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     Home »  The Colin Baker Era »  Hiatus at 20 years: a reappraisal
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    Hiatus at 20 years: a reappraisal Views: 1278
     Monday, June 11 2007 @ 10:35 PM EDT
    One of the greater ironies of the production history of Doctor Who is that the RTD relaunch of Doctor Who more or less coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the infamous Grade "hiatus" of the mid-1980s. Now that we're two decades past the event, I wonder if enough time has passed for a hard reappraisal.

    Was he wrong to think that maybe the program did need a rest? What was Grade's biggest sin after the return? That he fired Colin or that he didn't go further and fire the production staff that defined Colin as they did in the first place? If you'd been in charge, looking at the state of Doctor Who as it was during Colin's tenure, what would you have done?

    "I think of myself as ambitious in casting terms, and I know that Bonnie [Langford] has the potential to make the part totally unirritating . . ." — JNT, 1986
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     Monday, June 11 2007 @ 11:30 PM EDT


    Yep, he was wrong then, as well now looking back at it today. Long before he become Controller of the BBC, he publicly stated that if it was up to him he would get rid of the programme and take it off the screens. He was out for it and it's budget (albeit as small as it may have been at that time) since day one. So once he became in power, he put it on hiatus for no reason... until pressed then the reason was stated to make it "less violent" and "more funny" -- The series was not suffering and did not need to be revamped at the time. The current producer, JNT wanted to move on and do other projects, and the current lead actor, Colin Baker wanted to continue the roll. When it came back from it's first hiatus, after it's shortened series run (another effort to sabotage the series, not to mention having the series return in the months when the sun was still out while it was being transmitted, so much of its intended audience was still out enjoying the sunshine and not watching the telly)... after the abbreviated series (Trail of a Time Lord).. the lead actor who had planned on staying was forced to leave and the current producer was forced to stay as his other projects he was set to go off to had been axed.

    We can speculate that the series would have continued to get better if it had followed its natural path. The sixth Doctor would had time to settle into the roll better and mature the character (his incarnation of the character). We would most likely have had a new producer injecting new life in the series, who knows where it could have gone. But that was not to be the case because the powers that be had to tinker with something that was working -- just to break it so they could justify taking it off altogether in the end.

    So we got the Candyman and the eventual snuffing out of the longest running science fiction series of all time... a British tradition and a institution.

    Now there is no telling what the series would be like today... and how it would compare to what we have today. Who knows, perhaps it would be similar. Who is to say that RTD would not have taken over the show in 2005 or earlier even if the series was never tampered with during Grade's rein. No one knows.

    Cheers,
    Louis

    ☛ Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LouisTrapani ♥ ♥
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     Thursday, June 14 2007 @ 04:26 PM EDT
    According to several recent stories, though—including this one from late March 2007—Grade has expressed great admiration for the new series. One of the things that strikes me about this particular write-up of the story is that Grade
    cancelled Doctor Who as he thought it was awful, outdated and violent with limited audience appeal.
    But isn't that a valid way of looking at Season 22? I mean point out a truly "classic" story from that season. The Doctor murders someone with his own two hands in "The Two Doctors"—a story which in large measure revolves around a quite sickeningly descriptive cannibal. He uses guns quite directly in "Attack of the Cyberman". "Revelation" takes place in a mortuary where death is treated cynically. The radio announcer in "Revelation" is supposed to be a futuristic throwback to an American announcer, but it's such a bad performance it ends up feeling naff rather than clever. "Vengeance on Varos" is sorta "proper" SF, but the idea, even then, was old hat; Lucas had explored the idea better and long before in THX 1138. Moreover, it, too, was fairly depressing because they were voting on a matter of institutionalized murder. And do any of us really need to explore the horrors of "Timelash"?

    Now it's by no means the best way of measuring popularity, but the Doctor Who Dynamic Rankings site today reveals that only one Colin Baker story is even in the top 100 of all stories, and that's "Revelation", which is at 52. The next closest is "The Two Doctors", which is at 102. These rankings change a lot, but the majority of Colin Baker stories are ranked below the 150 spot, and there are only 190-odd stories in total. Even with the fairly rapid change that can occur, Baker ain't climbing out of the basement unless several hundred people go in there and gives every story of his an unrealistic 10.

