Doctor Who #635: The Twin Dilemma Part 2

"I'm a Knight Errant, not an errant fool."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.23 1984.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Peri are captured by Jacondans led by the Time Lord Azmael.

REVIEW: Hindsight does strange things, especially to the Colin Baker era. On the one hand, we know the era was problematical in terms of design, writing, violence and overall cheapness, and those seeds are definitely sown in this first story. But we also love Colin and Nicola's pairing from the audios (and to some extent, their second season), and I think are desperate to love them here. I want to defend them, and I look for every good line or expression, every sign of the better stories to come. But I also have to be real. At this point, it's a hard sell. There's a lot to like about this new Doctor's bigger-than-life personality, and he's not all grumbles and shouting, but he's so damn mercurial, changing values and agenda from moment to moment, even hiding behind Peri at one point and putting the blame on her... Yes, it's regeneration trouble, but because we don't know what this Doctor is like yet, there's no way of gauging what's out of character for him. You can discount the more extreme behavior, maybe, but it's still an irritant. And Peri as quivering jelly is a non-starter for me. The ease with which she talks about power packs and self-destruct mechanisms would justify unseen voyages with the fifth Doctor (a gap Big Finish did exploit brilliantly), if only she wasn't constantly terrified and unadventurous. At her best, she acts to balance the Doctor's alien coldness, and one could say her cowardice comes from the same place as all the arguing between the two stars, that is to say, she's pouting. It's not that she doesn't want to go off on an adventure, it's that she doesn't want to go on an adventure with THIS Doctor. But at this stage in her career, Bryant isn't quite up to showing that in her performance, just as she can't make me believe her hesitations or that crying at the end are real.

The rest of the production is similarly astride the line between good and bad. Dictatorially, there are moments of fine lighting - the grid-pattern shadows in the tunnels, the bronze look of the boys' cell - and then there's the complete mismatch of the model shots with the location, the former featuring dark sides, the latter brightest day. The less said about the Jacondan machinery the better, I should think, as it looks like the cardboard and tin foil tech you might have made as a kid. If the Doctor's regeneration travails have problems of tone, what about the revelation that the old man working for the evil Mestor, Edgeworth, is actually the Time Lord Azmael? It's always a bit irksome when some important continuity is planted into an episode - that this guy is the Doctor's never before mentioned mentor and that they enjoyed each others' company as recently as the Doctor's fourth incarnation - but it goes further by having Azmael and the Doctor talk about a drinking binge, and making Azmael the "master of Jaconda". Since when do the non-interventionist Time Lords hold governorships? If at least this planet was a Time Lord colony of some sort, but no, it's inhabitants are the satyr-like furries. Did Azmael NEED to be a Time Lord? Couldn't he just be an old friend? The Doctor's ability to sense a threat to the "life force" is equally suspect. Hopefully, that threat will be revealed as something that would affect "the turn of the universe", but I don't remember it being so.

The episode does love its complications. To escape the dome's destruction, the Doctor turns a sort of T Mat into a 10-second time machine, but I don't know why. What's wrong with getting to the TARDIS in the now? The only reason so far as I can see is to make that cliffhanger possible, but it also means the way out of it is plainly visible. I've been more critical than I intended to, perhaps, so I do want to point out a couple of positives. I love some post-regeneration references to past companions, so "Brave heart, Tegan" was definitely appreciated. The Doctor's literate language continues to be a highlight. And while I've often read criticism about the twins, I don't mind them at all. The shtick where they talk at the same time works well, and I like that they're continually trying to work a way out of their enslaved circumstances and not taking it lying down.

- The episode shows little understanding of the Whoniverse, features cheap production values, and hasn't yet committed to what this Doctor will be like. Colin Baker still gives it his most boisterous effort.


d said...

One of the things that I hats about this era is all the Time Lord referencing. Whether its The Doctor refering to himself as one or random Gallefreians popping up everywhere. Just annoyed the heck out of me.

d said...

D'oh! I meant hate - stupid autocorrect.

Siskoid said...

And in this case, it doesn't even make sense for Azmael to be a Time Lord.

Servo said...

Although I don't share the sentiment, among the Whovian fans I know they consider this the lowest point in Doctor Who. Quick to give Davison a small nod; totally ignore Colin Baker; and applaud Sylvester McCoy's Doctor.

So I am interested in your take on this, as you seem to have a more balanced view on this era of Doctor Who.

Siskoid said...

I hope to be, but even at my most open-minded, the Doc6 era is still the worst era of Doctor Who, mostly due to production choices. I still think there are good things in it.

LiamKav said...

When people criticise this period of the show, they tend to say "The Colin Baker stuff" because he was the lead, but that doesn't mean he is to blame.

I wonder if it's just that the 6th Doctor character allows Saward to indulge in his worst traits. Having ultra-violence in a show led by a young, quiet Doctor produces a very different effect than ultra-violence paired by a loud blowhard in a hideous costume.

Siskoid said...

True. The Colin Baker era is actually the Middle JNT era, after the production office got too confident in its way of doing things, and before JNT stopped interfering while he was madly trying to leave the program.

And like you, I think the costume should have been toned down as the character regained his mental footing. Alas.


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