"The Colin Baker era of Doctor Who was the least successful in the series'
history. The mistakes made by the production team during this time ensured
that the show was cancelled first for eighteen months, and then for six
years." Discuss.

The Colin Baker era could rightly be labelled the least successful in the
show's history. However, this label must be applied with caution. Firstly,
it is necessary to define how it is the least successful. In the BBC's
eyes, success is based on ratings; in fans eyes it is based on story
quality. In ratings terms, Season 22 performed adequately; however, after
the "hiatus" and the disastrous decision that Season 23 should consist of
one, fourteen-episode serial, there was a marked and alarming decline in
viewing figures. Season 22 gained, on average, approximately 7.16 millions,
whereas Season 23 only managed to achieve 4.80 millions. Whilst it could be
argued that this was due to the fact that the show had been off the air for
eighteen months, it is equally true to say that the amount of public
attention the show's cancellation gained should have ensured that it
maintained the viewing figures of Season 22. That it did not points to the
fact that Season 23 was unpopular with casual viewers, many of whom must
have been disinclined to watch the serial due to its extreme length, and
because of the negative aspects of the previous season that had been
highlighted by the cancellation decision. Overall, the Colin Baker era
achieved the second-worst average audience of any era, only just above the
meagre figures garnered by McCoy. However, the McCoy seasons were broadcast
on weekdays opposite the then-most popular show on British television,
Coronation Street, whereas the Baker era was aired in Doctor Who's
traditional Saturday slot, and still, in its second season, failed to
achieve higher viewing figures than McCoy did in his second or third
seasons. Taking this into account, it is probably fair to say that the
Colin Baker era was less popular than the Sylvester McCoy era as far as the
viewing public were concerned.

As far as fans of the programme are concerned, Colin Baker is also
unpopular. In the near-definitive DWM poll (DWM 265) the Sixth Doctor was
ranked a clear last in the list of most popular Doctors, with an average
appreciation of only 62.27%. In the list of stories, a Sixth Doctor serial
does not appear "until 34 [the lowest "top story" place for any Doctor] -
aided by the Daleks. The Sixth doesn't turn up again until 50, and even
then he needs the assistance of the Second; it's not until 72, just above
the halfway mark, that he carries a solo story". In the ranking of the
twenty six seasons, Season 22 is fifteenth, and Season 23 is twenty-fourth,
both below the halfway mark. The bottom, and third-from-bottom ranked
serials are both Colin Baker serials - a terrible showing considering that
only eight serials were produced during the era, meaning that a quarter of
Colin Baker stories are amongst the very most unpopular ever.

Why should the Sixth Doctor's era be so unsuccessful, both among fans and
casual viewers? Perhaps the unpopularity is best explained by the
behind-the-scenes development of Doctor Who between 1984 and 1986. In the
first place, the era had a disastrous beginning with the most unpopular
serial of all time, The Twin Dilemma. John Nathan-Turner's decision that he
wanted the new Doctor to have a complete serial before the end of the season
was, in retrospect, a mistake. Lack of money meant that the serial looked
very cheap; problems with the scriptwriter meant that the finished product
was bitty and unpolished; and the fact that the new Doctor was to be
introduced as a dangerously unstable, violent, unlikeable troll meant that
both viewers and potential writers approached the following season with
strong preconceptions about the character. Of course, The Twin Dilemma was
also cursed by being aired after one of the most popular serials of all

