Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma - Review

Every single regeneration story in Doctor Who history is its own twin dilemma. Who is this new guy? How will he pick up the torch? They have to carry the burden of fans skeptisim to the new leading actor. The Twin Dilemma introduces us to Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and the story is a failure on all those points listed above. It is a story that is always ranked at the bottom of every poll and quiz and is widely considered for the show's eighteen month cancellation in 1985. Perhaps the story's biggest problem is in its timing, coming out a week after the highly acclaimed The Caves of Androzani. Unfortunately though, as much as Baker might want to wish, there is absolutely nothing to recommend in this story, is is unpleasent, tacky, dull and the Sixth Doctor shown here is an unbearably obnoxious bully. The idea behind the character of the Sixth Doctor isn't a bad one, but its presentation is not only horrible but toxic.

Picking up immediately after The Caves of Androzani, a story where the Fifth Doctor sacrificed his own life multiple times for his companion Peri, dies heroically on the floor of the TARDIS. The regeneration certainly looks traumatic and we are reminded that the Doctor couldn't save everyone in this story but Peri was alive because of him. Sometimes the true victories aren't large ones. His kindness was the most appealing aspect of the Fifth Doctor and to see that gone in the Sixth Doctor from the moment he appears on screen is a real shock.

There is also a double meaning in the story's title too, in this case the twins, Romulus and Remas, the boy geniuses with bowl-haircuts, who need saving because their kidnapping is what kicks off the story. But the Doctor is having his own dilemma, his unstable regeneration has left him with bipolar and he is at the mercy of violent moodswings to homicidal paranoia. Obviously going for shock value, the writer even has him attacking Peri, trying to throttle the life out his companion. Sometime later, he comes out of his mood and decides to attone for his attempted murder by becoming a hermit, dragging Peri along for the ride as his apprentice. He is still unrelentingly arrogant, mean spirited and verbally abusive, who has developed the universe's worst fashion sense.

It is most certainly a bold move to make your character instantely unlikable but there was some purpose to it. As we've seen from previous regeneration stories, the new Doctor is also a chance to refresh the series, and usually, the personality of the new Doctor is a deliberate contrast to the previous incarnation. For his three years, Peter Davison played the Doctor as a quiet, diplomatic hero, with a cream coloured cricket outfit and fair hair. An antihero-Doctor is by no means a bad idea as that had been part of the show from the very beginning. Tom Baker could be arrogant, Jon Pertwee courtliness was interwoven with elements of haugtiness and William Hartnell was dark, manipulative and would have cheerfully left Ian and Barbara to be clubbed to death by cavemen in An Unearthly Child.

When it came to the Sixth Doctor though, show runners John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward decided to ramp the worst aspects of the Doctor's character up to eleven. Previous Doctors had moments of vanity, arrogance and self-importance but that was all the Sixth Doctor seemed to be. There is also more than a little cowardice in the Sixth Doctor too, but that isn't surprising as in his early stories, the First Doctor just wanted to get back to the TARDIS. Certainly, a bad-egg Doctor could be interesting but overtime, one would have liked to see the Sixth Doctor on television grow out of that.

But The Twin Dilemma doesn't present us with the best example of a bad-egg Doctor it has no nuance or substance. Instead he is extreme in the same way Rob Liefield comics and Mountian Dew Code Red are extreme, a crude version of the good stuff that equates being louder with being more awesome!

The story goes that Nathan-Turner hired Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor because he was so impressed with the jokes he told at the wedding of some mutual friends. That is used by some fans as a way to bash Baker but he had done a tone of television work before Doctor Who. He had even appeared as Commander Maxil a few years earlier in Doctor Who when he famously shot the Fifth Doctor in Arc of Infinity and he had appeared as the villian in the popular show, The Brothers. He was enthusiastic about the role and had proclaimed that he hoped to beat Tom Baker's seven-year-stint in the role. While he wasn't in Tom charasmatic league, he was otherwise a solid actor who did what the script required of him to do. In this case it was overact because he was required to play crazy. It really wasn't his fault.

