You may not like the stories, you may not like the coat (although I never thought it as bad as others have called it), one thing is clear: Colin Baker enjoyed playing the part immensely. Here was a man who was willing to rub ‘dirt’ on himself, get tied onto a careening cart, and even pop onto an exercise bike.
But, more than that, he was a Doctor of action. And he doesn’t shy away. When faced with the Cybermen, he knows that it’s all out or nothing. Laser probe to the chest unit, destruction of the TARDIS… even picking up a gun and shooting the Cyberleader! Whether lowering himself into a Kronton Time Corridor or facing off against a huge fly, he’s ready to put himself into danger. And make those hard choices. Mothballing Shockeye? He went there. Putting his TARDIS on the line to protect Karfel? He did that. Genocide an entire species? If he must…
He was also a Doctor of temperament. Okay, it was supposed to be post-regeneration issues, ironed out over an episode or two, but it became a defining characteristic. What it meant was that you couldn’t trust the Doctor from one moment to the next, to see things how we do… he became more alien. In The Trial of a Time Lord, Matrix fabrication or no, what we see on screen could well be the Doctor as himself. This Doctor makes the audience uncertain, edgy, and thus made for better television.
And the Doctor loved his words. Many florid speeches, loving correction of the way Peri spoke, and a flourish for the dramatic with his oration. “Nevermore a jumblejack” immediately comes to mind. This also ramped up in The Trial of a Time Lord where, courtesy of Pip and Jane Baker, words went flying like they were cramming whole dictionaries into sentences. What this does show is that the Doctor uses more than action to outwit. Head in a noose? Only afraid he won’t be able to get his point across. At the point of a gun? Never more loquacious. Facing his own mortality? More than once, at that, and yet he continues to think past it (okay, after a bit of a moan). And he had more than enough banter to fend off the Valeyard.
“Old Sixy” (as he now refers to himself) has had quite the renovation post-series, and yet the television stories do show a Sixth Doctor in fine form, ready for whatever call to action comes along.