THIS STORY TAKES
AFTER THE TV STORY
"THE CAVES OF
ANDROZANI," AND AT
SOME POINT PRIOR TO
THE TV STORY "ATTACK
OF THE CYBERMEN."
(WITH ERIC SAWARD,
A SWITCH IN TIME &
A STITCH IN TIME
'THE TWIN DILEMMA'
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
THE DOCTOR HAS
REGENERATED AND ALL
IS NOT WELL. CONFUSED,
ANGRY AND ACTING
STRANGELY, THE NEW
DOCTOR DECIDES TO
BECOME A HERMIT, SO
TAKES HIS CONCERNED
COMPANION PERI TO A
WHERE HE PLANS TO
LIVE FOR SEVERAL
THE TIME TRAVELLERS
SOON UNCOVER A PLOT
THAT THREATENS THE
ENTIRE GALAXY. BUT
WHY HAS AN ALIEN
TWINS AND WILL THE
DOCTOR RECOVER TO IN
TIME TO FIND OUT?
The Twin Dilemma
22ND MARCH 1984 - 30TH march 1984
It’s been almost eight years since Colin Baker’s Doctor made his debut on DVD,
but this month finally sees the release of his tumultuous tenure complete. And, in shrewd marketing tradition, the BBC have saved the worst (and, in fact, the first) story until last.
The Twin Dilemma itself is a Doctor Who serial that has the power to make a grown man weep, and I don’t mean in a good ‘Doomsday’ sort of way. The tears shed are borne neither of joy nor pathos; they are tears of fury and frustration. I certainly don’t agree with new series showrunner Russell T Davies in that this serial marked “the beginning of the end” for the original show; what I find so exasperating about it is that they so nearly got it exactly right!
For starters, the casting of Colin Baker was a masterstroke. He may not have been an obvious choice for the part, especially when reviewing his CV and looking at some of the cold-hearted characters that he had recently played – Paul Merroney in Brothers, Maxil in Arc of Infinity… - but nevertheless, Baker has an innate Doctorishness about him. I know that it has become fashionable to sing his praises since his Big Finish renaissance, but even when I was a kid and Doctor Who was only background noise and colour, I remember always being taken aback by both the intensity and the gravity of the man in the colourful coat.
Above: Like him or not, he is the Doctor…
However, why on Earth they decided to dress the new Doctor up like a bloody jester - as Peri says, “yuk” – and then antag-onise fandom even further by pulling stupid stunts like saying “we’re thinking about getting rid of the Police Box exterior next season” I have no idea. The sixth Doctor would honestly have been better off in a space suit than the “lunatic, one-off cost-ume” that he ended up with, though I suppose we must at least be grateful that the Police Box survived the madness.
What’s more, John Nathan Turner had the great idea of bringing the new Doctor in for the season’s final story. Only Patrick Troughton had been introduced part way through a season before, but in fairness back in those days the show
was practically on all year round anyway and so the sixth Doctor’s late-season debut was all but unprecedented. And one can easily see the rationale behind it: get the viewers hooked on the new guy; keep them loyal to the show while it’s off air. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Unless, of course, you intend
to make the new Doctor a loony.
Now don’t get me wrong; as much as I dislike Anthony Steven’s appalling attempt at writing an even passable Doctor Who story, I have nothing but respect for Eric Saward’s tinkering with the script and the wonderful way in which he manages to depict the regeneration crisis. For me, The Twin Dilemma is by far the most interesting regeneration story of all; but to leave the audience hanging over the hiatus with an unstable Doctor was out-and-out suicide.
“One morn a peri at the gate of Eden stood disconsolate.”
Personally, I find sixy’s intial instability both fascinating and entertaining. Obviously there is a lot of the William Hartnell anti-hero that shines through in Baker’s performance, but there is also a far more ominous side. When the Doctor does the unthinkable and attacks Peri whilst quoting Lalla Rookh, a certain line is crossed – the Doctor says it himself, he should have “an in-built resistance to violence” which has clearly been lost in his “renewal”. Furthermore, his pompous attitude and for once unfounded arrogance instantly set the new Doctor apart from his predecessors; indeed, on first impressions the sixth Doctor is a verbose, cringing coward who is quick to judge and even quicker to hide behind his companion when things gets tough.
“I never saw anyone who loved themselves so much with so little reason!”
