Category Archives: sixth doctor

[The Sixth Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

I gather that Colin Baker’s version of the Doctor is not all that popular with fandom. With only two short seasons under his belt, he doesn’t get much of a chance to cast a good impression. I understand there are some audio plays featuring the character that paint him in a better light, but that is outside of the scope of this project, so I can only comment on what I’ve seen in these episodes.

Seasons 22 and 23 and have been, shall we say, “mixed”. Although that’s perhaps being a tad generous. A change of tone has crept into the show lately, a weird mix of silly and creepy, and my overriding memory of these stories is of some poorly-judged moments and not much else. Generally speaking, the quality of the production has remained consistent, but the writing and performances have not. Early Colin Baker episodes are more focused with convincing us that this change of actor was a good idea, throwing in some classic references, whereas the the latter half is in a more experimental format, with mixed results.

The modern trend of the single female companion possibly began here, as the sixth Doctor travels with one at a time. Firstly, there’s Peri, who seems to focus so hard on getting her accent right that she forgets to act convincingly. The Doctor and Peri have a strange relationship, bickering like a married couple. Since Peri rarely seems to be enjoying herself, I have to wonder why she didn’t decide to leave sooner. It’s not like the sixth Doctor is the person she originally agreed to travel with, and she never seems to get on well with him. That said, her exit is awful and so out of character, as if she was written out on a whim and they couldn’t decide how to do it. Then there’s Mel, who isn’t even introduced, she’s just suddenly there. There’s not much bickering between them so far, but I don’t particularly like her either.

Thoughts on the Sixth Doctor

Unlike Davison, Colin Baker’s version of the Doctor seems intent on making you dislike him. Right off the bat, he’s arrogant, dismissive, rude and righteously indignant, as if the whole universe has gone mad and blames him for it. This leads to a bit of a one-note performance, best characterised by his repeating the last word someone says to him as a question, in an increasing pitch. “Lost? LOST?!!”

This isn’t the first time the Doctor has been played as an arsehole, of course. The first Doctor was rarely friendly, and the less said about the grumpy old third Doctor, the better. However, even Jon Pertwee’s take on the character would occasionally mellow and show a more charming side (okay, VERY occasionally). Colin Baker’s version tries to do the big ego thing like Tom Baker, only he doesn’t have the gravitas for that either. Well, to be fair, I don’t think Colin Baker is a bad actor, it’s more a case of poor writing and a one-note style. However, in The Trial of a Time Lord (and all of the linking sections from that season), Colin Baker shows that he does have a good performance in him. Ranting about the Time Lords becoming decadent and corrupt is superb, the perfect way to channel all that indignation towards something positive.

Which leads me to my ranking. This is becoming increasingly difficult to decide upon. I don’t think Colin Baker was particularly good as the Doctor, but likewise he didn’t have very long to become good, either. Jon Pertwee’s the better actor, but his character was regularly detestable as well, and he stuck around for far longer than I would have liked, whereas Colin Baker’s run was short-lived enough to be tolerable. I also want to try to separate the quality of the character from the quality of the episodes, which isn’t always easy. And my thoughts on Hartnell haven’t changed much since, either. With that in mind, I would currently settle on the following order (subject to change, terms and conditions apply):

Tom Baker > Patrick Troughton > Peter Davison > Colin Baker > Jon Pertwee > William Hartnell

Episode Highlights

With barely two seasons to pick from, it’s no great task to pull out the “best of”, although none of these would rank amongst the overall best. The Trial of a Time Lord makes things slightly harder, because it’s one story spread across many, and some of the good bits are interspersed with truly awful episodes like Mindwarp. Picking out the three top stories seems appropriate, so here they are:

Vengeance on Varos (2 45-min parts)
Grim and darkly comic, this serial is nevertheless enjoyable and has some memorable moments.

The Mark of the Rani (2 45-min parts)
Daft and lighthearted, the unique setting and the Master/Rani team-up make for some fun scenes.

The Trial of a Time Lord – The Mysterious Planet (4 25-min parts)
A good sci-fi story that would function just as well without the courtroom framing narrative, but opens with its most impressive sequence.

The Trial of a Time Lord (The Ultimate Foe)

The Ultimate Foe brings this trial of a Time Lord to an end, and not in quite the way I had expected. Yes, the Valeyard is trying to frame the Doctor, but I didn’t imagine there would be a conspiracy to cover up evidence that ran all the way to the top of the high council, nor that the Valeyard would be a manifestation of the Doctor’s dark thoughts, from a post-twelfth regeneration future. That fits quite nicely with the upcoming 50th anniversary special – perhaps they’ll mention it?

