By Chlo Hickson

March 16th marks the 40th anniversary of the 6th Doctor played by Colin Baker, for many a very decisive incarnation but to me he’s one of my favourite versions of the character.

I am a firm defender of the 6th Doctor. What I love about this particular incarnation is that this is the Doctor on full display, his previous incarnations usually failed by trying to get the best solution whereas sixie doesn’t care what you think.

The 6th Doctor thought he was ahead of everyone else, even though most of the time … He wasn’t. Egotistical, reckless and impatient, this incarnation truly believed he was invincible. However, deep inside he was temperamental, fun, and driven with a purpose to make sure that justice prevailed in the universe.

His irritability and jokes are hilarious and fun, and so is the constant bickering with Peri. Old sixie has exactly the qualities you’d want in a hero; he’s intelligent, funny, bold, charismatic, magnetic and energetic. His arrogance and crabbiness is only superficial, just like Troughton’s 2nd Doctor’s cowardice or Tom Baker’s nonchalance. All of this makes this incarnation more interesting compared to previous incarnations.

The easiest comparison I can make, apart from the 12th Doctor, is the 1st Doctor, as Colin himself suggested that the Doctor should be irritable and dislikeable in an attempt to return to the Hartnell era. He is unapologetic about his arrogance; he knew he was smarter than everyone and mocked them for it and stood tall against authority.

Jon Pertwee’s incarnation is rude, had a huge, bloated sense of self-importance, even grandeur. He was often bigoted and sexist. He nearly always saw himself as superior and ill mannered. I say all this, but I adore Pertwee’s portrayal, before McCoy he was my favourite Classic Doctor but why does his portrayal of these traits get overlooked while Colin Baker got a truckload of criticism?

I’m glad Baker is finally getting the appreciation he so rightly deserves now, and like I mentioned before even the 12th Doctor’s characterisation in series 8 is similar to 6’s.

One of his decisive qualities is his iconic patchwork outfit. I can understand why people aren’t a fan of it, included both me and Colin himself, however I think it perfectly reflects sixie’s mental state and character arc.

His patchwork outfit highlights what his personality should be, a patchwork of his previous five incarnations.

Which is where Big Finish come in.

The blue version of the Doctor’s outfit that they introduced shows his development.

Changing his outfit to be one colour shows his mental state to be improving over time, showing him to be much more mellow and likeable. It makes sense to drop the colourful coat if he’s no longer the larger than life, snarky incarnation we saw on TV. This is reflected well in stories like ‘The Wrong Doctors’ where we see the blue version of the Doctor encounter his colourful younger self.

The issues

The 6th Doctor was a brilliant and original concept but was badly executed.

I really don’t think Colin was the issue, far from it. Unlike most of the actors that have played the Doctor, Colin is the only one that wanted to stick around and break Tom Baker’s 7 year record!

In universe, I think Peri’s responses to 6’s mean spirited jokes is what ruins it. She always sounded so sad, defeated or hurt by his comments all the time and if she’d react slightly differently, I think the Doctor would’ve been better received. Mel wasn’t much better with her closing out the episodes with her ear-grating screams and her constant obsession with changing the Doctor’s body size with the use of the exercise bike, the carrot juice, and she even appeared to be controlling what he was eating as seen in ‘Terror of the Vervoids’.

Out of universe, Baker was let down by behind the scenes screw ups. On every level Doctor Who was mistreated: by the director of the BBC, Michael Grade (who didn’t even like sci-fi and compared the show to sci-fi movies when he made his decision, he also thought the show was an embarrassing relic); the writers, who while desperate to reinvent the 20+ year old show, made bad decisions in Baker’s first season and then was cut off in the second season; and finally a producer that had lost his passion, as he wanted to leave the show but was forced to stay on and had to struggle with an ever decreasing budget!

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, it was also the script and direction that gave the 6th Doctor’s TV era such a bad reputation.

They maintained the plan to continue with this persona, as John Nathan-Turner and Colin Baker made sure to make the 6th Doctor much different from his previous incarnations, and then slowly see the layers of the Doctor’s persona change over the 4 years that Baker was contracted for, but it all fell apart with the chaos and turmoil behind the scenes and the interference from the BBC. The 6th Doctor’s personality just abruptly changes between seasons 22 and 23. There’s also the 18 month hiatus between seasons as BBC bosses demanded changes to the show, less episodes and back to the half hour format after season 22’s 45 minute format, forcing the original plans for season 23 to be scrapped.

Throughout all of this Baker was the proud face of the show, and sadly the first target of fans’ wrath.

My heart breaks every time I think about what happened to Colin. He deserved better, and I’m so glad that he finally got it with Big Finish.