    Roughly speaking, this general assessment has held since before the start of the new series. The A Brief History of Time (Travel) has preserved some rankings from both the DWDR website, and from a DWM 1997 survey, and, and the Colin Baker stories are basically in the same relative position. About half the time, fans of the program see Sixth Doctor stories as amongst the very worst stuff ever done. Even his best stories aren't really more than "C+/B-" stories.

    Now, in fairness, it should also be pointed out that his first series got about a 64% average with the Audience Appreciation figures. And the Trial of A Timelord Season was the best-appreciated series of the programme's final five years, garnering an average 69.4% approval. So there was an improvement with audiences with general audiences, which flies in the face of these fan rankings. And it should further be pointed out that these stories of the ToaTL series were actively influenced by Grade's edict that the stories become less violent and funnier. Yes, it's true that ratings plummetted for the ToaTL series, but it's important to note that general audiences at the time did seem to like it better, even if fans looking back on it didn't.

    Another way of looking at this is to treat ToaTL as a single story. If you do this, you notice that it was significantly better-received than the majority of McCoy's stories. The only McCoy stories to top it, only barely did so. "Remembrance" slid past at 69.75%, as did "Survival" with 69.6%. "Silver Nemesis" earned McCoy's top honors (and the best AA ratings for four parts or less since "The Five Doctors") with 70.3%. It's further interesting that if you go backwards from ToaTL the AA ratings are way better than many "fan-treasured" Davison stories. "Caves" only got a 66%, "Resurrection" a 67%, "Frontios" a 66.25%, "King's Demons" a 64%, "Arc of Infinity" a 68%. There don't appear to be AA figures for Davison's first series (I think they were suspended for a while there). And for Tom Baker's last series, the AA are spotty so it's hard to get a fair number for series 18. Still, only "State of Decay" part 4 hits (or comes within 3 points of) a 69%. So, really, ToaTL is, accoriding to AA figures, one of the best-appreciated stories of the JNT era as a whole.

    And, again, it was done under guidelines set down by Grade. It's therefore really hard for me to say that Grade was completely off base. Now, sure, ToaTL represented a significant decline in the number of eyeballs in front of the sets. But in making the show less violent and changing the format, he forced JNT and Saward to create something that was a highlight of their careers in terms of the way the average audience member perceived the programme. I think Grade definitely erred in keeping JNT around while firing Colin, but portraying him as a kind of out-of-touch emperor making minldless decrees is a bit harsh.

    Doctor Who sucked in Colin Baker's first series, and had been slowly ebbing with the general public since Season 19. Grade just said it aloud, and tried (if not hard enough for my tastes) to move the storytelling in a direction that made more sense to a wider audience. He's not evil; he's Walter Mondale. He's the guy who got up and said "Look, we have to raise taxes." We did, but no one wanted to hear it. Should he have just worked behind the scenes to quietly change things, instead of being so public and confrontational about it. Sure. That'd have been nice, and he'd have gotten better results. But that doesn't make his assesment of Doctor Who wrong. RTD's essentially taken on board a lot of Grade's criticisms, and in so doing, moved the program from cult status to the mainstream.

    "I think of myself as ambitious in casting terms, and I know that Bonnie [Langford] has the potential to make the part totally unirritating . . ." — JNT, 1986
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     Friday, June 15 2007 @ 06:53 AM EDT
    I think the work that Colin Baker has done on the Big Finish audios prove just what a great Doctor he had the potential to be on tv back in the eighties. It was really the poor stories that let him down. The high quality of the new audio scripts show how high he can soar with the right material. Since hearing some of these I've gone back to some of his tv stories and he really is bloody good in the role.

    My Dad (in his forties during Colin Bakers reign and decades past discovering the series and "owning" a Doctor) always thought Colin Baker's interpretation of the role was one of the best. As has already been stated, it needed a change in the production team, and not the lead actor.

    That said, even I began to stop watching the McCoy era. Michael Grades heavy handed steering of the series into realms it shouldn't have gone ruined it. No offense to McCoy at all (in fact, many of his recent audios have been great too) but the series had really lost it's way by now and I do think that it needed resting for a bit. I don't think it's return in 2005 would have been quite such a national event if they'd kept flogging a dead horse for years beforehand.

