Gustaff Behr explains how Colin Baker became one of the best Doctors.
“You have accurately identified some of my defining traits: Compassion and a capacity for self-sacrifice. But you’ve made the mistake of bringing together three distinct incarnations of the same personality. Each time I regenerate, the balance of those traits alter. I have always been pragmatic in all my lives as I am in this regeneration, but more so!” – Sixth Doctor’s pre-butt kicking speech
Not every Doctor gets the same treatment onscreen. Whilst most Doctors receive their fair amount of screen time and moments that guarantee them a soft spot in the hearts of fans, not all are afforded this luxury. The Sixth Doctor is one such an individual. His era was cut short long before its time and for many years the Sixth Doctor was synonymous with ‘the unlikable Doctor’. Thankfully Big Finish stepped in to amend this.
Blame it on the coat (I don’t mind it) or the personality (love it btw) or even the era that was the 80s (okay, I do mind this one), but Colin Baker’s Doctor often gets treated unfairly, despite his Doctor being the most alien compared to the whole Classic Era Doctors and even some of the New Series ones. Again, this is thanks to the coat and the personality. Colin Baker was the first Doctor I encountered after watching David Tennant’s Doctor and I couldn’t help but think to myself the whole way through Attack of the Cybermen: “I can’t imagine this multicoloured egomaniac Doctor as a lovesick puppy. What’s going on here?”
In actual fact, this is how I wanted the Doctor to act: proud, arrogant with an enormous perspicacity and ego! The Doctor’s sixth persona seemed genuinely more “Time Lord” than some of the New Series Doctors. This wasn’t always the plan though. Like most tragic protagonists, Colin Baker’s Doctor was meant to go through years of character development and evolve into a Doctor that could make people forget about Tom Baker.
Right off the bat, this Doctor was littered with character flaws that ranged from radical unsocial behaviour to genuine narcissism. These flaws were supposed to be fixed and repaired over time but unfortunately, Colin was dismissed long before his true colours (incredibly lame pun I realize) could shine through. Fortunately, this incarnation lives on in the audios and is now considered the best audio Doctor out there. With the help of Big Finish, the Sixth Doctor has achieved the years’ worth of development needed to redeem his incarnation.
Subverting tradition, the Sixth Doctor began as a very negative personality. As mentioned above, this Doctor had a lot of character flaws that genuinely annoyed and provoked hostile action from those around him and rarely ever did his behaviour do him any favours. His moral compass during this incarnation was well-disguised however. However, like most incarnations, he mellowed into a ‘Softer Six’ once he met Evelyn Smythe and Melanie Bush.
Travelling with Peri
“A noble brow. Clear gaze. At least it will be given a few hours’ sleep. A firm mouth. A face beaming with a vast intelligence. My dear child. What on Earth are you complaining about? It’s the most extraordinary improvement.” – Sixth Doctor describing himself
This version of the Doctor is the one people are most familiar with: the egotistical, melodramatic and brash loudmouth. In fact, even after Big Finish audios became canon, the Sixth Doctor still gets treated the same way he was 30 years ago, despite his time with Peri not even taking up a ¼ of this incarnation’s lifetime. However, not everybody feels this way. The Doctor and Peri’s relationship is one of my personal favourites and the Doctor here is my personal favourite as well.
The Sixth Doctor during his travels with Peri could be considered rude and insulting if you’ve never watched Doctor Who before. Actually, he could be considered that even if you watched Doctor Who religiously (on Sundays). The Sixth Doctor is witty, holds himself in very high regard and most importantly – he’s not afraid to tell you that. However, despite the darker personality, the most prominent aspect that developed during this Doctor’s time travelling with Peri was that he finally started to see the ‘logic in murder’; a trait that would serve his next incarnation quite well.
Travelling with Evelyn Smythe
“I’m curious to meet the woman who tamed the Doctor.” – Mel Bush
Arguably the most important reason that Colin Baker is now one of the best Doctors around is a history professor named Evelyn Smythe, A lot of Colin’s best audio stories has him partnering up with her, and they play off of each other so well. It’s a case of everything being done right constantly and continuously there after: Doctor, companion, writing, directing and casting! Trust me new audio fans, the Doctor has some of the best stories EVER travelling together with Evelyn Smythe!
After his trial, the Doctor spent some time travelling the universe alone until eventually meeting Evelyn Smythe, a professor of history who invited herself aboard the TARDIS in order to experience history firsthand.
The thing about Evelyn is, she managed to tame the Doctor by often acting like his grandmother… scolding him for being…well the Sixth Doctor we all knew on television. This is something I dislike personally as it takes away some of the Doctor’s general authority and makes it seem more like he’s being babysat, however beyond my perception, it also allows the Sixth Doctor to grow up, past his numerous faults.
During his travels with Evelyn, the Sixth Doctor drops some of his television habits and evolves into what has now been dubbed the “Softer Six”. The Doctor’s wit is still as sharp as ever (as is his tongue) and he still believes he’s the cream of the crop, but now he mostly does what most humans do…he keeps it to himself instead of blurting it out to everyone within earshot whenever he enters a room.
He severely mellows during this period spent with Evelyn. This is heavily remarked at one point in his travels when the Sixth Doctor meets a much younger version of the same incarnation from just after the trial and comments on how annoying his younger self is; solidifying that his time spent with Evelyn has indeed been necessary and that he is grateful for the assist in maturity.
Travelling with Mel
“Discretion is the better part of valour” – Sixth Doctor
When was the last time you heard the Doctor utter a phrase like that? That’s not the Doctor’s style. He usually goes and does whatever he wants regardless of what dangers might be up ahead and encourages his companions to do the same… except when he asks them to ‘stay in the TARDIS’. This alone should provide a unique marker of how much the Sixth Doctor has developed – especially this Doctor!
Travelling with Mel, the Sixth Doctor is disciplined, generally very careful about what and where he goes and aware that his actions have consequences. He is responsible if you can wrap your head around such an absurdity. This is reminiscent of how he acted towards Mel in Terror of the Vervoids which is set during the canon of the audios, sometime before The One Doctor if you’re looking for specific continuity references. This caution is something that not every Doctor in his future will share and it is something that also genuinely alienates this Doctor from the rest, but in a good way this time. This is the Doctor that I believe Colin Baker wanted to become had he received the opportunity to peel the layers off his incarnation.
To this day, there are still fans who fail to see through this Doctor’s intimidating exterior or patchwork coat. This is a shame as the Sixth Doctor you watched on television was in his embryonic stages. If you want a mature, sharp and compassionate Doctor, then Big Finish is where you need to turn to. For fifteen years of doing great work and redeeming his Doctor, Big Finish have announced a 4 hour event special in September ‘The Last Adventure’ where we will finally get to ‘see’ the chain of events that led to the Doctor’s sixth regeneration.