The opening titles to Colin Baker's season of Doctor Who, showing Baker's face on a starfield

It’s Doctor Who week here on Specifically, it’s Doctor Who Season 22 week.

Every day this week I will be posting about Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor, and trying to examine what it is that made it so great. After this introductory post, I shall be looking at each of the season’s six stories, from Tuesday through Sunday, and explaining why this is the best single season of Doctor Who ever.

…and I’ve already lost a lot of the audience, so perhaps I should explain why I’m doing this project.

I am thirty-eight years old. I was five when Colin Baker became the Doctor. I was eight when he was sacked from the role.

This means that when I was growing up, Colin Baker was “my Doctor”. I was a young Doctor Who fan before he turned up in the role – I was a big enough fan that when Saturday Superstore held a contest around the time of The Five Doctors, asking kids to send in answers to trivia questions on the show, I knew the answer to every question (I remember bitterly arguing with my mum about the one asking the names of all the Doctors, as she was insistent that Peter Cushing counted and as a five year old I did not yet have a flexible enough understanding of canon to accept this). I was writing Doctor Who fanfic before I ever went to primary school (I am quite surprised that my twenty-page story, on lined paper, in which the Doctor regenerates through all his incarnations to that point while fighting Daleks that had been part-converted to Cybermen so they had Cyberman handles on their heads, has not yet become the plotline for a Big Finish CD box set).

But the memories of Davison’s period as the Doctor that stuck in my head until the time, in adult life, that I reconnected with Doctor Who fandom, consisted of being terrified by Davros (particularly the make-up around his eyes), seeing all the Doctors together in The Five Doctors, being worried for Davison’s Doctor in the same story when he collapses because his previous regenerations are being pulled out of time, and his regeneration into Colin Baker.

My memory was jogged by other things when I got hold of the DVDs, of course – I watched those shows at an incredibly impressionable age – but that was basically it.

But for Colin Baker – who did eleven stories to Davison’s twenty, and thirty-nine episodes to his sixty-nine – I have a huge list of things I remembered from his time.

Returning to Totters Lane. Halley’s Comet. Cybermen re-emerging from their tombs. Fixing the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit. The TARDIS turning into an organ and the Doctor playing it. Sil. Troughton’s Doctor returning. The Sontarans. Alexei Sayle as the DJ. The Doctor’s tombstone, with his face carved on it, collapsing towards him. A man being turned into a Dalek, begging to be killed. The Valeyard. Lynda Bellingham as the Inquisitor. Kif. Brian Blessed. Peri’s mind being wiped. Honor Blackman turning up. Bonnie Langford. The Valeyard being revealed to be the Doctor.

Not all of these are exactly highlights of Colin’s time in the series, but all of them are things that stuck in my mind when I was tiny. They’re the things that made me a Doctor Who fan.

But they didn’t make many other people into fans. Colin Baker only got to do two seasons as the Doctor, so he didn’t hit many children at that impressionable age (and the generational cohort born around the time I was is unusually small – 1976-78 had the smallest number of births of any three-year period in the twentieth century, so there were fewer children at the right age even given Baker’s short tenure). And the programme was cancelled not long after he was sacked, when the kids for whom he was their Doctor weren’t yet teenagers.

This had an unfortunate effect on his reputation. What tends to happen with Doctor Who fandom is that people get into the show when they’re kids, and join the fandom in their teens, where they rage about how the current show isn’t proper intelligent drama like it was when they were seven. Normally this doesn’t matter, as the Troughton fans grow up, accept the programme as it is, and let the Pertwee fans rage about this new Tom Baker bloke (“WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO?!”)

But in the case of Colin Baker, there was no real younger generation of fans who came up after him, and the programme didn’t exist when I was in prime joining-fandom teenage years. The fandom remained largely those who had joined before then – people who were still annoyed at Colin Baker not being proper sensible hard science fiction like Peter Davison. A consensus fandom view of Colin Baker ossified before many of us managed to find the Internet and discover that there were still people who cared about the show.

But for me, as a child, Colin Baker was Doctor Who. Not that silly new bloke Sylvester who was far too silly, not sensible and grown up like Colin. Colin Baker’s Doctor was the one who acted as the lens through which I saw the rest of the series, both before and after. His is the one that made me into a Doctor Who fan.

And so, for the rest of this week, I want to look at what his first season did right. I want to see what it was that affected six-year-old me so much, and what it is that still to this day makes me think that this – the consensus “worst season ever” of Doctor Who even among those revisionist fans who (correctly) argue for the merits of Sylvester McCoy’s similarly-maligned first season – is actually rather marvellous TV.

Because Colin Baker is my Doctor. Whether you like it or not.

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