    I think the rest probably did it some good Big Grin

    If half the art of survival is running away, the other half is knowing when to keep a straight face.
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     Friday, June 15 2007 @ 07:38 AM EDT
    [Quote  by:  old china]

    That said, even I began to stop watching the McCoy era. Michael Grades heavy handed steering of the series into realms it shouldn't have gone ruined it. No offense to McCoy at all (in fact, many of his recent audios have been great too) but the series had really lost it's way by now and I do think that it needed resting for a bit. I don't think it's return in 2005 would have been quite such a national event if they'd kept flogging a dead horse for years beforehand.

    I think the rest probably did it some good Big Grin


    I think having Ace as the companion helped to keep a lot of people watching.....playing 'the spoons' didn't Big Grin

    Cheers, daveac

    daveac on blip.tv, TalkShoe, iTunes, LiveVideo, uStream, GE, Sci-Fi, DWO, DS & WTA, Dave C on WLP, cooperda on AVF, dac100 on YouTube & PB, dac on Tiscali
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     Wednesday, July 11 2007 @ 12:28 PM EDT
    [Quote Another way of looking at this is to treat ToaTL as a single story. If you do this, you notice that it was significantly better-received than the majority of McCoy's stories. The only McCoy stories to top it, only barely did so. "Remembrance" slid past at 69.75%, as did "Survival" with 69.6%. "Silver Nemesis" earned McCoy's top honors (and the best AA ratings for four parts or less since "The Five Doctors") with 70.3%. It's further interesting that if you go backwards from ToaTL the AA ratings are way better than many "fan-treasured" Davison stories. "Caves" only got a 66%, "Resurrection" a 67%, "Frontios" a 66.25%, "King's Demons" a 64%, "Arc of Infinity" a 68%. There don't appear to be AA figures for Davison's first series (I think they were suspended for a while there). And for Tom Baker's last series, the AA are spotty so it's hard to get a fair number for series 18. Still, only "State of Decay" part 4 hits (or comes within 3 points of) a 69%. So, really, ToaTL is, accoriding to AA figures, one of the best-appreciated stories of the JNT era as a whole.


    Only its an important point that the systems for measuring audience approval were completely different for the Tom Baker era and early Davison then they were for the final few years of the show. It was only in the mid80s that a system analogous to the current one was first adopted (a statistically sampled panel asked to mark the story out of ten)- prior to that audience appreciation research was considerably more hit and miss (not just in terms of whether all episodes gets results, but who was sampled and what they were being asked to judge the episode for)

    What I think is more telling at the time of s22 (and even post hiatus) the shows scores are not very good - especially when compared to those expected for a drama). This coupled with s22's weak ratings performance would have informed the decision to put the show on "hiatus".

    It's also worth looking at the decision in terms of the context in which the decisions were made. The BBC by the early 80s were widely seen as falling behind ITV in terms of drama quality and populism. The BBC were making cheap, "elitist" dramas while ITV were scoring hit after hit with shows that managed both "The Sweeney", "Minder", "Auf Wiedersehen Pet".

    Looking at the BBC schedules at the time, the strategy does seem to have been that the BBC's drama output would be reformed into an ongoing populist soap opera ("Eastenders", capable of being very cheap on a per-episode basis) with a lot of the money saved being invested in shows that could be big hits "Bergerac" and prestige award winners "Miss Marple".

    In that light, "Doctor Who" would be something of an odd beast. By 1985 it was neither that popular or that critically well received. Its budget per episode was relatively small but an annual commitment to 13 45-minute episodes was still a noticable chunk of the overall drama budget.

    It was also a victim of rising production standards. A show like "Bergerac" could have a long run but a good deal of its costs were saved by being set on the one location and high initial start-up costs spread over the season. The original producer once joked that if an episode underran it was easy to pad out with stock footage of Bergerac driving round a sunny Jersey in a nice car! "Doctor Who" had no such luxury, it changed its sets and all but the two leads every few weeks. A longer run simply kepts costs per episode rising.

    And did the BBC have the money to do sci-fi to the standard the audiences expected? It was easier for Tom Baker to convince audiences that the studio set he was on was also an alien planet if, in the same week, audiences had to accept an obvious studio set was a police station, or a 1920s cottage villa or someone's flat. By the mid-80s, the standard of realism demanded by audiences was much higher and its not an unreasonable question as to whether that audience expectation for sci-fi was higher than "Doctor Who" at the time could have met.

