Thursday, May 24, 2012

Peri and the Technicolor Dreamcoat

Nope, the new outfit still ain't
Completely by coincidence, the first two Doctors I am reviewing are also probably the two most infamous.  As mentioned previously, I do blame the horrible scriptwriting of Fox and the simple lack of screentime for Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor (although he still remains at second-to-last on my list, manly due to such great competition).  The Sixth Doctor, as portrayed by Colin Baker (no relation to the fantastic Tom Baker, by the way), does suffer from the same scriptwriting flaw.  However, there are other reasons why he is at the bottom of my list, and we shall discuss those here.

Colin Baker's era as the Doctor was the shortest of any of the classic Doctors at slightly over two seasons, and arguably the second shortest of all if one counts McGann's time as between 1996 and 2005 (in which he did appear in many radio dramas and novels), only being longer than Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor.  With the start of Baker's era came some other changes to the Doctor Who seasons: they were shortened from the previous 20 episodes in season 21 to 13 episodes in season 22, which was an ominous sign that would hang over the series until it was finally placed in hiatus in 1989.  While Season 22 had longer 45 minute episodes, Season 23 returned to the 25 minute format with 14 episodes, reducing Baker's airtime even further.  There was also an 18-month production hiatus in between Baker's two seasons.

Because a stick of celery wasn't
ludicrous enough.
The start of the Sixth Doctor's time was highly unusual in several facets.  For one thing, almost every new Doctor has been introduced in either the end of a season finale (Fourth, Fifth, Tenth, Eleventh) or a season opener (First, Third, Seventh, Eighth), with only the First and Fifth Doctors regenerating mid-season.  In the Fifth Doctor's case, he saves Peri, who is relatively new to the TARDIS, but is forced to regenerate in the penultimate serial of Season 21, The Caves of Androzani, which has been ranked as the greatest classic Doctor Who story in some polls.  Thus, the season finale is a completely new Doctor.  This in itself is a marketing disaster.  Introducing a new Doctor with very little time for him to prove himself before fans are left to mull him over during the break between seasons is not wise; just look at all of the flak from Matt Smith's extremely brief reveal before fans could get to know him.  If the BBC tried to pull a stunt like this today, I think the internet would explode with hatred for Baker.  This is not completely unwarranted.  There is an interesting contrast between the wildly popular Caves of Androzani and the following serial The Twin Dilemma, which at times has been ranked WORSE than Dimensions in Time.  Yes, you read that correctly. The season finale of Season 21 and the introduction of the Sixth Doctor ranks BELOW the infamous spinoff episode where the Third through Seventh Doctors and their companions morph into each other in a horribly scripted crossover with The EastEnders.  What on Gallifrey could cause such hatred?  Well, let's look at one of the first scenes with the Sixth Doctor, one of the most controversial actions ever: he attempts to strangle Peri.  Quite the contrast from the Fifth Doctor's peaceful start in the Zero Room, the Sixth Doctor goes on in his garish outfit and behaves quite outrageously.  Despite having a rare occurrence of the Doctor encountering another Time Lord outside of Gallifrey's finest, the plot drags and Baker's acting is highly jarring.  It's a small wonder that the Sixth Doctor leaves such a poor first impression.  The good news is that it can only go up from there...though it doesn't go up much.

This will be so popular with the kids!
Season 22 does not have much of a binding story arc, bouncing from one adventure to the next, however it does focus on much of the Doctor's past and his new regeneration.  This caused problems for casual observers but enjoyable for those like me who love those little continuity nods.  A few significant events do occur on their own, however.  In the first episode, the Doctor temporarily "fixes" the chameleon circuit to humorous effect, although no explanation is given for it's return to the police box.  The Doctor also lands in I.M. Foreman's junkyard, the same junkyard in which he appears in the very first episode in 1963 and also appears during the Seventh Doctor's time.  Many significant characters appear or reappear during this season.   Cybermen (including the Cyber-Controller, thought to be destroyed by the Second Doctor) appear, Sil (one of my favorite villains) and the Rani make their first appearances, Lytton and the Master (in my favorite incarnation of him) returns, a picture of the Third Doctor and Jo Grant appears, and of course the Daleks.  Much to my disappointment however, Revelation of the Daleks fell far short of my expectations.  Having previously seen the Seventh Doctor's Remembrance of the Daleks (quite possibly the greatest Dalek story) with the Imperial and Renegade Daleks, I was really looking forward to seeing how these two factions came to war with each other.  It...isn't really explained.  There's two colors of Daleks and they're plotting against each other, but this isn't even made obvious so unless you're really paying attention to colors you will be lost, and this episode is really just a confused jumble altogether.  Interestingly, this is also the first episode where Daleks are shown to levitate (although this is also not made clear).

