial, moderated by the impartial Gallifreyan Inquisitor. The Rani, a malevolent, scientifically-minded Time Lady, was encountered on Earth, aided in her quest to defeat the Doctor by the returning Master. The Sixth Doctor faced a milieu of adversaries: pirate Glitz, the hostile Daleks and calculating Cybermen, the bloodthirsty Androgums, the nightmarish Vervoids and the villainous Galatron Mining Corporation’s Sil. Companions Peri (Nicola Bryant) and Melanie (Bonnie Langford) joined him in his quests… also aided on one occasion by his own second incarnation (Patrick Troughton) and former companion Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines).

Baker, who departed the show after his sacking in 1986 (refusing, rightfully, to return for a regeneration story), has since been one of Doctor Who’s most popular goodwill ambassadors. He returned for the 1993 charity special “Dimensions in Time” and currently stars alongside Sylvester McCoy, Peter Davison and Paul McGann in Big Finish’s continuing Doctor Who audio adventures. A popular guest at conventions across the world, his charm and character belies only a hint of the true potential of the Sixth Doctor, had Colin Baker been given a fighting chance to play the role as he had wanted.

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