Hiding to Nothing

It could be argued that there is no greater subject for debate, in the Doctor Who world, than the life of the Sixth Doctor.

The range of emotion for this incarnation of our favorite hero is about as steady as a celebrity’s relationship.

There are those who think he is the best, though this feeling is rare. Then you have those who think “He’ll do” or “Well there isn’t another one on TV right now so…” And then there are those who can’t stand the ground he walks on and think that his character is about a tasteful as his suit.

But are these opinions fair? I mean they are just that, ‘opinions’. Colin Baker is a fine actor and very talented with accents and voices. He displays a marked range of emotion and when he played Commander Maxil during the Fifth Doctor era, you could feel his presence on screen more so then Peter Davison’s.

So how did he get such a bad rap?

Some say it was, former Controller of BBC One, Michael Grade’s fault, but how can this be? Sure we have all heard about the bad blood that is rumored to be between them, but he didn’t have anything to do with the two years of the show that aired with Colin Baker in it. He was just the evil dictator who canceled this brilliant show for a year.

There are those who say it was his outfit and I know they say ‘clothes maketh the man’ but that’s a bit unfair too. Sure it was the worst outfit ever seen in just about any production ever made (Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat notwithstanding), but the man underneath the clothes had to have done more then just look bad on screen.

Next we have those who feel it was his characterization and the writing; finally something that you can actually base these opinions on.

Colin Baker had a plan and really it was a good plan. Take the Doctor back to the early days of William Hartnell. Play him as a bit more grumpy and short tempered. Very different from the portrayal by the Doctor before him, so as I said, good plan. So what went wrong?

I feel it was a few different factors, namely his age. The character traits laid out for the Sixth Doctor were not bad, I mean they worked before, but then William Hartnell was in his mid-to-late fifties when Doctor Who first visited Totter’s Lane. If you are going for that sort of feel you risk losing credibility if you’re a youthful looking guy in his early forties…

So I get why most fans don’t like the Sixth Doctor on a first glance, or at the very least can tolerate his portrayal. But what do the fans who love him see?

It’s easy to look at the suit, the fits or anger thrown towards his companion, the smug nature of character, but if you invest the time and look a bit further into his life you will see something. That same something that captivated us since day one.

Underneath the color wheel coat lays a wonderful actor who had a knack for subtleties. It’s hard to see at first as the not so subtle aspects are much more in your face, but if you pay attention, if you give him a chance, you will see the same care and heroic man that makes up the Doctor.

Sure, it does seem hard to notice those moments in this era of the Doctors life, but they are there. The single thing that makes it easier for fans to appreciate Colin Baker’s tenure are the fantastic audio plays by Big Finish. Even if you don’t count these plays as canon, they do cast a new light on his TV stories.

The audios give the sixth Doctor a chance to grow. They allow him to evolve during his fifth regeneration and mellow the character out. Something Colin Baker had wished to do in the TV series. He had high hopes of beating Tom Bakers record in the part. With a goal like that, it’s completely understandable why his character came on so strong in his first year. If you want the character to grow on screen, then you need to have a starting point to grow from.

Watching him develop over his impressive collection of Big Finish plays – which I believe he holds the record out of the other Doctors so far – it gives you a newfound respect for the man. So when you go back and watch a TV story to feature his Doctor you can pick up on his little hints of the character that he would become. The aspects that make any great Doctor who they are.

Part of me thinks that if he had been given the opportunity to pick his own wardrobe that the range of emotion regarding his character would not be so sporadic, as listening to the plays you don’t have to see the coat. But that’s not necessarily true, as I said in other reviews and articles, that I watch these plays. The images are all in my head, so I can’t escape the suit. Sadly, I feel the suit is just the icing on the list of complaints that most people have.

I feel lucky and very thankful that Colin Baker is still involved with the show by continuing to do these plays. He genuinely loves this character and is always willing to please the fans. I can’t help but wonder what the fan opinions would be like today had his era not been cut so short.

Every Doctor has a title or a description that best suits them. Colin Bakers’ should be “Misunderstood.”

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