The early 1980’s saw an all time high in popularity for Doctor Who in the US and in the U.K., 1982-85 saw great ratings for all three of 5th Doctor Peter Davison’s seasons, as well as the first season of 6th Doctor Colin Baker. The show was really in excellent shape, with Colin’s first season ratings actually improving slightly on Davison’s last.
But unlikely trouble straight out of a soap opera entered the picture.
The new head of BBC programming, Michael Grade, had declared that he wasn’t a fan of Doctor Who and decided it should be rested. This was his first volley. Then, he took the show off the air for an 18 month hiatus. That was the second barrage. The fans were understandably angry. When the show finally came back for Colin’s second season, it was a shadow of its former self. The budget was cut, as was the episode numbers, from 26 down to 14. That was the third strike.
It didn’t help matters that the preeminent writer of the season, Robert Holmes took gravely ill and hasty rewrites lowered the quality of the last adventure. They also experimented with a season long story arc that didn’t go as smoothly as they hoped.
When a healthy Doctor Who left for the hiatus, it was averaging over 8 million viewers a week. When it came back, it struggled with half that. Grade wasn’t done yet. He decided all the issues were the fault of incumbent Doctor Colin Baker and fired him.
And that was the knock out punch. You may ask, why would Grade systematically dismantle and destroy a show that’s not only legendary, but getting very respectable ratings? And what did this guy Grade have against Colin? Ah.
Colin used to date Grade’s then current wife. Yeah. So, this petty, unprofessional asshole basically torpedoed the show for personal reasons.
Season 23 and Colin were both gone. In came Sylvester McCoy for seasons 24-26. Still a shadow of the former show, with fewer stories, lower budget and no support from the Beeb. Toward the end, seasons 25 and 26 were slowly getting better but eventually, the axe fell and Doctor Who got canceled. Mind you, it was some years later that I finally found out all the dirty details. I still stuck by the show, even through “The Wilderness Years”, 1990 through 2005, The only respite being the jointly produced Fox/BBC Doctor Who 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. It was a decent, if flawed production which allowed showing McCoy regenerating into McGann, who was great. It was a pilot shown on Fox to good ratings (9 million) but not enough to get a series on the schedule. That may have been a good thing, as nine years later, we got a reprieve.
Next: New Who