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
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.