21.7 – “The Twin Dilemma”
Following on from a cock-up with some Spectrox during his last adventure, The Doctor has regenerated. Unfortunately, this time around he’s bit of a dick, so his new persona may not be stable enough to deal with the invasion currently threatening the planet Jaconda.
There are thousands, probably millions of words online and in print ripping various shades of the brown stuff out of Colin Baker’s debut “The Twin Dilemma”. It would take a madman, with or without a box, to storm to its defense. We all know that it’s crap. It’s probably the worst introduction of a new Doctor ever. Within a matter of minutes, the new Doctor has chucked a wobbler, attacked his companion, picked an embarrassing new costume and decided to become a hermit. Meanwhile, you’ve got slug men from the stars whose leader, the mighty Mestor, intends to spread his Gastropod seed throughout the universe via a massive explosion. It’s cheap looking, the special effects are lousy and it’s too brightly lit. Mind you, this is 1980′s Doctor Who. If you’re watching it for the special effects then you’re more broken than Colin Baker’s Doctor. It’s a story regularly voted worst story ever by readers of Doctor Who Magazine. And so on.
But you all know this, right? No? OK then, a quick summary of the other problems: The Doctor spends much of the story behaving so utterly appallingly to Peri that you can see no reason why she would want to travel with him. Mestor gets a big reveal shot, but he looks terrible; all boss-eyed with deeley boppers on his head. Oh, and his plan is bollocks. The twins are irritating. A lot of noise is made about their terrible acting skills, but to be fair, the guy playing their father isn’t exactly Peter O’Toole. Nobody in this story is acquitting themselves particularly well outside of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in the first half of episode one. Hugo Lang is the least convincing space rozzer ever. The plot relies upon every single character, good or bad, being totally incompetent, with the best example coming when supposedly experienced, resourceful lawman of the universe Hugo Lang steps into slug trail left by a Gastropod. Oh no! He’s trapped. But does he take his shoes off? Does he buggery. And finally, About Time hits the nail right on the head with the line “What’s the point of (The Doctor) being unpredictable if he’s trapped in an adventure that just requires him to go through the motions until an opportunity to kill the villain turns up?”
Let’s ignore the whole giant-slug-plans-to-fertilise-the-universe thing for a couple of paragraphs though, because I think that, at the core of this story, there are a whole bunch of brilliant ideas. Well, at least one. Stick with me on this. The central bone of contention amongst fans, namely The Doctor’s charmless instability which leads him to throttle his companion, is actually (whisper it) conceptually brilliant. A dark, unpredictable bad-ass version of The Doctor who appears to embrace random violence? That’s such a good idea The Moff went and used it for “The Day Of The Doctor”. Or, at the very least, hinted at it in the press campaign. It’s certainly a more exciting idea than, say, The Doctor spends three episodes having a recovery kip in a special magic science cabinet. I do that when I’m hungover, for Christ’s sake.
It’s become something of a cliché when pre-2005 Doctors are being interviewed for them to claim that Christopher Eccleston’s costume was what they had in mind for their own Doctor’s image. Now imagine Christopher Eccleston, in costume, playing The Doctor in episode one of “The Twin Dilemma”, pacing the darkly lit modern TARDIS, whirling from admiring his noble brow and castigating his previous self to advancing on Peri with violence in mind. He’d be fucking terrifying. Sadly, instead we get an over-lit TARDIS and THAT costume, followed by three episodes of terrible space panto. Ho hum. To be fair, an erratic Ecclestone in darkness would probably be too terrifying for the Saturday evening tea-time slot but, y’know, it’s still a great image. That’s not to be too harsh on Baker C’s performance in episode one, mind. Considering the material he’s given (both script and costume), he’s actually great. Great big chunks of episode one are genuinely shocking for the right reasons. It’s just that everything around him is a show on its last legs.
Previous production teams have suggested that regeneration – being rewritten, molecule by molecule – is traumatic, but none have had the balls or outright insanity to follow through and fully embrace the idea that the trauma could be mental as well as physical. For all the talk of regeneration being a form of death and rebirth, we’ve never really seen any mental fallout from regeneration before, other than the Doctor acting a bit erratic for an episode or so. But the Doctor we see at the beginning of “The Twin Dilemma” is broken, he’s all over the shop. He’s loud, brash and obnoxious one moment then threatening and sinister the next, before collapsing into a weeping man-child shortly after that. We could sit here and say whoever signed off on that idea is an idiot but, from another angle, it’s a very brave and imaginative choice. With a better writer this could have been gold. With better production values, this could have been gold. And it still could! The very idea of the regenerative process in Doctor Who is a huge, mind-boggling change, a “violent biological eruption” (arf arf) in the words of The Doctor himself. It makes sense that he would be heavily traumatised by the change, especially one as traumatic as the previous story suggested.
If you really need to be told in minute detail why “The Twin Dilemma” is so bloody awful, I’d recommend you read Philip Sandifer’s write up over at TARDIS Eruditorum or maybe the Lawrence Miles/Tat Wood version in About Time Volume 5 as both do an excellent job. But for me, the biggest problem with “The Twin Dilemma” is the unrealised potential of that one brilliant idea – a broken Doctor, fresh from regenerating, fighting to claw back his sanity.
Baker C will go on to do great things after this. Sadly not for another couple of decades though. For now: total bobbins that starts pretty badly before attaining the dizzy heights of truly indefensible. It makes me sad that I’ve watched this four times now, but makes me sadder that I’m joining the herds giving it a kicking. It’s like mugging a Moomin. 1/10
Written and edited by Steve Horry