In a part of the matrix that looks like a sand dune, an image of the Valeyard confronts the Doctor.

In a part of the matrix that looks like a sand dune, an image of the Valeyard confronts the Doctor.

The mysteries from the previous stories actually are explained, which is surprising! The valuable data Glitz was after was leaked from the Time Lords’ information matrix, and the planet Earth was pushed away and disguised as Ravolox to cover it up. To help his defence, Glitz and Mel are brought back to corroborate the Doctor’s story, by none other than the Master. It’s quite a reunion they’ve got going on, fitting for a season finale.

Peek-a-boo! The Master reveals he's been watching the entire time from within the matrix. The supposedly impenetrable, impossible to corrupt, matrix.

Peek-a-boo! The Master reveals he’s been watching the entire time from within the matrix. The supposedly impenetrable, impossible to corrupt, matrix.

Most of the story takes place inside the matrix, where the EvilDoc/Valeyard is hiding, plotting to assassinate the judge and jury with a wibbly-wobbly matrix energy something-or-other. It does get a bit silly, with them waiting around in Popplewick’s office, being exposed to illusions and the Doctor being hypnotised by the Master. It’s not exactly a tidy conclusion, and the appearance of both the Master and the Valeyard as ‘villains’ (and both Glitz and Mel as companions) only clutters things further. Alas, it is a fairly forgettable mini-adventure, and it would seem the Valeyard isn’t defeated anyway, laughing maniacally prior to the credits rolling.

Despite ostensibly teaming up for the greater good, the Master still uses the Doctor as bait.

Despite ostensibly teaming up for the greater good, the Master still uses the Doctor as bait.

As this is the final story to feature Colin Baker, I was expecting him to be injured at the end and forced to regenerate, but it never happened. In fact, the whole way through this trial, I had expected a forced regeneration as his sentence (much like at the end of The War Games) – instead, the judge drops all charges because he saves their lives and the Doctor and Mel just leave. Meh, fair enough.

The Valeyard's deadly plan is foiled when the judge and jury duck.

The Valeyard’s deadly plan is foiled when the judge and jury duck.

Regarding Mel, then. Her pantomime performance is a poor replacement even for Peri, but the weirdest thing is how she’s introduced. She’s from this Doctor’s future, so from her perspective they met in the past. But this is the first time the Doctor has met her. Presumably, then, he will have to take her back to her own time, then travel back to an earlier version of Mel who will then meet the Doctor for the first time? Goodness me, that’s messed up. Oh, and the explanation of what “really” happened to Peri is pathetic. Married to King Yrcanos, who she found creepy? C’mon, I’d rather she died! What a lame cop-out.

Another creepy mask reveal. The Valeyard takes some lessons from the Master by disguising himself as Mr. Popplewick.

Another creepy mask reveal. The Valeyard takes some lessons from the Master by disguising himself as Mr. Popplewick.

Well, the trial wasn’t a total waste of time. Thematically, the “ultimate foe” being the Doctor himself is quite cool. I also enjoyed the Doctor’s epic rant in the courtroom about the corruption of long-lived societies, proclaiming the Time Lords to be more evil than Daleks, Sontarans, etcetera. Colin Baker may be a bit one-note in his performance, but when that note is ranting hysterically, he does it with flair. However, I will have more to say on the sixth Doctor shortly.

The Trial of a Time Lord (Terror of the Vervoids)

The prosecution rests. It’s now time for the Doctor to present his defence, and he’s given control of the matrix viewer to show a more favourable adventure. Weirdly, the one he chooses is from the future, something he hasn’t yet done. Now, this is an intriguing concept because, surely, if the Doctor actually has further adventures in the future, it must mean that the trial ends in his favour… otherwise he’d be dead, no? No doubt a society so entrenched in the mechanics of time travel has many legal precedents for this sort of situation, and yet nobody actually brings it up. The adventure is accepted as fact, and is therefore valid evidence.

The starliner Hyperion III nearly flies into a black hole.

The starliner Hyperion III nearly flies into a black hole.

Terror of the Vervoids is a murder mystery story set in space. In that respect, it’s similar to Robots of Death, but it doesn’t really have the same quality of memorable characters nor interesting themes, nor creepy atmosphere, nor quality of production. It’s not bad, per se, but it has a certain silliness to it. The Vervoid creatures are actually pretty creepy, or as creepy as plant men with flower heads can be, I suppose. There’s also a hijacking subplot that comes out of nowhere and leads to pretty much nothing. That said, I quite like the design of the Mogarians – just a shame we had to see their actual faces by the end of it. The resolution was a bit bleak – no coexistence between plant and animal can ever work? It’s thought-provoking, but surely it could be approached from a more optimistic angle.

