Colin Baker/Doctor Who 40th Anniversary
November 2003 was the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who. Elise Harris talked to the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker.
On November 23 1963 Doctor Who appeared with his Tardis – on its 40th Anniversary UK Gold marked the event with a whole slew of Who. The sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, remembers when it started.
‘I was a law student when it started in 1963 so as a student, if I was around on Saturday evenings I watched it and enjoyed it. You could have knocked me down with a feather if you’d told me then, one day that’ll be you. It’s an extraordinary thought when you think about it.’
He watched it avidly through the Patrick Troughton years, but didn’t see much of it during the Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Peter Davidson times. He was too busy being a working actor.
‘They tend to have matinees and evening performances on Saturdays, so those weren’t the days when you had colour telly in your dressing room. Not now either. Not in most dressing rooms anyway.’
When producer John Nathan-Turner cast Colin in the role, he gave him tapes of all the previous incarnations.
‘It gave me a flavour of what was required – I told him how I thought I’d like to play it and he said yes. And that was it really – so I kind of did my own thing within the framework of what had been set up.
‘And in fact you know you can play The Doctor almost any way you like really – you only have to look at the seven of us who’ve done it and we’re all completely different – but who he is (Who he is) remains exactly the same – he’s a Time Lord who cares, and fit that round either a short Scottish chap or a taller rotund English chap and you’ve still got The Doctor.’
The sixth Doctor’s distinctive colourful outfit was not his fault. ‘I was asked what I thought I’d like, and I went away and did some research – I remember I went to the library and got a load of costume books out. And I ended up with my suggestion, which was kind of austere – dressed in black and kind of disappearing into the background – which I thought would be quite useful. And then John Nathan-Turner nodded and said “nah, actually I think you should be totally tasteless.” And he and Pat Godfrey the designer came up with the costume that you know and either love or hate.
‘The only consolation I had was that I was on the inside looking out so I didn’t have to put up with it.’<
His version of The Doctor was occasionally more sarcastic than the others: ‘We kind of grew together the scripts and I and I must confess that sarcasm is in my repertoire and I’ve always rather enjoyed it. I always liked those teachers at school who were sarcastic and enjoyed being on the receiving end.’
Despite his garish costume and violent streak as The Doctor, Colin admits he sometimes mistaken for Tom Baker: ‘People call me Tom, and ask me “where’s your scarf” – Tom, was the only one who wore a scarf. It’s usually press photographers. It’s because he did it for so long people think of him as The Doctor. I just hope occasionally he gets called Colin.’
He says his favourite episode was The Two Doctors: ‘It was Robert Holmes story and he, I think wrote some of the best Doctor Who stories there were – and I worked with Pat Troughton as well, who for me was the governor because he did the tricky job of establishing regeneration without which I wouldn’t be talking to you now quite frankly.
He is also fond of Vengeance on Varos: ‘That was completely misunderstood by people like Mary Whitehouse. It was about a planet where the population were kept under control by showing them executions on television. The implication was that this was not a good thing. It was precisely in order to highlight the appalling nature if the regime being portrayed, but people do wilfully miss the point sometimes.’
Of all the baddies the Daleks had the most impact on Colin: ‘They were so alien – I mean everything else looks a bit like a bloke in a suit, which is of course what it was. Indeed the Dalek was – it was a poor sitting on a plank inside that with his feet on the ground, it had four castors on the bottom and he walked around and made it move. As soon as any of those castors hit anything bigger than a small peanut the whole thing ground to a halt or fell over.’
A real-life encounter with a Dalek left him in no doubt of their scariness: ‘I was dismissive of these rather naff monsters until I was walking though the studio late at night on my way back to my dressing room. I was aware of something and I saw this Dalek following me across the floor. And for that infinitesimal second I was alone with a Dalek which I had no reason to believe should be able to move on its own. In fact what had happened was the operator had gone back and gone inside to make some adjustments – it just proved to me once and for all that there is something inherently scary in the Dalek.
‘There is something inherently evil in something which beyond logic simply wants to destroy - or “exterminate” to use the correct word.’
Asked if he has seen Star Trek the Next Generation, he says: ‘Ah well, The Borg are more like the Cybermen aren’t they? Yeah – implacable – you can’t say “here’s a fiver now go away”.’
He thinks we should look kindly on some of the sillier special effects and rubber-suited monsters.
‘The guys who were producing the Doctor Who special effects with minimal budgets are precisely the same guys who 20 years later with better budgets and better equipment are doing wonderful special effects. An awful lot of the special effects designers in film learnt their trade doing stuff for the BBC. And even though the sets in particular may look a bit flimsy – at the time within the context of what was on television that was acceptable.’
Indeed, the cheapness was part of Doctor Who’s charm. Who needs big budgets when you can use imagination?
The Doctor Who Fortieth Anniversary weekend was shown on UK Gold from November 23, 2003
(Written before the start of the new the series)
The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on November 23, 1963. The series was shown until December 6, 1989.
The series was created by Canadian writer Sydney Newman (who was also responsible for The Avengers) – although Alice Frick, CE ‘Bunny’ Webster and David Whitaker were crucial to the development of his initial idea. Notable people involved in the series over the years include Douglas Adams and Terry Nation (creator of Blake’s Seven). Nation is responsible for much of the Who mythos – including the Daleks. Producer John Nathan-Turner played a crucial role throughout the 1980s.
