One of the best things about going to conventions, besides being able to interview the celebrity guests, is to attend panels featuring some of the genre’s fan favorite actors and actresses and just listening to them reminisce, answer questions, or just watch them interact with each other. One of our favorite panels that we went to at the Denver Comic Con happened to be the one featuring Doctor Who’s 6th Doctor, Colin Baker, and the 8th Doctor’s companion, Daphne Ashbrook.
The panel starts with Daphne Ashbrook singing, which seems like as odd of a start as any to a panel, let alone one at 10 AM (she’s clearly a morning person), but it didn’t really matter because her voice was amazing. If you see her at a con, insist she sings. The impromptu a capella concert was made even better by Colin Baker trying to sing his own song in his admittedly nasal voice. He was in key, but really, he was mostly adorable.
In the end, Baker stole the show, and gave American fans some much needed insights to a show that they may never have heard before. Here are the highlights.
On Joining Doctor Who:
Apparently Ashbrook had no idea what Doctor Who was when she auditioned for the role of Grace Holloway in the ill-fated eighth doctor movie which failed to launch the USA serial like it was supposed to. Later on, she admitted that she now wants to do something crazy like go back and watch all of Doctor Who. Baker warned against such a time waste, to which she replied “I’ve got nothing but time to waste.”
It’s no secret that Baker was a fan of Doctor Who before he ever turned to acting, and had longed to play the part of the eponymous Doctor before he managed to secure the role later on his in life. He watched the first episode the first day it aired when he was a law student, and was surprised that he had been so engrossed that he watched the whole episode.
He slightly digressed at this point and assured us that while the old Who looks rubbish now, it looked amazing for the day. Then he chuckled that anyone who says that old Who looks great is lying.
But how did he actually go from being a fan to being the Doctor? Around 1981, he was offered the part of Maxell, which he was worried about taking because he knew that Doctors were never cast from actors that were previously in the show. When he expressed this worry to his agent, his agent laughed at him saying, “Who would want you to play the Doctor anyway?”
Convinced, Baker took the role of Maxil, and played it in such a way that he was asked by John Nathan-Taylor, then producer of the series, “Are you under the impression that show is called Maxil the Guard?”
Here, Baker digressed again, and talked about how there should never be such a thing as main characters for actors. After all, he justified, you’re not a bit character in your life, right? Maxil was just utterly bored with the Doctor, hence why he was constantly focused on how polished his nails were.
He reminisced on how he’s not really sure why he was mischievous on the set of Doctor Who as Maxil, but knew that he was. As a way to explain how irritating he had been, he told an anecdote about the helmet Maxil always carried. Because his helmet wouldn’t let him go through doors without stooping, he had to carry it, which he decided made it look a chicken (which he named Esmeralda). He would make chicken calls while Peter Davison (the fifth doctor) talked, though he eventually toned that down later when he was asked to. It is at this point, however, the audience finally got to know how Baker really became the Doctor. Invited to the wedding of the floor manager, he entertained John Nathan-Taylor at the reception so much that he decided he found the new Doctor, and it was Baker.
As for as Baker knows, he’s the only actor to ever get the role of the Doctor without a reading or a screen test.
Unfortunately, he wanted to outdo Tom Baker in years on the show, which he admitted probably jinxed him. So instead of doing the 7+ he wanted, he had 3 fraught years.
On the Sixth Doctor’s Costume:
Baker was asked to bring his famously tasteless outfit home every day to make sure the coat wouldn’t be purloined. This was because, he explained, too many fans were hired by the BBC. We would be surprised how many Daleks disappeared, he joked. He talked about how they had to leave fake scripts out so false information would get reported.
Still on the topic of his costume, he was grateful that he was on the inside looking out, and talked about how the Doctor did finally get the outfit he had in mind when he first pitched what he wanted to the costumers: Christopher Eccleston.
He wanted a darker doctor after Peter Davison’s version, and was pretty surprised when they went with tasteless, which the designer had a hard time making because nothing she made was tasteless enough. Finally, she designed the coat we know now as a joke, and that was the one it turned out to be.
Baker closed his answer to the question by adding that doesn’t really understand why a Doctor needs to have a costume. “Do Timelords not sweat?” he mused.
Will Grace Holloway Show Up in Big Finish Audio Dramas?
“Nope!”said Ashbrook, citing copyright issues surrounding her character.