    Ultimately from the pov of the BBC bosses, you had a show not doing well with audiences or critics, that took a noticable chunk out of your drama budget but looked like a drama from an earlier era and - perhaps most tragic of all - no obvious solution to those problems.

    In that light, I think the original hiatus decision made a good deal of sense.

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     Friday, February 22 2008 @ 10:35 AM EST
    [Quote  by:  Louis] The current producer, JNT wanted to move on and do other projects, and the current lead actor, Colin Baker wanted to continue the roll. When it came back from it's first hiatus, after it's shortened series run (another effort to sabotage the series, not to mention having the series return in the months when the sun was still out while it was being transmitted, so much of its intended audience was still out enjoying the sunshine and not watching the telly)... after the abbreviated series (Trail of a Time Lord).. the lead actor who had planned on staying was forced to leave and the current producer was forced to stay as his other projects he was set to go off to had been axed.


    There's an interesting bit on "Survival" where Cartmel talks of JNT saying no to the offer of becoming producer on Bergerac.

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     Friday, February 22 2008 @ 02:54 PM EST
    [Quote  by:  DarthSkeptical] Now, in fairness, it should also be pointed out that his first series got about a 64% average with the Audience Appreciation figures. And the Trial of A Timelord Season was the best-appreciated series of the programme's final five years, garnering an average 69.4% approval. So there was an improvement with audiences with general audiences, which flies in the face of these fan rankings. And it should further be pointed out that these stories of the ToaTL series were actively influenced by Grade's edict that the stories become less violent and funnier. Yes, it's true that ratings plummetted for the ToaTL series, but it's important to note that general audiences at the time did seem to like it better, even if fans looking back on it didn't.

    Another way of looking at this is to treat ToaTL as a single story. If you do this, you notice that it was significantly better-received than the majority of McCoy's stories. The only McCoy stories to top it, only barely did so. "Remembrance" slid past at 69.75%, as did "Survival" with 69.6%. "Silver Nemesis" earned McCoy's top honors (and the best AA ratings for four parts or less since "The Five Doctors") with 70.3%. It's further interesting that if you go backwards from ToaTL the AA ratings are way better than many "fan-treasured" Davison stories. "Caves" only got a 66%, "Resurrection" a 67%, "Frontios" a 66.25%, "King's Demons" a 64%, "Arc of Infinity" a 68%. There don't appear to be AA figures for Davison's first series (I think they were suspended for a while there). And for Tom Baker's last series, the AA are spotty so it's hard to get a fair number for series 18. Still, only "State of Decay" part 4 hits (or comes within 3 points of) a 69%. So, really, ToaTL is, accoriding to AA figures, one of the best-appreciated stories of the JNT era as a whole.

    The three seasons before the "hiatus" Doctor Who had an average viewership of about seven million and this number seemed steady over that period after the huge bump Davison's first season garnered (nine million vs. the less than six million that Tom Baker's last season averaged—the lowest of the program to that date). The three seasons after averaged about five million viewers and was slowly trending up. The last season of the program saw the ratings crash to just a bit over four million.

    Doctor Who's ratings were steady (looking at the season averae) leading up to the decision to cancel the program in 1985, so one can understand why there was such a reaction to the BBC's move. It would have been one thing if this move came during Tom Baker's last season (JNT's first), which saw the average audience drop by almost half. We know that Michael Grade wanted to put his stamp on the BBC's offerings and he needed to free up resourses to fulfill his vision, which did not include Doctor Who. The fact that he was "forced" to publicly go back on his decision was a pretty strong blow to Mr. Grade's ego, if not his plans for the BBC's schedules. He guaranteed that Doctor Who would not have any major impact on his plans by slashing its allocation to where they could only produce about half the material of prior seasons (13 hours vs. 7).

    With the lower audience figures, the higher audience appreciation results post-hiatus may just be explained by the fans who demanded that the show be brought back are trying to keep the program alive or trying to stick it to Grade. (Or not.)

    I think that the higher average AA figures for C. Baker/McCoy verses those for Davison may have more to do with the return of the program to its weekly shedule from its twice weekly experiment. A cliffhanger serial with the resolution the following day releases too much of the anticipation too quickly to impact most viewers. But no of these discussions can really be complete without also looking at what was on the schedules directly competing with Doctor Who on the nights it aired and where those programs ranked.

    Daleks don't accept apologies! YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!
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