Season 22 bears the scars of these prejudices. In most of the scripts the
Sixth Doctor is presented as an arrogant, unlikeable bully; a bombast who
terrorises his companion, and tends to resort to violent methods in order to
achieve his ends (most notably the horrific murder of Shockeye, but also his
confrontations with the Borad, his actions in the Punishment Dome of Varos,
and his ultra-violent gun battles with the Cybermen). Of course, all
Baker's predecessors had, occasionally, resorted to violence, but their
likeable personalities, and the fact that the violence was either sanitised
or else not dwelt upon tended to obscure the fact that the Doctor, "never
cruel", had performed an act of great cruelty. This aspect was entirely
lacking in the Colin Baker era, largely due to Saward's attempts to make
violence "real". This, in many ways, was a positive change - previous
serials often downplayed the effects of injuries or violent actions.
However, when it was coupled with an attempt to make the Doctor seem more
distant, alien, and proactive than ever before, it meant that too often the
Doctor was the cause of the pain, rather than the allieviator. Add to this
the fact that Peri never questioned the Doctor's "spurious morality", and
the fact that the Sixth Doctor's character was perfectly summed up in three
lines at the end of Androzani, and never really built upon, and you have a
recipe for failure. The Sixth Doctor's character was, in many ways, at odds
with everything that had been establised previously, in that he freely
resorted to violence, had no compunction about using weapons, and showed
little remorse for his unpleasant actions. This violence, and the overt
violence of the season in general (the grisly deaths of the Sontarans;
Chessene's blood-licking; the Dalek mutations; Lytton's crushed hands; the
horrible deaths of the Varosian guards) was picked upon by BBC management as
a justification for the cancellation. Despite the fact that the violence
actually had nothing to do with the cancellation, it was a fair point to

The over-use of continuity was another negative aspect of the era. Although
Nathan-Turner's early, continuity-raiding serials had gained plaudits from
the fans, Season 22 perhaps marked the point of overkill. Attack of the
Cybermen was a story entirely based, and in many ways about continuity - and
when that continuity was not only badly used, but also used confusingly it
alienated fans and casual viewers alike (there was a huge fall from 8.9
millions of viewers for episode 1 to only 7.2 millions for episode 2). The
Two Doctors likewise abused continuity - not only by wrongly attributing the
Third Doctor's traditional role as messenger of the Time Lords to the Second
Doctor, but also by its gratuitous addition of the Sontarans, and Time Lord
biology. It must have seemed that the show was becoming very introspective,
which, in turn, led to the narrowing of the fan base.

Season 23 used less continuity, but was so long and convoluted that it
probably alienated just as many viewers. The fact that after eighteen
months the production team had no idea where the new season was heading is
simply unforgivable. The confused finale, leaving many questions
unexplained, was a result of behind-the-scenes bickering combined with a
severe and inexplicable lack of preparation. Almost anything would have
been an improvement over the messy and uneven "epic" that was eventually
broadcast, but the fact that several long-commissioned (and largely
superior) scripts were left unused in favour of the Trial season is
astonishing. After the hiatus the new season needed an audience winner, a
big draw away from The A-Team. No such story opened the season, nor
appeared within it. This, more than any other mistake of the Colin Baker
era production team, is their most damning fault.

Despite the production team's mistakes, however, the real reason why the
show was cancelled was BBC management. The initial cancellation in 1985 was
so that money could be poured into the new Breakfast Service. However, it
had a severe and long-term effect. It meant that the show suddenly seemed
less of a constant; less of a solid rock in the schedules. It meant that
attention was drawn to the negative aspects of the show, and the allegations
that it was no longer suitable for a family audience. And it meant that the
show, inevitably, returned with a Sword of Damocles hanging over it, and an
immense question mark in its future. In short, the "hiatus" allowed the
1989 cancellation to go largely unremarked. It was the death of Doctor Who
as a much-loved family series, and the beginning of its period as a "cult"

In conclusion, the Colin Baker era was the least successful in the series'
history. However, the mistakes made by the production team were not the
real reason for the show's cancellation. Rather, the production team's poor
decisions in Season 22 provided a damaging excuse after the fact for the
1985 cancellation; and this was compounded by the team's inexplicable lack
of preparedness for Season 23 which meant that the show failed to recapture
the viewers' imaginations after eighteen months off the screen. After the
fiasco that was Season 23, it was perhaps forgivable that the BBC needed to
make a public display of their dissatisfaction by sacking Colin Baker,
hoping that this move might assure people that the show *would* get better.
If only Colin Baker had been allowed more time to develop, unencumbered by
Saward's flawed vision of Doctor Who, he could have been one of the great
Doctors. As it is, he will always be remembered as the runt of the litter,
unfairly blamed for events entirely outside his control, and forever
tarnished with the negative image of Seasons 22-23.