TV Reviews

The Doctors: The Colin Baker Years – Behind The Scenes – DVD Review

When Colin Baker was announced in 1983 as the sixth actor to play Doctor Who, the future seemed bright. The show was in rude health, marking its 20th anniversary on television, in a year which would culminate in a feature length special that would bring together five Doctors (albeit with one recast due to the original actor being unavoidably dead, another being represented by footage from an unfinished, untransmitted story due to that actor not wanting to return).

When asked about how long he wanted to stay, Baker would answer that he wanted to break the record of seven years as set by his surnamesake. Flash forward just a little over three years, and things would look rather different. The series had been literally and fictionally on trial, following an 18-month hiatus which had been forced on it by the BBC. The producer had no longer wanted to be in charge, with his script editor having stormed off after the two of them ended up being at creative loggerheads. Worst of all, the leading man had been unceremoniously axed from the role, having only completed two truncated seasons.

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For some time after, Baker would languish either at or near the very bottom of fan polls rating their favourite Doctor. It seemed that the loud, brash, colourful and egocentric take on the character had not been to their liking, Baker unfairly carrying the brunt of the blame for some creative decisions and behind the scenes turmoil which meant he never truly had the chance to put his stamp on the Doctor in the way he had really wanted. The totally tasteless walking migraine of a costume which had been foisted upon him ran contrary to what he had wanted to wear, and the characterisation was a long way removed from Baker’s intentions.

However, both the actor and his incarnation of the Time Lord would see a welcome rehabilitation over the coming years, in no small part due to Big Finish, who smoothed the rougher edges off the Sixth Doctor, and gave Baker worthy material to play with in the series of Doctor Who audios which started in 1999. You would be hard pressed to find a more passionate and eloquent ambassador for the programme than Baker, a man who never really left the role behind, even after it was taken from him. It was marvellous, then, to see his return to the series in Jodie Whittaker’s finale, his reappearance being so long overdue.

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The latest of Reeltime Pictures’ series of The Doctors DVDs lifts the curtain a little on what went on off-camera during Baker’s tenure, interviewing a number of players, opening with the director Chris Clough, who had the distinction of helming Baker’s final appearance as the incumbent, even though it hadn’t been known at the time that Baker would not be returning. For someone who begins by joking he has zero recall of his time working on Doctor Who, Clough does quite a good job of giving us lots of tidbits and insight into the production of his stories, without ever being salacious or gossipy about what was going on behind closed doors at the time.

Next up is another director, Matthew Robinson, somebody whose time spent working on the show was limited to only two stories (with a third being snatched away from him as a result of the series being ‘rested’ in 1985). However, he did get to play with two of the big hitters – the Daleks and the Cybermen – which makes his contributions perhaps rather more prominent as a result. His work beyond Who is actually some of the most interesting content of his interview, as he talks about the role he played in the setting up and casting of EastEnders, as well as his time spent on Byker Grove being so instrumental in bringing together two current television mainstays: Ant & Dec.

A change of tune – literally, in fact – comes with the third of the interviewees, composer Dominic Glynn, who is one of the rare group of musicians to have a chance of giving their very own interpretation of Ron Grainer’s now-legendary theme tune. Even though his iteration lasted for the one season, it was far preferable to some more recent efforts, one of which sounded like a Stylophone made of wasps trapped in a jam jar. Glynn is an engaging subject, and he manages to speak about the brass tacks of how he makes music, without ever getting too technical. We can also share his amusement as he opens up about his contribution to the world’s first (and, thankfully, only) square CD.

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Rather a curious inclusion on the set is writer Wally K. Daly, who has something of a tenuous connection to the show, as his scripts were never actually made. Daly had been lined up for the original version of Season 23, before Doctor Who was put on hold by BBC bigwigs, and a directive from them for a creative rethink led to the original roster of stories – which included Daly’s ‘The Ultimate Evil’ – being scrapped. He did, however, get to novelise it, as well as it being adapted by Big Finish a few years ago. It does mean that Daly has the chance to speak at length about his non-Who work, including Juliet Bravo, The Avengers, and Byker Grove.

One of the most fascinating of all the interviewees is writer Philip Martin, who was responsible for bringing us one of the most daring, innovative pieces of British television drama, in the form of Gangsters, which was aired in the mid-to-late 1970s. Set in the gritty criminal underworld of Birmingham, it should have had as big an impact for the city and popular culture as Peaky Blinders has today, yet it seems to have so inexplicably disappeared from the public consciousness. To hear Martin speaking about it with such clarity and passion is worth the price of the set just by itself, and it almost seems a shame when he diverts to talking about his work on Doctor Who during Baker’s era.

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Closing out the two-disc release is yet another writer, Glen McCoy, who has the dubious distinction of his only entry in the show’s history being one of the most universally reviled by fans: the infamous ‘Timelash’, which brought together the rather unlikely combination of H.G. Wells, Paul Darrow, and seatbelts in the TARDIS. McCoy is under no illusions as to how his story is viewed, and takes it all with equanimity and good humour. As McCoy is not someone who has really been prominent in terms of convention appearances, it makes his appearance here all the more noteworthy, and we get to hear all about his life as a paramedic before becoming a writer, as well as how his career has progressed since he crossed paths with the Doctor.

With The Doctors series now apparently drawing to a close, having covered nearly all the Doctors from the programme’s original 26-year run, this is a fine entry in the range, and it certainly shows no sign of any creative fatigue or easing up in terms of effort or commitment from Reeltime. The Doctors: The Colin Baker Years – Behind The Scenes is an absorbing look at one of the most turbulent periods in Doctor Who’s six decades as a British institution.

The Doctors: The Colin Baker Years – Behind The Scenes is out now from Reeltime Pictures.

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