Fri
Oct 18 2013 11:00am

Classic Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor’s Essential Episodes

The Sixth Doctor. If those three words fill you with a pervading sense of ugh, then you are not alone. Of all the Doctor’s incarnations, the Sixth is the most universally despised, and while I personally now feel this to be unfair—different and challenging doesn’t necessarily mean bad—at the time of his ascension to the TARDIS, I was in no mood to be reasonable about such a leap of crazy. He was mean. He was self-aggrandizing. He was dressed like a clown, and I have never liked those creepy things. Upon rewatch, and certainly in this age of pre-eminence for the unlikeable yet sympathetic anti-hero—from House to Walter White to, in more genre-appropriate examples, Rorschach, Snape, and Sheldon—he and his general derision and superciliousness are far less jarring.

For various reasons—including said unlikeability—the Sixth Doctor’s adventures are quite limited, when compared to the First, Second, Third, Fourth and even Fifth Doctors. He only has two full seasons of episodes (plus one serial from another) to his name, and one of those seasons can be—and often is—considered one long story. To my mind, while the season that comprises The Trial of a Time Lord (the show’s 23rd, and Colin Baker’s last) is certainly a cohesive and continuing tale, it is broken up into four discrete serials that can be viewed independently (and will be judged independently for our purposes here). If the Fourth Doctor season that comprised The Key to Time is separated into chapters, then so too is this one.

Thus have I spoken.

It is also worth noting that in the long hiatus between Seasons 22 and 23 (18 months! It was positively HBO-ian), a radio serial was produced featuring the Sixth Doctor, entitled Slipback. I have excluded it from consideration here, as I have all other audio adventures, but I don’t think it would have made the list, anyway, so unremarkable does it remain.

But what is remarkable enough in this era to be considered “essential” viewing? Well, considering the ease with which I could present you a long “Non-Essential” list here (Attack of the Cybermen, Timelash, Terror of the Vervoids, I could go on), welcome to the very definition of “dubious distinction”...

THE SIXTH DOCTOR

Played by: Colin Baker
First Appearance: Newly regenerated—and already annoyingly arrogant—in “Part Four” (The Caves of Androzani, March 16, 1984), but really in “Part One” (The Twin Dilemma, March 22, 1984)
Last Appearance: The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe (Part Fourteen/Two, December 6, 1986)—but with a later guest appearance.
Episodes: 31
Serials: 11 (some will claim 8, considering all of Season 23 to be one long serial, but I disagree)
Seasons: 2.1
Style: Color Blind Willy Wonka
Catchphrase: “Aha!” Or just any three words or phrases repeated with increasing vigor, ie. “Intolerant. Intolerant? INTOLERANT!!” “Malfunctioning? Malfunctioning? MALFUNCTIONING!?” “Carrot juice. Carrot Juice? CARROT JUICE?!”

Characteristics: The Sixth Doctor is, not to put too fine a point on it, a jerk. He’s endlessly superior, unaccountably brash and has no patience for fools (which is what he considers everyone who is not, well, him). While he does mellow with time, he nevertheless remains a disdainful asshole of the first water—which is only mitigated slightly by the fact that he is so often right in his assumption of unerring rectitude. In all, a most difficult Doctor with whom to identify, let alone admire and adore. Unless you’re into contemptuous, condescending douche bags (but with a heart of gold), of course. He is smart, though. And kinda violent. So… there’s that.

Companions: He spends most of his time traveling with Fifth Doctor hangover, Californian botany student Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown (Nicola Bryant), but effervescent flame-haired computer programmer Melanie “Mel” (Bonnie Langford) comes along at the end of the road.

THE ESSENTIALS:

1. THE TWIN DILEMMA, Season 21, Episodes 21-24
Written by: Anthony Steven
Directed by: Peter Moffatt
Setting: Mostly the planet Jaconda
4 Episodes: “Part One” (March 22, 1984), “Part Two” (March 23, 1984), “Part Three” (March 29, 1984), “Part Four” (March 30, 1984)

Not only is this the first episode of the new Doctor’s era, but it is terrible, which makes it essential because it is important for all concerned to know exactly what they are in for here. Oh, it has flashes of a certain wacky charm, with the new Doctor all over the place in a state of fluctuating stability—it’s like he’s gripped by the pon farr, but without the promise of sexy times—and even the occasional enjoyable flippancy, but in the end, between the hermaphrodite slugs and the dubious science and the most ungenius-like genius kids in the history of television, The Twin Dilemma deserves its place as the “worst” (or at least most unloved) serial in the storied history of the entire series. And coming directly after The Caves of Androzani, roundly considered among the show’s best, the comparison is stark and sad indeed.

