Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Oh dear. This was the one I dreaded.

OK, so when last we passed this way, the Fifth Doctor had passed on and in his place we had another bloke named Baker in the top spot. And you know what? Even if I come to completely hate a Doctor's tenure in the role (and I really don't) there's always a rush of excitement when a new Doctor takes over, because you know a page is turning and there's bound to be a change of approach and you get to basically watch the program evolve.

So it was with the Sixth Doctor. Considering the recipe of angst and creeping darkness that has characterised the Fifth Doctor's stories, it was imagined a change of tack was needed. Perhaps a lighter approach, maybe a funnier Doctor, that sort of thing.

That uh, didn't happen. The Sixth Doctor is portrayed as a raging asshole, constantly ranting about how damn great he is when he's not trying to strangle Peri (although really, who wouldn't?) and generally being more obnoxious than one should be allowed to be.

Oh, and he has the worst costume in the history of eyes. Seriously, look at that damned thing.

By and large, the episodes take a turn for the dark, the campy, and the utterly awful. The Doctor can barely be bothered to do stuff and when he does it seems to involve killing the hell out of people, Peri screams a lot, shows her cleavage, and gets captured and everything is garish and very 80's.

Some would say that it wasn't all bad--recurring nemesis the Rani gets introduced during this time, after all--but these people are wrong because the Rani is the most utterly rubbish nemesis in all of Doctor Who and I'm including the farting aliens from the new series in that (the idea that people want the Rani brought back mystifies me, as no good could come of it, and yet, people do.) Things reach their nadir in "The Two Doctors," which I will say here and now is as borderline unwatchable as Doctor Who ever got, as it manages to piss off the audience at every turn, waste a multiple-Doctor team-up, and basically be a great big ol' didactic piece of tosh about how we should all be vegetarians. I'm taking no position one way or another on that, but dear God, this story is so awful it would make the greenest of any human being eat an antelope raw in hot, seething, wendigo-like rage.

However, it's not all bad. For two reasons. One, The Sixth Doctor's run contains an episode wherein Alexei Sayle destroys a Dalek with a concentrated beam of rock and roll. That such a thing can happen on television and not require any further explanation than that is exactly why I love Doctor Who.

But it's not good enough, and Doctor Who is canceled shortly after Alexei kills the Dalek, so I guess they went out on a high note, at least. The end.

. . .OK, well, it wasn't. It's a testament to the accumulated goodwill that Doctor Who had engendered lo these many years it had been on (Because sure as hell no one was clamoring for things to continue on the way they were) that people went ballistic and raised all sorts of hell to get it back on the air. While the show stayed off the air for a year and a half, the powers that be struggled mightily to get their shit together and bring their A-game, as they'd only narrowly received that reprieve from cancellation, and the next time they were probably gone for good.

And so, in what must be the most extended bit of metatextuality ever let loose on British television, the Doctor was put on trial, said trial to consist of watching Doctor Who for fourteen weeks, or if you're a little-regarded comics blogger, one grueling afternoon. This was Big Time Stuff, of course, as Doctor Who hadn't done an extended epic in quite a long time (usually they tended to consist of story arcs that covered multiple stories) and, well, a lot was riding on this for the show.

So, the basic plot is thus--the Doctor gets pulled back by the Time Lords (here being meddlesome and corrupt again, though the Doctor at least calls them on their bullshit this time) mysteriously without Peri and rather foggy on the details of how he got there in the first place. The case against him (and his fashion sense) is prosecuted by the mysterious Valeyard, who we later learn is a prospective distillation of the evil side of the Doctor, who wants to . . .I think he wants to get the Doctor's remaining regenerations and make his existence a certainty but honestly--this thing is fourteen parts long, and the damn plot ends up going all over the place.

Oh, and we get introduced to Mel. For all I talked about how rubbish Peri is as a companion, Mel outdoes her in the race to the bottom in every possible way. There is a rather clever bit that we actually meet her out of sequence--we never see how she and the Doctor meet, we just join in medias res---but beyond that, we're not given much reason to notice her, as she's unrelentingly chipper, can scream louder than a dog whistle (or Geddy Lee, whichever allusion you prefer) and generally doesn't distinguish herself any further, which, seeing as how she first appears in an episode where the Doctor fights giant vagina aliens, is quite a feat.

But it's not all bad. For one thing--the Doctor's a bit less of an asshole now, and makes genuine steps towards likability, and is actually quite funny in spots. The constant screeching and bickering between him and Peri is toned down quite a lot and it makes you wonder what might have been, since they could have made a real effort to make the Sixth Doctor thing work and for various reasons, they seemed unable or unwilling to until the eleventh hour (no, not that one) and it's quite a shame.

I should also lay my other card on the table here and go ahead and tell you that this season contains my other favourite moment in Doctor Who, and for reasons above and beyond the obvious.

The middle part of our little drama, "Mindwarp," chiefly is distinguished by the fact that Brian Blessed (or more accurately--BRIAN BLESSED!!!!!!!!!!!!) is in it. Blessed cuts a magnificent figure, resplendent in eyeliner and funny samurai hat, and he spends most of the episode running at people, shouting at people, and karate chopping people. One begins to get the idea that they may not have told Brian Blessed that he was being filmed, and just decided to follow him around over the course of a typical day and reasoned they'd build the story around it later.

