Doctor Who Convention Encounters: Colin Baker

Returning to the convention in Philadelphia (most likely sometime in October 18-20 of 1985, my research has revealed) which I have mentioned a few times, one of the most significant Doctor Who celebrities that I ever met was Colin Baker, the Sixth Doctor. I’ve met other Doctors both before and since, but Colin Baker was the only the actor I met who was a current, sitting Doctor.

(Daily Doctor Who #93)

Indeed, I ended up meeting Colin Baker three times (more than any other Doctor Who celebrity), and twice it was during the time that he was actually the incumbent actor in the role.

The first time was in Philadelphia, as I mentioned. There I had the chance to see a story of his for the first time, namely Attack of the Cybermen. On the autograph line, when I mentioned this, he pointed out to me that one of the actors in the story was Terry Molloy, who played the police man Russell, who is killed in the sewers by a Cyberman. This was notable simply because Molloy was also known for playing Davros, the creator of the Daleks, during this era, and thus Attack was a chance to see him without makeup.

Colin Baker signed my autograph book and probably some photographs (they were signed at some point, anyway, I’m not sure when). He seemed to be enjoy signing off with his name and then, “Who?”

Also at this same event, they screened the Blake’s 7 episode City on the Edge of the World, which featured Baker in the notable role of Bayban the Butcher. This, along with another episode shown at the same event (Duel), this was my first exposure to the program that in many ways was a bit of a sister show to Doctor Who.

My next encounter with Colin Baker was at an event in New York City, which was a bit different to the usual conventions I attended. He was appearing alongside Fourth Doctor Tom Baker (making this a “Two Bakers” event). There was no dealer’s room to speak of, and the entire event was simply a seated presentation by first one actor and then the other in the auditorium, followed by a shared autograph line.

During the autograph session, I started a pattern of asking the actor to include the date with his signature, to distinguish the moment from the previous time. Colin Baker is actually the only Doctor Who celebrity I have ever asked to do this–indeed, the only one whose autograph I know for sure I have gotten on more than one occasion.

As you can see, this all happened on September 28, 1986, shortly after Colin Baker’s second (and last) full season on the show debuted, the season-long epic Trial of a Time Lord, which followed an unprecedented 18 month absence of Doctor Who from the airwaves. Though that story had been running for a few weeks, I’m pretty sure it had not yet come to America.

So anticipation was high as Colin Baker shared, and there were many veiled hints as to what was to come. Specifically, he teased about the fate of his companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) which would be revealed halfway through the story. He said something like, “If you thought what happened to Adric was bit, wait until you see what we do to Peri!” The audience responded with a huge round of applause, causing a confused Baker to say, “I thought you liked Peri!” The truth is that people did like Peri, to some degree, but there was also something highly irritating about her sometimes shrill quality, and her inconsistent accent.

Most memorable from time time, however, was one fan asked about the ending of Trial of a Time Lord. He said that he’d heard something about writer Eric Saward (the outgoing script editor of the show) having the Doctor tumbling down a time corridor at the end of the season, and he wanted to know what was up with that. This caused the whole room to erupt with irritation at the potential spoiler.

(The truth is more complicated–Saward did write something like that for the end of the season when he had to fill in for Robert Holmes, who had passed away in the middle of crafting the story, but it had been rejected by producer John Nathan-Turner. Saward quit in protest and withdrew permission for the BBC to use any of his story, forcing a third set of writers–Pip & Jane Baker–to write a new ending from scratch. Of course, at the time, none of knew any of this).

Colin Baker’s response to this moment was priceless. First, he corrected the fan (and all of us) for the regular mispronunciation of Eric Saward’s last name (many of us were saying “Saw-Ward” but the truth is that it was “Say-Ward”), but then he completely refused to answer the fan’s question in a way that confirmed or denied the story point. He instead said–publicly–that he was disappointed by moments like that because it was just about “being first” rather than caring about the show. I have no idea how the fan felt or responded to that open rebuke, but I have mad respect for Colin Baker for that moment.

I saw Colin Baker for the third time at Visions ’93, which was the big 30 year celebration of the show that took place in Chicago just a bit after the actual anniversary, which would have been November 23rd. I remember on this occasion he was confused when I asked him to date the autograph, but he still did it.

Colin Baker’s time on Doctor Who was one of the most troubled periods in the program’s history, with the 18 month delay between seasons and his own inglorious firing from the role. But he has always been one of the franchise’s staunchest and most public supporters, and he continues to have a rich involvement with the character, especially in the audio world of Big Finish. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet him at all those different events, and I enjoy his ongoing contribution to the world of Doctor Who.

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