Colin Baker Chats Doctor Who, Nadine Dorries and Bringing Sherlock Holmes to Mansfield

Photos: Ian Fraser
Interview: Rich Higton
Tuesday 18 October 2022
reading time: min, words

Ahead of the Palace Theatre's showing of The Hound of the Baskervilles, LeftLion sit down with Sherlock Holmes himself, actor Colin Baker. We discuss the iconic detective, Doctor Who, Nadine Dorries in the jungle, how Davros got him wearing Crocs, and the status of Colin’s lucky underpants...


You are about to embark on a fourteen-date tour of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. There have been many adaptations of the story, how does this new adaption differ from those previously?
Oh, I have absolutely no idea! All I know is that I have read the book many times in my life and again recently, and I’ve read the adaptation. It seems to me to be a pretty accurate representation of the story; there are one or two little tweaks due to the fact we are staging an audio recording of it. On stage will be microphones and a few tables and chairs and someone sitting doing sound effects, and it will be like the audience is watching the recording of a BBC audio play. I was quite surprised to learn that people rather enjoy them and I’m quite excited to do it. It also gives me the opportunity to play Sherlock Holmes, as I suppose I’m not physically everyone’s ideal for Holmes - but I’m hoping I will sound just what Sherlock would sound like! 

This the first time you have played Holmes, but who has given your favourite portrayal of the Master Detective?
Oh, Basil Rathbone. He was the first Holmes I ever saw, and yes there have been many other excellent versions. The Jeremy Brett version I liked a lot but I’m always comparing those other versions with Basil Rathbone, and because they were all old black and white movies, it fits in more with my vision of the character. I’m not in any way doing down any of the others, including myself, but he was my idea of Sherlock Holmes for most of my life. I was given a copy of the Sherlock Holmes stories as a prize, I think for English at school, and this would have been the same time that I was seeing Rathbone as Holmes, so he was imprinted on my mind as the character.

This production sees you reunited with your former Doctor Who colleague Terry Molloy, who will be playing the Watson to your Holmes. Have you enjoyed working together again on a project that isn't Doctor Who based?
It’ll be brilliant. I’ve worked with Terry outside of Doctor Who - I’ve worked with him twice, in fact. We did pantomime together at the Theatre Royal in Norwich, a dozen or so years ago, and obviously we meet up at Doctor Who-related events. We get on very well, he has contributed two things to my life, one is Crocs. I asked him what he was wearing and that they looked a bit strange, he told me to try them on and they were so comfy that they are all I’ve worn for the past twenty years. The other thing is, he had an Apple computer and iPhone long before I got terribly interested in all that stuff. He showed me how they all worked, and I went straight out and got an iPhone. Terry is a style icon for me!

I love the fact that things can change, performances over a period of weeks can change. I once did a play with another actor where we almost switched parts by the end of the three-month run

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a production of the Crime and Comedy Theatre Company, directed by Martin Parsons. Is this the first time you have worked with the company and the director?
I know Martin because he used to run a theatre, which I toured to on several occasions, the Epsom Playhouse. He also put on a Doctor Who event down at a location in deepest Surrey, where Jon Pertwee filmed a story (The Daemons, 1971). So, when he approached me to do this, I knew the chap and I knew he was solid and had already put on other Crime and Comedy tours. The only thing that deterred me slightly was that it was one-nighters, doing one night in a town and then driving eighty miles to the next show. Six months ago, I said yes! But as I got closer, I was more like oh no… At least I don’t have to learn the script, as it’s a radio play and familiarity helps, of course.

Baskervilles is such a classic story. Do you have a favourite book which you would love to see adapted for stage, and which role would you want?
Wow! That’s a really good question. I always wanted to play Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, but that was cast from knights of the theatre, rather than also-rans like myself - of course, Mr Gambon did it beautifully. Those are the sorts of questions that you need advance warning of; I can’t think of anything at the moment, so I would have to stick with Dumbledore.

Nottingham has rich theatrical history; do you have any abiding memories of performing in Nottingham?
Yeah, I do! I’ve done panto in Nottingham, about ten or so years ago with Kevin Kennedy and Chris Gascoyne from Corrie. I’ve toured to the Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall many times, and there are a handful of theatres in the country that when you see them on a tour list you are like yes! And the Theatre Royal Nottingham is one. It’s a magnificent building sitting at the top of that road, and you can’t miss it, it’s beautifully placed. I’ve been to the Theatre Royal many times and enjoyed every second of it.