EXPLAINED! Why the Sixth Doctor is so reviled.

 

2. VENGEANCE ON VAROS, Season 22, Episodes 3-4
Written by: Philip Martin
Directed by: Ron Jones
Setting: Earth, in the future and the past, as well as onboard an alien freighter
2 Episodes: “Part One” (January 19, 1985), “Part Two” (January 26, 1985)

The whole of Season 22 of Doctor Who was, for some reason, broadcast in 45-minute episodes, mostly with two to a serial. This is the second of these efforts, and for all its problems, there is something stately and almost captivating about this tale of corporate greed run awry. Oh, even in 1985 the exploitative mining company and the “bread and circuses” means of dystopian population control were hardly ground-breaking science fiction subjects, but Vengeance on Varos continues to be a timely, if none-too-subtle, allegory on the evils of hegemony and reality television, and there is some amusing levity in this one, too—cherish that where you can, in this particular Whovian era.

EXPLAINED! The TARDIS’s constant state of dilapidation.

 

3. THE TWO DOCTORS, Season 22, Episodes 7-9
Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Peter Moffatt
Setting: Space Station Chimera, Spain
3 Episodes: “Part One” (February 16, 1985), “Part Two” (February 23, 1985), “Part Three” (March 2, 1985)

This is essential because all of the Doctor-meets-Doctor episodes are essential (yes, yes, I know I haven’t mentioned the previous ones yet, but never mind, they shall be honored in due course), and also because this one is so very important to the mind-bending fandom theory of Series 6b. I will let Tor.com poster ChristopherLBennett (from his comment on the Second Doctor’s Essential Episodes) explain:

“Series 6b” is a hypothesis used to explain some discrepancies in the Doctor’s return visits… in “The Two Doctors” a seemingly much older Second Doctor is traveling with a much older Jamie in a different TARDIS console room, and mentioning dropping off Victoria to study graphology, something that didn’t fit anywhere into her known adventures. Not to mention that in that story he’s evidently working for the Time Lords, following their instructions, which conflicts with “The War Games,” in which he’d had no contact with them since his initial flight from Gallifrey… to reconcile these discrepancies, it was proposed that maybe he wasn’t immediately regenerated at the end of “The War Games” — that instead the Time Lords sent him on special missions for an uncertain amount of time…”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up. (Thanks, Christopher!) And makes The Two Doctors compulsory viewing, even if you aren’t curious to see how Jamie aged (hint: not well) and are not eager to be utterly confounded by what may be the most convoluted Who story ever. Sure, it’s fan service, but it’s bewildering fan service, and that’s the important thing.

EXPLAINED! Sadly, The Two Doctors is unable to sufficiently explain anything, not even its own plot.

 

4. THE MYSTERIOUS PLANET, Season 23, Episodes 1-4
Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Nicholas Mallett
Setting: The planet Gallifrey, the planet Ravolox
4 Episodes: “Part One” (September 6, 1986), “Part Two” (September 13, 1986), “Part Three” (September 20, 1986), “Part Four” (September 27, 1986)

This is the first of the Trial of a Time Lord mega-serial installments (welcome back, 25-minute episodes!), and really, the whole season is pretty much a rip-off of the Second Doctor story The War Games, in which he is put on trial for meddling with time, etc. It’s almost like they brought back Patrick Troughton in a clever piece of stunt casting the season before, and during their long hiatus thought to themselves: “Second Doctor, eh? There might be something in this…” As a result, what we have are fourteen episodes of flashbacks/forwards to past/future (new to us) adventures, as the Doctor must justify his actions to a court increasingly—suspiciously!—unwilling to listen. In this session, we learn that the Doctor and Peri visited a planet a lot like a future-Earth (because that never happens), except the weird thing is, it is in a very different location in space (I say again: because that never happens). There’s a planetary conflict, the Doctor gets involved, you know, the usual, it’s actually a pretty decent story—but above all this serial is notable for what is undoubtedly the best oration given by this iteration of the Doctor, and is well up there across all of Who:

“In all my travelings throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here! The oldest civilization, decadent, degenerate and rotten to the core! Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen—they’re still in the nursery compared to us! Ten million years of ultimate power. That is what it takes to be really corrupt!”

