Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Best of Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor

Colin Baker - he was the crap one right?

Wrong. He was the loud one, the fat one, the one worst served by the BBC in terms of stories and production values, but he was a pretty good Doctor. Egotistical, boastful, verbose, unpredictable and occasionally violent, he was a bit different from his predecessors.

Colin Baker got the role on the basis of a scenery chewing performance in Blake's 7 and a speech at a wedding. The costume is, admittedly, a disaster, but that was imposed on Baker by John Nathan-Turner, a producer who had really lost the plot by this stage.

So dressed like a wally Colin Baker had to navigate some of the worst Doctor Who stories ever written. Is there any point in watching?

Well yes, because of all the actors who flew the TARDIS, none could deliver a comic line better than Colin Baker, and given some of the guff he was asked to act in, you need a good laugh.

However if I want you to love Colin Baker there's no point in going over episodes like The Two Doctors, in which the welcome return of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines was ruined by a dull script, or Timelash in which Paul Darrow from Blake's 7 returns the favour to Baker by putting in an OTT performance, but looses the battle against risible sets and dire special effects.

Instead lets go straight to the highlight of Colin Baker's brief tenure; Revelation of the Daleks.

Like all the best Dalek episodes, the metal dustbins are kept in the background for most of the story. Instead we have a complex series of at least five overlapping subplots, set around a cryogenic storage facility for the dead rich.

Davros is secretly making a new Dalek army from bits of dead humans (hmm, so that's where RTD got the idea from ...). Meanwhile we also have Orsini and Bostock, an errant knight and his squire on their way to assassinate Davros. Then we have the to rival Dalek faction out to get Davros too and whilst all this is going on we have bodysnatchers, some dodgy food production, power struggles in the management structure and a loopy DJ.

An idea of what we have in store is given when one of the characters comments on recently departed client "I hope we're on time, she's already beginning to froth." After that the killer lines come fast and furious. The founder of Alternative Comedy, Alexi Sale, plays the DJ, but it's a credit to the rest of the cast, who deliver the blackest of lines with deadly seriousness, that he isn't the funniest.

The best double act of all though is the Doctor and Peri. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant always sparkled when together. Take the fob watch scene - you have to see it to appreciate it - which shows how good they are at spinning out even the weakest of puns.

The only down side to putting Revelation forward as his best adventure is that he's barely in it. There's so much going on that he's periferal to most of the story, and in the end Davros's empire more or less falls apart under its own contradictions, rather being brought low by some inexplicable special ability of the Doctor and/or the TARDIS. But that's another reason I like the story - it's realistic, that's how Dictatorships usually end.

If every Sixth Doctor story had been this good we'd all be singing the praise of Colin Baker as one of the great Doctors.

Alas they weren't.

However the Sixth Doctor has gone on to a long and productive second lease of life in books and audio releases, and Colin Baker has had the pleasure of being voted the best audio Doctor of all. He has even, thanks to the animated webcast Real Time, obtained a costume worthy of his character. All of which must be some compensation for being so diabolically treated by the BBC.

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