We’re back, with a brand new Doctor! Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is on the scene in season twenty-two of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch. Let’s get started!
We’ve reached the point of maximum controversy in classic Doctor Who history. Season twenty-two was heavily criticized for a number of reasons, which I think contributed heavily to the general low opinion of the Sixth Doctor’s era. A few important changes occurred this season; and though they were later rolled back, the damage was done. First, this season changed from the standard “4 episodes/25 minutes” format (or at least, most commonly four episodes) to “2 episodes/45 minutes”. The series experimented with this format once in the previous season, but now made it the standard; it was not well received at the time, although of course in the modern series 45-minute episodes have always been standard. Second, this season ramped up the violence, which was badly received given the longstanding nature of the series as a family show. The first serial in particular, Attack of the Cybermen, was held up by executives as an example, and used in their arguments for cancellation of the series.
Attack is set on Telos, sometime after Tomb of the Cybermen, and on Earth, contemporary with the broadcast. The Telos portions aren’t precisely dated, but estimated to be around 2530, about 65 years after Tomb. From the Doctor and Peri’s perspective, it’s shortly after their previous adventure on Jaconda (The Twin Dilemma), probably within a day or so. In the course of (shoddily) repairing the Chameleon Circuit, the Doctor returns to 76 Totter’s Lane for the first time onscreen since An Unearthly Child; this will happen again with the Seventh Doctor, and several times in the revived series (and of course the new spinoff, Class, is set at Coal Hill School, in the vicinity of Totter’s Lane). The circuit will, in fact, change the TARDIS’s appearance a few times, but it will be broken again by the next series (the actual breaking occurs offscreen). Here he encounters the Cybermen of the future, who have stolen a timeship; they want to go back and destroy the Earth in 1985, one year prior to Mondas’s destruction waaaaay back in The Tenth Planet, but they can’t control their ship very well. With the Doctor in range, they want the TARDIS instead. Covertly aiding them in this venture are the Cryons, the original inhabitants of Telos; if they succeed, the Cybermen will never have come to Telos, and the Cryons can keep their world. The Cryons are not true villains; they’ll take any solution to the Cyberman problem, and so they readily switch sides and work with the Doctor. They bring with them an unstable mineral that spontaneously explodes in warm temperatures.
Peri is very scared of the Doctor here, and continues to behave as such for a long time to come. It’s very sad; she never really seems to recover from her assault at his hands in the previous story. She states that the Doctor’s memory isn’t right; and indeed it isn’t, as he calls her by various companion names. We also get a return of the treacherous Lytton from Resurrection of the Daleks, who has since been living as a petty criminal on Earth; he takes advantage of the Cyberman incursion to get himself offworld and back to the future, but in the end gets himself cyber-converted and killed. He’s not a shallow villain at all, and the serial treats him well; he’s opportunistic, but secretly also undermines the Cybermen. In this story we also see—for what I think is the first time; if I’m wrong, please let me know—partially converted humans. This will be more common in NuWho and Torchwood.
I had seen Vengeance on Varos before, and somehow had it in my head that it was a Fifth Doctor story. It’s one of the better Sixth Doctor serials, though, and I enjoyed it the second time around. After a series of breakdowns (mostly attributable to the Doctor’s clumsy incompentence), the TARDIS is forced to land on Varos, a world that is the only source of Zeiton-7, a valuable mineral required to repair the TARDIS. Peri says that she’s from 300 years before the time of the Varosians, placing it probably in the 23rd century; a straight 300 years would be 2285. The Doctor and Peri stumble into a political/commercial struggle, as the alien Mentor Sil, a representative of the Galaton Mining Corporation, seeks to take control of Varos and obtain the Zeiton-7 for vastly under-market prices. (“Mentor” is the name of Sil’s species.) The planet’s Governor opposes him, but not without consequence; the world’s barbaric government-as-entertainment system brings punishment to him for every unpopular decision. We get an early glimpse of such punishment with the torture of the rebel Jondar at the beginning; it’s very reminiscent of the torture of the Ninth Doctor in Dalek.
This serial contains a couple of interesting characters in the private citizens Arak and Etta. They serve as a sort of Greek chorus for the story, never interacting with anyone but each other, and providing commentary. I jokingly called them the Statler and Waldorf (of Muppet Show fame) of this story.