Where do you prefer to perform: on a film or TV set, treading the boards or in a studio doing audio work?
It’s one of those things where if you’ve done years and years and years of telly, you yearn to get back to the theatre. Once you’ve done months and months and months of theatre, you yearn to get back to telly or into a radio studio. They all have their different challenges, and they all have their different joys. The joy of the stage is once you’re out there the director can’t bugger up your performance. With telly it’s possible your finest moment may not be seen as the camera wasn’t pointing at you when you did it, whereas on stage you’re in control. It is true of the theatre that each night is different; even if the audience is completely silent its still different to previous completely silent audiences.

I love the fact that things can change, performances over a period of weeks can change. I once did a play with another actor where we almost switched parts by the end of the three-month run, starting off with me being the calm one and him the angry one; by the end it was the other way round. It evolved and that’s what is so exciting about theatre. Audio-wise, I love that too. I’m in the studio at the moment doing a Doctor Who story by Matthew Sweet, who has written the most brilliant story for me and Bonnie Langford; it’s called Broadway and takes place on Broadway.

We’re approaching the fortieth anniversary of your debut as the Doctor in Doctor Who. In hindsight, how do you feel now about that initial time on the show?
First of all it was the first time in my career that I had been the main character. Sometimes it isn’t easy coming into somebody else’s show, so with Doctor Who I wanted to create an atmosphere where guest actors could give their best work. Most actors work best when they are feeling happy, relaxed, and valued, and we had a great time. I had been a guest on other people’s shows where they had never even spoken to me. I was unaware, and so was Nicola Bryant and Bonnie Langford, about what was going on behind the scenes, between the producer and script writer, script editor and other people. While we were doing it I was happy with the scripts, I realise now that after having some wonderful scripts with Big Finish that some of them were a bit routine, but I was playing the Doctor and I loved every second of doing so.

I wasn’t treated that well at the time; Michael Grade admitted he didn’t like the programme before he came to the BBC. When he came to the BBC as controller it wasn’t unexpected that he kicked it into touch, while I was the one playing the part. We had a year of hiatus before we came back, and John Nathan Turner was told to get rid of me. I thought he might say, “No, I resign.” But he didn’t, and I was surplus to requirements. I felt that I was the victim of whims of people up in ivory towers, but I’ve never lost my love for the show and the fans. Bless them, they made me the president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society when dear old Jon Pertwee died.

On my very first night at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, I wore a pair of paisley Marks and Spencer underpants. Because I got through the show without dying or being kicked out of Equity, I considered the pants to be lucky

What did you take away from your experience on I’m a Celebrity and what was it like living in the jungle with Nadine Dorries? 
I loved Nadine; she was the first out, sadly, so I only knew her for about eleven days. Although, during those eleven days, I was the eldest in there and we had to stumble through acres of greenery to get to the helicopter before the other team did and I struggled, so she came back and helped me. She was kind and she was helpful to everybody. Yes, she was nice and that’s my memory of Nadine. Her and my wife got on well and we promised we would get together, but we never have - she has been a bit busy, though.

It was an interesting time; I lost a lot of weight, I think about fifty pounds. All we had was rice and beans for the first two days because Helen Flanagan refused to do any challenges. One thing I assure you of is that everything is 100% genuine, you’re not allowed out and there are guards outside and no extra food ferried in. We were not taken out to the pub every night. You do learn a lot about yourself when you are away from everything you know, it was quite an experience. I did manage to pay off my mortgage, though, so there is that.

Do you still have your lucky paisley underpants?
Yes! Up above my head is a hatch and in that hatch is a case which has all my things I need when I go to the theatre; it has my dame’s wig and things like that in it. On my very first night in 1969 at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, I wore a pair of paisley Marks and Spencer underpants. Because I got through the show without dying or being kicked out of Equity, I considered the pants to be lucky, so every first night I would wear them. There came a time when the elastic perished and they became less than desirable, so I then used to put them in my pocket. Even the time when I started the show naked, when I was doing Frankie and Johnny, many moons ago, I made sure the pants were in the pocket of the clothes I put on. 

You can catch The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Mansfield Palace Theatre on Friday 4 November

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