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Whoblogging 6

Having missed the glorious Caves of Androzani when it was first broadcast, but been assured how good it was, I managed to catch The Twin Dilemma the following week. I vaguely remembered Robot; I definitely remembered Castrovalva; I'd read Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion; I was hoping for another memorable opening story.

Well, it was; but not in a good way. It is not a big secret that I regard The Twin Dilemma as the worst Who story ever, for a number of reasons, though here I will just concentrate on the lousy way in which the Sixth Doctor is introduced: attacking Peri and then expecting the audience's sympathy and affection. A new character who has started his appearance by terrorising the only surviving established character just can't do that.

I caught only two more Six stories first time round - Vengeance on Varos, which starts with the gratuitously violent torture scene, and The Two Doctors, which ends with the gratuitous stabbing to death of a minor character. Both of them also have their good points (and in particular, The Two Doctors has risen in my estimation since I got to know Troughton's œuvre, and the novelisation is the best of the Six books) but the nastiness of the violence genuinely put me off. I was too young to remember them, but at least the fight scenes in the Third Doctor stories were on the whole interestingly staged. This was just shock tactics. I caught a few minutes of Timelash but worked out pretty fast who Herbert would turn out to be, and didn't see anything else to interest me. (Especially not Paul Darrow.)

This meant that I missed out on the two really good Sixth Doctor stories, Revelation of the Daleks and Mindwarp. The former is the most interesting Davros story apart from Genesis of the Daleks; the latter the only one from the Trial of a Time Lord season which exploits the story-within-a-story format (and fascinated Baker sufficiently that he wrote a sort-of sequel). Both stories have a much more satisfactory Doctor / Peri dynamic, and Baker gives the Doctor a believable mixture of passion and compassion (when he's not under external influence, that is).

Baker's rehabilitation for me has been completed by his excellent work for Big Finish. Untrammelled by dodgy visual effects, and benefiting from decent and even intelligent scripts, he has played a more heroic and warmer Doctor than he was allowed to on television, while keeping the zany extroversion which was his most attractive character trait.

My favourite of his plays is the early Bloodtide, featuring Charles Darwin and the Silurians, but there are loads of other excellent ones as well - mostly featuring the audio-only companion Professor Evelyn Smythe, as played by Maggie Stables. (Though there are some with Peri, a couple with Mel and one or two in other categories, notably The Wormery which is another excellent one.) Another good Evelyn story, Jubilee, was the basis for the Ninth Doctor televised story Dalek. More recently he has teamed up with Charley Pollard, previously encountered as an Eighth Doctor audio companion: there are two new CDs from Big Finish waiting for me to listen to them which will, I hope, take that story further.

So, in summary, this was one case where I tested the fannish received wisdom ("his TV stories aren't great but his Big Finish work is much better") and found it to be true.
Whoblogging index: One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2008 11:07 am (UTC)
I have the impression - and have seen it reported in print - that John Nathan-Turner maintained to his dying day that he preferred The Twin Dilemma to The Caves of Androzani - ISTR him talking it up as 'the best story I've done' before transmission, though that's probably best explained as the producer doing his best to launch the new Doctor (though it was odd to introduce the new Doctor in the last story of the season).
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
the lousy way in which the Sixth Doctor is introduced: attacking Peri and then expecting the audience's sympathy and affection. A new character who has started his appearance by terrorising the only surviving established character just can't do that.

Agreed, it was dreadful - there's no way that an audience could warm to a Doctor who tries to kill the one woman he should feel closest to.

I remember bits of Baker's stories from when I was younger, but nothing particularly coherent and certainly nothing to recommend my re-watching him (my parents watched Doctor Who every week when I was a child, and report that I was more scared of Colin Baker than I was of the Daleks or Cybermen...I think that was a direct result of The Twin Dilemma, which they watched with me and loathed). I then happened to see 'Revelation of the Daleks' on BBC1 when I was about 12 (the BBC decided to repeat one story per Doctor, and that was the one they chose, shown directly after 'The Caves of Androzani'). I liked it, mainly because I'd become a big Peri fan, but the next story I watched was 'The Twin Dilemma'. I was so horrified by this that I just never got round to watching any of the other stories, except the Cybermen one, and that's only because it was being shown as part of a Doctor Who festival at the QFT when I was 18, and I wanted to see as much Doctor Who as I could on the big screen.

Since all of this, however, I've heard very good things about 'Vengeance on Varos' and 'Trial of a Time Lord', so I fully intend to watch these at some point to see if Baker is better than the scripts he was given.
Dec. 20th, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC)
He is. In my opinion, obviously.

I have a big soft spot for Colin, who was treated appallingly. VoV is good but could have been better, while Trial is extremely uneven but overall pretty decent. Revelation is clearly his best, but I found Mark of the Rani surprisingly good when I got the DVD -- though in that case it may be because I was expecting it to be atrocious!
Dec. 21st, 2008 11:37 pm (UTC)
"In fifty minutes Jimmy Saville is making more children's dreams come alive. But first it's off to the acid-baths of Varos..."
(BBC continuity announcement, if I've remembered it right).

Yuck. Toxic, from start to finish. Including Revelation of the Daleks (Let's disconnect the Doctor from the story for the first 50 minutes...)

Just horrible.
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