Thursday, 22 November 2012

"...Whether You Like It Or Not!"

[NOTE: This article could have been ten times longer, ans still not covered everything. This is simply a rough overview, a springboard for discussion. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments box below!]

“I am the Doctor....Whether you like it, or not!”

Those immortal words were uttered by the Sixth Doctor in the very last episode of his first full story, 'The Twin Dilemma' (1984), the adventure that was voted, in 2009, the 200th most popular 'Doctor Who' story....out of 200 (DWM 413, 2009). And despite the Doctor's brash dismissal of general opinion, many viewers and so-called fans didn't like it. Not at all.

The Sixth Doctors' era is perhaps the most turbulent and controversial time in the whole of the shows' 49-year on-screen history. It was 2-and-a-bit years of scathing fan interviews, behind-the-scenes arguments, pressure from the top bosses at the BBC, and episode cuts. The media fed upon the chaos that was created around the show, focussing on the negatives and failing to acknowledge that, despite the problems, 'Doctor Who' was still in a good place.

In particular, the media delighted in interviewing 'fans' of the show, those obsessives who watch and analyse the series despite seemingly hating everything about it. They were only a small minority, but sadly this close-minded group of viewers were much more vocal than the rest of 'Who' fandom, giving the whole group a bad name. Today, these 'fans' have the internet at their disposal. Those who despise the show, and enjoy criticizing the actors, writers, directors and producers, can now visit forums and poison the web with their scathing comments. But back in the day, these 'fans' were put on prime-time TV, where they could openly insult and criticize devoted producer John Nathan-Turner to his face, giving those who loved the show a bad name nationwide.

It is, of course, very difficult to shake off the tarnishing of a name. But was the Sixth Doctor's era so deserving of such hostility? Why was it held in such poor esteem? Let us now examine the general consensus of opinion, at the time and, in some cases, still current, before I put forth my own views on the subject. Stick on your cat badge, and grab a glass of carrot juice. This is going to be an interesting ride....

The Sixth Doctor was born on March 16th, 1984, in the dying moments of the classic story, 'The Caves of Androzani', which saw Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor make a final, fatal sacrifice for his beautiful young companion, Peri (Nicola Bryant). It was an amazing sequence – full of excitement, tension and, ultimately, heartbreak. The following story, however, which saw Colin Baker's proper début as Doctor Number Six, would mark a severe contrast to the previous adventure, staining the next two years of 'Doctor Who'.

That story was 'The Twin Dilemma'. The exact opposite of ...'Androzani', '...Dilemma' replaced grit with camp, tension with pantomime, real human villains with giant slugs. The garish, ugly style of the piece could, if one were being cruel, be said to have set the tone for the following two years of 'Doctor Who' – an opinion I severely disagree with. '….Dilemma' did give us several elements that would remain a staple of the Sixth Doctors' era, factors that invited hostility and anger from certain 'fans'. However, I would argue that 'The Twin Dilemma' itself was the cause of the problem, not the individual elements that carried over to 1985. A poorly executed story that came straight after a golden classic of 'Who', it would have been hard to recover from such a moment. But let's not focus on that. Let's focus on these elements, staples of Doctor Six, that were constantly under fire, and see if we can turn things around a little.

The Outfit
Bright, garish, and very bad taste. Colin Baker's attire as the Doctor was (and sometimes still is) the one thing that could unite fandom in their dislike of it. Even Baker himself was dubious of it, although he recalled that '….It's lovely on cold locations, when the companions in their skimpy costumes are all shivering....' (DWM 118, 1986). Aside from the clashing colours and patterns, the clothes also seemed a bit 'obviously' alien, very over-the-top.
Certainly, I would agree that none of the other Doctors would wear such an outfit. But then again, Colin Baker wasn't any of the other Doctors. He was his Doctor. The stubborn Doctor. The loud Doctor. The costume reflects Six's personality, as much as Peter Davison's all-white clothing mirrored his Doctors' pure nature. Colin Baker's multi-coloured coat is also visibly arresting. All eyes are on Colin Baker when he's in the room, there's no doubt about that! And he pulls it off, wears it well. To repeat what I wrote in a letter to DWM (which, in edited form, made their 'Star Letter' in issue 448), Colin Baker looks every inch the handsome, dashing hero in that costume. He's colourful, exciting, silly, loud, bold, bonkers – an exploded rainbow woven into a whirlwind of fabrics and textures. I know Mr. Baker rather fancied wearing black, but seriously, I would wager that only a uniform as bright and kaleidoscopic as the one he did wear would be big enough to contain such a wild persona as his. Oh, and he had a beautiful collection of cat badges that he wore on one of his lapels, which only adds to his jacket's charm. AND his waistcoat had teddy-bear buttons, a fact I only discovered when I saw it up close at the Blackpool Exhibition a few years ago.