Now that alone would have been enough, but "Mindwarp" also contains one of the most bizarre moment in the entirety of Doctor Who, and spoilers ahoy. Peri gets killed, and worse yet, she gets killed off-camera. One minute she's strapped to a table, the next minute they've popped her brain out and she's gone. Just like that. We're not even given that much of a chance for things to sink in, as Blessed then rampages in and shoots everyone (oh sure they buy it back later and explain that she's actually happily married to Brian Blessed) but . . .yeah, that's just . . .cold.

Anyways, the upshot of the whole trial thing was that Doctor Who was brought back. The fella playing the Sixth Doctor wasn't, and the resulting acrimony meant that he was on his way out the very moment that the show was coming back on and getting its sea legs.

And it's with that oddly fitting perfunctory finish that we'll leave it there for now. Join us next time when the Sixth Doctor is replaced by a fella with gurning skills that some might consider superhuman, until a change of mind causes the writers to flip the Seventh Doctor from figure of fun to master manipulator, and his newest companion kills a Dalek with a rocket launcher and a baseball bat and causes a young boy to crush so very very hard. The Seventh Doctor! Ace! Daleks! Xanatos Gambits! Cancellation! Again! Next!


Igadevil said...

The Sixth Doctor's era is indeed a strange beast. I usually find that no matter how bad things get, the actor playing the Doctor always manages to hold it together, and that's true of Colin, though he's facing some serious problems (the script, the costume, the behind-the-scenes chaos, etc.)

I love the rock-and-roll beam, and the much-derided 'Timelash' has that funky scene where it looks like he's dancing with the robot before he elbows a guy.

Great series of reviews by the way!

Kazekage said...

Well, in all fairness, Doctor Who is like pizza--even when ut's bad, it's pretty good. Baker is good when he doesn't have to play the mandated role of raging asshole (and I quite liked when he said the Valeyard's case was a "farrago of lies that would be the envy of Baron Munchausen"--very erudite, that) and I'm led to understand he's a lot better in the Big Finish stuff as well.

But . . .yeah. No one wanted to see a Doctor made of grim, gritty, bickering camp, and it's hard to blame them.

Oh God, I'd forgotten about "Timelash," but for all people say that and "Twin Dilemma" were Who at it's deadly worst, I decided "Two Doctors" was the limit. But having seen it recently . . .oh yeah. "Timelash" is . . .peculiar.

Thanks man! Glad you're enjoying them!

C. Elam said...

I must confess to actually sort of liking what I saw of Colin Baker's Doctor. I think a smug asshole version of the character had some potential if 1)they didn't take it too far and 2) they gave him a character to play against to temper that characteristic. Sadly, neither of those things happened, and it was damaging. But as you say, I think the Sixth Doctor and Peri had potential as a team if the writing had been better. We just didn't find out until too late.

I remember "The Two Doctors" as being a huge waste of my time, and indeed everyone's time, AND being so inherently flawed plotwise that I couldn't help but notice it. Considering the show I was watching, I took that as a bad sign, and I didn't even know the trouble it was in at home.

I watched "Trial of the Time Lord" over the span of a month, which was a genuinely bizarre thing to have play out in front of your eyes. The handling of Peri is especially weird, but BLESSED! is in fact my enduring memory of that story.

I do feel cheated that we never got to see the BLESSED!/Peri happily ever after love match on camera. That would have been one of the most hilarious WHO moments of all time.

Kazekage said...

I have no idea what was going on when the time came to figure out what they were going to do with him, but it seems like they had a bunch of different ideas, none of which sat well next to each other and no one seemed to have the presence of mind to say "OK, enough, let's pull back from this." There was potential in giving the Doctor and edge or making him not entirely sympathetic (again) but this was exactly the wrong way to do it.

"The Two Doctors" disappointed me on just about every possible level, and the little didact about vegetarianism at the end actually made me yell out "Aw, bullshit!" at my TV. People will say "Twin Dilemma" or "Timelash" are as dire as they get (and they're not good, for reals) but this one just hunts down and attacks everything you liked about the show and kills it.

Especially considering the whole Trial thing only makes sense until you really think about it and then it falls apart, eh?

I have to confess, as much as I thought the Peri/BLESSED! pair-up was some late-in-the-day damage control, I have to say . . .the concept screams "long running sitcom" to me!

C. Elam said...

It's weird, because in theory, I thought I should like the Sixth Doctor more than I did the Fifth. In practice, not so much. Same with "The Two Doctors" story. Sounded like a "can't miss" prospect, and yet it did and did spectacularly.

It is times like this when I wish I kept an ear to the ground with WHO fandom, because I got to think the quality of the scripts at this time was the deathblow for the series.

I discovered most classic WHO serials fall apart under any scrutiny. *laughs* But the Trial was so long that it couldn't help but fall apart. Spacing serials out tends to obscure those details a little in your mind, which was probably what they hoped.

It felt extremely tacked-on, and that's why I felt cheated. THIS would be the spinoff that everyone wants to see! HE'S BRIAN BLESSED! SHE'S VERY BLESSED! TOGETHER, IT IS AWESOME!

Kazekage said...

I should mention, and this is as good a place as any, as I stupidly forgot to mention it in the article itself, but the "Trial" season has one of my favourite arrangements of the Doctor Who theme in the whole run, and better to mention it here than to leave it lie altogether.

I would watch that just to hear Brian Blessed say "boobies." Admit it--you can hear it in your head now, and it's hilarious.