You’ve got the role and you’re part of the legend. A television institution. But things are not all sunny. The producer insists upon The Coat. It grates upon British dignity, serenity, and sensibility. And there’s the little matter of you trying to choke the life out of the companion in your first story. There seems to be less tolerance for previously established precedents in general.
Surely none of this can be too unexpected though? With each Doctor, the character changes quite a bit in certain ways. Jon Pertwee spent the majority of his time punching, chopping, and throwing opponents all over the place, so in Attack of the Cybermen, taking out the rogue cop — albeit off camera — shouldn’t have been too disturbing. When the Cybermen crush Lytton’s (Maurice Colbourne) hands at the end, the touch of gore reminds one of a particular scene from Fourth Doctor classic, Robots of Death and one of the most popular eras of the show. Perhaps it’s the attempt to fix the TARDIS’ Chameleon circuit, part of the show since the very first episode? Sacrilege? Or bold, temporary move, which was abandoned at the end of the episode?
Was it the overweight Cyber-controller? I mean, really, if you’re going to convert humans, some will be hefty. The story seemed to move a bit sluggishly at times, perhaps it was the direction…
Was it the 45 minute episodes? There’d been changes to scheduling and episode length in the past. Maybe there were too many bold new ideas? Doctor Who is a show about limitless potential and takes in the entirety of the universe, all of time and space. Yet certain sections of the audience have historically had a hard time with new concepts, different things, like a colourful coat.
You are Colin Baker and you would have liked to play it a bit differently, at least regarding the outfit. Maybe tone it down as the role progressed, the incarnation stabilised. These are good instincts but the producer would have none of it. He wants the tasteless coat and clown attire to remain in place forever. Meanwhile, it has become known in certain circles that Michael Grade does not like the show.
Philip Martin’s Vengeance on Varos is a cracking good comment on television violence and the bloodthirsty nature of viewers at home. We’re introduced to the delightfully disgusting and slithering Sil, played by Nabil Shaban. This powerful production comes under fire for excessive violence, especially the acid bath taken by the Doctor’s opponents. But was it the violence? Or was it the bad puns? Some of those might have been cause for an acid bath. “Forgive me if I don’t join you” isn’t the Doctor’s finest hour. Hey, at least you weren’t wearing The Coat in the acid bath scene, Colin.
Jonathan Gibbs provided a beautiful and serene selection of music for Mark of the Rani. Kate O’Mara introduces us to the Rani, another Time Lord (or is it Time Lady?) gone off the rails, and it’s a tour de force really, as she blends into the era and puts Anthony Ainley’s Master to shame as far as interesting, visiting Gallifreyan villains go. But even so, her performance prompts Ainley to up his game (possibly his best performance in the role, although some later audiences would cite Survival as this), as does Pip and Jane Baker’s script (possibly their best). Once again, interesting concepts abound with the Rani’s fiendish biological experiments. A minefield where the sedentary weapons in waiting don’t kill you but instead turn you into a tree? It might have been perfect… except for the rubber tree arm. But that was enough for the complaints to stream in. Think about how the Internet would have reacted.
The magnificent Robert Holmes gave us The Two Doctors and brought back Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor alongside Frazer Hines’ Jamie McCrimmon in a tale involving not only the Sontarans but a new, bizarre race called the Androgums, an advanced race of savages, obsessed with their own appetites. This was signature Holmes with offbeat, wonderfully portrayed characters — Jacqueline Pearce as Chessene, John Stratton as Shockeye, James Saxon as Oscar — and unusual twists and turns; heck, the Doctor almost gets turned into an Androgum! And we also get the pleasure of two Doctors squabbling again. As good as you are in this one, Colin, you take a back seat to Mr. Troughton here. Of course, it’s also a treat to see Jamie back in action again, after scheduling conflicts forced him to miss out on the 10th anniversary (The Three Doctors) and allowed only a brief, underwhelming cameo for the 20th (The Five Doctors). This was also the last technical 6-parter. Sort of. Or at least its equivalent with the three, 45 minute episodes. Fortunately, it held together quite nicely.
Of course, the behind the scenes controversy in this episode was the fact that instead of Spain, it was to be originally shot in New Orleans but John Nathan-Turner had other ideas, forcing a rewrite. I never minded the change, although The Coat would have made you a king at Mardi Gras, Colin. Missed opportunity there, JN-T: imagine them propping up Colin in a full scale parade down Bourbon street!
One of these things don’t belong with the others, one of these things just aren’t the same. One of these don’t go with the others… and Timelash is its name. Colin, in my opinion, Season 22 was the best season of the 1980s, the best of the JN-T era. But inevitably, there’s a dog in almost every season and Timelash is that dog. Paul Darrow, as Tekker, should have been ashamed of himself; then again, he saw the script and decided to liven it up by throwing in his best pantomime villain. You can’t entirely blame this reasoning. The one silver lining was the make-up on the Borad (Robert Ashby). ‘Nuff said.
Revelation of the Daleks was Eric Saward channeling his inner Robert Holmes and he does this very well, handing us the double act of Orcini (William Gaunt) and Bostock (John Ogwen) as well as bringing back Terry Malloy as Davros, almost making us forget about the magnificent Michael Wisher who used to inhabit the role in Genesis of the Daleks. Almost.
We also get the disagreeable Clive Swift playing Jobel. Sadly, there’s also Alexei Sayle playing the DJ doing what he thinks are proper American accents. Peri complimenting him on said accents is unfortunate. More on her in a second. All in all, Saward (who wrote this after realising his last Dalek effort, Resurrection of the Daleks, wasn’t as good as it could’ve been) hits the right Holmesian notes for this offbeat adventure. And a warm welcome back to director Graeme Harper (The Caves of Androzani; Army of Ghosts/ Doomsday) as well.
It’s time we talk about Peri. Nicola Bryant is a fine actress. But her whiny attempt at an American accent, coupled with British writers who have no clue about how Americans speak, was a problem. And perhaps that wrong headed approach might have played into how we perceived the argumentative relationship between Peri and the Doctor. Just sayin’.
But now, even after a strong season with average ratings over 7.5 million for the year (not to be equaled again in classic Who), the die had been cast and the show put on hiatus for a year and a half. It was no longer a secret that Mr. Grade wanted the show gone. He said it needed a rest, and he dutifully pounded the nails into the coffin.
When the show finally came back, it would be a shadow of its former self and would take years to attain some semblance of quality before its demise in the 20th Century. But what the ratings for Season 22 tell me is that, despite the horror and teeth gnashing about The Coat and the busybodies’ complaints about the violence, people (aside from Grade) still liked this programme. For this, we should thank the fine writers and directors of the season.
But mainly the guy who was working in The Coat. Thank you, Colin.
NEXT: “I know. I’ll take you to…”