classic ‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Twin Dilemma”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Peter Davison: “The Caves of Androzani”)
This story ends with the Doctor telling his companion Peri, “I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.” This story opens immediately after the regeneration from Peter Davison to Colin Baker, and this story is consumed by Peri complaining — and not without good reason — that the Doctor has suddenly become an even more enormous pain in the ass than he usually is: He is now violent, volatile, contradictory, pompous, and simply unpleasant to be around.

All of time and space, everything that ever was and ever will be be damned: I might have said, “Doctor, take me home.”

He tries to strangle her, after all

in the throes of his regeneration crisis, which is as bad as we had ever or, to this day, have ever seen it:

And, Jesus H. Christ, the clothes:

As Peri says: Yuck.

This is one of those moments where it gets tough to try to weave the asinine production decisions into the canon, to make it work within the context of the story. It was bad enough — ridiculously, unacceptably self-referential enough — for Peter Davison’s Doctor to get saddled with the question marks on his lapels. (Tom Baker had them, too, at the end, but they never really defined his Doctor.) Apart from that, the Edwardian cricketing gear works as an affectation. But what poor Colin Baker was forced to wear as the Doctor reeks of nothing but costume. Even the Doctor suddenly realizes how absurd he looks in the middle of “The Twin Dilemma”:

I’m old, lacking in vigor, my mind’s in a turmoil, I no longer know if I’m coming, have gone, or even been. I’m falling to pieces. I no longer even have any clothes sense!

He could have, after his regeneration had stabilized by the end of this story, gone back to the wardrobe and chosen more reasonable clothing. (In one of the new bonus features on this DVD, Colin Baker talks about how he wanted his Doctor to dress all in black. Which would have been really cool.) But he doesn’t do that. And I think we can only blame showrunner John Nathan-Turner, who appears to have finally, with the arrival of Colin Baker, gone entirely round some bizarre bend in his mind, and he would not recover before the classic series ended a few years later, after Sylvester McCoy’s tenure as the Doctor.

The whole Colin Baker era is like an inadvertent exercise in missed opportunities. I mean, this is the moment when this Doctor first sees his new face:

It is not without promise. From the get-go, this Doctor is arrogant and in love with himself. That’s kinda always been the subtext, and sometimes the text, of the Doctor as a character, but it was never as blatant as this. But then it turns into a kind of joke — it’s harder to take this Doctor seriously than it was with any other Doctor. I don’t blame Colin Baker: I blame that he was given so little to work with. He was saddled with a steep uphill clownishness that it would have been hard for any actor to get over.

But… This is still Doctor Who. And it’s still fun, because you look for the tidbits, for the scraps of coolness to hang on to, the stuff that expands the Whoniverse.

Like, in this story, Azmael. Sure, it never, ever makes any sense that he adopts a pseudonym — what is the point of calling himself Edgeworth? — but he’s a Time Lord and an old teacher and old friend of the Doctor’s, and so that gives us more of a taste of Gallifreyan life beyond what we see through the Doctor’s eyes. Even when it doesn’t always fit what we know — or what, in our fannish minds, we think we know — about Time Lords.

For instance, I always figured that Time Lords recognize each other right away, through some sort of psychic touch: they’d have to, wouldn’t they, what with regeneration and all meaning they can’t rely on physical appearance to know their friends (and enemies)? So why don’t the Doctor and Azmael recognize each other right away? Well, obviously, the Doctor’s brain has been scrambled by his regeneration gone wrong, and Azmael is too psychically addled by Mestor’s telepathic commucations. I mean, Duh!

The point isn’t whether that actually makes any sense, when you study the long history of the show or even just this one story. The point is: Even during badly written episodes, the fannish brain tries to make it all make sense.

(And this is badly written. From Azmael transmatting directly into the boys’ room and no one notices — so much for planetary security, stupid Earth people! — to Peri behaving as erratically, in spots, as the Doctor, and with no good reason, “The Twin Dilemma” is painful.)

Azmael answers questions that some fans may never have asked (though some of us did), such as, Where are all the other renegade Time Lords? Here’s one of them: It’s kinda cool to know that, while it may seem a tad suspicious and convenient that the Doctor’s favorite planet just happens to be our own, there is at least one other Time Lord who has bucked Time Lord convention about noninterference enough to go and actually rule his favorite alien planet, Jaconda, where the people look like badgers crossed with dustmops.