On Big Finish:
Baker is immensely proud of the Big Finish audio dramas which he cited as something that kept Doctor Who alive during the longs years we were without the television show. He was proud that with the audio dramas, he was finally the longest running Doctor, though he notes with chagrin that Tom Baker has finally joined Big Finish and that record may not stand.
He’s effusive about how good the scripts are, and how the imagination makes these episodes of Doctor Who so much more terrifying and beautiful than could ever be on television. The fans who came to the panel, all obviously Big Finish listeners themselves, cheered at this.
For all you Big Finish Doctor Who Audio Drama fans who weren’t able to attend the con, Baker did reveal that he just recorded a new story this week, and though he said he couldn’t really talk about it, he gave us a hint: “It takes place on November 23rd, 1963.”
When he felt that hint wasn’t having quite the effect he had hoped, he added “On the moon” with a playful smile and a raised eyebrow. He said no more, but it looked as if he was rather excited about this coming release.
On New Who
Baker loves it, but he admits to being behind. He watched all of 9 and 10, though he constantly made fun of how pretty David Tennant is throughout the panel. He also says that he loves Matt Smith, though he initially didn’t want to. When Smith was first announced to be the Eleventh Doctor, Baker was depressed because he thought it was going to be another young pretty boy and he longed for the days of Hartnell. Now, even though he’s behind, Smith is his favorite on the new series.
Then he added, unprovoked, that there should at least be a female regeneration, to which the audience cheered loudly. “Why not?” he challenged.
The One True Doctor:
Did you know that the man that regenerates into Sylvester McCoy’s seventh doctor is actually just Sylvester McCoy in a blond wig? This is the reason Baker cited for the fact that the Sixth Doctor is still the one true Doctor. “Did you ever see me regenerate? I’m still the Doctor!”
Then he called out “Will you march behind me?” and the crowd of people (somewhere around 1000 people) applauded deafeningly.
Easily, Baker answers with Moffat’s “Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” because of one line.
This, to Baker, sums up the beauty of Doctor Who. Sardonically, he noted his Doctor did push someone into a vat of acid (“not my fault!” he cried), but he loved the idea that “Everybody lives”. That is what Doctor who should be about.
From there, he complimented Steven Moffat’s writing, which he thinks effectively shows children the terrifying side of life. “You can’t teach children ‘stranger danger’ without ‘Grimm’s Fairytales’”, he reasoned. He loved that Moffat is able to inject horror into a family show and keep it a family show to teach all sort of lessons to kids.
“Though,” he criticizes with an open smile on his face, “The Weeping Angles wouldn’t have been a problem for the Sixth Doctor. He’d just wink.”
Which Doctor Would You Travel With?
Ashbrook smiled broadly and quickly responded with “Paul (Paul McGann, the eighth doctor)!” Then she moaned, “Why did Grace turn him down?” to which she answered her own question, “I don’t know! I didn’t write it!”
When asked where she would want him to take her, she answered, “Home. To meet his family.”
Sum Up the Sixth Doctor:
Baker answers this easily. “Darcy,” he states, comparing to the Pride and Prejudice character to the Sixth Doctor by saying both characters started off as misunderstood, but we later find out they were principled and compassionate. The Sixth Doctor, he reiterated, is the most compassionate and principled Doctor of them all.
Essentially, he feels the Sixth Doctor is misunderstood, and it seems like the tide of audience favor is starting to turn in that direction as of late.
Ashbrooke: Jaimie McCrimmon, on account of his great legs.
Baker: After hemming and hawing, and giving an exception to Grace Holloway– as Ashbrooke’s husband was sitting in the audience– he answers Nicole Bryant’s Peri, though he know there is bias there. Excluding her, he would choose Leela, though that’s because he is good friends with Louise Jameson. Though, it should be noted in his second panel that he would love to travel with Frobisher, the shapeshifting penguin from extended canon.
A Great Panel to Attend
It is not very often that American fans are treated with an Old Who Doctor, so this panel was new and refreshing for the fans of those who most of which looked as if they clearly watched the show on PBS during the 80s and 90s (myself included). But still, even if Baker showed up to as many conventions as James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), I would still suggest you go see him. He has a subtle, narcissistic wit to him that makes every one of his stories hilarious, and same love for the show that his fans has. Should Baker or Ashbrook ever come to a con near you, drop everything and go.