Big Finish

New Who was my introduction to Doctor Who and I still love the TV episodes, but after listening to the Big Finish audio adventures (including Doctors 5, 6, 7, 8, War and recently getting into some of 9 and 10) I generally feel like the writing for the audios are on a different level. Big Finish have the guts to write the darkest stories and I’m all for it.

If I’m being honest, the 6th Doctor is higher on my list of favourites because of the audios. I’m quite far behind Big Finish as I’m relatively new to them, but what I’ve noticed is that they’ve understood and developed many of the characters. This includes all of the classic Doctors and their mutual relationships.

Sixie’s dynamic with every character is fantastic: Evelyn; Mel; Peri; Charley. While I’m on the subject, they also drastically improved both Mel and Peri’s characterisation and neither of them just feel like women to be rescued, they’re actual characters in the audios. I’ve not listened to all of them yet, but from what I’ve heard I really like the 6th Doctor’s adventures with Charley Pollard which – if you think about it – in a way predicted the timey whimey complexity of River Song.

Having the right companion, as we’ve learnt, is vital. For example, the 7th Doctor had Ace. For sixie it’s Maggie Stable’s Evelyn. Baker’s range for the Doctor is amazing. You can easily hear his speech and manner change when he’s with Evelyn, it’s so different.

Having listened to quite a few of the Big Finish audios, I can confidently say that Colin Baker wasn’t given a fair opportunity to shine during his brief TV years, and his later work for Big Finish shows how brilliant he is. Its amazing what a difference an alternative production team and some good writing can do. I absolutely love Baker’s audio stories and they do him justice which just makes them better.

One of my favourite 6th Doctor stories is ‘Arrangements for War’, I was honestly stunned by its ending and by Baker’s acting in it.

This is going to be a controversial take, but it’s honestly really annoying that some people don’t consider the audios as canon as they are ignoring the best scripts that Colin and Paul McGann ever had, I’d even apply this to Sylvester McCoy as even he had some pretty naff scripts to battle with. McGann’s mini episode ‘Night of the Doctor’ established his Big Finish companions as part of TV canon so I really don’t understand it.

Sixie is a character that has changed the most from his journey, from ‘The Twin Dilemma’ to ‘The Last Adventure’. It feels like the Doctor has learnt so much about everything and doesn’t just be an all-knowing Time Lord that the audience can’t relate too. Making these changes makes him more noble as a character and it’s all down to Big Finish’s portrayal of the 6th Doctor and how they’ve made him ten times better than the TV series and giving him another chance has made him the success that he is.

Despite his appalling treatment back in the day, Baker managed not only to satisfyingly redeem his reputation of his character on audio, but also to become one of the show’s best ambassadors. What a legend.

Evelyn Smythe

Like I previously mentioned, Baker’s Big Finish stories got better with the introduction of Maggie Stable’s Evelyn Smythe.

Evelyn wasn’t your regular companion; she was a slightly older than middle-aged history lecturer with a sharp wit. In short, she was the perfect counter for the 6th Doctor, allowing him to be brash and unrestrained or kind and caring because there was always someone beside him to be the opposite if needed. Clashes between the Doctor and companion are nothing new but with Evelyn we saw what would happen in a relationship between people who were really two sides of the same coin.

This dynamic shifted the storytelling approach significantly.

Through Evelyn we saw a softer, more companionate side to the Doctor. Their relationship was built on mutual respect and intellect which was a stark contrast to the dynamics seen in the TV show.

Its these audios that allows us to see layers of the 6th Doctor that were always there, they were bubbling under the surface waiting to be explored but they were often squandered.

Introducing the right companion proved that even the most misunderstood Doctor could shine.

The Legacy of the 6th Doctor

Big Finish’s approach with the character has turned many skeptics into fans, and lingering doubts into appreciation for the 6th Doctor’s unique contribution to the Doctor Who legacy.

They have defined this incarnation for a new generation of listeners, proving that – like I said before – every Doctor can shine even if it’s through audio rather than TV.

The 6th Doctor’s legacy risked being confined to the short TV portrayal, where his rainbow coat often spoke louder than his actions. This narrow view threatened to overshadow the true complexity and the contribution to the Doctor Who universe.


Colin has really moulded his incarnation of the Doctor into something special and has now been given a final adventure from Big Finish with ‘The Last Adventure’ box set that gives his Doctor that epic finale which the TV show failed to do.

I wish I’d started listening to Big Finish sooner but it’s exciting to know I have all of these ‘new’ sixth Doctor stories, I absolutely can’t wait to find out what this incarnation gets up to next.

In 1984 he became the Doctor and what an honour it has been to have him as our brilliant 6th Doctor, with some of the very best Big Finish adventures. He’s never given less than 100% in all his appearances, it’s clear how much he cares about the show! Thankfully he was given the chance he needed to prove certain fans wrong and demonstrate, as he said at the end of ‘The Twin Dilemma’ ‘I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not’.

Happy 40th anniversary, Colin Baker.