It’s February and I’m at Capital Sci Fi Con in Edinburgh, sitting next to Colin Baker. The day before, I’d brought my young sons to his table for an autograph, where he’d entertained them with all the bluster, bombast and larger-than-life loquaciousness we’d all come to expect from the Sixth Doctor, even if the man in whose gaze they were held transfixed was wearing a slightly older face, and a significantly less colourful jacket than they were accustomed to seeing.
For today’s interview, Baker is thoroughly shorn of his Sixth-ness, and seems more like the lawyer he once trained to be. He’s engaging, generous and attentive, and clearly has a mind like a steel trap. I wouldn’t have liked to have found myself opposite him in court.
We find ourselves reflecting on Baker’s deep connection to Doctor Who, and the legacy of the show itself.
‘The reason Doctor Who endures, it’s about an eternal theme, which is the angel who comes down from heaven, and saves you, or the cowboy who rides into town. What’s his name? We don’t know. And he rides out again, having solved all your problems. And that’s who the Doctor is. He’s this… dream figure who solves all your problems. Without wishing in any way to offend people of a religious bent, that’s what a lot of religion is about.’
I look around us. Just a glance, but it’s enough to detect the bustling, ritualistic fervour, the ceremonial dress, and wide-eyed reverence in evidence all around us. I suggest to him that you could look upon this convention as a temple of worship.
‘You could,’ he says, ‘But I don’t want to go too far down that route, because I don’t want to offend. It is a bit like a religious experience, though. People gathering together, who all believe in the same thing, living their lives – largely – in a way that supports it. That’s what this convention is all about.’
The Doctor’s similarities with a holy figure or prophet are legion: they are one but many; eternal, but ever-changing; sworn to protect and sacrifice for the sake of humanity; omniscient and omnipresent. And that’s before you even factor in Number Six and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
Baker has nothing but praise for the Doctor’s latest reincarnation, Jodie Whittaker as the millionteenth version of Gallifrey’s most famous alien. ‘I’m loving the current doctor. I think she’s magnificent. And she has brought a quality to the show which is – it has been around, but not to that extent – which is the joy; the joy of being the Doctor.’
I want to ask Baker about the stern words he directed at Peter Davison following the latter’s comments on Whittaker’s casting, and the ensuing Twitter-storm that saw Peter retreating from cyberspace. In this context though – a charity convention to which Baker has donated his time to raise money for children’s hospices – it doesn’t feel like the time or place for controversy or upset. Instead, I ask if the inter-Doctor camaraderie is strong; and whether it’s typical for outgoing Doctors to take new recruits under their wings to offer advice.
‘I remember when I took over from Peter [Davison], and I said, “Do you have any advice?” and he said… “No.” I gather that’s par for the course. You’re cast to do it your way. I mean we’re friendly with each other, but it’s always a slightly guarded friendship. I’ve been all over the world with Peter and Sylvester. And, when he was around, with Jon Pertwee.’
In 1989, Baker took over from Jon Pertwee in ‘The Ultimate Adventure’, a touring Doctor Who stage-show that featured such villains as the Daleks, the Cybermen and Margaret Thatcher (I think we all know what is the most terrifying of that evil triumvirate).
Baker seems less guarded about his relationship with the Third Doctor: ‘I loved Jon Pertwee. He was a showman. He had charisma. You would walk into a room with people who didn’t know he was an actor, and everyone would stop and look at him, with that tall bearing and hair.’
Keeping on the classic Doctor theme, I ask if he anticipates being involved in any of the 60th anniversary celebrations in a few years’ time. ‘I have no illusions that what they call the classic doctors are accepted as part of Doctor Who, but we are not indispensable,’ he says with a grave narrowing of the eyes.
What about a possible sequel to ‘The Five-ish Doctors’, the delightful, incredibly funny anniversary spin-off show that featured Doctors five to eight playing exaggerated versions of themselves alongside a galaxy of cameos?
‘That was lovely doing that,’ smiles Colin. ‘Everyone did it for nothing. So a sequel – going back to the same well, all those camera people, make-up people, the locations for free – we would have to do it on a more commercial basis and the BBC probably wouldn’t let us do that. But, in theory, I’ve spoken to Peter, Paul and Sylvester about it, and they’re all up for it. If it happened, we’d do it.’
Would he consider a return to the current series in another form? What if, say, the Master were to take the face of one of the previous doctors? ‘Well of course I would. But it’s not going to happen.’
‘To be honest, I thought that Tom’s appearance in the anniversary show was…’
Beautiful? I suggest.
He reels back, first his shoulders, then his neck.
‘Was it though?’ he asks, his eyes scrunched tight. ‘If you weren’t a Doctor Who fan, what was it about? For me, it was a good story, then all of a sudden they put Tom in, because it was Tom, and we could all go, “Ahhhh, Tom.” You stop believing in the story. You could put us [the classic Doctors] in it, but it has to make sense.
‘And also, we were all a little bit miffed – yes, Tom did it longer than anybody else, but do you have to rub our faces in that all of the time? So all you people who were a bit… Den of Geekish went, “Ah, it’s Tom, how brilliant.” What was he? What was he doing there?’
‘You’ve got to have believability. The best things on television, however far-fetched they are, have a certain internal logic. You tell me the internal logic of having Tom there?’
‘Gratuitous fan service?’
‘Correct! He’d aged, he wasn’t the Doctor, what was he, like…?’
Colin nods. ‘It was – frankly – naff.’
At the panel talk later in the day – at which Baker mischievously quipped that they should start without the slightly late David Bradley because ‘he wasn’t a real Doctor anyway’ – I ask whether anyone on the panel had ever experienced the darker, or more worrying, side of Doctor Who fandom. Baker takes the question and runs with it.
‘It was in the 1980s, a convention in America, attended by thousands, when the show was at the peak of its passion in America. I opened up my door where I was staying while I was there, and there was a girl lying across my doorway dressed as a member of UNIT, and I said, ‘Excuse me,’ and she said ‘SIR!’ You know, standing to attention.
‘I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘I’m guarding you, sir.’ I said, ‘Well, I can see you’re in UNIT. That gun looks so real.’ ‘THE GUN IS REAL, SIR!’ ‘Are you allowed to carry it?’ ‘YES, SIR!’ And I said, ‘Well, are there any bullets in it?’ ‘YES, SIR!’ So I made it clear to the organisers of the convention that I’d feel safer if a madwoman with a loaded gun wasn’t lying on the floor outside my bedroom.’
An insight there, into that small subsection of people shared by both conventions and religions alike: the fanatics.