Sixth Dr Who was one of most memorable

By Russell Baillie

Colin Baker is the sixth member of what was an exclusive club of nine - the former Doctor Whos. Though he was on the show only between 1984 and 1986, he's spent quite a bit of time since talking to fan conventions on both sides of the Atlantic about his time in the Tardis.

Now he's doing that here. With Sylvester McCoy (who replaced him) and Katy Manning (Jon Pertwee's companion in the early 70s) he's part of Inside the Tardis - a stage presentation-cum-fan Q&A session coming to New Zealand next month.

What do you think about the world of conventions and shows like the one you're heading here with?

I'm grateful for it. If that world didn't exist I'd have to scrabble around to make a living. I like sci-fi. I probably wouldn't choose to go to a sci-fi convention, but then I probably wouldn't choose to go out if I didn't have to.

Do you make a better living as a former Dr Who than you did as a Doctor Who?

Oh no. I work as an actor 90 per cent of the time. This just fills in a few gaps. For six months I've been playing Van Helsing in Dracula on stage.

So you're not worried about being pegged as the sixth Doctor over everything else you've done in your career.

I suppose you've asked that question because in the past you've interviewed actors who go "I don't want to be known for what I did". I've never quite understood that. Why do it in that case? Don't become an actor - go and do something else. What is it about actors? You congratulate them about something and they whinge you haven't congratulated them about something else. I'm proud to have done something in my career that people care about as much as that.

What happened that you only lasted in the job those three years?

What happened was that Michael Grade, who is now the chairman of the BBC, came to BBC1 as controller of programmes and didn't like Dr Who. He never had and still doesn't, even though he's the chairman of the company that makes it - it's not his cup of tea. He did try to kill it off really, which included saying "right we've enough of you we're getting another doctor". I had done three years, so that's fair enough, but it interrupted my game plan.

What's your take on the new series?

It is very, very good. It really has moved the programme on to the year 2005. I was surprised. I thought 'oh dear this is going to be a dreadful mistake' but the programme is different enough to appeal to a new modern audience while retaining enough not to alienate the majority of the old fans. There are some who will always moan.

Do you look at the new show's special effects and think, "it wasn't like this in my day"?

It was based on character and ingenuity really. The Doctor would search about in his pockets for a piece of wire and safety pin and sort things out. And that was because the special effects we have today simply weren't available. If you could compare it, what we were used to in the old series - it is phenomenal. A lot of people say "I used to love Doctor Who and those shaky sets" but I think their memory is letting them down. We didn't actually notice the shaky sets then. That was state-of-the art television. When we watched those in 1963, it was ground-breaking stuff. Yes of course it looks tired and silly now - but back then we willingly suspended our disbelief because there was something exciting on that little box in the corner.

Kept any mementos?

I have a few bits of pieces but an awful lot have gone to charity auctions. I still have the costume, not that I can get into it any more. I used to have to take it home with me because the fans were so cunning in the 80s they used to get jobs at the BBC and steal props, costumes, scripts, anything they could get their hands on.

* Inside the Tardis is at Wellington's St James Theatre on Friday August 5 and Auckland's Civic Theatre on Saturday August 6.

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