jason stives & michael dworkis looks at the sixth incarnation of the doctor — colin baker…
Profile: The Sixth Doctor – Colin Baker
No, he is not related to Tom Baker. Granted they share similarities, but there is no family relation between the two portrayers of The Doctor. Sporting an attire of clashing colors, this incarnation of The Doctor was one of the strangest. Immediately after his regeneration, his behavior was erratic and borderline insane. His large curled hair and bizarre clothing, littered with red question marks worn by Baker only furthered the viewer to see this version of The Doctor as impulsive, angry, and arrogant. He often cited problems with his past selves, and held nothing back to let his disdain for the unintelligent known to all who would be within earshot.
Significance: At this point in the show’s run the significance of each Doctor becomes less visible as the latter half of the 1980s ultimately proved to be a slow death knell for the series. What is significant is what this period in the show’s run entailed more than its overall appeal down the line. Colin Baker’s portrayal of the Sixth Doctor doesn’t help much but this is not necessarily his fault. While then Script Editor Eric Saward has said in years since that Baker was a suitable character actor but not a leading man, much of this comes down to how the Sixth Doctor was written and oddly enough, dressed.
Indeed, the fondest memory most casual fans of the show have of Baker’s incarnation of the Timelord is his disastrous costume, a perfect storm of clashing colors and clownish accessories inspired in part to make the Doctor seem in bad taste, a reflection of his erratic new persona. The extent of which this was taken was extreme and outside of the outlandish outfit, the Doctor was perceived as irascible, short fused, and a coward. His actions in his first story towards his companion Peri were shocking to say the least and ultimately acted as an unnecessary footnote on his portrayal and the show’s perception through the rest of the eighties. His unexplained strangling of his companion was horrific to viewers just coming off of the kind-hearted, non-confrontational demeanor of Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor.
This by no means necessitates the notion that this was a completely horrible era as some fans believe. Some relatively good stories emerged from this period but it was the direction of the show at this time that gave the show an 18 month hiatus and near cancellation in 1985 by the heads of the BBC. Viewed as not being funny enough, too violent, and having an unlikable Doctor, the show was met with much criticism and the hiatus of the show had permanent ramifications for the rest of the show’s run. For one, the show was ultimately reduced to 14 episodes at 25 minutes each after the BBC felt the format instituted in Baker’s first season of thirteen 45 minute episodes was not working (ironic as this is the format the show has taken on since it came back in 2005). The other is Baker became the only actor on the show to be fired from the role, a decision the BBC tried to defend by saying three years was enough when in fact he had only done 2 seasons.
Nevertheless fans interested in seeing a Sixth Doctor on a broader scale should check out some of the Big Finish audio adventures featuring Colin Baker as they give a greater scope to what he could’ve accomplished had he been given a longer run on the show.
Vengeance on Varos
The TARDIS shuts down when its supply of Zeiton-7 runs out which is a rare substance only found on the world of Varos. The Doctor and Peri make their way to the planet, only to find nothing but danger enforced by a corrupt government. The special ore mined on Varos is also the subject of constant negotiation between the Governor and the Galatron Mining Corporation represented by the villainous Sil.
Varos is also a world where, in a bit of its own version of reality television, executions are voted and watched by the public. Not only that, but decisions by the governor are also voted on and if turned down, even he is subject to execution. The villains behind a plot to have the governor killed in order to fully claim the Zeiton-7 are ultimately foiled by The Doctor. Throughout the plot, The Doctor cynically dispatches the henchmen in pursuit, showing no remorse or regret for those killed.
In the end, The Doctor and Peri escape the Punishment Dome, a gene-mutating machine, and ultimately stop the Corporation from their evil plans. The Governor decides to abolish the sport of public executions, leaving some in the public wondering what they will watch now?
Revelation of the Daleks
In the season closer of Colin Baker’s inaugural season, The Doctor and Peri are brought to the planet Necros after learning of the death of the Doctor’s friend Arthur Stengos. His death leads them to Tranquil Repose, an intergalactic funeral home where bodies are stored in an elaborate catacomb of storage chambers. Unbeknownst to the Doctor, the Daleks and their evil creator Davros are present in the shadows with a fiendish plot that involves the dead of Tranquil Repose and food distribution to the various planets in the galaxy. Amongst all this, the Doctor crosses paths with two assassins sent to kill Davros, a pair of body snatchers, and a fleeting romance between two of the funeral home’s workers.
For the most part Dalek stories beyond the 1960s can be ignored for being unimportant and dull (save for the 1975 story “Genesis of the Daleks”) but the 1980s Dalek stories have a lot of care and effort put into them thanks in part that two of them were written by then script editor Eric Saward. Regardless of the controversial elements of his tenure as script editor, Saward painted wonderful action sequences next to strong character driven stories, an element he adapted from his mentor, former 1970s DW script editor Robert Holmes. His pension for dark comedy in some of his later work bleeds through in the characters of this story. The sardonic DJ of Tranquil Repose (played by British comedy vet Alexis Sayles) pumps good vibe tunes into the cryogenic catacombs of Necros while brandishing tasteless jokes and a borage of costumes to make life that much easier on a literal planet of the dead.
For the most part “Revelation of the Daleks” holds true the one element that makes the best Dalek stories so great: humanities reaction and response to their presence. The surreal atmosphere of Tranquil Repose creates some bizarre caricatures of its workers. In a soap opera like manner, love and revenge take our heroes through strange twists and turns all the while the Daleks lurk about shouting orders and secretly preparing a new army of Daleks. Terry Molloy returns for the 2nd of 3 appearances as their evil creator and here Molloy really fleshes out the eerie and serpent like qualities of Davros who does more stirring the pot than he does devising plans for the Daleks conquest of the universe.
Much of the story’s mood and pace must be attributed to director Graeme Harper who directed the previous season’s exceptional “Caves of Androazni.” His low lighting technique makes up for the lack of detail in the sets and his pension of quick shots makes the tension in some scenes almost unbearable. This is demonstrated best in a scene deep within the catacombs where one of the body snatchers, Natasha, discovers the whereabouts of his her father’s missing body.
All Photos Credit: BBC America