The Doctor spends much of the first couple of episodes outstaying his welcome with the viewers thanks to his brashness and his belittling, bullying and verbal abuse of his companion Peri. Eventually, the pair leave the TARDIS and uncover the plot unfolding on Titan 3, teaming up with space cop, Hugo Lang to rescue the kidnapped twins. They are mathematical geniuses with the power to unravel reality on a universal scale with their calculations. We are told this, we don't see it. Instead it looks like they spend the whole story playing video games at every available opportunity. The twins have been taken by an old friend of the Doctor's called Azmael who is now working for Mestor, a giant telepathic slug who rules Jaconda with a slime-covered tendril.

The Doctor's technicolour clown-vomit outfit was the idea of John Nathan Turner's to show us the Doctor's internal chaos. In practice though, it made things even more unbearable because he looks like a fool and it doesn't help to sell the darker and grittier stories they were trying to tell through the late eighties. The outfit was ugly on its own terms and as a result, the sets had to keep up, gradually becoming more bright and colourful as the series went on. You've got Hugo's tin-foil uniform which is a patchwork monster. Perhaps the idea was the jacket would cover the Doctor's bad temper. Nathan-Turner favoured Hawaiian shirts but his own outlook on life wouldn't work with the Doctor.

The obnoxious aspects of the Doctor's personality might have worked better had they actually matched his cowardice and bullying and had there been a few moments when we saw that the old Doctor was still in there somewhere. There are a few hints of this throughout the story, like when Peri asks what they are going to do when they arrive on Titan 3 and he replies that they should panic, but there is a glint in his eye that he is formulating a plan. There are also a few moments when it seems that the Doctor knows what an arse he is being. It is interesting that Peri stops her assult by the showing the Doctor his reflection. Not long before the Doctor had said what an impressive face it was. That vanity might actually be covering up the deep self-loathing he has for himself. It is undeniably there by it is lost under the undesirable bombast of his personality.

Also a little un-boorishness would have been nice in the script as it forces Peri to be only slightly more likable than the Doctor. But it is hard to see how actress Nicola Bryant might have played it differently. Between the poor script and the steam-roller performance from Baker, it is no wonder that Peri is moody and miserable through this mess. At its best, Doctor Who got over its problems with charm and its clever, low budget approach to sets, costumes and visual effects, with characters you wanted the hang around with. If you have those things, it doesn't matter if a spaceship is made out of cardboard your imagination will iron out everything else. But when the main characters are this unlikable, it is harder to forgive the show's shortcomings.

A lot of the problems with this story though could have been solved with an extensive overhaul of the script, however, circumstances at the time wouldn't allow for this. It was a troubled story from the very beginning, author  Anthony Steven got conflicting view points from John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward who could never see eye-to-eye on how the show should be run. Perhaps because he was fed up, Steven then started turning scripts in late, first he collapsed at home from home and later because dubiously, his typewriter had exploded. Whatever the truth might be, Saward quickly had to rewrite the story. And it shows. It has sloppy ideas, clunky dialogue and characters so underground reality that they somehow manage to achieve a surprising amount of realism, alongside the dullness.

Plot developments routinly halt the action in this story too. Take the character of Hugo, there is a moment where we see him trying to decide what shirt to wear and then trying to work out how to open the TARDIS doors. There was no story purpose to that, Hugo could have simply gone with the Doctor and Peri. But that is The Twin Dilemma in a nutshell, it wastes twenty minutes on someone who can't find the door handle.

And where the plot doesn't drag it often leads to nowhere. After the buildup of how important it is to find the twins, the whole plot completely vanishes. The twins reality warping never changes the plot in anyway. Azmael pretending to be a 'Professer Edgeworth' is completely pointless, it only mattered when he kidnapped the twins but from then on, the disguise is completely useless. Mestor's henchmen enter the TARDIS only to be flushed out later on after the story has finished as if they were the last drunks in the pub after the final orders call...