Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Where It All Went Wrong

Colin Baker is generally regarded as the weakest of the Doctors (Paul McGann usually being exempt from the comparison by virtue of his role as "the longest and the shortest"). Personally, I would place him marginally ahead of Sylvester McCoy, but in both cases I would apply the caveat that I don't think it was the actor's fault in any sense (and that's true of McGann as well) - they did what was asked of them; it's not their fault that the material wasn't all that might be hoped.

With the Colin Baker era, I think there were four problems, none of which were Baker's fault:

  1. By that point, the show was just tired. Ironically, for a show that could literally go anywhere and do anything, it had become very formulaic and repetitive. Most stories followed a pattern that varied only slightly, and the show had become very self-referential. Much as I hate to admit it, it really was time for a rest. (It will also be interesting to see what happens to New Who in a few years, as any show that lasts as long as it has runs the same risk.)
  2. The costume. Oh dear, the costume. I guess they were going for something truly unique, in a bid to capture the Tom Baker 'scarf'. But they failed rather spectacularly, an in going so they really messed up the tone of this Doctor's adventures. That said, I think they could perhaps have recovered from this, except that...
  3. The decision to make this Doctor loud, and arrogant, and overbearing, and, really, not very nice, was an interesting one, and it might just have worked were it not for the other problems. After all, it was something genuinely new. But a big problem with that was that this new, darker, Doctor was quite at odds with the comical costume choice. So, the tone of the whole thing was badly off. Either go for the 'darker' Doctor with a darker outfit (see the Ninth Doctor for a good example), or go for a louder, comic Doctor with the clown-suit. Either could have worked (maybe). But there was one other problem that they just couldn't recover from...
  4. In the Sixth Doctor's first episode ("The Twin Dilemma", part one), and in fact in his second or third scene, immediately after picking out the clown-suit, we have an extremely troubling scene where the new Doctor has a "funny turn" during which he is really, genuinely nasty to poor Peri and then tries to kill her. That scene, by itself, consigns the new Doctor to the scrapheap. There's no coming back from that.

It's all such a missed opportunity. Creatively, the notion of having the Doctor's regeneration being unstable and him being a bit 'off' for a while is a very interesting one. And it does indeed fit given the circumstances of that regeneration. But there's a huge gap between "a bit off" and him being nasty, and especially with him attacking his companion. Combine that with him being not-very-friendly, even after that story, and with the clown-suit, and you've got a disaster.

Likewise, having the new Doctor be rather abrasive, arrogant, and generally not-very-nice is also an interesting choice and could have worked well. But not with that costume, and not when you're also dealing with the "unstable regeneration" angle. (And, probably, not immediately after the Davison era, when that Doctor was generally pleasant.)

And none of it is Colin Baker's fault, even though the powers-that-be blamed him for it.

(It should also perhaps be noted that Colin Baker's era does feature some great material. "Revelation of the Daleks" is one of the great stories, close to the level of "Genesis of the Daleks" in quality, while the "Trial of a Time Lord" season is also very very strong. So there's good stuff there, despite the problems.)


June being the month of the Sixth Doctor, I found myself reading the short story "Something Borrowed" by Richelle Mead and the novel "Players" by Terrance Dicks. Both featured the Sixth Doctor and Peri.

Alas, "Something Borrowed" isn't terribly good. Remember how I said that many of the stories by the Sixth Doctor's tenure had become very formulaic? Well, the same is true here, probably as a consequence of the very limited page count. The story features the son of a friend of the Doctor being married to a mysterious woman of a different species. Surprise! It turns out she's up to no good. Surprise! It turns out Peri gets captured. Surprise! There's a rescue. Surprise! The Doctor turns the tables on his foe.

It's something of a shame, because the underlying premise is actually quite good; adapted for the TV show this could actually make for a good episode. And although this is a recurring villain, she's not one who has been as over-used as certain others I could mention.

By contrast, "Players" is fantastic. I suspect this has something to do with the author's huge familiarity with the show - Terrance Dicks was, of course, the guy who wrote a huge number of the novelisations, so he knows his stuff. Plus, he's taken an interesting premise, an interesting segment of history, and some interesting figures from that segment of history and woven together a fun tale. This is, by some ways, the best of the six novels to date.

Next month is, of course, the month of the Seventh Doctor, who seems to have been the Doctor that the BBC deliberately sabotaged - I missed half of one season and all of the other simply because the BBC never bothered to let us know it was on, and then it was dropped due to lack of viewers. (Though, as I said above, the show was getting really tired by that point, so maybe it was for the best, heretical as that sounds.) Unfortunately, next month's novel is merely the adaptation of "Remembrance of the Daleks", which was an okay story, but I would have preferred something else. Still, I suppose we had to have Daleks in there somewhere!

#26: "Players", by Terrance Dicks

1 comment:

Kezzie said...

What good points you make! Yes, they didn't do him any favours- he played the role they made him play well but it didn't endear him!