Yes, in short, I love Colin Bakers' outfit as the Doctor. I embraced it, accepted it, cherished it as much as the bow ties, the scarves, the celery, and the umbrella. And if you really do need to criticize a show, don't blame it on the clothes. That's just silly.

The letter I wrote to DWM had to be edited to fit into the magazines' 'Star Letter' section, but the original letter I wrote is here in full, touching on comments made in a previous issue about the Sixth Doctors' costume, alongside the reasons why I really think 'Doctor Who' suffered in the 80's:

And once again, the 'Curse of Colin Baker's Costume' rears it's ugly, garish head. Am I really the only person alive who likes his costume? Fair enough, I can see why some people perhaps aren't so keen on it, but it was the mid-1980's, he's an alien with two-hearts and a has flying police box...And you think his costume was the most weird thing about him? I do think that Mr. Baker pulls off the outfit very well: in fact, I think he looks rather dashing in it. I find it quite sad that the costume is always the focal point in latter-day interviews with Colin. The 'A New Dimension' mini-documentary, broadcast in 2005, was a way of introducing new fans to old Doctors, and yet Colin was not asked to discuss his performance, his stories....just how awful his outfit was.

But blaming (at least partially) the costume for Baker's untimely dismissal is a step too far. One imagines that if Colin had been given the chance to hang around for longer, they would simply have given him a new set of clothes to wear.

No, I blame the fans at the time for the demise of Doctor number 6. From the archive footage I have seen from the glorious DVD releases, I have been disgusted by the opinions and remarks from that very small, and sadly very vocal, set of Doctor Who fans who despise change, hate anything new about the show, and are completely close-minded and set in their ways. Those who loved and enjoyed the show were more than happy to watch and lap up the multi-coloured joy of this short but sweet era, whilst the few who moan went out on national television and gave every Whovian in the country a bad name.

Doctor Who is about being different, about embracing the alien and unusual. I will continue to enjoy the Sixth Doctor's reign (on DVD, Audio CD, comic book & novel-form) as much as any of the other Doctors.

I could go on, but I won't. All I'll say is this. Christopher Eccleston: Leather jacket and jeans. Matt Smith: Bow tie and tweed. If the same man can pull off both of those looks, then surely he can switch from celery & Cricket-wear to Cat badges and kaleidoscope!

Anyway, great magazine, great article! Keep up the excellent work!

Cory Eadson (AGE: 22)

And if you would like to see video footage of bad 80's Whovians bitching and moaning, check out the extras on the 'Trial of a Time Lord' DVD box set!

The whole point of the Sixth Doctor was to make him unpredictable, acidic in tone, irascible and dangerous. In his first adventure, this is almost caricatured in his unstable regeneration, as he flips from brave hero to babbling loony to violent psychopath in quick succession.

After the softness of the Fifth Doctor, both Colin Baker and John Nathan-Turner decided to go back to the First Doctors' grouchy nature, giving him a sharper edge and a more alien quality. This 'alien-ness' was highlighted in a lovely quote by Colin Baker himself, in which he said that his Doctor was the sort of man who could step over ten dead humans, but cry at the death of a butterfly ('The Doctors: 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond, 1995) – a beautiful description of his Doctors' character.
Sadly, a section of fandom saw this change in persona as too much to handle. They also reacted badly to the friction between the Doctor and Peri, as they argued and sniped at each other constantly.

What these fans didn't realise was that there was a game plan, a desire to mellow the Doctor over time. Certainly as the series progresses, the Doctor grows much warmer towards Peri ('Timelash' aside), and by the beginning of 'The Trial of a Timelord' (1986), there's a big difference. The Doctor was still bad-tempered – That was him! - But his character was developing, as was his relationship with Peri. Alas, the Sixth Doctor was damned from the start, and viewers failed to appreciate such subtle alterations. Nothing was changed enough, as so the hate continued.

It is a shame, because despite the anger and stubbornness, the Sixth Doctor was still the Doctor. He was brave and valiant, but he didn't suffer fools gladly. Perhaps the Sixth Doctor was a reaction to his previous incarnation's vulnerability? Doctor Five lacked authority, and would often beg and plead, whereas Six isn't afraid to hurl insults and roar his disapproval. If the Sixth Doctor didn't like you, you'd know!