True that.

EXPLAINED! Why some aficionados actually quite like the Sixth Doctor.

 

5. THE ULTIMATE FOE, Season 23, Episodes 13-14
Written by: Robert Holmes, Pip and Jane Baker
Directed by: Chris Clough
Setting: The planet Gallifrey, The Matrix
2 Episodes: “Part One/Thirteen” (November 29, 1986), “Part Two/Fourteen” (December 6, 1986)

We never get to see the Sixth Doctor regenerate into the Seventh, because Colin Baker was fired from the series and forced to end his adventures here. And look, when viewing him with adult eyes I may no longer hate this Doctor with a fiery passion—and, indeed, even by this point in the show he had come to grow on child-me, and many of us—but that is ultimately not the worst decision the BBC ever made. (Not renewing This Life for a third season was.) And at least he got to go out on something of a high; true, not in a noble and self-sacrificing manner as should befit our hero, but in a rambunctious two-parter in which we have a zany new companion (oh, Mel: “A megabyte modem!” Bless.), we spend a lot of time in the delightfully confusing wilds of the Matrix, and a dastardly plot is foiled… or is it? The first episode of this serial (AKA, the thirteenth episode of this serial) is particularly enjoyable, which is only fitting, given it is the final Doctor Who installment written by the great Robert Holmes. True, the conclusion given is all somewhat vague, but considering the whole season is a hellish mess of plot and counter-plot, false identity and false memory, opaque motives and officious manipulation of both the facts and the rules of narrative fiction, then The Ultimate Foe’s sense of incompleteness is entirely apropos. Plus, quite frankly, any serial from this period that manages to give us not only a humanized, almost likeable Doctor but also a properly devious and megalomaniacal Master (Anthony Ainley, etc.) has to be seen to be believed.

EXPLAINED! Sometimes dead companions are actually just married to bombastic warrior kings now.

Okay—discuss!

NEXT TIME: The Seventh Doctor—The Bumbling Machiavelli


Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.

36 comments
jon meltzer
1. jmeltzer
Yeah, this was all quite bad, and it was the fault of the production and writing. I remember back then "John Nathan-Turner" showed up on a Usenet poll of "The Doctor's Greatest Enemies".

And Colin Baker is supposed to be a nice guy in real life. He deserved much better.
Christopher Bennett
2. ChristopherLBennett
Neat, I got quoted!

As before, I think that Baker's only return guest appearance was in the non-canonical Dimensions in Time.

It's no surprise that most of the essentials listed here are Robert Holmes episodes. He really was the finest writer of the original series, and you can see the major step down in the quality of the writing between "The Ultimate Foe" Part 1 (the last thing he wrote before his death) and Part 2 (by the immensely inferior Pip & Jane Baker). Although the Bakers' novelizations of their own episodes are even worse than the episodes themselves. (In their "Time and the Rani" novelization, they not only have the aliens speak in an "alien language" that's just English written backwards, they actually tell the readers outright that the alien language is English written backwards. Their books were an insult to the intelligence of the children they were written for.)
Brian MacDonald
3. bmacdonald
I find myself in full agreement with you here, including the fact that the only way you'd get five "essential" episodes out of this batch was to count the Trial as four distinct parts.

The only thing I'm curious about is that there's no mention of "Resurrection of the Daleks" at all, positive or negative, which some people consider to be quite good, but I've always disliked. (Mostly because of the DJ -- Peri's "American accent" wasn't grating enough, so they decided to add a second?)

None of which is any reflection on Colin Baker as a person...watching the extras on the DVD releases has convinced me that he's probably the single best ambassador for the classic series today. It's just...wow, they needed some better stories.
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
@3: "Resurrection" was the Fifth Doctor Dalek story. The Sixth got "Revelation of the Daleks" and the Seventh got "Remembrance."

