Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Colin Baker Interview

It’s not often that one has the pleasure of being sat opposite The Doctor – as in, the definite article and not some overworked NHS chap. Earlier this year we met the sixth incarnation of the legendary Time Lord during a recording session for Big Finish’s noble endeavour to finally put those stories from Doctor Who’s ‘lost’ 23rd season into production as a series of audio adventures. Here’s the affable Colin Baker’s thoughts on the new project, his take on the 1985 cancellation and the current intense media scrutiny of the show.

Is it bittersweet for you to finally record the missing season on audio, given that they were abruptly pulled from production in 1985?
"Obviously it would have been great to have done them. I do remember reading the script of ‘The Nightmare Fair’ and looking forward to doing it. It’s quite interesting because since then my Doctor has developed, through the writers for Big Finish, in a lot of ways that I had in mind when I was doing it on television. The standard of writing that I’m getting now from Big Finish compares very favourably with some of the stuff I was doing on screen in the ,80s. I am playing these now not in the way I’d probably be expected to play them had it been my actual second season, where I would have been more dismissive of Peri and rude to her. I’m allowing The Doctor I am now to infect the way I play those scripts. It’s a kind of meld of the two really."

Has your stance towards the initial cancellation of Doctor Who in 1985 changed over the past two decades?
"I’ve mellowed quite quickly. I was a little unhappy that [script editor] Eric Saward took the opportunity to say he thought I should never have been cast in the first place, which given the fact that this was a guy I’d entertained in my home and never indicated to me how he felt - I thought it was a bit shabby. When people you think are your friends let you down that’s crappy, but Michael Grade wasn’t a friend of mine.

"Before he came to the BBC he was talking about not liking Doctor Who and thinking that it was a bit of tired old rubbish that ought to be cancelled. So it was perfectly acceptable when he came there that he cancelled it, and when he brought it back it was entirely his prerogative as head of BBC One to say that it was time to change the actor. I don’t actually think it was personal. At the time I thought ‘he doesn’t like me and thinks I’m a rubbish actor’. But with the benefit of information from third parties it’s quite clear that he just didn’t like the programme."

Have you noticed that there’s been a critical reappraisal towards your portrayal of The Doctor in recent times?
"I’m perfectly proud of the work I did, looking back at it. I know I’ve had a bit of a revision since my Big Finish stories came out. The most vociferous fans have decided perhaps I’m not a c**p actor and happened to be playing the part at a time when the programme was under attack. I’m sad because I’d have loved to have done it more, but I am doing it more now! I would happily go on doing these forever, as long as I sound the same, which at the moment I do. Maybe 20 years from now when I’m a doddery old fart I won’t. Way back when I started doing the part, I stated 'my ambition is to do it longer than Tom Baker', which of course was rather rudely truncated. But in terms of stories done, if you include Big Finish - and I do because they're Doctor Who stories - I've done more stories than Tom! It's even been suggested that I might be The Doctor who has done the most stories. I think I've edged Peter [Davison] and Sylv [Sylvester McCoy] on Big Finish stories."

Some of the other Doctors might try to redress the balance by claiming that 'The Trial Of A Time Lord' should count as just one story...
"Haha, there's got to be a jury out there to make this decision!"

Get Lynda Bellingham to decide...
"Haha, yeah!"

Having seen you in the studio recording Christopher Bidmead's 'The Hollows Of Time', it took me by surprise just how physical vocal acting can be.
"I find if I use physical effort it sounds like you’re using physical effort. When The Doctor is supposed to be walking, I walk on the spot. Bit pathetic really, isn’t it? You’re on your feet all day of course and I’m quite whacked by the end of it. Last night I was quite drained when I got home."

Did it mean much to you to feature in a brief clip shown on the last Christmas Special ‘The Next Doctor’ and watched by over 13 million viewers?
"I suppose it meant that ‘new Who’ has finally accepted there was an ‘old Who’. Obviously it was accepted off the record, but now it’s accepted on the record. Those brief flashes which will perplex, I suppose, the under 10s. ‘Who are those old gits in black and white up there?’ But it was quite nice. I think it excited fandom more than it did me, to be honest."

How do you feel about to the intense media interest in the show now, particularly when Matt Smith was unveiled as the next Doctor, compared to your time in the show?
"Yeah, that was bizarre. It was always newsworthy. When I was cast it was on the Six O’Clock News and my picture was up there as the new Doctor and I was interviewed by loads of people immediately afterwards. But this anticipation of announcing it nine months in advance, or however long it is, is unprecedented. The BBC now knows that it’s got a tiger by the tail and a tiger that is extremely healthy and charging forwards. For instance, I think I got one and a half Radio Times covers over my three years. I think during David Tennant’s era it’s been ten, twelve, fourteen covers?

"Doctor Who is big property now. It was then actually. In terms of overseas sales and its popularity, everywhere else except within the BBC back in the '80s, it was phenomenal. But the BBC wasn’t motivated back then to capitalise on that success. It is received wisdom that the programme wasn’t very successful in my era. But it was. We were getting eight or nine million. So I’m at a loss to understand that. It was almost as if they were embarrassed to be doing a programme that was 25 years old or whatever it was then. I think now that the BBC is a business – thank God – and as a business the merchandise they’ve got I’m sure earns more in revenue than sales of the programme.

"I’ve now got another little doll of me. What is most gratifying is that people keep saying to me ‘they’ve ran out of yours in my local shop, I can’t get the Sixth Doctor’. I think it’s just because it’s a pretty color and a bit more striking than the others. Now there’s a second doll of me in my Big Finish blue, which is lovely, as I always moaned about my costume. I think it’s lovely to get a new costume on audio!"

Doctor Who: 'The Nightmare Fair' is available to buy now at www.bigfinish.com with more stories to follow in 2010

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