The Mark of the Rani introduces another controversial character: the Time Lady called the Rani. She’s a classmate of the Doctor and the Master, and in fact her second appearance in a few seasons will reveal that she’s the same age as the Doctor. (Given her mostly-evil personality and her status as a renegade, it makes one wonder what the Academy was teaching those years!) She rules a world, making her in one fell swoop more successful than the Master; and indeed, he comes to ask her for assistance. The Rani is a bit campy, and there’s been much argument among fans over the years as to whether she should ever come back; in fact, every Time Lady of any significance in NuWho has had some early debate as to whether she would prove to be the Rani.
This story, set in Killingsworth, England, in the early 1820s, is the first since The Gunfighters to feature an actual historical figure, in this case Lord Ravensworth and George Stephenson. (The King’s Demons came close, with King John, but it wasn’t actually him being portrayed; rather it was Kamelion impersonating him.) All other historicals since then have been historical in settings and events only. It’s a fairly straightforward story; the Master wants revenge on the Doctor through changing Earth’s history, and the Rani wants to further her own projects on her planet. To do this she requires a chemical that is produced in human brains; the process of procuring it causes the titular mark, and also disastrous side effects of personality. The Doctor thwarts them both, as he usually does. It’s not a bad story, but it has its silly moments; as a fellow fan pointed out, the mines that turn people into trees are pretty ridiculous. A couple of TARDIS oddities: The Doctor’s TARDIS key fits the Rani’s TARDIS, which is odd; however, it seems that her TARDIS may be the same model as his (with a heretofore-unseen desktop theme), so it’s not totally impossible. As well, she has a remote control for recall of her TARDIS, of which the Doctor is jealous. (More on that in the next serial.)
Just two seasons after The Five Doctors, we get another ratings boost, I mean, multi-Doctor story, with The Two Doctors. The Doctors in questions are the Sixth and the Second; in fact there’s a nice tribute to the Second Doctor’s era in the opening scene, as it begins in black-and-white and fades to color. Jamie is the companion present with the Second Doctor; Victoria gets a mention, but she has temporarily left the TARDIS to pursue a learning opportunity. As the original TARDIS console room is long gone, the prop used here is the most recently-replaced prop, from the Fifth Doctor’s first two seasons; the budget would not allow a rebuilding of the original prop. Still, it’s different enough for a bit of a retro look.
This story is set on Earth and the alien space station Camera in 1985; the villains lack time travel, therefore the two locations must be at the same point in time. This helps explain why it’s the Sixth Doctor who feels the effect of the Second Doctor’s torture and potential death; he’s the only Doctor who—by chance—is present in the same time period when it happens. Given an actual death and enough time, the others would have felt the effects and ceased to exist, as well. This is similar to how the Eleventh Doctor onsite at the moment is the one who feels pain when the Great Intelligence enters his time stream in The Name of the Doctor. Also, there’s an interesting bit early on where the Doctor talks about not having synchronized yet. It seems this is a rare glimpse of what it’s like when he has had a multi-doctor encounter, with unsynchronized time streams, and therefore lost memories, but now the memories begin to sync up for his later self. Although we know this happens, we’ve never really seen it happen.
The Doctor makes an actual kill in this story, which is very rare; often people die during his involvement, but he kills with his own hands in this story. He gives cyanide to the Androgum Shockeye. In fact there’s a high body count in general in this serial, as only the two Doctors, Peri, Jamie, and one civilian survive. It was for that violence that the serial was criticized, but there’s an actual plot hole as well; the Sontarans want the Doctor’s Time Lord symbiotic nuclei because it gives the Time Lords enough molecular stability to travel through time, but that ignores the fact that many others of various species have been seen to travel safely through time. In fact, NuWho will give the lie to this idea completely by having Strax, a Sontaran, travel through time (or at least it’s implied that he does so on multiple occasions). Oh, and that TARDIS remote of the Rani’s, of which the Doctor was jealous? The Second Doctor has one. Why the Sixth Doctor would not remember this—or even still own the device!—is a mystery.
