Doctor Who - The Sixth Doctor

The Sixth Doctor Who

At the beginning of Doctor Who's third decade on the air, at the end of 1984, Peter Davison was leaving his title role as the Fifth Doctor. The UK's seemingly endless pool of good actors produced Colin Baker to take on the part. The new, seemingly more unbalanced than usual Doctor was portrayed amid a long decline in support for the show from both the public and the BBC.

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

Colin Baker - The Sixth Doctor

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor

Though he'd started his college career hoping to become a solicitor, Colin Baker felt the acting bug bite early. He would later graduate from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and began over 15 years of taking BBC television roles, some of them highly acclaimed. However, Baker's short three years on as the Sixth Doctor remain his highest profile performances.

Science fiction fans may have recognised Baker playing the role of "Bayban the Butcher" in the much bleaker third season of Blake's 7, created by the writer who also created the Daleks, Terry Nation. It is not true, however, that he is any relation to Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor.

Though he thought himself unlikely to ever land the job of playing the Doctor because he'd already been seen on the show in a supporting (and villainous) role. However, little more than a year later, he was taking over before the twenty-first season was even over.

When Baker appeared in “The Ultimate Foe,” no one expected it to be his final serial. The executives at the BBC had other plans, and blamed him (and not poor writing and lack of corner office support) for Doctor Who having suffered a continual erosion of their ratings. Colin Baker and the show went on hiatus end of the 22nd year, and changes in the lengths of the episodes also led to upheaval.

No matter what one executive at the BBC may have thought of Colin Baker's performance as the Sixth Doctor, most fans approve of the job he did of playing a character within tight constraints and unusual circumstances. Many fans also blame Doctor Who producer since the end of the Tom Baker era, John Nathan-Turner, for the decline of the show during his tenure and not allowing Baker to play the Doctor as he'd wished.

Since leaving the show, Colin Baker has continued to act, attend conferences and do voice work for Doctor Who audio books, both recreations of classic series shows and new adventures as the Sixth Doctor.

The Sixth Doctor

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(c) BBC

What was the most recognisable trademark of the Sixth Doctor?

His unruly mop of blonde, curly hair are reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor. But, the Sixth Doctor was best known for his long, patchwork jacket with (now trademark) question marks on the lapels. Pinned to it was a badge of a cat.

He is also seen with a multi-coloured umbrella on occasion.

How did Colin Baker play the Sixth Doctor?

Something went wrong with the Doctor's regeneration again, and the result was an even more unstable Doctor. Though he had curly hair and seemed off-kilter, just as the Fourth Doctor had before him, the Fifth Doctor had a double dose of each. He was more bombastic than any of his previous incarnations.

Of course, he was still the most clever man (or creature) in the room. Indeed, this reincarnation is particularly clever and he is often annoyed by the inferior intellects around him. This Baker's Doctor exhibits a tendency to pontificate on a large variety of subjects – sometimes in a very patronizing tone. Not just Peri, but everyone to some degree. The Sixth Doctor comes off as being authoritative, more like the first three Doctor's.

The Sixth Doctor also maintains his desire to do good wherever he goes, and protect innocent people from the bullies of the Universe. For all his bluster and haughtiness, he is still trying to undo injustice and lend a hand as he travels.

Peri in The Two Doctors

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(c) BBC

Who were the Sixth Doctor’s assistants?

Peri Brown, a young American who was first brought aboard by the Fifth Doctor, remains with the Sixth Doctor throughout his tenure. Just out of high school, she is taking a year abroad before university. She continues with him until she's nearly killed, rescued and sent home by the Time Lords during the Doctor's trial.

The Two Doctors

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(c) BBC

In the special serial “The Two Doctors,” both Jamie and the Second Doctor appeared in colour for the first time. 

This happened in series 22, where the Second Doctor and Jamie worked with the Sixth Doctor before heading back to their own part of the time line.

Mel Bush

(c) BBC
(c) BBC

The British actress, Bonnie Langford, played the role of the Doctor's assistant, Mel Bush, from her first appearance in Baker's last serial, “The Ultimate Foe.” She pesters him on fitness and gets the Doctor drinking carrot juice.

Mel goes on to be a companion for the Seventh Doctor. She seems to be the most hated/disliked companion the Doctor has ever had amongst fans, for no obvious reason. 

The Master and The Rani, and a dalek

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(c) BBC
(c) BBC
(c) BBC

Which main enemies did he face?

The Cybermen reappear during the Sixth Doctor’s second story.  And the next story after this, “The Mark of the Rani”, sees the return of the Master.  The Rani is actually a single Time Lady of Galifrey who has gone rogue.  She conducts all manner of dangerous and destructive acts of megalomania in the pursuit of power through science and is an outlaw.  In collaboration with the Master, she poses yet another threat.

