Doctor Who #634: The Twin Dilemma Part 1

"Regeneration in my case is a swift but volcanic experience. A kind of violent biological eruption in which the body cells are displaced, changed, renewed and rearranged. There are bound to be side-effects."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Mar.22 1984.

IN THIS ONE... It's the sixth Doctor's first story and he's trying to kill Peri. Also, twin mathematicians are kidnapped by alien satyrs.

The new credits sequence throws in a lot of unnecessary color, which really mirrors the show itself. Both stars change their clothes and from then on, are at starkest contrast with the white TARDIS walls, Peri an 80s nightmare that is probably still appropriate, and the Doctor, well... Let's talk about this new Doctor. Colin Baker is, I think, immediately suitable. He's snooty, bad-tempered, childish, vain and all ego, traits commonly attributed to the role. His fantastical vocabulary, tendency to literary quotations, and ability to alliterate are in complete opposition to the more science-driven (not to say technobabble-driven) Doctors of the past, and I love that. I'm used to not quite understanding what the Doctor is talking about, but the scientific phrasings of the Davison era were, too put it bluntly, boring. The sixth Doctor's dialog is more interesting by a mile. Between Colin's verbosity and that technicolor dreamcoat (a JNT contribution, of course), it's no wonder this Doctor thrived on audio and not so much on television. What went wrong?

Well, on paper, the idea that regeneration crisis would cause the Doctor to go mad and try to kill his companion, and then having to "arc" back from that, is interesting. In practice, it makes the character almost irredeemable. The show just didn't focus on character development enough in those days - the proof is that Peri stays stuck in that annoying "stammering in fear" mode for the next season - for that arc to actually be explored, so it's more a question of the audience (and Peri) simply forgetting that he tried to choke the life out of her. And maybe there was no way to make that work at all. A Doctor's introduction takes place in the shadow of his predecessor (especially here, as Doc6's first adventure takes place at the end of Doc5's last season), so it must convince you the new guy is worth watching, if not an actual improvement on what had become a stale portrayal of the character. But Davison went out on a high, and Baker's all psycho and Crayola. I can hear the viewing figures dropping from across time. Peri was never really an audience identification figure, but in The Twin Dilemma, she definitely voices our concerns, about the costume, about the attitude, everything. It's an interesting look at what she thought the dynamic was too. She got aboard the TARDIS with a Doctor she "liked", but now he's "older" and meaner. Peri fancied the Davison Doctor, it seems, and never got a chance to realize he wasn't capable (or willing) to reciprocate. It could have been a Martha situation. Instead, it's the start of a grating bitchiness between the pair that will go on for a long time. Peri becomes the character that doesn't want to be there, yet sticks around. TARDIS travel is wasted on someone like that.

Oh that's right. There's also the first act of a story we keep jarringly cutting back to. Like the new coat, it's a real patchwork of elements. Snotty teenage twins apparently have untold power thanks to their maths skills (more block transfer computation nonsense?). A teleporting man called Edgeworth hypnotizes and kidnaps them. He's working with a group of furries who look like satyrs but are in no way connected to the satyr-like people seen in The Monster of Peladon, and FOR a silly giant gastropod called Mestor with googly eyes. There's a reason I've always mixed this story up with Frontios; they have the same basic villains. And in the same season too. I'd call it a lack of imagination if the stories had the same writer, instead I have to call script editor Eric Saward for selecting and then not differentiating the stories. The kids disappearance is investigated by space cops with shapeless uniforms and gigantic sheriff stars, and the Doctor runs afoul of one of them on Titan 3, a location completely mismatched with the model shot on the TARDIS viewer. It only LOOKS like an airless moon on the latter - and Peri reacts to it appropriately - and turns into a quarry with a normal sky when they walk out. Gah.

- A new Doctor's introduction should have a much higher Rewatchability quotient, but aside from the core personality Colin Baker gives his Time Lord, the episode is a series of wrong-headed choices, several of them with long-lasting consequences on the tone of the show.


snell said...

It could have been salvageable--just have the Doctor act menacing initially, perhaps just briefly chase her around the console...But to sit astride her, hands on her throat? That's so far past the line as to prove the writer/director/story editor/producer completely tone deaf.

They essentially start with (wait for it) the nu52 version of the Doctor--violent, not likable, a murderous jerk--and it's tough to walk it back from that far afield.

Siskoid said...

Yes, exactly. But it doesn't matter because Saward isn't interested in the main characters. He never is. Peri's last name is Brown. Coincidence?

Anonymous said...

