The Sixth Doctor is perhaps the greatest 'what if' incarnation out of all the Doctors to grace the small-screen in the program's history. .Born out of the explosive events on the planet Androzani Minor, the very first moments of this direct and superior individual made the perfect end to an all-time classic serial. But trouble soon followed for both this new version of the Doctor and the program itself, and Colin Baker's wish to be the longest Doctor to date was cut abruptly short by the higher powers at the BBC
Of course, a horde of Big Finish productions expanded the universe of the past Doctors, and the characters they encountered. The Sixth Doctor has had many more chances to show just why he is every bit as worthy a pilot of the TARDIS as those that came before him and since.
My earliest impression of Colin Baker the person was at a 1990s convention in Birmingham where he had just returned from a tour to Blist Hills with The Mark of The Rani's cast and writers. Somehow I managed to grab a seat on the front row with a friend. One great story after another was shared, and during all that time I noticed just how friendly Colin was with the thoroughly engaged group of fans. A man who could look you full in the eye and smile, and for it to feel like you had met him before.
This type of friendly figure should have been the final stages of the butterfly Sixth Doctor, after sufficient build up and hints along the way. But it was not to be in the 1980s. I am at least confident it will happen in a not too dissimilar fashion with our present Doctor played by the wonderful Peter Capaldi.
This release is both similar and markedly different to Tom Baker at 80. Colin is younger than his predecessor but is very reflective and shows a 'come what may' attitude to the remainder of his career. Unlike Tom, Colin has always been a receptive and fairly open person for an interview. Such is Nicholas Briggs' determination, we actually do get the occasional more negative feelings and critical side to him, without it feeling forced from him.
Another notable difference, is that with Colin, Briggs has clearly much knowledge and appreciation for his work, but also knows that they had a healthy functional relationship. Baker could get many more opportunities to show his capabilities as the Doctor and Briggs could write, direct, produce or act to some degree depending on the particular story in question.
And I personally enjoy this more assertive model of the same interviewer; one who can clarify and muster views on the past, the present and the future as they transpire for the interviewee.
The structure here is successful as a chronology with the occasional reflection and discussion of a big topic or theme. And it is very engaging to get a sense of how Baker as an acting persona grew and developed, drawing upon the various formative experiences he had, and later influences from people that he respected or revered. Colin rarely speaks for more than a minute or two without making some amusing anecdote, or some very insightful point about various important topics, i.e. society, education, effort in accomplishing something, opportunity, status, basic respect, and being a public figure - that last one of course being of paramount interest to listeners. He was put into a very troublesome place when it appeared he might be turned on and blamed for things faltering in a massive institution which Doctor Who was (and now is more than ever before).
To my mind this release is just as engrossing, and more dependable as a record of the person behind the actor. There will always be a sense that Tom Baker wants to play to the audience and be an entertainer the majority of the time, and will keep a certain amount of his most private thoughts to himself and a few trusted confidantes. Colin Baker is private in the sense that he will hint how his children and wife are the biggest thing in his life, but he will talk properly about virtually everything else and show no worries as to what others think. He even says that whether he is smart or not is for other to "decide", which is wonderfully self-aware and grounded.
But one common trait with the Fourth Doctor actor release, is that this interview tries to avoid retreading much previous material from bonus interviews that followed the Big Finish dramas. Furthermore there is very little about the majority of Baker's tenure as the doctor. So if like myself, you were frustrated by a lack of commentary from him on the DVD of Revelation of the Daleks, (and again for episode 13 of The Trial of a Time Lord) then this just is not the place to find his views.
Baker's formative years are arguably the very best component of the interview. We see a remarkably distinctive boy who unapologetically demonstrated the mind and attitude of a middle class thinker, and that caused problems for him in a school that was part of a very northern working class town. Further problems came from his posh voice, and his bookworm tendencies.
Yet instead of bogging the young Colin down, the ability to adapt and to gain trust and companionship was demonstrated, and would become a great asset of his. Later he went on to be a promising young lawyer but opted ultimately for acting, despite its far less certain dividends and prospects.
He also would always stand up for the underdog and not be a pushover, but still use tact and patience when required.. And for those of us who revelled in his Doctor's finest moments, those were the precise qualities that made us cheer him on as he batted aside Mentors, Androgums, Borads and Vervoids.
Colin talks of his proud use of sarcasm, and how he gets on better usually with those that likewise opt for ironic and deadpan humour. And the jokes certainly come through many a time, enabling his release further replay value which was already sizeable given the remarkable life story.
However some bittersweet or melancholic moments are also there, even when a quip has only just registered with the listener. One of these is Baker talking about his dignified efforts to secure one last full season, and how he would not just return for the opener; eventually Time and the Rani. This was certainly more than reasonable and such issues had dogged Blake's 7 lead Gareth Thomas (Incidentally Colin was fantastically memorable as Bayban in a Series 3 episode that didn't feature Blake).
Yet apparently more galling was the regret over his inability to go to university as his father did not see the value in it. Although grants were available, the financial status of Colin's father meant that he was not eligible, and so had no further higher education opportunity in the Britain of the mid-20th Century.
This lack of choice in being able to go to university is something he freely admits to being a 'chip on his shoulder', but really was it such a problem when he ended up with a happy family life and a very solid acting career? Perhaps a bit of ambivalence lies at the heart of this interview, but that is by no means a failing; rather a fair reflection of a sophisticated and thoughtful individual.
With name dropping of great British actors like David Suchet and Bernard Hill, one appreciates how Colin was learning his craft alongside men with even more natural skill than he had, and that he was more than happy to benefit.
At the same time he is/was a very outgoing, genial and co-operative working actor, who certainly could not have tried harder during the very troubled mid-Eighties period for Doctor Who. And thankfully he ended up working in much more favourable conditions with both co-stars old and new on the audio dramas.
Nicholas Briggs will hopefully keep making these types of special audio releases, and involve other major players in Doctor Who history, be they producers, directors, script editors, as well as companions and notable guest stars. For my part I especially would enjoy one with Julian Glover, who now is producing wonderful cameos on Game Of Thrones.
A final reflection on this release then. We have a charismatic man who grew up in Manchester who is very grateful for the continuing adventures of one of the Doctor's more complex and unpredictable incarnations, and of course bold new projects like A Dozen Summers.
So whether the listener has heard any quantity of adventures belonging to the vast Big Finish catalogue, or not, they can really appreciate just why and how Colin Baker is consistently regarded as the best of a worthy group of Time Lords on audio. And of course Uncle Tom is in that mix as well.