As for Baker, I always felt he was an excellent actor with an impressively grand delivery. But yeah, he often didn't have the best material to work with.
David Levinson
5. DemetriosX
The best most useful thing about "The Two Doctors" was that it allowed people to see what the Second Doctor was like in an era when the Troughton episodes simply weren't available anywhere. The best thing about "The Two Doctors" was Jacqueline Pearce (who also half the reason for watching Blake's 7).

The thing that always bothered me most about Mel (and really, she's a huge bundle of flaws; probably in the bottom quartile of companions) is that she's a huge paradox. She's introduced in a flash-forward as part of "Trial of a Time Lord", and then when the Doctor is acquitted he gets into the TARDIS with her and off they go. We never see how they meet or how she winds up traveling with him. That may say everything that needs to be said about the writing during the Colin Baker years.
Brian MacDonald
6. bmacdonald
@4, Darn it, you're right, Mr. Bennett. I always get those confused because, well, "Revelation" revolves around recycling supposedly dead humans into Daleks, and takes place in a funeral home. How could it be anything other than "Resurrection"? I don't know whose bright idea it was to name the last three Dalek stories "R-somethign of the Daleks," but I don't appreciate it.
alastair chadwin
7. a-j
Always had a soft spot for 6 and from all accounts Colin Baker is excellent in the Big Finish audio productions. He was badly served by the BBC and JNT, given a costume he hated and then by the odd decision to mark the series' comeback after an 18 month hiatus - during which its very future was in doubt - to do an interconnected series that mirrored the 'trial' that the series had undergone.

And as a final straw, the series producer and script editor, Eric Saward, were barely on speaking terms with the latter storming off leaving the 'Trial' series unfinished.

The 45 minute format was because JNT liked the effect that the previous series dalek story had when, owing to the Olympics, it was edited from four episodes into two long ones.

When Baker was fired he commented that the person who really wanted to stay (him) was forced to leave and the person who really wanted to leave (JNT) was forced to stay. He also took the opportunity to raise money for Sudden Infant Death (aka cot death) charities as his family had suffered that tragedy.
Fenric25
8. Fenric25
I've always had an odd fondness for the Sixth Doctor as Colin Baker can act pretty damn well even with often horrible and ridiculous material. His era is definitely the weakest of the entire series but he's still a great Doctor (and all the Doctors have a mild mean-streak to him, Six is just the Doctor where the jerkishness is amplified and rolled up in bombast and brilliance manifested in the form of every word that can be stolen from the thesaurus used three times in a row. Colin Baker himself is a great guy in real life, I've met him at a con and he's hilarious) As for the essentials list here, I mostly agree with the choices. I can't watch "The Twin Dillemma" ever again, it's so awful, but you're right in pointing out how essential it is to show exactly what the nadir of Doctor Who and what was wrong with this era to people who've never seen it. "The Two Doctors" and "Vengeance on Varos" are actually pretty damn good, IMO, and along with "Revelation of the Daleks" (the best of this era as far as I'm concerned though it suffers from not enough Doctor and Peri), they are the three stories most worthy of watching. "Trial of a Time Lord" has some good bits mixed in with the bad, "Mark of the Rani" is actually pretty damn fun if you're in the right mood though by no means a classic and the less said about "Timeleash" and "Attack of the Cybermen," the better. Interesting note: the Season 6B theory that has been brought up was accepted by BBC as a canon explanation for what has happened (and Terrance Dicks even wrote about some of the inter-season exploits in a Second Doctor book). Can't wait to see next week's list, hope it's a fair representation as I'm quite fond of the McCoy era and I can't stand the derision and nastiness I often find aimed towards the era ("Time and the Rani" and "Silver Nemesis" are the only really bad stories, everything else goes from mildly bad to okay to excellent).
Christopher Bennett
9. ChristopherLBennett
@5: I think the lack of an origin for Mel isn't so much the fault of the writing as the fault of the higher-ups' decision to fire Colin Baker. I assume the producers' intent was to show the first Sixth Doctor-Mel meeting at the start of the next season, but when Baker was fired, that was no longer an option, so they had to skip over it.