Finally, a villain that
isn't just bubble wrap!

As I've harped on this season for a fair amount, I feel it's time for some praise.  Two episodes stick out as being particularly significant: Vengeance on Varos and the Mark of the Rani.  Both have beautifully written villains with a captivating plot.  Vengeance on Varos is probably my favorite episode of the Sixth Doctor's era, with a political scene, strong characters (in particular the alien Sil, who is also well done in that he's not a blatantly fake non-human costume), a real sense of danger for his companion Peri, and an interesting second viewpoint taken by outside characters that the Doctor does not interact but merely watch him on TV (a role that the Doctor himself will play int he following season to much less success).  The Mark of the Rani has the interesting dynamic of pitting both the Master and the Rani against the Doctor, but the rivalry between themselves provides much character development.  The Doctor himself is not nearly as bombastic and jarring in these two episodes.

Oh, and the Second Doctor temporarily
changes species.
A significant continuity landmark in Season 22 is The Two Doctors, which brings back Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines as the Second Doctor and Jamie, respectively.  This appears to take place AFTER the events of The War Games, as the Doctor is working with the Time Lords instead of being a renegade, he can pilot the TARDIS much more effectively, Jamie knowing of the Time Lords, which lends a large amount of support to the Season 6B theory.  The Second Doctor also appears much older with graying hair; something that could have been easily remedied with a bit of hair dye.  I will praise this episode in that, unlike its companion episodes The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, and Timecrash (the latter being understandable given its charity nature), the fact that there are multiple Doctors does not feel like it is being forced just for the sake of having multiple Doctors.  Instead, the Sixth Doctor happens to stumble upon a plot involving his second self (apparently there's some timey-wimey stuff going on here where he does not remember it).  This gives the episode a very authentic feel as opposed to a party, as Steven Moffat would put it.  Jamie also puts on an excellent performance for not having been in the part for about 15 years.  However, this episode is not one of the greats.  It is one of the most violent episodes of classic Who, including the Doctor killing a villain with cyanide with his own hands.  While the Sixth Doctor's tendency to more violence has been apparent through much of his tenure, I find his performance with the Second Doctor somewhat lackluster.  Given Baker's Doctor's tendency to be rather full of himself, I would have expected even more diatribe between him and Troughton, and I'm not talking the friendly banter between Troughton and Pertwee kind.  While I admit I'm not expert on the Second Doctor, much of his performance seemed to be out of character as well, standing by or even aiding the villains at times.  The Sontarans seemed to be a tacky addition to the serial, and the propaganda was FAR too blatant.  This serial had one purpose, and it wasn't to celebrate Troughton's Second Doctor: it was to promote vegetarianism.  That was the reason for the violence and constant reference by the villains to meat as well as Peri's dislike of eating anything living.  The Sixth Doctor fills the usual role of the companion, serving as the character that the audience is to relate to, starting out as enjoying the taste of meat such as a freshly caught fish before giving up meat entirely (although the Ninth Doctor breaks this).