Timelash gives us an homage to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in that Wells is a character in the story, and clearly is posited to have drawn inspiration from this adventure. It’s set on the planet Karfel in the far future; the date is totally unknown, but, continuing the homage, A History of the Universe places it in 802,701, the same year as the Morlock scenes in Wells’ novel. There are also scenes in Scotland, 1885; this is the other end of the titular Timelash, a sort of spacetime tunnel. It’s the exceedingly rare case of a historical figure in a non-historical story; something similar will happen with Queen Nefertiti in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.
This story is a strange thing: it’s a sequel to a story that never happened. That is, it makes frequent reference back to a visit to Karfel by the Third Doctor and Jo Grant, but that story was never recorded. Therefore it relies heavily on info-dumps and references. It’s not a good plot device; this story ranks consistently very low, often just above the universally-reviled The Twin Dilemma. It’s another take on the Loch Ness Monster story, as the Borad is banished back in time; it doesn’t actually conflict with the series’ previous take on the legend, as the Borad (in a spinoff story) dies prior to the arrival on earth of the Skarasen. On the plus side, the Sixth Doctor, in his better moments here, is much like the Tenth; and the TARDIS has safety belts! Detachable ones, at any rate. We’ll only ever see these again with the junk TARDIS in The Doctor’s Wife.
We end with what will prove to be the penultimate Dalek story of the original series. Revelation of the Daleks picks up sometime after Resurrection of the Daleks, therefore after the 38th century at least; the actual date is unknown, though some conflicting estimates have been made for the entire “Davros cycle” of stories. We do know that Davros, having survived the Movellan virus, has had time to build a new army of Daleks, the so-called “Imperial” Daleks, using the population of nearly-dead individuals housed in the Tranquil Repose cryogenic facility. Also we know that the mainstream Daleks—hereafter called “Renegade” Daleks by Davros—have reoccupied Skaro, as I proposed waaaaaaay back in their very first appearance in The Daleks, most likely reabsorbing or destroying the remnant of more primitive Daleks that had long occupied the Dalek city there. (Remember that the scenes on Skaro in Destiny of the Daleks didn’t represent an invasion force, but rather, an expedition to find Davros; they likely never approached the city, which is separate from the Kaled bunker where Davros was buried.)
For the first time, we see a Dalek—and Davros as well, with his chair—levitate unassisted. From this point on, it will be a standard feature for the Imperial Daleks, and for all Daleks in the new series. Another reference for the future: we see Daleks in the sewers under Tranquil Repose, which I suspect may have inspired the Dalek sewer scenes in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. We see as well that Davros somehow knows the Sixth Doctor’s face, although he’s never met him before; oddly, the renegade Daleks don’t. It works in the Doctor’s favor though, as the renegades arrest Davros, but let the Doctor go free.
The Doctor sees his face on a statue here, implying that he is buried there at some future point in his own life. It’s the Sixth Doctor’s face, and he takes it to mean that he will never regenerate; given that his regenerations are at stake all throughout the next season, it makes for a neat bit of foreshadowing. Of more interest to me is his reaction; he’s clearly very afraid to die, and doesn’t handle it well. There’s a clear contrast with the way he reacts to his tomb as the Eleventh Doctor; I think the difference is simply one of age, maturity, and resignation. As Eleven, he knows he’s on his last life and therefore death is, to some degree, imminent; as Six, he knows he has a lot of life ahead of him, and he rebels against dying.
I’ll speak more about this in my wrapup post at the end of my rewatch; but overall I’m not thrilled with this season for the Sixth Doctor. It’s clear that the character and the actor are fighting an uphill battle with the writing staff. I understand that each Doctor must be different, but choosing to make this one effectively spoiled and self-centered essentially handicaps the character. In addition, I think I could have overlooked some of that if there had been a good companion; but Peri is just incredibly whiny. Even as she does, at last, start to warm up to the Doctor again, she seems able to do nothing for herself. Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker play their roles impeccably; but the characters leave a lot to be desired. This is disheartening, to me; I WANT to like the Sixth Doctor. There is some hope on the horizon, however, with my viewing being a bit ahead of my posts, I can say that he does get better next season. We’ll be back then, with the Doctor’s latest trial…see you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.
Revelation of the Daleks (note: this video is missing about seven minutes in part 1)