@6: Well, "Resurrection" and "Revelation" were both by Eric Saward, so maybe it was he who set the pattern.
Fenric25
10. MByerly
The Valeyard in the "Trial of the Time Lord" is believed by many to be the identity of the John Hurt version of the Doctor in the upcoming anniversary special so that makes these episodes, particularly "The Ultimate Foe," must sees.
JoeNotCharles
11. JoeNotCharles
I know in general you're ignoring the audios, but the Sixth Doctor was so poorly served by TV that I think you have to include at least one of his audios. "Explained: what the Sixth Doctor is like when he's written well!"

I think the best of his audios is "The Holy Terror", with companion Frobisher, a shapechanging penguin originally from the comics. With some real darkness and tragedy juxtaposed against wacky comedy, it really feels like one of Terry Pratchett's more serious Discworld stories. (I'd compare it to Small Gods, for instance.)

But there's also a case to be made for featuring an audio with new companion Evelyn Smythe, since her character is so important to his arc in the audios. "Jubilee" (which had an important scene stolen to form the core of the Ninth Doctor episode "Dalek") is probably the best of these, although "The Marian Conspiracy" which introduces her is also very good and possibly more "essential".
Brian MacDonald
12. bmacdonald
@5, @9: As always with the more confusing points of Doctor Who continuity, the expanded universe media has your back. The novels and Big Finish audios explain how the "Trial" Doctor returned Mel to her proper place with her older Doctor, and then met her again for the first time, from her perspective. I don't know from personal experience, but the wiki says this is covered in the novels Business Unusual and Time of Your Life, and the audio The Wrong Doctors.
Fenric25
13. w00master
@10 MByerly. So... why have folks been calling Hurt Doctor: "The Renegade?"
James Wolf
14. JAWolf
I thought Peri was supposed to be from Baltimore, not California.
Emmet O'Brien
15. EmmetAOBrien
w00master@13: Possibly because "Doctor Hurt" would be a confusing name because that's a Batman character.
Christopher Bennett
16. ChristopherLBennett
@14: Wikipedia says that Peri's passport gives Pasadena, CA as her residence. The audios/books say she was born in Baltimore, but she was living in Pasadena at the time we met her.
Fenric25
17. Mndrew
I always preferred his characterization in "The Stranger" pieces; especially "In Memory Alone"
David Levinson
18. DemetriosX
@9, @12
Mel simply shouldn't have been in the TARDIS at the end of the trial. I really doubt that, had they kept Baker around, they would have remembered to deal with the Mel paradox. The long hiatus would have given them an excuse for it if nothing else.

Re: Peri. US passports list place of birth, but not current residence. If she was living in Pasadena (and I think she does say something about that; it stood out to me since I grew up in the area and was living there when I first saw he appearance) and was studying botany, then she would almost have to have been at CalTech, which I really can't see. Well, that or her stepfather the archaeologist taught there and she drove to whatever university she was studying at (which nobody in their right mind would do). CalTech certainly has a biology department, but I'm not sure they have anything that might include archaeology.
Fenric25
19. RobinM
I agree with you about the two doctors it's one of my favorite 6th episodes. It's because I'd only seen one 2nd doctor episode before that, the one with the Yetis. The Trial of the Time Lord seriel drove me crazy because it took forever and Peri left the series off screen. At the time I was just happy she didn't end up dead like Adric but it still seems a bit random that she ends up married to the guy with wings. I still refer to the 6th Doctor as the loud one for both his clothes and manner. Poor sod.
Christopher Bennett
20. ChristopherLBennett
@19: King Yrcanos didn't have wings. You must be thinking of Brian Blessed's turn as Prince Vultan in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.
Brian MacDonald
21. bmacdonald
You can say what you like about "Mindwarp," but there's no denying that Brian Blessed is very...BRIAN BLESSED-Y in it.
David Levinson
22. DemetriosX
@21
I think the only role in which Blessed is more BLESSED than Yrcanos is Black Adder's father in the first series. I'm still disappointed he wasn't cast as either Odin in Thor or as Beorn. But for some strange reason I always confuse Yrcanos and Glitz. Similar costuming and the fact that they both end up with a companion, I suppose.
Fenric25
23. Sanagi
You can see, in retrospect, the development toward an antihero approach to the Doctor and antagonistic relationships with his companions back in the Peter Davison era. In both the fifth and sixth Doctors' cases, it sours the mood of the show too much. If the Doctor and his companions aren't having fun and enjoying each other's company, why are they traveling together? And more importantly, why are we watching them? The new series has done a better job of exploring character flaws and conflicts without losing the fun.
Christopher Bennett
24. ChristopherLBennett
@23: In the case of Adric, Nyssa, and Turlough, they stayed with the Doctor largely because they didn't have anywhere else to go. And Tegan actually did walk away from the TARDIS twice, although the first time was semi-accidental.
Andy Thompson
25. Andy_T
My turn. While some of the stories were pretty horrible, I was a huge Sixie fan when I first caught these on PBS in the 80s. While Peter Davison was fine, he always seemed a little meek, I always thought him "vanilla" both in costume and persona. I was VERY happy to have another "Baker egomaniac" in the Doctor's shoes once again!!