Bill and Ben.

Bill and Ben.

What becomes apparent during this story is that somebody is definitely tampering with the evidence. At this point, I’m inclined to suspect foul play from the Valeyard, who is probably trying to frame the Doctor for something. Whether this ties up with the mysteries from the previous stories remains to be seen, but the Doctor nevertheless has to continue with the evidence as presented, only objecting where the facts deviate.

The Mogarians play some sort of Galaga variant. This would have looked cutting edge in 1986. I thought it looked quaintly retro. Funny how things change.

The Mogarians play some sort of Galaga variant. This would have looked cutting edge in 1986. I thought it looked quaintly retro. Funny how things change.

Since this story is set in the future, the Doctor already has a new companion, the permed and perky Mel (played by Bonnie Langford). Their relationship is pre-established – that is, it’s implied they’ve been travelling together for a while at this point. This seems like a cheap way to drop a new actress into the show without having to introduce her first. The sixth Doctor is not exactly a character you would volunteer to travel with, but will we ever see them meet? Is that still to come? This is… weird.

Between them, the Doctor and Mel have more hair than even the Tardis can contain.

Between them, the Doctor and Mel have more hair than even the Tardis can contain.

I’m getting a little bored of this trial now. Thankfully, it’s about to be wrapped up in the next story, and then I’ll have a verdict of my own.

The Trial of a Time Lord (Mindwarp)

GORDON’S ALIVE, IT’S BRIAN BLESSED! Playing a warrior king on Thoros Beta (home planet of the slug-like alien Sil, from Vengeance on Varos), Brian Blessed is the beacon of fun and enthusiasm in this otherwise shoddy story. I can barely remember what else happens, something about a scientist experimenting on the humanoid locals, looking for a suitable body donor for Sil’s boss, Lord Kiv, before he dies, and the Time Lords ultimately having to step in and stop it. What happened to non-interference, eh?

Part 1 uses funky video colouring to make this scene look like an alien planet... or an Andy Warhol painting.

Part 1 uses funky video colouring to make this scene look like an alien planet… or an Andy Warhol painting.

Amongst all the lunacy is Peri being recruited as a serving wench for all of five minutes, a strange mutated wolfman, and the Doctor losing his marbles… but actually it’s all a ruse! OR IS IT? It’s a pretty poor ruse, as Peri’s mind gets wiped and the Time Lords kill her. OR DO THEY? Etcetera, etcetera. What the hell is going on?!

Sil's head prosthetic has improved since his last appearance, but the character is superfluous this time. His gurgling laugh is as distinctive as ever, though.

Sil’s head prosthetic has improved since his last appearance, but the character is superfluous this time. His gurgling laugh is as distinctive as ever, though.

Where the previous story worked perfectly well without the courtroom framing device, the four parts of Mindwarp seem intertwined with what’s happening there. The Doctor’s amnesia prevents him from setting the record straight, so we have to take the story at face value. Either that, or the amnesia is just an excuse for poor characterisation. The Doctor is a thoroughly detestable character in this story, reverting back to his cowardly ways from The Twin Dilemma.

Brian Blessed basically dominates every scene with his presence, for better or worse.

Brian Blessed basically dominates every scene with his presence, for better or worse.

Ultimately, though, Mindwarp is just boring. Really boring, aimless, witless, silly and without merit. The only excuse I can give it is that perhaps it’s unfair to judge until the full story is revealed and it’s building up to something special in the trial, but I’m not hopeful of that. And if this really is the end of poor Perpugilliam, it’s the worst exit a main character could ever hope for.

Kiv's mind is transferred to Peri's brain, shortly before she's killed in an attack. Is this really the end of her?

Kiv’s mind is transferred to Peri’s brain, shortly before she’s killed in an attack. Is this really the end of her?

Although he’s certainly the best thing in it, not even Brian Blessed can save this one, and that’s thoroughly damning!

The Trial of a Time Lord (The Mysterious Planet)

Sometimes you need to take a break to recharge your creative batteries. After more than twenty years on the air, Doctor Who takes its first “hiatus”, coming back fresh after an eighteen month gap. Colin Baker returns, along with his scary smiling face in the title sequence, but the music has been changed to a more subdued and bassy version of the theme. Season 23 has one further change: the entire season is one story arc, encompassing multiple stories that tie into a narrative framing device, namely a courtroom trial. The Doctor is facing charges from his own people, for meddling in the affairs of others. Past attempts to bring together multiple writers’ stories into an arc have not been successful, so I remain sceptical for now.

