Published On: Wed, Nov 15th, 2023

Colin Baker on his time in the Tardis: Doctor Who is the gift that keeps on giving | Films | Entertainment

Colin Baker played Doctor Who for just two years

Colin Baker played Doctor Who for just two years (Image: BBC)

It is September 1986 and actor Colin Baker has been playing Doctor Who for just two years. However, all is not well on Gallifrey or Earth. There is, to put it bluntly, trouble in the Tardis. BBC Controller Michael Grade wants to cut Baker’s curly-haired, brightly-jacketed Time Lord loose. Grade is quoted as saying Doctor Who has become “outdated” and “a little show for a few pointy head Doctor Who fans”.

And so, Baker is unceremoniously let go after just three series – the only Doctor to have been bumped from the role. The show later continued without him, with Sylvester McCoy taking up the sonic screwdriver, and celebrates its 60th anniversary later this month.

Many actors finding themselves in such a position might have harboured resentment. Baker however is not bitter. Anything but in fact.

“I’ve been appearing in two-hour, audio versions of Doctor Who stories as The Doctor, fully dramatised and complete with guest actors for many years,” he beams over zoom.

“I’ve recorded more than 200 of them. They are hugely popular. I may not look the same anymore but, despite my advancing age as an octogenarian, I still sound the same as I did in the 1980s. Therefore, in the imaginations and minds of the listeners, I’m still Doctor Who with the shock of curly hair who wears a garishly-coloured coat. Come the New Year, I’m recording another one.”

Colin as the sixth Doctor with Nicola Bryant

Colin as the sixth Doctor with Nicola Bryant (Image: Larry Ellis)

Before that though, the twinkly-eyed 80-year-old is promoting the feel-good festive film he’s starring in, Christmas At The Holly Day Inn, which recently started streaming on Apple TV, Amazon and other platforms.

Ringing all the appropriate seasonal bells, it’s a tinsel-tastic, feel-good, family-friendly, multi-generational Christmas-themed movie in the Love Actually and The Holiday vein.

The premise is as follows… Emma Holly is an over- achieving young executive who quits her job just before Christmas and goes to her father’s run-down country inn to try to lick her wounds and find some perspective. Determined to save the inn – and Christmas – Emma must come up with a plan. A trip to Molly’s Coffee Shop in the village and a chance encounter with a charming stranger called Oliver could provide a solution.

She thinks he is a travel writer and this leads to an idea that might just solve everything. But is Oliver really who she thinks he is? Colin plays Emma’s dad, Ben, who is in need of some TLC and ‘ho-ho-ho’ in his own life.

“It is a lovely film,” says Colin. “It’s sweet and gentle and very Christmassy. It’s also very nicely done. It’s about the importance of keeping those you love close, about family and what really matters in life. As soon as I read the script, I wanted to do it. It’s the kind of film all the family can enjoy watching together.”

In light of what’s happening in the world right now, Christmas at the Holly Day Inn sounds like it provides just the kind of comfort-watching we all need.

“Absolutely,” Colin agrees. “I think we all need something to give us a cinematic or televisual cuddle. There is a tendency to wallow in the darkness of life when the news is very bad but we all need an escape, an escapist watch, especially as we head towards Christmas.”

Although the romantic element of the film centres on the relationship between Emma and Oliver, Colin’s character Ben also finds himself puckering up under the mistletoe.

We don’t want to give anything away but the only character who could credibly be a potential love interest for Ben is vivacious coffee shop owner Molly played by none other than Anita Dobson.

“Anita was a joy to work with,” Colin beams. “I’d never really met her before apart from very fleetingly at the occasional social event. She is, of course, very famous but she proved that very famous people can also be extremely grounded.

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Colin and Anita Dobson in new Christmas film

Colin and Anita Dobson in new Christmas film (Image: UK)

“She is lovely, warm and kind, and has time for everyone. She’s also a very fine actress. I was sorry when we ‘wrapped’. I’d love to do a sitcom or something with her.”

Doctor Who and Eastenders’ Angie Watts? Now, there’s an idea! As Christmas approaches, would Colin say he’s more Santa or Scrooge?

“Oh, Santa definitely – especially as my wife Marion and I now have four young grandchildren. It is a bit tricky, though, as Christmas Day happens to be Marion’s birthday so it’s rough on her although, of course, she’s used to it.

“What we try to do is celebrate her birthday in the morning and then the afternoon is Christmas but it never quite works out like that – because of the grandchildren and because she’s the only one who understands how the cooker works!

“This year, however, our four daughters are spending Christmas Day with their other halves’ families and so December 25 will be all about Marion and her birthday. We’ll do the family Christmas thing a few days later. It will be nice to actually spend the holiday at home. I’ve done panto many, many times – must have done about 30 of them actually – which means you only get Christmas Day off.”

Although Doctor Who was Colin’s most high-profile role, he was actually a big TV star in the 1970s. Viewers with long memories will remember him as the ruthless Paul Merroney in the uber-popular BBC One Sunday night drama The Brothers – a gripping family saga about the infighting between three brothers who are left equal shares in their father’s haulage business.

“Ha, ha, ha. Paul Merroney was the most hated man on TV!” he chuckles.

“In 1975 I actually did a photo shoot for one of the red top tabloids with Robin Ellis who played Ross Poldark in the original TV adaptation. He was the most loved man on TV, I was the most loathed! But The Brothers itself was hugely popular.

“Apparently, many church goers stopped attending evensong on Sunday evenings when it was on. As there were no VCRs or catch-up, you had to watch a programme when it aired or you missed it, of course.”

It remains something of a mystery as to why an eighth series of The Brothers was never made. But Baker, who actually trained as a lawyer before becoming an actor, knows the answer to that one.

“I was at a Doctor Who convention recently and met a woman who worked in the budget department of the BBC in the 1970s,” he tells me.

“I asked her if she had any inside info about The Brothers’ demise. After all, the show was so popular and after the last episode of series seven, the producers said they’d be in touch – like they always did at the end of each series. But we never heard anything ever again.

Colin Baker with Daleks

Colin Baker on his time in the Tardis (Image: )

“This woman told me that when the budgets for 1977 were being worked out, The Brothers had been accidentally left off the list. By the time, the powers-that-be realised, it was too late to do anything about it. So, it was cancelled by mistake!”

But then Doctor Who came along, of course.

There have been 13 Doctors with David Tennant, the tenth, resurrecting a new incarnation of the role as the 14th in a number of special 6oth anniversary episodes which will be broadcast later this month.

Rwandan/Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa will play the 15th Doctor in a new series which starts airing over the festive period. It goes without saying that Baker’s favourite Time Lord is himself but who is his second favourite?

“As a young law student watching this brilliantly innovative, new Sci-Fi drama in 1963, I loved the first Doctor, William Hartnell – even if those early black and white episodes do look a bit dated and creaky to the modern eye.

“But I doubt Doctor Who would still be on our screens at all if it wasn’t for his successor, Patrick Troughton. His sly, extremely intelligent Time Lord was a wonderfully clever interpretation and totally captured my imagination. I knew Patrick, too, and he was just the loveliest fellow.”

Recently Baker was lucky enough to see an advance screening of the new David Tennant episodes.

“They are fantastic. Russell T Davies who, of course, relaunched Doctor Who in 2005 after it had been ‘rested’ for 16 years is such a genius and such a guardian of all things Doctor Who. He has produced something which is beautifully filmed, beautifully written, beautifully orchestrated. He is also one of the nicest people I have ever met.”

Sounds like he’s cut from the same cloth as Colin Baker then!

  • Christmas At The Holly Day Inn is streaming on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play Movies and YouTube

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