Saturday, November 2, 2013

50 Years of Who - Consumer Resistance

In 1984, Colin Baker (no relation to Tom) took over the role of the Doctor from the outgoing Peter Davison. Baker initially had tremendous enthusiasm for the role, wanting to outlast Tom Baker's seven year run as the Time Lord. Unfortunately, he was becoming the programme's leading man at the exact moment where the series entered its most troubled period, a period that would eventually see the series put on hiatus for decades.

After Davison's warm, vulnerable and relatable Fifth Doctor, producer John Nathan-Turner and Script Editor Eric Saward decided to make the character of the Sixth Doctor more off-putting, more challenging. He would hearken back to the irritable and irascible William Hartnell, and in many ways go even farther, with the plan being that Baker's Doctor mellow over time. In his first adventure, addled by a difficult regeneration, he actually attempts to strangle his companion Peri. It was a bold choice, and arguably the wrong one. Combined with Nathan-Turner's decision to dress the Doctor in a "tasteless" outfit, there was initially little for the viewer latch onto when it came to the Sixth Doctor.

Other behind the scenes troubles exacerbated the apparent decline of the series. Nathan-Turner had been trying to get off the series for some time, having been the producer since Tom Baker's final year in 1980, but was blocked from doing so by the BBC. The tone of the series became very of its time, garishly produced, over lit and reliant on flashy guest stars. This is not to say it had any more money.  In fact, its budgets were continuing to shrink, resulting in a series that looked cheaper, an impression highlighted by stylistic choices. The stories of the period were also not the strongest, with a greater focus on violence, mercenaries and old enemies than the Doctor and imaginative adventures.

Michael Grade, then head of the BBC, publicly declared that he thought the series was rubbish when compared to Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars, Aliens and Blade Runner. This was unfair, not least because comparing blockbuster movies and TV is impossible, but also because Grade was in charge of deciding Doctor Who's budget and production values in the first place. Refusing to allow new blood in the production team, and also refusing to raise the budget for a series that had once been a flagship series for the Beeb, he decided to take it off the air. The resulting fan outcry brought it back, but the next season would be shortened, the production team would stay in place, and no new funding would be allocated.

As the ratings continued to drop, Grade then insisted at the conclusion of the 23rd season, that Colin Baker be fired. Baker would not return for a regeneration scene in Season 24, and would bear the brunt unfairly for the show's decline during his era. Now separated by years, there's much to enjoy in his performance, and his era has undergone something of a reconsideration. In the clip below, he faces off against the creator of the Daleks, Davros, who has been converting dead human bodies into Daleks:

See you soon for more classic Doctor Who!

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