And this guy was one of the Doctor’s mentors, long ago, apparently, and a drinking buddy more recently. (Yeah, a drinking buddy. I knew the Doctor was no saint.)

Perhaps the biggest sin of this story apart from how it warps the Doctor is how it wastes the opportunity of Jaconda. I’d love to know more about the Jacondans: their planet has been ravaged by the giant Gastropods, though it was once beautiful, and they’re now starving. Who are these people? Why did they accept the rule of a Time Lord?

And that’s one way that fan fiction is born: out of poor writing that pokes at intriguing ideas without appearing to realize what it could have woven out of them.

Random thoughts on “The Twin Dilemma”:

• I always imagine that the Doctor must be starving after a regeneration — that kind of transformation must use up lots of bodily resources. He should need, like, a really big steak or two, at least, after that. But no: He always has to run off and save the universe without so much as a ham sandwich to get him by.

• We never really find out what, precisely, the dilemma concerning the twins actually is. Perhaps the dilemma is ours. We start off feeling sorry for them — their mother obviously hates them and their father is terrified of them — but by the end we’d be delighted if their brains were reduced to animal fodder, as Azmael threatens might be their fate. Though, to be fair, it’s not the twins’ fault that the story is so poorly written; they’re the Wesley Crushers of Doctor Who. I wish the story had been a bit more about them, in fact. What about that “mathematical skill could change events on a massive scale”? How did Mom react to their kidnapping and then their return? (Did she even notice they were gone?) We don’t even get to see them going home. Poor kids…

• Ah, that classic 80s TARDIS console room:

I do have an affection for this console. I remember when it debuted in “The Five Doctors,” with Peter Davison’s Doctor beaming about how splendid it was (he had obviously just finished refurbishing it), and I did always agree that it was splendid.

• Once the action exits the TARDIS, though… ugh:

This must be the ugliest-looking Doctor Who story ever. The Doctor’s getup is garish enough on its own, but then plunked down in the middle of this set covered in tinfoil and the Jacondans who look like badgers crossed with dustmops… It’s almost painful to look at. Even Peri’s outfit — which I quite like; I would totally rock that blouse — clashes with everything.

• Titan 3, planet of the enormous abandoned Madonna bullet bra:

• Mestor, giant Gastropod:

Not a handsome man. Even for a giant Gastropod. Probably why he suffers from this hunger for power: so the giant Gastropod ladies will finally like him.

• The police commander is a woman! And before Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison!

• Oh, 1980s, you were adorable:

• Those are so desktop Pac-Man games, aren’t they?

• Hugo would have been a good companion, and a nice boyfriend for Peri — there’s obviously some fast affection between them:

And he even would have fit right in with the Doctor’s utter lack of fashion sense:

(And he just happens to pick the piece of clothing in the wardrobe room in which Peri hid the power pack for his gun in? C’mon!)

• Oh, yes — Kevin McNally:

You have too seen Kevin McNally recently, in proper Life on Mars and in Pirates of the Caribbean:

• Why would Mestor find Peri “pleasing”? She’s a squishy pink human, while he is a noble giant Gastropod with a hearty outer shell and generous antennae (or so he would think of himself). Writer Anthony Steven should have been able to come up with a more plausible reason for Mestor to not kill Peri before the Doctor could rescue her…

• Great quotes:

“It had a sort of feckless charm which simply wasn’t me.” –the Doctor, about his previous regeneration
“You were almost young! I really liked you. And you were sweet!” –Peri

“What are you gonna do?” –Peri
“Panic at any moment.” –the Doctor

“The very core of my being is on fire with guilt and rage.” –the Doctor (ah, now that’s the Doctor we know and love)

“Moving planets around is not for amateurs, you know.” –the Doctor

“Earthlings have an unquenchable thirst when it comes to revenge.” –the Doctor (translation: Do not fuck with the Earth people)

(next: “Attack of the Cybermen”)

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Ide Cyan
Ide Cyan
Sat, May 29, 2010 10:39pm

I think I was young enough when I started watching 6th Doctor stories that, while I understand his clothes are hideous in most everybody’s opinion, I barely register the matter. OTOH, the deep blue winter cloak he wears in “Revelation of the Daleks” looked great.