The Sixth Doctor had another bash at battling Daleks in “Revelation of the Daleks,” where we meet Davros again.  Also among his enemies were the Time Lords, themselves, who he defends himself against in the season-spanning serial, “Trial of a Time Lord.” 

Other bullies include the Borad and the Vervoids.

What technology did he rely on?

Of course the TARDIS features prominently as the most important technology the Sixth Doctor uses, but this time he finally gets the chameleon circuit working again, and changing the outward appearance of his TARDIS (as the Master had always been able to do correctly) to match the surroundings.  However, as if determined to remain as a 1960s police box, the TARDIS malfunctions again and returns to its familiar blue and boxy form.

Though it nearly killed him again, the Sixth Doctor enters the Matrix on Galifrey – a computer that is responsible for keeping all the secrets of the Time Lords and their experiences.  Instead, the master trains it and the Doctor's own nightmares upon him, but it's eventually used it to trap the Master.

The Doctor's Sixth Regeneration

Unlike previous regenerations, the action took place entirely off-screen with the BBC itself giving Colin Baker the sack after the next-to-last of the season serial, “The Ultimate Foe.” Though they offered to give him one more story and a proper regeneration at the start of the next season, he declined and made a clean break from a show that was now rife with conflict at all levels, sometimes-poor writing, lack of funding and unfortunate scheduling.

When the Doctor returned in 1987, the Scottish actor Sylvester McCoy simply appeared as the Seventh Doctor.

And so we leave Doctor Who at a low point.  But stay tuned.  He's coming back with a vengeance.  Subsequent years would see Doctor Who reincarnate into a whole new generation of fans' hearts and go global in its appeal. 

Filmography of the Sixth Doctor

Season Twenty-One (continued) - 1984

  • The Twin Dilemma – After a difficult regeneration, the mysterious disappearance of twins gets the Doctor embroiled in a conflict between a Time Lord and the local inhabitants where he settled down.

Season Twenty-Two - 1984

  • Attack of the Cybermen – The TARDIS settles down in London for some work and the Cybermen show up.
  • Vengeance on Varos – A power failure necessitates a trip to a mining colony with a particularly troublesome form of entertainment.
  • The Mark of the Rani – A Time Lady who has gone rogue teams up with the Master to exploit humanity.
  • The Two Doctors – After saving Jamie, the Doctor realizes that he needs the help of a former self to clear the good name of the Time Lords.
  • Timelash – A decoration of state has a shocking secret that brings the Doctor to assist an oppressed planet.
  • Revelation of the Daleks – You'll never guess who has been cryogenically preserved.

Season Twenty-Three (Trial of a Time Lord) - 1986

  • The Mysterious Planet - The doctor is diverted and accused of breaking the First Law of Time; he must defend himself to the Inquisitor and mysterious Valeyard.
  • Mindwarp – In another serial of evidence, the Doctor is changed for the worse by his encounter with the local gun-runners.
  • Terror of the Vervoids – A particularly nasty sort of violent plant is taking over an Earth ship and the Doctor is asked to help kill them.
  • The Ultimate Foe (Time, Inc.) - We find out who is manipulating the Matrix and the Doctor is hunted in a surreal universe of his own making.

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Comments 4 comments

waynet profile image

waynet 7 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

I think this article sums up the Colin Baker era very well and also explains why I wasn't so keen on him, although what with the trouble at the beeb, no wonder it didn't really feel right especially for him. Although as a child of the eighties I did like the multicoloured jacket...as I wanted one.

Once again great hub series thus far and looking forward to subsequent hubs here after!

Cheers!


Lissie profile image

Lissie 7 years ago from New Zealand

Its quite extraordinary that I am about to watch a rerun of last year's series (sorry how many are there in total) and the Tardis, the Daleks the Master the Cybermen are still alll going strong - it really is the most extraordinary series and at the moment Dr Who has some great writers - I remember as teh Colin Baker years as being pretty bad myself!


Julie-Ann Amos profile image

Julie-Ann Amos 7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK Author

Hi Lissie we're now on the 11th doctor... and several series per doctor...

Colin baker wasn't bad - he wasn't allowed the same freedom to choose his own style as the other Doctors were, nor was he given a decent budget and script. Fans usually realise the declie of the series at this point really wasn't his fault at all, but that of the BBC's production/writing team.


Julie-Ann Amos profile image

Julie-Ann Amos 7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK Author

Thanks Wayne - after the Doctors are done I have hubs planned and semi written on the main Companions, enemies eg The Master etc and stuff on Gallifrey and Time Lords. Plus the tardis, future plans, and spinoffs like TORCHWOOD and other series! So there is tons of stuff still to come, I just want to get the Doctors out of the way first (pesky little creatures) then move on to other less well-known topics.

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