Tuesday 28 July 2015

How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Doctor...

Doctor Who fans will doubtless have noticed that all is not well in Camp Sixie. Colin Baker, rightly, draws our attention to the lack of tact shown by the Doctor Who Magazine, in their decision to publish an interview with him, followed, four pages later, by a poll which consistently places him and his era firmly at the bottom.

Of course, all polls are subjective, and will have, by their very nature, a bottom placing. But, as Colin opines, is it necessary to publish the poll in its entirety? It is, after all, bound to be disheartening for those placed at the bottom. Some time back, I analysed the results of the 2014 poll on this blog. I disagreed with much of the poll results, but published them, in full, as per their appearance in the magazine. With hindsight, a part of me wishes I hadn't, although, in fairness (to me!), I was an allying the poll, as published. 

The more I think about it, the more I agree with Colin Baker. Publishing the bottom placings of a Doctor, a story, or a season, seems rather disingenuous, and rather cruel. After all, our opinions differ wildly, and what, for some, may be a "low ranked statistic" may well be someone's personal favourite. That lowly placed Doctor, that "lousy" episode; they may be a firm favourite for some. Indeed, some may have been the first introduction to Doctor Who for some people.

This, of course, doesn't preclude us from having favourites, nor does it prevent us from offering an opinion any aspect of the show. Which leads me neatly into the second half of the post...

In Defence of the Doctor

Whilst, I think, most fans would concur, none of Colin Baker's stories reach the lofty height of masterpieces like Genesis of the Daleks, the same cannot be said of his portrayal of the Doctor. By definition, each regeneration is different, with their own quirks, foibles and personality traits. And this is, for me, where Colin Baker stands out. From the very outset, his Doctor is loud, brash, bombastic and certainly makes his presence felt. In many ways, he is, perhaps, among the most alien of Doctors. He burst onto our screens, not with a fainting whimper, but with a violent burst of energy, leading to some of the darkest scenes the classic series had ever seen. Never before had a Doctor attempted to kill his own companion!

Each of Colin Baker's television episodes has merit. They have Colin Baker! That, alone, makes each and every one worth watching. Whilst most polls would place stories like 'The Twin Dilemma' or 'Timelash' at the lower end of the scale, for me, I throughly enjoy both. I find Colin Baker's Doctor compelling, energetic, sincere and credible. His presence elevates every story. Every moment spent with the Sixth Doctor is like a moment spent with an old friend, who we have watched grow and mature.

Unceremoniously dumped by the BBC, Colin Baker could have, quite easily, stuck two fingers up to Doctor Who, and I doubt anyone would have blamed him. And yet, he has become, perhaps, the most ardent supporter of the show, and a great ambassador for fans everywhere. He is, by far, the mist accessible of all the Doctors. Some of you will, perhaps, have had the pleasure of receiving a tweet from him. I have, and I have to confess to a rather giddy thrill that The Doctor tweeted me! 

Of course, the real triumph of the Sixth Doctor lies in his audio adventures, courtesy of Big Finish. My introduction to Big Finish audios came in the form of a birthday present; a CD of 'The One Doctor'. It whetted my appetite, and 201 stories and numerous spin-offs later, I still eagerly await each new release. And that enthusiasm is never greater than when a Sixth Doctor story is imminent. 

I have something of a reputation for singing the praises of Big Finish. I do not dish out praise lightly, but the reputation is well earned. Whilst it is, I think, fair to say, none of Colin's on screen adventures are quite in the same league as some of those from the early 1970's, his audio adventures are more than a match. Stories such as 'Jubilee', 'Davros', 'The Reaping' or 'The Spectre of Lanyon Moor', to name but four, are, I believe absolutely worthy of "classic" status. Leaving aside the numerous merits of each story, the real strength here, again lies in Colin Baker. 

With each story, Baker turns in a more nuanced performance, and we are treated to real character development for the Sixth Doctor. His brashness softens, his relationship with his companions grows stronger, and his charm and wit become evermore present.  At the end of each story, you are left in no doubt that you have just spent a couple of, very enjoyable, entertaining, hours with The Doctor.

I somehow suspect, whilst polls are being voted upon, many of those voting have never taken the time to listen to audio adventures. It would certainly explain why "Nu-Who" Doctors are consistently placed near, or at the top of those polls. There is a whole universe of Doctor Who which many have not yet explored. Perhaps, if they did, those polls may look very different.

Ultimately, though, who gives a damn about polls anyway? They are a snapshot of a selective number of people, and do not fully do justice to any of the placings, high OR low. For someone out there, 'Timelash' is their introduction to the world of Doctor Who. For someone, it is a favourite sorry, and no amount of polling will change that.

