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  1. #1

    Default A Colin Baker essay

    "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
    time.


    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
    make.


    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"
    show.


    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.

  2. #2
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    Very interesting read. I would just question whether season 23's 'single story' nature, or its overt continuity was what put more casual viewers off - if that was the case, I'd have expected the first episode to attract similar ratings to season 22. I'm more of the opinion that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy; that is to say, the BBC took the show off air saying it was not popular and wasn't very good, and by the time 18 months had rolled around a lot of the audience had taken that as fact without even watching it.

    Rewatching season 22 now, curiously I would say Colin's Doctor isn't at all unlikeable - I say 'curiously' because at the time, I do remember not warming to him very much at all. Yet in fact, he's spiky and argumentative, although rarely in fact with Peri, and is actually very entertaining. But the scripts in many cases feel a bit tired (both Attack and Varos, for me, have good opening episodes, but then don't seem to know what to do or where to go in the second half) and the production team somehow feel tired too. It's a shame a new Doctor, back on Saturday, didn't coincide with a new fresh approach - imagine if Cartmel had come in for season 22 for example. So it sometimes felt tired and 'old-fashioned' in season 22...

    ...and in season 23 somehow didn't know quite what to do with itself other than not be like season 22!! Colin is superb throughout, but it might have been better as a showcase of four of the very best stories they could produce, rather than a single-story epic.

    Mind you, I love Trial, so what do I know!!

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