Colin Baker’s era has always been mired in controversy, from the very beginning. It was also the era which provided a number of firsts in the show’s history – not least as Baker himself was fired from the role of the Sixth Doctor.
Having already appeared in Who as another character; Maxil – in the Fifth Doctor’s 1983 episode Arc Of Infinity. Baker impressed producer JNT enough to be given a shot at the role of the Sixth Incarnation of the Timelord.
It was with some intrepidation and excitement in 1984, that Baker was unveiled to the public as the Sixth Doctor. He was a bold choice for the Timelord, not least for his flamboyant look, his larger-than-life personality but also for his eventual colourful costume.
There were a number of problems with Baker’s era, on-and-off screen, which contributed to undermine Baker’s rather unique take on the role. Poor writing, a lack of budget, TV listing changes, an enforced hiatus and on and off screen personnel changes. You can read more about that here. It also didn’t help that former Who producer Verity Lambert, who was particularly scathing of 80’s Who, unflatteringly labelled Baker’s era; “irreverant pantomine”.
Step forward ‘Sci-Fi hating’ – then BBC controller and real-life Who villain; Michael Grade. Grade had had his eye on the show for a while, he recalled (later) that Dr Who had been first brought to his attention for that “horrible green pantomime cow” monster – in Peter Davison’s 1983 episode – Warriors Of The Deep.
It was during the televised showing of Baker’s first full season 22 – in February 1985; that Grade ordered the show to take a 18 month hiatus. Which finally accumulated in season 23’s relaunch with Trial Of A Timelord in September 1986. In an interview in 2004, Grade said:
“I thought it was horrible, awful. I thought it was so outdated. It was just a little show for a few pointy head Doctor Who fans. It was also very violent and it had lost its magic.” Michael Grade on Doctor Who
Trial Of A Timelord wasn’t received well enough to suggest that the show had turned the corner and upon Grade’s orders once again, Who was given another chance but Baker was fired. He later commented that he thought Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor was “utterly unlikeable; absolutely God-awful in fact!”
Baker offered to return, if they let him do the whole of season 24. Producer JNT countered this, by offering Baker the chance to reprise the Doctor character one more time in season 24’s opener Time And The Rani, in which he would have regenerated into Seventh Doctor; Sylvester McCoy.
Baker refused and the episode was re-written to include the now famous “not Colin Baker” regeneration scene opener, where incoming new Doctor; Sylvester McCoy – played both roles. Baker – as he explained later in a 1987 interview with the Sun newspaper, said :
“[Michael] Grade didn’t want me to say I had been fired. My boss, Jonathan Powell, the Head of Series and Serials, said that the BBC would stand by any statement I made. He strongly suggested to me that I should claim to be leaving for personal reasons. They actually wanted me to come back and do four more episodes, just so I could be killed off and fit in with their plans! I told them what they could do with their offer!”. Colin Baker on Michael Grade
And that was the end of one of the most colourful era’s in the show’s history. Baker reprised the role one more time, in the 1993 Children In Need sketch Dimensions In Time and has since risen to new heights in Dr Who lore, by becoming the undisputed king of the Dr Who Big Finish audio drama. By his number of recorded stories.
Despite not being invited to take part in the recent Nu-Who 50th anniversary, Baker still tours the Dr Who circuit, records audio dramas and also appeared in the unofficial 50th anniversary episode The Five-ish Doctors.