The Sixth Doctor also has a playful side. Whether it's fishing for gumblejack, or flirting cheekily with pretty blonde receptionists by conjuring flowers, he has all the charm and wit of his previous selves. He may be more at ease to commit violence (see next sub-section), and much less patient with a Universe that always seems to be working against him, but the Sixth Doctor was, and is, still a madman with a box, with a star-like twinkle in his eye...

'Doctor Who' has always had a violent streak, often being criticized for being overly scary, too realistic, or downright nasty (see 'Tomb of the Cybermen', 'Terror of the Autons', 'Genesis of the Daleks' and 'The Deadly Assassin'). It just appears that during Colin Bakers' era, the show upped its' game in this department, giving us not only a more violent Universe, but a more aggressive Doctor....

Story-wise, season-opener 'Attack of the Cybermen' (1985) kicks off the year in grim style. All the main characters, bar the Doctor and Peri, are killed and main villain Lytton (who ultimately comes good) has his hands squeezed until they draw blood. For many, this was bad enough. But more controversy surrounded the Doctors' own use of violence.

Follow-on story 'Vengeance on Varos' was a witty attack on television violence, but sadly the joke was lost on much of the viewing public. In this adventure, the Doctor actively throws two guards into a pool of acid, before callously quipping, Bond-like, “Forgive me if I don't join you”. Following that, in 'The Two Doctors' our Time Lord kills cannibalistic Shockeye with cyanide, a vivid and realistic death a far cry from laser guns and other fictional forms of sci-fi murder.

But the Sixth Doctor was an alien. Why shouldn't he sometimes resort to violence? Remember the First Doctor in his début adventure, 'An Unearthly Child' (1963)? He picks up a rock to kill an innocent man, simply because he's slowing them all down. And many-a-time, Tom Baker has dispatched the baddies without batting an eyelid. Of course, the Doctor has always maintained an anti-violence stance, but only when there is no other way. Or when it suits him. “No second chances.”

While some of the Sixth Doctors' efforts of bumping off the bad guys may have been closer to reality than blowing them up with bombs or laser blasting them (blame the script-writers for that!), he has always acted with the best interest of others in his hearts. Whether protecting himself or his friends, the Doctor in his Sixth incarnation was no less violent than some of his previous, or later versions. As suggested earlier, the Doctor in his Fifth incarnation was much more lenient with his enemies. Doctor Six probably learned from that, leaving his Seventh self to deal with the moral issues he left behind for him.

So, there you have what I feel are the main areas of target for Doctor Number Six, as well as my own defence for this most unloved of Time Lords. But things change. Now, more and more fans are turning back to the Sixth Doctor, and finding a newly-discovered love for him....

It's so easy to look back at the Sixth Doctors' era and see all the negatives. Behind-the-scenes arguments between script editor and producer. The amount of episodes per season halved from 26 to 13. One single, 14-part story in 1986 that confused both fans and the general public alike, costing the show millions of viewers.

But times, they are a'changing! More and more people are looking back at an unpredictable, dangerous time for the show, when the Doctor was at his most alien, and the stories, on the whole, were darker than ever before. Two series' worth of monsters old and new, our hero on trial, plot-twists and tension. And while one of the biggest tragedies of that time was not getting the chance to see Doctor Six develop. Now we can. All thanks to Big Finish!

Big Finish Productions produces original audio dramas based on 'Doctor Who', featuring Doctors, companions and monsters from the past. Since 1999, we have heard Colin Baker breath new life into his version of the Time Lord, slowly taking his character to where the television series might have gone if he hadn't been unjustly sacked from the role. Giving Baker a second chance has brought fresh fans to his Doctor, as well as giving old fans a fresh, new perspective on his character.

The novels, too, helped in part. They were able to expand on 'Doctor Who' in a wider, deeper way than the TV series ever could. 'Time of Your Life' a Virgin Missing Adventure published in1995 by Steve Lyons is a beautiful example of a Doctor repenting, and in a sense is a spiritual sequel to 'Vengeance on Varos'. And Gary Russell's 'Spiral Scratch' (2005) gives the Sixth Doctor a send-off he truly deserves. Heroic, brave, and, ultimately, selfless.

Like many eras of 'Who', the 1984-1986 years had their ups and downs. But it was a time of pressure, a time when fans thought they owned the show. A time when being different led to punishment.
But thankfully, now we can appreciate the Sixth Doctor without a need to hide our opinions or thoughts. It was a time of originality, bravery, change. A time when a Doctor looked straight into the face of opposition and said, “I am the Doctor....whether you like it...or not!”

Well, Colin Baker, I liked it!