The Time Lord courtroom. Surely putting the screen BEHIND everyone is just going to cause neck aches, no?

The Time Lord courtroom. Surely putting the screen BEHIND everyone is just going to cause neck aches, no?

Things certainly get off to a good start, as the story opens with the single most ambitious visual effect the show has ever attempted so far. A fantastically complex motion-controlled sequence sees a Time Lord space vessel pull the Doctor’s Tardis into its glowing tractor beam hatch, the camera swerving and swooping around to cinematically capture the event. It’s seriously impressive. Sadly, that’s where most of the budget went, as the rest of the story is set within the usual low-budget BBC sets or out in a forest, and film has been swapped for cheaper outdoor video again. Oh well!

The incredible opening sequence is not just technically accomplished, it's superbly composed too.

The incredible opening sequence is not just technically accomplished, it’s superbly composed too.

The courtroom side of the story has the Doctor face off against his prosecutor, the Valeyard. As you would expect, he doesn’t take the situation seriously, and gets increasingly irrate. This is actually quite a suitable situation for this version of the Doctor and provides some comedic moments (“I object!” “What now?” “Yes, now!”) and some epic rants. All the while, the court is watching one of the Doctor’s adventures on the screen, set on a mysterious planet that closely resembles Earth…

Seeing the remains of Marble Arch underground station, Peri is understandably upset at seeing what Earth will eventually become. The Doctor merely sees it as a statistic. All worlds come to an end eventually.

Seeing the remains of Marble Arch underground station, Peri is understandably upset at seeing what Earth will eventually become. The Doctor merely sees it as a statistic. All worlds come to an end eventually.

Well, it’s two billion years in the future and Earth isn’t where it’s supposed to be; in fact, the Doctor confuses it for planet Ravolox. Something is going on here but it’s a mystery for another time. The story features a fairly typical social dichotomy setup, with a primitive tribe above ground and the technologically advanced society sealed below. In a classic role reversal, the poor humans down there are slaves to their robot “god” and the Doctor has to lecture it about the value of life, which it obviously fails to grasp.

The Doctor confronts the robot, Drathro.

The Doctor confronts the robot, Drathro.

There are certain similarities with Robert Holmes’ first Doctor Who script, The Krotons, which is fitting as this was his last one before he sadly died the following year. He has undoubtedly made some of the best contributions to this show over the years, and this remains evident even in his final story. Take the two mercenaries, Glitz and Dibber. Another writer might have ignored any characterisation of two fairly inconsequential characters, but Holmes fleshes out his villains with quirks, gives them humour and personality that breathes such fun into their scenes that I was actually glad that they got away at the end.

Glitz and Dibber plan to breach the control room.

Glitz and Dibber plan to breach the control room.

Where the writing kind of fails is where it uses wishy washy space terms without much thought. Glitz and Dibber are from “the constellation of Andromeda”, apparently. Now, let’s ignore for a moment the fact that you can’t strictly be “from” a constellation, since it’s merely a representation of many stellar bodies as seen from Earth; one such body would be the Andromeda galaxy, which is such an astronomical distance from our own that it renders any interest in Earth trivial. These two characters noticing that Earth is a couple of lightyears off of its position is, to put this into perspective, like somebody in Australia noticing that a grain of sand on Brighton beach has moved a couple of millimetres to the left. A couple of lightyears isn’t even as far as Earth’s nearest star, Promixa Centauri! Where is this mysterious planet getting its sunlight from?!

Anyway, niggles aside, I thought the Mysterious Planet was rather good. I’m certainly intrigued by the courtroom side of things, but I found the actual story presented to be strong in its own right. We’re off to a good start, let’s hope it continues.

Revelation of the Daleks

It’s another Something of the Daleks story. Occasionally, these can be really good. Lately, however, this has become a less frequent occurrence. Davros returns, having escaped from the explosion in Resurrection of the Daleks, and does his usual routine of frothing at the mouth while yelling about his great plans to build the ultimate master race, etcetera, etcetera. Davros is definitely an iconic villain (particularly here, where for the most part he appears as a severed head attached to a machine), but this whole leader of the Daleks thing is getting tiresome now. When the ‘true’ Daleks return and arrest him, I thought that was a genuinely good moment and a simple but effective way to bring him down.