Speaking in the 2003 documentary The Story of Doctor Who, Baker explained that “over
the many, many years I would be playing the part, the outer layers would gradually peel away, revealing the kind-hearted soul” and, as fans of Big Finish’s wonderful range of audio plays can attest, this is something that he has since pulled off majestically – something reflected
in the ‘favourite Doctor’ polls over the last decade or so. However, as intriguing as his post-regeneration volatility in The Twin Dilemma may be, with no serial broadcast immediately afterwards to show a slightly better adjusted Doctor, the audience were left with the unpala-table taste in their mouths of an overblown, melodramatic and completely contemptible Doctor for nine whole months. There was no coming back from that for him, sadly; at least, not on the telly.
Of course though, the regeneration is only the ‘B story’ here, as it were, and lamentably the main thrust of The Twin Dilemma really is beyond the pall. Anthony Steven’s troubled time
in writing these four episodes has been well documented, the ‘exploding’ typewriter excuse saying much more for his imagination than this terrible script. There is a perceptible contrast between Steven’s rudimentary ‘kidnap’ storyline and Saward’s heavy contribution; were if not for the compelling ‘regeneration gone wrong’ subplot I would be in complete agreement with the readers of the Outpost Gallifrey website as to where this serial ranks in the grand old scheme of things.
Take the two lisping twins of the title, for example. Rude, unlikeable brats portrayed by two kids who couldn’t even act. Take Mestor – a giant slug with the voice of Darth Vader. Only Hugo (Kevin McNally’s comic space policeman) and Maurice Denham’s Azmael (an old acquaintance of the Doctor’s) make the rump of the serial even vaguely watchable. Steven even managed to screw up on the brief for Azmael – he was supposed to be the old hermit from the Doctor’s youth, not an old academy tutor cum drinking partner!
At least The Twin Dilemma has an inspired title as it is most definitely a serial that is wag-ing a war on two fronts. Whilst I may criticise the wisdom of leaving the audience hanging for nine months with an unstable Doctor looming large, I can’t help but be impressed by the bold move of making the new Doctor so capricious and, quite frankly, so damned interesting. The other half of the story, however, is dreadful beyond measure; I can’t think of any serial since An Unearthly Child that has suffered from such a massive gulf in quality between the main storyline and the more character-driven subplot.
Sadly the relatively spartan DVD release is devoid of a Timelash-style ‘what went wrong?’ documentary, which I would very much have liked to see, though the particularly enlightening commentary goes some way towards making up for this. Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Kevin McNally (Life on Mars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Doctor Who: Spider’s Shadow) tell many a tale about the story’s disturbed production and, better still, Baker and McNally both confess to (separately) biting Bryant’s arse! It seems McNally got a left hook for his trouble, but Baker escaped without even being sued.
Above: Sixth Doctor comic strip stalwart John Ridgway discusses his work in "Stripped For Action"
The disc’s most substantial special feature is the sixth Doctor’s eighteen-minute contrib-ution to the Stripped For Action series, which as the title suggests examines the Time
Lord’s comic strip adventures. The sixth Doctor’s days in ink seem to have been every bit
as turbulent as his term on television, but they were certainly fruitful all the same, spawning enduring companion Frobisher and even seeing Colin Baker pen his own graphic novel,
The Age of Chaos.
Above: Comedian Amy Lamé tries to make Colin Baker's Doctor look "100 Years Younger"
The pick of the disc for me though is Look 100 Years Younger, which sees Colin Baker and comedian Amy Lamé critique the first seven Doctors’ costumes to the sound of The Kinks’ perennial Dedicated Follower of Fashion. The end of the skit is absolutely inspirational, and I won’t spoil it for you here (unless you care to scroll your mouse over the above image, that is).
The release is then completed with contemporaneous clips from both Blue Peter and Breakfast Time (the latter delightfully showing Colin Baker correct a rather haughty interviewer. ‘Doctor Who’ indeed!), as well as a lovely little five minute feature on Sid Sutton’s sixth Doctor title sequence. Prior to watching this featurette, I’d always noticed
that the Colin Baker title sequence was a little bit more dense and gaudy than the 1980 sequence, but it had never really registered with me just how different it actually was. Thankfully the wink didn’t make the final cut, though Sylvester McCoy wouldn’t be so lucky.
On the whole, I enjoyed giving The Twin Dilemma another airing. The DVD bonus material on offer is relatively light but, I dare say, as much as the serial deserves. The four episodes themselves have never looked shinier, but unfortunately there is no getting around how cala-mitous much of their content it is. As I’ve set out above though, when The Twin Dilemma does enjoy its few fleeting flashes of brilliance, it really is something special, and at the end of the day you can’t really call yourself a Doctor Who fan until you have sat through this one
at least the once. With this in mind, I have to begrudgingly recommend completing your sixth Doctor DVD collection (at least until the Vengeance on Varos ‘special edition’ inevitably rears its expensive head)!
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