Sunday, April 03, 2005

Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 6

In honour of the return of Doctor Who to television as a series, debuting in North America on CBC on April 5, I present Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 6.

Colin Baker:1984-1986

Companions: Perpugiliam "Peri" Brown (Nicola Bryant), Mel (Bonny Langford)

Comments: It's rather difficult to believe that Colin Baker was actually eight years older than Peter Davison, if only because Baker's version of the Doctor seems much more immature than Davison's. Baker had actually trained as a solicitor (in Britain a lawyer who contacts and advises clients) and only began training as an actor full time at age 23 (in 1966) (among his fellow students was David Suchet). He alternated between television and stage work before being cast as The Doctor. His period in the role was undoubtedly one of the most turbulent and only partially because of him.

Colin Baker's Doctor is generally regarded as the worst ever. He is an abrasive, arrogant, pushy, aloof, unpredictable know-it-all with absolutely no sense of taste (just look at his costume). Throughout his tenure in the role he had people rooting for the monsters. The contrast between Colin Baker and previous incarnations of the Doctor is seen in the episode The Two Doctors in which he worked with Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. This version of the Doctor was at least in part a result of consultations between Baker and producer John Nathan-Turner. It seems to have suited Colin Baker's personality though - he'd spent a lot of his career playing "people you love to hate" and apparently set out to create a Doctor who fit that description.

John Nathan-Turner had taken the job producer in the last year of Tom Baker's time in the role and would continue to the end of the original series. Most Doctor Who producers stayed with the show for three years - Turner was there for nine and while continuity is good in principle it's not always good in practice. On the other hand he was facing a number of external pressures. In the last year of Davison's time as Doctor coverage of the Olympics had caused two weeks where two episodes had aired on the same day making a 50 minute episode. The BBC liked the ratings results and decided that Season 22 - Baker's first - would all be 50 minutes long. There would now be thirteen 50 minute episodes instead of twenty six 25 minute shows. It was a disaster because it destroyed the pace of the show. The aforementioned Two Doctors was made up of three of these episodes which was the equivalent of six normal episodes. It destroyed the show's tension, and the material simply wasn't adequate for the extended length of time. Then there was the question of violence. Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewer's and Listener's Association had been criticizing the show for having too much sex and violence since the Davison years, but if anything the amount of violence (and "sex" in the form of Nicola Bryant's impressive cleavage which initially at least was very much on display) increased in the Colin Baker period - Baker himself said in an early interview that the show wasn't violent enough. The trouble was that BBC 1 had a new Controller. He was Michael Grade, nephew of film and television producer Lord Lew Grade, and he hated Doctor Who. He cancelled the show, nominally because of the violence and because it "underperformed".

No matter what else can be said about John Nathan-Turner, he did have a gift for public relations and promotion. He organized a campaign to revive the show using his press contacts and after a gap of 18 months the show returned to the air. It was vastly different than what had been planned however. The 50 minute experiment was abandoned but only fourteen episodes would be made. A complete season of episodes that had already been written was tossed out in favour of a season long arc that seemed far too rushed because of the number of episodes, known as The Trial of the Time Lord. Nicola Bryant's character Peri was killed off(apparently) in the eighth episode of show and a new companion, Mel was brought on without any indication of how she met The Doctor. The result was forced. The writer of the last two episodes died after finishing only one, and the story editor quit taking with him a hastily version of the last episode forcing Turner to hire a writing team to come up with a new script without referring to the script that the story editor had created. It was a mess.

Peri was the Doctor's first American companion (although the actress Nicola Bryant was British she was so convincing that Turner actually thought she was an American) and was carried over from The Davison period. She was the constant butt of The Doctor's bouts of temper and ego, although by Colin Baker's second season there seemed to be a definite affection which heightened the sense of loss when the character was killed off. She definitely filled (pun intended) the part of a companion's role of retaining adult male viewers - her cleavage was often on display. Often courageous in a hesitant way, she was usually the recipient of The Doctor's frequently petulant explanations. As for Mel, she possessed a great set of lungs which she used often for screaming, but stage actress Bonny Langford (who at 12 appeared in the movie Bugsy Malone with Scott Baio and Jodie Foster) was the personal choice of Turner for the job of companion.

Colin Baker's time as The Doctor ended as it started - with controversy. Turner was informed that despite poor ratings against The A-Team, the series would continue but only if Baker were replaced. Turner told Baker that three years was long enough in the role - although Colin Baker had actually only appeared in the show for two years and one episode (and had said that his ambition was to stay in the role longer than Tom Baker) - and fired him. He then tried to rehire Baker for one episode to do the traditional regeneration scene. Understandably, Colin Baker refused.

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