Sat, May 29, 2010 10:47pm

The premise of the Sixth Doctor, as I understood it, was that the producers wanted to create a Doctor who was basically UNLIKABLE to begin with, and allowing him to mellow out over time as character development to where the audience could at least respect him. There had been arguments that the Doctor’s personas were all, well, Mary-Sue perfect to an extent (too smart, too funny, too clever). They wanted a Doctor with flaws. Problem was that both A) the powers-that-be at BBC were turning against the show, hurting production and B) they did too good a job of making Six tooooo unlikable.

You are completely right about one thing: once Six had stabilized you’d think he’d have gone and fixed up his wardrobe to something more… color coordinated. Blame the 80s: there was a hideous sense of color fashion in those days…

I think I warned you this episode is one of the most unliked and unwatchable episodes in Who canon. I’m glad you survived.

Sat, May 29, 2010 10:54pm

I think I warned you this episode is one of the most unliked and unwatchable episodes in Who canon. I’m glad you survived.

I first saw this way-back-when. If it was gonna kill me, it would have done so then. :->

Sat, May 29, 2010 10:57pm

I noticed you skipped McCoy’s (Seven) introductory episode in the order of things. You started with McGann (Eight) and jumped to Baker (Six). Or did I miss that entry?

Sat, May 29, 2010 10:59pm

McCoy’s debut won’t be available on DVD till September. The schedule of my classic *Who* blogging is available here.

Sun, May 30, 2010 12:12am

It MUST be a love fest for this particular story. I gave it and Colin Baker a chance the first time because it was forced to follow Caves of Androzani, a very tough act to follow. But the I re-watched it and wished I could have that time back.

Sun, May 30, 2010 1:09am

The whole Colin Baker era is like an inadvertent exercise in missed opportunities.

THIS. If you go to a dictionary and look up ‘missed opportunities’, there would have to be a picture of Colin Baker in That Bloody Coat.

(Actually, I have a soft-spot for the coat, but that’s my inner-fan talking, not my inner-appreciator of decent television.)

The real problem with that era is that there’s so many good ideas floating around — a more unstable Doctor, more overt tension between the Doctor and the companion, etc — but with few exceptions (Baker being among them) they’re all done by people who either have no idea or no talent in pulling them off.

It doesn’t help that someone on the production team seems to have been utterly in love with Gritty Space Mercenaries and shoved at least one into every story to the extent where you can’t see the Doctor for all the grim mercenaries cluttering up the place.

Sun, May 30, 2010 1:10am

One other thing; my first experience of Kevin McNally was this story. It always amuses me to see him go on to bigger and (much) better things; at least someone got out unscathed…

Sun, May 30, 2010 10:26am

Since this is a lovefest, I’ll restrain myself to saying that aside from the problems MaryAnn mentioned, I found Peri annoying in the extreme, and found her reactions to the Doctor’s regeneration and behavior completely strange and unrealistic. Especially compared to, say, Rose’s reaction.

However, towards the end of the episode there were moments in Colin Baker’s performance where I did, finally, feel that this was the Doctor and not some pod-person who took over his body. And I liked the DVD extra about the costumes, and Baker snarking on that coat.

Sun, May 30, 2010 11:10am

Since this is a lovefest,

There are clearly things we’re going to have to complain about when it comes to the classic *Who.* As long as we complain from a place of love, it’s okay. :->

Sun, May 30, 2010 12:22pm

You know…I wasn’t bugged by his outfit at the time.

Why? Maybe because I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area and knew a lot of aging psychedelic hippies who’d totally wear that outfit. And probably did.

Sun, May 30, 2010 8:48pm

There are clearly things we’re going to have to complain about when it comes to the classic *Who.* As long as we complain from a place of love, it’s okay. :->

i.e. We all agree that we love Doctor Who, if not every single episode, character, etc.?

Tue, Jun 01, 2010 5:39am

Hmm, interesting that you should say that, Scott – because the place from which I recognised Colin Baker, when this episode came out, was his turn as a space mercenary in Blake’s 7.