“There was a bit of bomb that had I been sitting up, would have obliterated my infant bonnet…the back of the cot (was) demolished by a bit of shrapnel. And I was fast asleep.”
Starting off life with a literal bang, the ever loquacious Colin Baker tells of his upbringing in the midst of the London Blitz with an unsentimental mother and distant, authoritative father.
Tales of wartime (and postwar) survival ensue, in Colin’s usual good humored and fascinatingly descriptive manner, to the degree where even the most obtuse of listeners can glean just why John Nathan Turner selected Baker for Peter Davison’s replacement on Who, solely (or so the story goes) based on his holding court with an enraptured de facto audience at a wedding party. Make no mistake, the man can really tell a story and knows how to command a room…
Difficulties in school based on his posh accent lead to a term of bullying (and a swap to Catholic school, which proves no better) and a stint as an altar boy, but more importantly, living something of a double life where he spoke Queen’s English at home and slightly more Eastend in public (meaning he could never bring people home for fear of being “outed”!)
“I’m not a grudge person. Even though when I tell the story I get annoyed about it…I just accepted that’s the way it was.”
Despite a kind headmaster supporting his desire to tread the floorboards, his father’s insistence that he become a solicitor (and refusal to pay for his entree into university) sidelines him into a career as a Manchester barrister (duties: watch and draft a manuscript on the events of this week’s Coronation Street for the firm owner’s perusal).
“A sense of justice intervened, and it did strike me that the law can be used as a bludgeon by the rich to get their way and not always to the advantage of other individuals or society at large.”
Leaving the world of law behind for that of thespianism, Colin takes up his former sideline and hobby as a full time profession, first engaging for a term at drama school (albeit a few years older than the general student body).
“I was really lucky…building a career is 10% talent, 90% luck. You need the 10%, you’ve got to have that…but boy, do you need the other 90%, because there are so many wonderful actors who’ve never had one break.”
But even his breaks with The Brothers and Doctor Who result in issues with typecasting, a long run in theatre over television or film and losing a tooth at a traffic signal…
“There shouldn’t be a difference. None of us is a supporting role in our own lives.”
Everything from the aforementioned Brothers to his rather unforgettable cameos as Bayban the Butcher on Blakes 7 and Maxil during Peter Davison’s run as Who are covered in short order, before digging in to his sadly interrupted (and unduly “controversial”) run as the teleseries Sixth Doctor.
“For the first time in my professional life, I was the one who set the tone of the rehearsals. Having been on many sets where the person who sets the tone seems to think that making people uncomfortable is the best way to make me look good – I’ve never found that to be the case, and I like to think that everyone who came on set found it an enjoyable experience, and that I actually spoke to everyone, from extra to supremo.”
“Sadly for me and the program, perhaps, the script editor at the time and John were not getting on well. The script editor thought it a good idea to reflect what was happening in real life within the program, the Trial of a Timelord, which was…arguably a mistake. …I think it said more about the script editor than it did what was happening with the program.”
Baker offers an interesting perspective about and defense of John Nathan Turner which should give the more critical elements of fandom some pause for self reflection, and shows a still-present gobsmackedness at the news that the show was in fact to be renewed…but that he’d been asked to leave it. And then share an uncomfortable car ride with Michael Grade himself…
“I said I wanted to beat Tom Baker’s record, and as I said that, the Monty Python foot glided slowly above my head…and hovered.”
“For some time I’ve encouraged people at conventions that they’re all impostors, after me. I am still The Doctor until I do a regeneration!”
“I have to acknowledge that part of my personality is to kick against the big boys. So if I sense an organization that is getting away with something, I will fight it. Whereas others would say, you can’t fight city hall, well, I do. I always have…I just won’t give way.
Maybe that’s because I did law for five years, I saw what people (in power) can do, and I’ve always been for the underdog.”
Baker stands forth as good natured, decidedly good humored and egalitarian to the point of being somewhat of a social crusader, at least in persona and intent, which only makes him more loveable than this longstanding fan (well, at least since our discovery of the Big Finish audios a good decade back!) already knew him to be (and which was confirmed in person when we met last year).
And honestly, with the world as screwed up as it is today, and a fair proportion of the population tacitly if not explicitly in support of selfishness, Social Darwinism and (let’s be frank) evil? We need more like him.
“Regret is a corrosive emotion. In the words of Edith Piaf, ‘J’ne regrette rien.’ It’s pointless.”
There’s a bit of disjointedness to the timeline per se in favor of tangenital asides and the relation of amusing anecdotes (as all good storytellers are wont to do), but even moreso than the Tom Baker interview a few months back, this is a warm and intimate conversation with a true raconteur, filled with resigned bemusement and a number of silly asides.