A couple of years ago I had started listening to some audio books – and some audio dramas as well. I’d avoided Big Finish though because I really didn’t think they could have been any good. Finally I decided to give them a try – and the main reason I did so was because Colin Baker got such good comments on his work there. I started out by tracking down a copy of Slipback (yeah, that was… pretty bland) but then progressed throgh almost all of Big Finish’s 6thDoctor canon - and I was very impressed. As a fan of Sixie, I guess I was pre-disposed to like these… but the stories were just great. I also had an appreciation for Big Finish’s production values, as I have been, and still am, an audio post-producer (or “sound designer” as they call it) myself. As a result, I’ve subscribed, purchased, etc a large number of Big Finish audios. All of it as a direct result of my being a fan of Colin Baker.

Back to these 5 essential stories. I agree with them all. I might have placed Varos at the top though, as that’s a really darn good story in many ways. Followed by the Two Doctors which I didn’t realize until recently, was the last equivalent to a 6-part story that Doctor Who ever did, and it was a delight to see more of the 2ndDoctor – really I don’t think anyone in the US had seen any of him except for in the The Three and Five Doctors anniversary shows!
Christopher Bennett
26. ChristopherLBennett
@25: I think that by the time the Sixth Doctor's stories aired, the PBS stations that ran the series had looped back through the surviving Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee stories at least once (at least where I live, they started with Tom Baker). But at the time, there were only five complete, surviving Troughton serials: "The Dominators," "The Mind Robber," "The Krotons," "The Seeds of Death," and "The War Games." So we'd seen the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, but not Victoria, and we only knew Ben and Polly from "The War Machines."
Fenric25
27. Simon River
The Sixth Doctor's finest moment is Caves of Androzani. It's the point where he gets the sharpest dialogue, projects himself as the smartest man in the room (to borrow a phrase), and that bit just sizzles with the expectation that something great is around the corner.
Christopher Bennett
28. ChristopherLBennett
@27: I don't know if I'd go that far, but Six's debut in "Androzani" is certainly memorable in that it's the first time that a regeneration scene had the Doctor actually speak before the end of the episode. "The Tenth Planet," "Planet of the Spiders," and "Logopolis" showed the new Doctor's face but ended before he spoke, and we didn't see the regeneration at all in "The War Games." The only other times we've heard the new Doctor speak at the end of the previous Doctor's last episode were "The Parting of the Ways" and "The End of Time."
Brian MacDonald
29. bmacdonald
@26: Not every PBS station in the U.S. chose to run the Hartnell and Troughton stories. I happened to live in an electromagnetically advantagous spot in Pennsylvania when I was growing up, and I could pull in WHYY Philadelphia, WNJS Camden, and WLVT Lehigh Valley. Of those, WNJS was the only one that I remember for certain showing the black-and-white episodes, although WHYY may have as well. I don't know the precise history of Classic Who in America, but I think that WNJS and WHYY were among the stronger advocates for the show in the U.S. -- WNJS always aired it at 9:00 on Saturday nights, a pretty prime position for an old imported show.
Christopher Bennett
30. ChristopherLBennett
@29: Well, my station was WCET in Cincinnati, which I gather was one of the leading and most dedicated Doctor Who broadcasters in America. They showed whatever Lionheart made available, they hosted the conventions/tours when they came to town (including the 1986 USA Tour), and they kept the show on the air long after most PBS stations had dropped it. My recollection is that after they completed their first run-through of everything from "Robot" to the last season then available, they looped back to "An Unearthly Child" and went on from there. I'm just not sure whether that first run-through got as far as the 22nd season.

