Who Review: The Twin Dilemma

The Doctor is behaving very strangely after his regeneration. The kind and humble Fifth Doctor Peri was beginning to know has suddenly become an egotistical monster, spouting poetry, and drifting in and out of manic bouts. When he attempts to strangle her, the new Doctor realizes something must be done to restore his mind. He directs the TARDIS to the wilderness planet of Titan 3, where he can spend days, months, maybe years in peaceful introspection while Peri, his dutiful disciple, tends to his needs. A wrecked spaceship and a stranded survivor put paid to the Doctor’s plan. It also happens that twin boys, mathematical geniuses, have been abducted from their home and taken to Titan 3, where a malevolent mollusk known as Mestor requires their creative brain-power. The Doctor and Peri, exploring the planet, find themselves in the company of the twins and an old friend of the Doctors, Azmael, a tutor from the Academy on Gallifrey who had gone on to rule the planet Jaconda. But all is not well on Jaconda. It seems Mestor has taken over, and, along with his fellow gastropods, plans to use Jaconda as the base for launching their eggs throughout the galaxy. The vehicle for this will be a giant explosion, carefully calculated by the captive twins on Titan 3. The Doctor needs to stop Mestor, but with his persona in a state of flux, he may be more of a liability than a help.

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Change. It’s a constant theme throughout Doctor Who. Every story, there’s a change of location, a change of time, new characters, sometimes new companions, and every once in a while, a new Doctor. Often the changes are easy to roll with. Sometimes they’re a bit harder to accept, and that’s usually the case with a new Doctor. You spend a few years getting used to one Doctor only to have him change into someone new. Perhaps an actor you’ve never seen before, or one you can’t imagine taking that role. The latter scenario was true for me when Peter Davison took over from Tom Baker. I knew Peter Davison as the junior veterinarian on “All Creatures Great and Small.” I couldn’t see how he would handle playing the Doctor. After three years, he owned the part so much, it was difficult to see the unknown-to-me Colin Baker as the Doctor. It seems the BBC didn’t want to keep fans guessing, so the last story of Season 21 was the new Doctor’s first story, “The Twin Dilemma.”

I think the BBC gave us a couple of weeks with Colin Baker, so we could warm to him, and be excited to tune back in after the Summer. If that was the hope, this was not the story to fulfill that hope. As the end credits rolled on episode four, I remember being very uncertain about this change of direction, and this strange new Doctor. He wasn’t at all likable. The mood swings were too erratic. I didn’t object so much to the post-regeneration addled mind–we saw that somewhat with the Fifth Doctor. Even the violent extremes, and the dispassionate, even nasty edge to his character was different and not necessarily a bad thing. But I expected him to get over it and settle down after the first episode. The Who production team had other ideas. Apart from flashes of concern, and a few scattered selfless moments, it looked as if this was how things were going to be for Doctor number six.

I have to say this is probably my biggest complaint with “The Twin Dilemma.” It’s not a bad story–not great, and largely forgettable, but it holds together. The performances are fine, although the final scene where Mestor takes over Azael’s body is very strange, and not very well executed. Perhaps one of the nicest scenes is where the Doctor mourns the death of his friend at the end. Mestor’s costume is ill-conceived. Why even write a gastropod monster, knowing the BBC on a shoestring budget will never be able to deliver something close to convincing? The horned and feathered people’s costumes are much better, and there’s good set and costume design (aside from the Doctor’s new outfit). And Colin Baker is a good actor. A fine actor, even. But he is best when he’s just playing the Doctor. Not the manic Doctor, or the depressed Doctor, or the repentant Doctor, or the cruel Doctor, or the cowardly Doctor. Those brief moments when he’s just trying to help save the planet are the best. Yes, it’s okay that he’s a bit sharp and brutal with the bad guys from time to time. He needs to be different from his predecessors. But often, just being a different actor is enough.

“I am the Doctor,” he announces at the end, “whether you like it or not!” I really wasn’t sure I liked it. However, I tuned in to the next season to see if maybe the Summer break helped calm him down a bit.

Should you watch this? Aside from the fact it’s the Sixth Doctor’s first story, “The Twin Dilemma” is entirely missable. I really wouldn’t blame you skipping this one. As I said, it’s not a terrible story. It’s just not the Doctor at his best. The Sixth Doctor’s character will eventually settle down, and there will be some good Sixth Doctor stories. This is definitely not one of them.

 

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