The head of Davros. I have to admit, that's a lot of trouble to go to on the off chance that you might be assassinated.

The head of Davros. I have to admit, that’s a lot of trouble to go to on the off chance that you might be assassinated.

Severed heads and violent stabbings are combined with some misplaced comedy to create a distinctly mixed tone here. The low point has to be the DJ; what on Earth were they thinking with him? “He’s just so ker-azy, man!”, whooping and hollering as he destroys Daleks with a laser powered by rock and roll or something. And then steps out like a fool and gets shot. Dear me.

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

That said, none of the action is particularly good. They try to do an action-packed assassination attempt in Davros’ lab, complete with limbs being blown off, but a BBC TV studio and some weak video effects just can’t do that sort of sequence justice. Good effort, but no. That’s not to mention the mixed quality of acting. Clive Swift is a good comedy actor, but he’s just a bit weird and creepy in this. Jenny Tomasin is unwatchably awful and cringeworthy in every scene. The romantic interest subplot is inconsequential. Elsewhere, I sort of enjoyed the scenes with Kara and Vogel, but their motives are a bit foggy.

The creepy human-Dalek hybrid head. The see-through Dalek is cool but... why build a see-through Dalek?

The creepy human-Dalek hybrid head. The see-through Dalek is cool but… why build a see-through Dalek?

There isn’t much left to enjoy, really. Orcini, the ‘honorable’ assassin is a kind of cool character. Tranquil Repose is an interesting place where they preserve you in death but what they’re producing is suitably icky. The part where the Doctor finds his future memorial stone is quite creepy, but not enough is done with that because it turns out to be a set-up to snare the Doctor. And speaking of which, I don’t actually know why Davros wanted to bring him there; that seems awfully irresponsible! Overall, this was a mess. Maybe the show should have gone on some sort of hiatus for a year and a half…

Timelash

Pulled into a time warp, the Tardis arrives on planet Karfel during a particularly nasty dictatorship, a looming war with a neighbouring planet, and rebellion bubbling beneath the surface. Apparently, the Doctor has visited this world before with Jo Grant during his third incarnation, but this was not from any televised adventure. It’s useful only in the sense the bad guys recognise who he is, which I suppose makes a change from the normal routine of capturing the intruders and having them explain themselves.

The timelash is so horrific and deadly, it can only be thwarted by a rope.

The timelash is so horrific and deadly, it can only be thwarted by a rope.

There are a couple of cool things in Timelash. Firstly, there’s Borad, the mysterious ruler. It’s a well-worn trope of hiding behind a false persona, but I liked the idea of him using a robot dummy to talk to his people, and I especially like the awesome make-up they used to make Borad’s face. The half-human/half-rubber-lizard prosthetic is genuinely impressive (and horrific!) to me now; I can only imagine what it must have been like for viewers in 1985. Secondly, there’s some interesting use of time effects. The Doctor’s double-image bluff is intriguing, and there’s the burning android that gets sent back in time one hour, which hints at the sort of non-linear storytelling that Doctor Who doesn’t do very often, probably because serials have to be painfully linear when they’re spread over several weeks. Sadly, this doesn’t have much bearing on the plot.

Okay, three good things. The time accelerator deathray is very cool. Flop!

Okay, three good things. The time accelerator deathray is very cool. Flop!

And the plot is not all that. The rebel uprising is kinda boring and the time portal to the past is silly. It’s made out to be some horrible fate worse than death… but actually you just wind up in Scotland with H.G. Wells? Speaking of, the whole Wells thing is a cute twist, but the character is awful, or at least the actor is. This is a particular shame since most of the supporting cast are also awful. Poor performances all round, with one or two exceptions. And Peri is perhaps at her most useless here, serving as little more than the damsel in distress and screaming a lot. The best performance is from the Doctor as he frustratingly (and meticulously) chews out his companions for getting in the way, in a scene that appears to have been written to fill the remaining ten minutes, despite the implied urgency of the situation. I mean, it’s quite funny, but what the hell?

Herbert looks like a young Michael McIntyre. That's right, try to unsee that now!

Herbert looks like a young Michael McIntyre. That’s right, try to unsee that now!

The ending, then, is just one massive cop-out, as the Doctor steers the Tardis into the incoming missile and is presumed dead, only to miraculously survive the explosion. I’m sorry, but “oh, it’s complicated, I’ll tell you about it some other time” is the absolute worst bottom-of-the-barrel writing imaginable. Shameful stuff.

Borad, in all his marvellously hideous glory.

Borad, in all his marvellously hideous glory.