Okay, I went through some old copies of The Whovian Times, the newsletter of the Doctor Who Fan Club of America, that I still have in my possession. In their 1984 issues, I found reviews going up as far as "The Twin Dilemma," and then subsequent '84 issues included reviews of older stuff including "An Unearthly Child" and "Terror of the Autons," and it wasn't until their 1985 issues that they began reviewing stories from the 22nd season. So that would seem to reinforce my impression that we got to see the surviving serials of the first three Doctors before season 22 (and thus "The Two Doctors") was made available.
John C. Bunnell
31. JohnCBunnell
I found my way into organized fandom largely by way of the PBS run of Doctor Who -- courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting, which devoted a good deal of attention to Whovians in its promotion and fund-raising at the time. (There were a couple of local Whovian groups that helped man the phones during pledge breaks, and one of the station's spokespersons was evidently a strong fan of the show.) I am fairly sure we got the Hartnell and Troughton episodes when they were made available -- I remember rather liking Hartnell, but being rather less fond of Troughton.

Portland drew many of the traveling conventions/tours as well, and there was one year when a very few of us associated with a fan club newsletter were invited to the Portland OPB studios for a small-group interview with the then-Doctor (Peter Davison, as I recall). I may even still have a copy or two of those newsletters around here somewhere....
Christopher Bennett
32. ChristopherLBennett
@31: Yeah, our local Whovian community always manned the pledge phones for WCET too. One of them was the guy who ran the comic-book store I frequented, and he always wore a Tom Baker scarf for the pledge drives.

I think I attended two of the convention/tour events, and got autographs from the guests, Sarah Sutton at one and Louise Jameson at the other.
Edward Phippen
33. Grimwanderer
While the author's dislike of the Colin Baker era is clear, i've always felt that The sixth doctor got a bad rap. I found his character very enjoyable to watch... Even when (admittedly) he was let down by script or production deficiencies.

But then... I've enjoyed most of the eras of the program.. Although each has had their weaknesses as well as strengths.

Colin baker's doctor was something very different from what we had seen since those earliest episodes (where the first doctor was depicted as morally ambiguous at times... See, for example, the episode where the doctor is about to murder a caveman).

From the brief moment at the end of Caves, to his erratic behaviour in Twin Dilemma, to his progress as a character over the next two seasons.. it just worked for me.

I count myself among those who wish we had seen more of the Sixth. How much different would things have been if Who had not gone on hiatus, or Baker had not been so vocal in his opposition to it (which is, from my memory, a key factor in his being replaced), or if JNT had left after Baker's first season... Or any of a number of turning points. Ah... What might have been.

As far as my top five... I struggle with Twin D due to its flaws but love Baker's OTT performance. I don't share your dislike of Attack of the Cyberman and might have included it (the Dalek episode, on the other hand, I find cringe-worthy due mostly to the DJ). Overall, not a bad list though.
Fenric25
34. w00master
Where's the 7th Doctor essential episodes? :)
Fenric25
35. Madmaxx
Thank you for this awesome article!
As a "newho" it has helped me A LOT to get started. Also your style of writing rocks ;)

Thank you!
Fenric25
36. thepilgrim
It's clear my attitude to this era of Doctor Who was age specific.
For the Sylvester McCoy stuff I was too old and getting snobby about stuff I'd previously liked so I never gave it a chance while conversely I remember the Peter Davison era warmly as I was probably too young to dissect alleged plot inconsistencies.
Which leaves me aged around 15 at the time of the sixth doctor.
Hence for me its 'Attack of the Cybermen', and even today anybody unhappy with script/plot etc can always watch it with the volume off.

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