I remember Pertwee's first adventure, where he tricked Liz Shaw into placing her trust in him just so he could get his TARDIS key back. He apologized to Liz and the Brigadier, duly abased and ashamed of his behavior.

Granted, a murder attempt is a little harder to walk back from, but an apology is a start, followed by an explanation that he literally wasn't quite himself, and a promise that he's sane now. Plus a brave rescue of Peri before the first adventure is up, and you've won back both Peri and the viewers.

That said, mandhandling Peri like that strikes a really wrong note. I really, really wonder if the Colin Baker writers had any interest in writing a Doctor that viewers could like. Back to Pertwee, he had some traits in common with Colin Baker, such as ego and condescension. But he also softened it up often enough that you couldn't mistake him for a complete ass. Eccleston's another one: as haunted and moody as he was, he found plenty of ways to demonstrate compassion.

CiB said...

The idea was that, much like Hartnell's Doctor, Colin Baker would start off fairly unlikable and over the many years Baker played the role (as he was intending to beat Tom Bakers record of 7 years at this point) the character would gradually soften and become more likable (which is what eventually happened on audio plays), just like Hartnell's doctor had. One major difference though is that right from the get go, the 6th Doctor is someone willing to stand up and oppose evil.

Also, to the anonymous above, the 6th Doctor is *very* ashamed of triyng to kill Peri, believing the regeneration has gone extremely wrong if he's trying to kill people and commits to spending that incarnation as a hermit so that no one else would be in danger from him.

Siskoid said...

I am very much enjoying how people are coming to Doc6's defense. You likely wouldn't have seen a lot of that 10 years ago.

LiamKav said...

I think it might be more a defence of Colin Baker. As has been said, the story-arc idea of starting the Sixth Doctor off as unlikable and then dialing it back over the years isn't a bad one, and it also gives the Sixth Doctor a nice contrast from his more obviously heroic predecessor. And you can ALMOST see JNT's thinking with the coat. If, maybe after a few episodes it had been toned down, and then toned down more as his mind settled, it might have worked...

Interesting fact: Andrew Cartmell once said that a problem JNT had was picking "overly handsome Doctor's. Certainly Peter Davison is probably the best looking Classic Who Doc, but the hideous, hideous coat disguises that Colin Baker also cuts a fairly dashing figure. I can't remember why JNT picked McCoy, who is many things, none of which are "dashing".

Interesting fact 2: If Colin Baker does have a weakness, it's that he loves the dialogue Pip and Jane Baker write. I love a bit of illiteration and fancy language as much as the next man, but we're about to enter a period where people can't say "what?" without using a 5 syllable word.

Siskoid said...

McCoy came out of JNT's love (not to call it obsession) with variety shows, panto, etc. It took about a year before Andrew Cartmel could take him to a place that didn't directly tap into that.

As for Pip & Jane, I completely agree. Or actually, I'm fine with the Doctor speaking that way. It's just when everyone speaks the same way that it gets truly irritating.

Anonymous said...

So the Retro TV channel has finally finished the Davison era and just started the Baker era. Man, how time changes things. Colin Baker is a breath of fresh air, constantly trying to perform and be an interesting screen presence.

The story is isn't so good, though. And about becoming a hermit, I'm not sold on the Doctor being deeply penitent about trying to kill Peri, so much as switching from one mad excess to another without much sense of the gravity of either. Colin Baker going from murder to hermitage was like me trying to decide between Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew. Oh well, at least everyone forgets almost immediately.

Anyway, Colin Baker has just shot up in my estimation. Old school Doctors now rank as follows (I am leaving Troughton out because I haven't seen enough of him to have a strong opinion):

T. Baker
C. Baker

Siskoid said...

I find that Doctors tend to climb my list the more I watch them, to be replaced by the next Doctor I watch a lot of. That's not a bad thing for such a series.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I just watched the whole Davison run, and other than having impure thoughts about various of his companions, I couldn't find much to hold my attention. When I was young I didn't like Colin Baker, and I still don't exactly like him; but I'm old enough that I don't need my breakfast to be sugary-sweet and I don't need my protagonists to be pleasant. Colin Baker gives it his all, and I appreciate that now.

God, Kamelion was hot.

LiamKav said...

I'll go into it in detail in "Revelation", but Steven Moffat has a suggestion for the Colin Baker era... watch it in black and white. It completely removes the impossible-to-ignore horribleness of the Sixth Doctor's costume.

(Pity he didn't come up with this idea back in 2013, eh Siskoid?)

Siskoid said...

That's not REALLY going to help The Twin Dilemma, but other stories maybe.


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