As for me, well.. I adore the Sixth Doctor. I love his energy, enthusiasm and uniqueness. And the same is true of Colin Baker, for who. I have an enormous amount of respect. His Doctor is loud, brash and volatile. Colin, by contrast, is dignified, tactful, erudite, and passionate. There is much to love about both the character and the actor. After all, he is The Doctor. Whether you like it, or not!


DASP said...

Another fantastic post as always. And one I feel compelled to comment on.

I'm really not sure how I feel about the fan polls. I do like to see where my opinions line up with the opinions of others and I am obsessive about having the full results; but I never take fan polls very seriously, nor would I ever allow such a silly thing as argumentum ad populum to influence my opinions. Sadly, I have noticed a tendency for fans to be intimidated into silence by the perceived majority or simply for fear of confrontation.

I certainly wouldn't want anyone to feel bad about their contributions to Doctor Who on the basis of fan polls; which are fluid, qualitative, and unscientific. In other words, they are, at best, a marginally informative snapshot of the subjective opinions of the sort of people who actively participate in such polls, and little else. Most of the time, I read the name of a poll, chuckle, and dismiss it unread. Occasionally, I peruse a poll. Rarely, does a poll engage me enough for me to put enough concentration into it that the little OCD monster in my head would latch onto it. Anyhow, who cares about polls? I like what I like and I never had a problem with being in the minority.

So, what do I like? My favorite era is the black & white era of the 60's. My favorite types of stories are Hartnell-era stories, back when the companions were on equals terms with the Doctor, and there was more of a sense of jeopardy for the characters, many of whom didn't choose to travel and couldn't easily get home. However, my favorite Doctor is Colin Baker.

For years, this was a difficult contradiction for me. Not many of my favorite stories were produced during the 80's. Davison's last two seasons and McCoy's first season are certainly not amongst my favorites. And Colin's era is sandwiched in between that. I have to say, I perceive a lot of problems with the stories during those years. Unfortunately, Colin's era on television features caricatures in place of characters, graphic violence, and grotesque humor. It's unpleasant by design and not in a particularly subtle way. It doesn't help that the incidental music which could have helped underplay the unpleasantness instead often rams it home for the viewer. And yet, despite all that, I really like Colin's Doctor during his time in the show. It's a testament to Colin's performance that despite playing an unlikeable character in an era of many unpleasant stories, I always came away wanting more.

Also, I suppose I see myself in much of his portrayal, flaws and all. I care about people, and I try to do good, but I don't care much if anyone likes me. I can also be arrogant. And I have no problem confronting authority, nor do I ever feel much need to adhere to social norms. Plus, I think the best Doctor moments come from the character's flaws, both in expressing them and overcoming them.

DASP said...

In my opinion, many of the best stories have been produced for audio by Big Finish and they put Colin over the top as my favorite Doctor. Every month, I look forward to the next set of releases from Big Finish; but I must confess I'm always much more enthused when I know Colin is in it. He is one of the best vocal actors I've ever heard. He always manages to convey so much in his voice and elevates every story to which he contributes. I was one of the folks who regularly campaigned for the Sixth Doctor to have a proper heroic end, so I was thrilled at the announcement of The Last Adventure and pre-ordered it as soon as finances allowed.

Also, I wouldn't have my Big Finish collection if it wasn't for the Sixth Doctor. Big Finish lured me in with The Lost Stories range, starting with the Sixth Doctor's missing season. I loved it. Finally, I was able to hear all those stories fans were robbed of back in 80's. It was a vast improvement on much of the stuff that made it to screen. It felt unfettered by the limitations of 80's television.

Still, I wasn't looking to start a collection. I was going to stop there, but Big Finish had a sale on the first fifty Main Range titles, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to hear old Doctors in new stories. After The Lost Stories, I particularly wanted to hear more stories with Colin; and, as a fan, it didn't take much to convince me that this was the opportunity of a lifetime to hear more Davison, McCoy, and McGann stories as well. So, I went for it...bought all fifty. And after listening to the first few Main Range titles, I knew I was hooked.

As of yesterday, I own every Doctor Who title and every Doctor Who spin-off. So take note, Big Finish. Colin Baker's performance alone convinced me to start collecting Big Finish audio adventures. After a recession. While I was out of work. While I was attending college for a baccalaureate and masters. Seriously.

And fandom should take note as well. The classic era of Doctor Who is alive and well with Big Finish audios. The quality of stories is consistently good. The target audience is classic series fans. And the actors from those classic eras have been given the opportunity to shine. Don't think you'll like stories with the Sixth Doctor, Peri, or Mel? Wait until you hear what Colin, Nicola, and Bonnie have done on audio with Big Finish. Don't want to invest the money yet? Go to Big Finish on Sound Cloud (https://soundcloud.com/big-finish), and download some trailers and some free episodes. Listen to some of what you've been missing.