The BBC is developing a new Saturday afternoon Doctor Who – with Queer as Folk Creator (and Doctor Who aficionado) Russell T Davies at the helm. He wants to introduce the character to a modern audience.
The series is likely to come to the screen some time during 2005 – the new Doctor has not yet been announced.
TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space (or Time and Relative Dimension in Space). In theory it has the ability to appear as any object, but it got stuck being a police box in 1963. It is, of course, far bigger inside than out.
The Doctor’s home planet is Gallifrey. Time Lords are aloof, have very little sense of humour and are usually a bit dull – The Doctor faced ostracism on Gallifrey (although it was never clear exactly why). Gallifreyan civilisation was founded by Rassilon, who worked with Omega to develop time travel. Gallifrey is surrounded by an invisible force-field called the Transduction Barrier.
There were some scary hide-behind-the-sofa baddies over the years – there were also some, frankly, ridiculous ones. Sometimes it was difficult to tell what category they fell into.
A race of cyborgs. They wore shiny silver suits, gloves and helmets – the Cybermen were terrifying for anyone who has a fear of Victorian deep-sea divers. Potentially terrifying (with better-designed suits). Have a weakness to gold. Originally organic, they often said ‘resistance is useless/futile’ while they attempted to Cyber-convert hapless individuals. Many years later Star Trek’s Borg would tell people ‘resistance is futile’ while they tried to ‘assimilate’. Homage or plagiarism?
Like the Cybermen, the Daleks were once flesh and blood. They are the Doctors greatest nemesis – despite the fact that they have many design flaws. Battle cries is ‘Exterminate!’. They are the mutated Kaled people of the planet Skaro. Also bear uncanny similarities to the later Borg.
Emperor of the Daleks and an evil genius. Davros was scarred and crippled, and helped destroy his own people when they showed opposition to his plan to turn them all into Daleks. Very difficult to kill.
Introduced during the John Pertwee years, the Master is a rogue Time Lord (and another evil genius).
Played by Dave Prowse (Darth Vader and the Green Cross Code Man). The Minotaur appeared in the 1972 episode Time Monsters.
Lizard-like race with red third eyes. Not all of them are bad. The Silurians try to destroy the Van Allen belt, but are thwarted by The Doctor and UNIT.
Aliens with dome-shaped heads. All Sontarans are clones of General Sontaris, who lived around 1400 years BCE. An extremely violent species, constantly at war with the Rutans.
It’s still debatable how many Doctors there have been – do you include Peter Cushing (who played him in two films in the 1960s) and Paul McGann (star of the 1996 TV movie) – and was the BBCi internet reincarnation (an animation voiced by Richard E Grant) yet another ‘real’ Doctor?
William Hartnell (1963-66)
The original Doctor was 55 when he started his stint. His first companion was ‘Granddaughter’ Susan. Peter Purves, later most famous for Blue Peter, played one of the Doctor’s other companions, Steven Taylor.
Patrick Troughton (1966-69)
The doctor took on a (slightly) more youthful appearance when he regenerated into 46-year-old Troughton. Companions included Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury). Troughton was the ‘Cosmic Hobo’, dressed carelessly and with a slightly dazed air. Played the recorder.
Jon Pertwee (1970-74)
Pertwee went on to become Worzel Gummidge and the voice of Spottyman in the Super Ted cartoons. One of the taller Doctor (at 6 foot 3). Father of Sean Pertwee.
‘Companions’ tended to be of a military bent – mainly because these were the UNIT years, and The Doctor had been exiled on late 20th century Earth. During this period, The Doctor helped Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and his team to repel alien forces. UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) was based in Geneva.
The Doctor’s official companion during most of this time was Jo Grant (Katy Manning). The Master (Roger Delgado) was The Doctor’s main enemy.
A tenth anniversary meeting with Doctors One and Two (1973) gave The Doctor the ability to travel the galaxy once more.
Tom Baker (1974-81)
Arguably the best-remembered Doctor. Baker had a colourful pre-Whovian career – he was a former monk and was working on a building site when he was cast as The Doctor.
The Tom Baker years saw the introduction and subsequent scrapping of robot dog K-9 (voiced by John Leeson – the original Bungle in Rainbow). K-9 was sent to live with companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen).
In real life Tom Baker married Lalla Ward (who played the second Romana after Mary Tamm) – but the marriage broke up shortly after Baker’s stint as Doctor ended. More recently he has provided the voiceover for Little Britain (BBC Three) and appeared as The Wise Man in Fort Boyard (Challenge?)
Peter Davison (1982-84)
Baker regenerated into the youthful Davison after a nasty fall from a radio telescope. Davison had appeared in All Creatures Great and Small, and as the Dish of the Day in HitchHiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (he wanted you to eat his juicy rump.)
Companion Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) saved the world by crashing his spaceship into a prehistoric Earth (thus causing the extinction of the dinosaurs and paving the way for the evolution of the human race).
Colin Baker (1984-86)
Trained barrister and classical actor. The most colourfully dressed Doctor had some of the darkest storylines. He was also the most acerbic and prone to displays of temper. Once tried to strangle companion Peri (Nicola Bryant).
Sylvester McCoy (1987-89)
Well known from children’s programmes like Vision On and Jigsaw before he became the Doctor. In Jigsaw he was part of a comic superhero double-act with David Rappaport.
McCoy’s Doctor tended to be written into comical scenarios – although he usually kept his dignity. Companions included Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford) and Ace (Sophie Aldred).