How is it that people who grew up on Doctor Who can behave as if they grew up on Masters of the Universe and Thundercats?

The recent spate of ha-ha-ha-Colin-Baker’s-overweight jokes appearing as a rare lapse somewhere online (naming no URLs) has provoked some readers into a long overdue flurry of criticism.

What is it about DW fandom which leads certain elements to imagine that Colin Baker is an acceptable target for a string of personally offensive barbs? DW is supposed to be a show that we love, isn’t it? And isn’t one of its greatest attractions  that it allows those of us whose childhoods predated The Wilderness Years to recapture some of the innocence and magic of that childhood? Pre-1989 DW can claim some fantastically imaginative concepts but, as adults looking back, if we’re honest, much of it was ropey painting-by-numbers with appalling gender stereotypes. Even the show’s greatest icon, the Daleks, only had two types of story written for them – Genesis of the Daleks and everything else. None of the first seven Doctors were top of the range actors. But that’s looking at the show as adults which we don’t. We look at it not necessarily as children but as something which ties into our childhood. Which is why we forgive so much. Childhood innocence and wonder is a great filter.

Why then is it felt acceptable to treat Colin Baker with such barely concealed contempt? This is The Sixth Doctor, remember? It’s not the second Sea Devil from the right. He’s by no means a lesser actor than his counterparts in the role in Classic Who. For those of us of an age and a disposition to consider the eras of the last three classic Doctors to be one of increasingly diminishing returns storywise, his stories aren’t even that bad relative to their period in the show’s history. We know that his joke of a costume was imposed on him by John Nathan Turner against his own representations. His departure wasn’t him doing an Eccleston but rather an act of appalling unprofessionalism on the part of the BBC – the sort of thing that makes you wonder if the Corporation was nicknamed Auntie because of its occasional resemblance to a stinking old crone who ruins every Christmas.

As for Colin’s post-Doctor behaviour, I can only go on second-hand anecdote. I’ve never been one for attending conventions as the idea of spending two days surrounded by people like me and worse is a little off-putting. Yet Colin always seems to be affable and friendly. He’s never come across as a touch-me-not Doctor like Eccleston with his phoney brand of professional northerner schtick. He always seems happy to sign endless autographs though I still believe that queuing to pay for an autograph remains the lowest to which a sentient life form can sink on either side of the signing table. So why the hostility?

Why does this contempt for Colin revolve around his weight? It can’t be the extent to which he’s let his waistline go because, compared with Tom Baker, Colin is positively svelte and you never hear anyone cracking jokes about Tom’s size. Perhaps this goes to the heart of it. It’s fashionable to be revisionist these days and say that Tom’s reputation as the archetypal Doctor has been blown away by David Tennant’s legions of sinister groupies (if only you’d perfected the thrust-out lower jaw and burping while talking, Tom, your title would still be secure). But Tom still has a large fanbase to defend him and a breezy not-of-this-world manner to deflect any barbs which might get through. Plus the very length of his tenure lends him an unassailable gravitas.

Colin, on the other hand, is possibly a more niche taste within fandom. His was an era disappearing up its own fundament with regard to veneration of back story. He wasn’t allowed enough time in the role to ensure that he’d be remembered for just himself and not that hate crime of a costume. He had the 18 month hiatus in the middle of his tenure. Also, Colin may possibly stand a little on his dignity, but when you’ve been treated as badly by DW and the BBC as he has, you could argue that he has every right to do so.

In other words, it’s easy to defend Tom as a great Doctor, not so easy to defend Colin as such. Colin is therefore the softer and easier target.

Then you have to look at the nature of cult fandom. If in 2011, you’re producing DW fanzines, putting together reconstructions of lost DW episodes or writing DW blogs, it’s a safe bet that, 20-30 years ago, you weren’t one of the cool, sporty, popular kids at school. Be honest now, you weren’t the captain of cricket. You were always the last one left when picking teams for football. You didn’t know how to talk to girls. The fact that, 30 years on, you may have discovered sex sufficiently to get married and may kick a football around the park with Tristram and Jeremy from the office, none of this stops you still being at heart the lonely DW obsessive in the corner of the playground whom none of the cool kids would play with. I myself was an exception to this rule as I was hard as nails and wildly popular at school. The Hard Whovian, they used to call me as I was stealing their lunch money. I went to Wormwood Scrubs on a hockey scholarship.

So DW fans by and large were not the school bullies but the law of averages suggests that a fair number would have been that even more despicable breed – the school bully’s hangers-on, his sycophantic little acolytes. Those who bully only when it’s safe to do so. Those who grew up to spend their time in fandom bullying the “less popular” Doctors and the annoyingly precocious teenage companions.

How can this be the behaviour of people brought up on Doctor Who which has never been about bullying? Very much the opposite. With the exception of the Tenth Doctor veering dangerously close to the swaggering braggart obsessed with his own coolness, it’s never been the sort of 007 show where your worth is predicated on how well you can fire a gun, shag the most women or win a fist fight (even Venusian Aikido was hilariously camp). Isn’t that what drew so many of us…(cough)…I mean you lonely shy unsporty kids to the show in the first place? All you had to do to earn a place in the TARDIS was to be the Doctor’s best friend and to be brave and to look out for him. You didn’t have to descend into the final incarnation of Rose Tyler strutting down a burning street carrying an enormous fuck-off gun under your arm.

If you’ve been brought up by DW not to bully people, why behave in adulthood as though your formative influences had been Masters of the Universe and Thundercats? The sort of kids’ TV described by Charlie Brooker in his Oliver Postgate tribute as consisting of “endless screeching and zapping sounds that beat you over the head and can be exciting but also leave you feeling ultimately rather hollow.” By all means criticise someone’s acting performance or their behaviour on-set or off-set. Short of turning it into a 30 year witch hunt as has been inflicted on Matthew Waterhouse by fandom and by one or two of his more up-their-own-smug-arses DW colleagues of the time, that’s fair comment. But making personal remarks about Colin’s appearance is merely crass bullying. Maybe that’s only to be expected of the more dedicated fans of any cult TV show whose hours of internet time necessarily deprive them of the sort of normal social interaction with  “other people” which might educate them as to inappropriate behaviour. Oh, and attending a DW convention once a year as one of seventeen identically costumed Brigadiers does not count as meeting other people.

A year or so ago, one usually fairly cool podcast (not to be named) was actually bragging that they had offended Colin Baker at a convention as if it were some feather in their cap. Which I suppose just goes to show that even the coolest of fans retains within them an element of the sad and insecure little wanker in the school playground compensating for their lack of friends by joining in with the crowd bullying the easiest target.

Posted July 12, 2011 by docwhom in Misc


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  1. thank you, thank you, thank you. i couldn’t begin to say it better than this…

  2. Those who laugh at the physical change in Colin or any other actor should consider what they might look like in 25 years.


  4. I agree with this on the whole but felt obliged that point out that I write a DW blog AND captain a cricket team. SO there.

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