Why does this exist?!?
And then we move on to The Trial of a Time Lord...  Widely considered to be one of the worst story arcs of Doctor Who (although not as bad as The Twin Dilemma), this arc takes up all of Season 23.  A new variation of the theme song is composed that pains my ears (thankfully they replace it in the very next season with one of the best variations).  The scene then opens with one of the most visually appealing designed scenes in all of Doctor Who, including the new series, which is saying something given when it was created.  I swear, they blew their entire budget on this one scene.  My only complaint about it is that there is no explanation given as to why a Gallifreyan court is taking place on a spaceship.  The serial then takes the form somewhat of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as the court with the Valeyard as prosecutor watch events from the Doctor's history with occasional disruptive comments from the Doctor and the Valeyard.  The Doctor acts like a spoiled brat, constantly claiming that they cannot try him and calling the Valeyard various names.  You know it's bad when even the characters in the show complain that the episode is taking too long...  Peri is supposedly killed (later revealed to have survived), the Doctor's memories are tampered with, and Mel and Glitz are introduced.  I do enjoy the mercenary character of Glitz; he provides a great contrast to the Doctor.  Mel's timeline gets very confusing; the Doctor views an event from his future where he was traveling with Mel, then a Mel from before she traveled with the Doctor appears at the proceedings with Glitz.  While it is a major plot point that she is from before she met the Doctor, she acts like she has always known him.  The Master then hijacks the Matrix, the Valeyard is revealed to be a future distillation of the Doctor, they go into the Matrix which happens to cause all sorts of weird and pointless stuff to occur, and eventually the Doctor wins.  Supposedly the high Council of Gallifrey is disbanded (again), although despite the Doctor being the (ex?) President very little attention is given to this and the Time Lords are perceived to be in great disarray with no real explanations or reason why they still have supposed authority over the cosmos.  Turns out the entire thing is a coverup for moving Earth...  Yeah...  A couple of good notes: the mini-serial Mindwarp takes place on an alien planet that really looks alien on the surface, which is highly unusual in Doctor Who, and Sil makes a triumphant return.  The strength of his character is shown, as instead of being the leader as he was previously, he is in the presence of his boss and shows a different side to him.

Please, not the screaming!
In regards to the Sixth Doctor's companions, his experience is largely defined by Peri, who appears in all but the very last mini-serial.  Peri has been kind of the poster-child for being the sexualized companion, and it is true that ever since Turlough left the Fifth Doctor there has only been one steady male companion (Rory).  While this is true, she isn't the first to go for the "sexy" angle; Leela was often seen in very few clothes and, while not part of a show, Katy Manning (who played the Third Doctor's companion Jo) did a nude photo shoot with a Dalek.  That being said, she is the sexualized daft female American.She often has to wait for the Doctor to explain something to her.  This is common in new companions, but most have character development to the point where they can operate somewhat on their own.  She also fulfills the stereotypical damsel in distress role often seen in female companions, particularly in classic Doctor Who.  She does mature in one aspect, however.  She starts off as being very argumentative and whiny towards the Doctor, but she does eventually learn how to keep her mouth shut.  The Doctor's second steady companion, Mel, is in my opinion the worst companion ever to enter the TARDIS.  The fact that she continues the bit of propaganda from The Two Doctors to a small extent is nothing compared to the fact that she is useless and annoying.  She is unrealistically perky and for being a computer programmer, dumb as a brick.  Not only that, but all she does when confronted with danger is SCREAM. VERY LOUDLY.  *twitch*  So all in all, this Doctor was severely lacking in the companion department.  He also only traveled with one companion at a time, the first Doctor to exclusively do so, although this would become common practice later.

Who, me? Never!
Overall analysis of this Doctor: he is far too contrary.  While each Doctor has had some unusual aspect of their costume that sets them apart from others (with the possible exception of the Ninth Doctor), Baker goes farr too over the top with his outfit, and this detracts from his performance.  It's like trying to watch a clown discuss Thoreau; you want to take him seriously, but you can't.  His mood swings are highly jarring, and while again each Doctor has been a little full of themselves, the Sixth Doctor's world only includes himself, often causing Peri great angst when he ignores her, forgets she's only human, or just acts like a pompous such-and-such.  Apparently the theory was to show this rough side of the Doctor at first, then eventually have him grow into a lovable character over several years...but he didn't get the chance.

Do I know you?
As an interesting aside, Colin Baker did also appear a few other times in Doctor Who roles.  He appeared as one of many incarnations of the Doctor in the infamous Dimensions of Time, a special episode of Jim'll Fix It (with Tegan as a companion), and as the Time Lord Commander Maxil before he gained the role of the Doctor, a fact which plays a key role in the amazing fanfic comic The Ten Doctors (it's not often I endorse fan fic, so READ IT).

As stated previously, Colin Baker only lasted slightly over two seasons before getting quite possibly the lamest death scene ever in the history of television (seriously, did he just fall over and die?) and regenerating into my favorite Doctor and the topic of my next article: Sylvester McCoy's Doctor.  In light of some of the interesting additions and controversial aspects of the Sixth Doctor's era, Colin Baker sums up what remains an undeniable fact in The Twin Dilemma: "I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not!"
Next time: Sylvester McCoy regenerates into himself!

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