Well you’ve gotta feel bad for anyone who’s expected to play an authoritative, centuries old time lord while wearing a clown costume, haven’t you?
To the casual observer, Colin Baker was the start of the end for Doctor Who. Not so. Baker himself did a fantastic job (you need any more proof, listen to his Big Finish audio plays where he has some classic stories). Doctor Who fell apart for a number of reasons but Baker was most definitely not one of them.
Mark of the Rani is an example of some of the strange choices made by the writers at the time. Why did The Rani have a device that could turn people into trees? Why did the Rani’s TARDIS look like a tantric sex dungeon? Why was The Master standing in a field dressed as a scarecrow all day on the off chance that in all of time and space the Doctor would go past there and then? We may never know.
Colin Baker makes an interesting Doctor. Not as young as Davison but still younger than the rest, and yet the closest Doctor we’ve had to Hartnell since Hartnell himself. His grumpy, unpredictable and brash nature had all the makings of a truly great Doctor, if only he’d had some better stories and a more sensible outfit.
There isn’t an awful lot I can say about Mark of the Rani mostly because I’m doing these reviews for the 50th so I want to be kind.
It’s a decent enough romp, even if it really doesn’t make that much sense. Honestly though, if you want a classic sixth Doctor story, go check out his Big Finish stuff. It’s really, really good. Seriously.
The fifth Doctor smacks of missed potential to me. It’s not that he ever had any really awful stories, they were all pretty solid. It’s just that he was plagued by an overcrowded TARDIS which meant none of the companions ever really had much to besides bitch and moan (and occasionally get possessed or try to kill The Doctor).
So what happens when we declutter the TARDIS and give Peter Davison just one companion to deal with? We get the best Doctor Who story ever. Fact. The downside? It’s Davison’s swansong. Typical.
The Doctor and Peri land on Androzani minor, take a poke around and then… well it’s all downhill for the pair from there. They’re both immediately poisoned and swept along by events beyond their control. In this episode they’re kidnapped, shot at, beaten, imprisoned… This is par for the course on Doctor Who but it never felt so urgent before.
A lot of this is down to the superb direction of Graeme Harper. Everything in this episode just felt so real, so gritty and surprisingly for an episode of Doctor Who in the 80s, actually well lit.
This story sums up Peter Davison’s Doctor as the fallible, human one of the bunch. He is completely helpless to control events for this entire story. He’s barely the hero of the piece (not that this story even has a hero) and scrapes through on luck.
Of course, he sacrifices himself in the end to save Peri and also has that badass moment where he commandeers a ship and crashes it back onto the planet to save his friend, all the while staving off a regeneration. So in that respect, we see Davison at two extremes. The vulnerable Doctor we’ve come to know and then this desperate, almost savage side of the fifth Doctor that we have never seen before.
I could talk about Caves for hours, but considering these are meant to be mini reviews, I’ll leave it here;
Caves of Androzani was the absolute peak of the classic series, which makes it all the more frustrating that it all went downhill from there (which had nothing to do with Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy, so shut up). An episode that still stands up even today, fast, dark, gritty and action packed, this was modern Doctor Who years before Chris Eccleston came on the scene.