I caught only two more Six stories first time round – Vengeance on Varos, which starts with the gratuitously violent torture scene, and The Two Doctors, which ends with the gratuitous stabbing to death of a minor character. Both of them also have their good points (and in particular, The Two Doctors has risen in my estimation since I got to know Troughton’s œuvre, and the novelisation is the best of the Six books) but the nastiness of the violence genuinely put me off. I was too young to remember them, but at least the fight scenes in the Third Doctor stories were on the whole interestingly staged. This was just shock tactics. I caught a few minutes of Timelash but worked out pretty fast who Herbert would turn out to be, and didn’t see anything else to interest me. (Especially not Paul Darrow.)
This meant that I missed out on the two really good Sixth Doctor stories, Revelation of the Daleks and Mindwarp. The former is the most interesting Davros story apart from Genesis of the DaleksTrial of a Time Lord season which exploits the story-within-a-story format (and fascinated Baker sufficiently that he wrote a sort-of sequel). Both stories have a much more satisfactory Doctor / Peri dynamic, and Baker gives the Doctor a believable mixture of passion and compassion (when he’s not under external influence, that is).
Baker’s rehabilitation for me has been completed by his excellent work for Big Finish. Untrammelled by dodgy visual effects, and benefiting from decent and even intelligent scripts, he has played a more heroic and warmer Doctor than he was allowed to on television, while keeping the zany extroversion which was his most attractive character trait.
My favourite of his plays is the early Bloodtide, featuring Charles Darwin and the Silurians, but there are loads of other excellent ones as well – mostly featuring the audio-only companion Professor Evelyn Smythe, as played by Maggie Stables. (Though there are some with Peri, a couple with Mel and one or two in other categories, notably The Wormery which is another excellent one.) Another good Evelyn story, Jubilee, was the basis for the Ninth Doctor televised story Dalek. More recently he has teamed up with Charley Pollard, previously encountered as an Eighth Doctor audio companion: there are two new CDs from Big Finish waiting for me to listen to them which will, I hope, take that story further.
So, in summary, this was one case where I tested the fannish received wisdom (“his TV stories aren’t great but his Big Finish work is much better”) and found it to be true.
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