Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Colin Baker Years - An Overview

As I watched Colin Baker's short tenure as the Doctor, I couldn't help feeling he got the shaft. His characterization was daring and bold, and not just in clothing. He tried to strangle his companion, temporarily fixed the Chameleon circuit, and was put on trial. But beyond the story, the show was put on hiatus with no new episodes airing from March '85 to September '86 and Colin Baker was fired, not even a proper exit.

In watching these episodes I wonder what might have been. If Colin Baker had more say in his character, if the series would have had a fresh producer to breath new life into it, or if the BBC had not been intent on trying to kill it. But then I am thankful to Big Finish for showing us what could have been.

Overall I rate Colin Baker's portrayal and excellent. However the writing and production declined from previous years and the format changes led to The Trial of a Time Lord being the shortest season yet of Doctor Who. Unfortunately the next three were just as short. The stories were good, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

The Twin Dilemma - The newly regenerated Doctor is suffering from manic episodes and is drawn in to a scheme by a former teacher to help save a world. While the manic scenes didn't play very well, the story is good. The end result is somewhat forgettable.

Attack of the Cybermen - In the season opener, the Doctor fixes the Chameleon circuit and for the first time we see the Tardis change, into first an organ than a cabinet. We also find ourselves back at 76 Totters Lane where we first found the Doctor. A nice touch. We get a revisit from an old human adversary from the previous season and a revisit to Telos from Tomb of the Cybermen. And not only are there nice references to the past, but they are all found in one of the outstanding episodes of the season.

Vengeance on Varos - We all have our personal tastes and this episode was not to mine. The ideas were interesting, but didn't come off well. The couple in their room were interesting and gave insight into how the voting worked, but was largely a distraction. The story had a lot of danger and action, but the drama didn't work well.

The Mark of the Rani - The return of the Master and the introduction of the Rani. The Doctor and the Master both stumble on the Rani's project to harvest a chemical from humans to help control the people of the planet she rules. The Rani is unscrupulous, but very intelligent and it really does take both the Master and the Doctor to beat her. A good outing.

The Two Doctors - This has always been the highlight of the Sixth Doctor for me. Unlike all the other multiple Doctor stories, this one really works and is more than a nostalgia fest. It is the longest story of the season and the first "6" parter since the unfinished Shada. The only down side is that the setup for the Second Doctor is completely anachronistic as the Timelords were not mentioned until Jamie's last story. But once you get past that conundrum, the two Doctors make this one of the greats of the series.

Timelash - This episode gets a bad rap, but in watching it I found it quite enjoyable. The inclusion of Herbert is fun and the rest of the story is typical Doctor Who fare.

Revelation of the Daleks - This episode had an interesting idea and some great guest stars, but didn't come off well. We have Davros trying to create a new breed of Daleks and between the Doctor and the others who call in the regular Daleks, he really doesn't stand a chance.

While Trial of a Time Lord was broadcast as a single story, it was written in four sections with the four sub-stories which is how I will review them.

The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet - The Doctor is put on trial for meddling. The first piece of evidence is his visit to Ravelox. He finds several mysteries there and the remains of a base controlled by a robot. Glitz is his main adversary as both are trying to get to the heart of the complex for different reasons. Glitz is trying to steal information from a bleeped out source. The story is well done and the characters are rich and interesting. The Valyard claims victory, but the story was not convincing for his case.

The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp - When companions leave, you hope they have a good exit. Peri is probably the most misfortunate of companions since Dodo. We are left thinking she died and the impression that it is largely because the Timelords pulled the Doctor out when he still had a chance to save her. While this story works in the setting of the trial, for a companion we have spent the past two seasons with, it was an awful exit. I feel that it really ruined the episode. If we could see how the story really played out, it might be good, but as it is, it is less for the way Peri left.

The Trial of a Time Lord: Terror of the Vervoids - When it comes time for the Doctor to present his case, he pulls up a future encounter where he ends up on a ship and his help is requested. It is a great whodunit episode and Mel is nicely introduced. While the Doctor sees the episode as a good example of how he helps when the need arises, the Valyard pulls out that he committed genocide because he destroyed all the Vervoids.

The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe - It is rare that your best enemy comes to your rescue, but that is just what the Master does. He reveals the Valyard is really a side incarnation of the Doctor, an amalgum of evil from between his twelfth and thirteenth (this would be eleventh and twelfth in the new counting) incarnations who wants the Doctor's remaining regeneration. This leads to a confrontation in the Matrix, much like the one in The Deadly Assasssin. Mel and Glitz are brought in as witnesses and help the Doctor defeat the Valyard. Though only two parts of the overall story, it was well written and the bizarre nature of the matrix was fun to see again. The high point was finding out that Peri didn't die, but had been saved and married King Ycarnos (Brian Blessed).

Overall, The Trial of a Timelord is well done and the trial has some real danger to it as the charges keep getting worse. But the purported death of Peri left a sting that I think doomed Colin Baker, even though it had nothing to do with him. He became the scapegoat of the bad ratings and it got a facelift in the form of a new Doctor and new title sequence.

Colin Baker is not my favorite Doctor, but he had some really good episodes and he played the part with gusto. Thanks to Big Finish we can hear what we were denied on television and we have far more audio episodes that really do Colin Baker's portrayal of the Doctor justice. We get more Peri, more Mel, and a couple of new faces (voices?) for companions. None of his episodes are the worst the series has to offer and it has some gems, but overall these episodes are a letdown from previous seasons and it is obvious why the ratings declined, but it is more the production than the acting or even the writing.

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