The Second Doctor and Jamie have been sent by the Time Lords to investigate time experiments being conducted by Messers Kartz and Reimer, under the supervision of an eminent scientist named Dastari. The Time Lords fear such meddling with time could have catastrophic results, and therefore must be stopped. The Doctor delivers the message, but Dastari refuses to comply with their demands. Before negotiations can progress, Sontaran warriors invade Dastari’s space station. Dastari falls unconscious, and the Doctor is held at gunpoint while Jamie runs for his life… Meanwhile, the Sixth Doctor isn’t feeling himself. Fearing trouble with one of his past incarnations, he decides to call on his old friend, Dastari. By the time the Doctor and Peri arrive, the station crew are dead, and Dastari is nowhere to be found. The Doctor locates his other self by means of telepathic link, and they leave to find out what’s going on. What they discover is a plot to give the Sontarans the power of time travel–a prospect the universe cannot tolerate. Somehow the Doctor must save his other self, and together they must stop the Sontarans from achieving their greatest and most deadly weapon…
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!
As far as I know, there was no particular anniversary to celebrate when “The Two Doctors” was first broadcast. And yet this is a special story since it’s Robert Holmes’s first Who since Peter Davison’s finale, “The Caves of Androzani” the year before, and we see the return of Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. We last saw Troughton in “The Five Doctors,” the 20th Anniversary special which aired in November of 1983. If these things aren’t enough, Robert Holmes wrote his very first Doctor Who story, “The Krotons,” for the Second Doctor back in 1968. So this is the first time he has written for him in seventeen years! Perhaps looking to make the most of the occasion, the production team gave the story three 45-minute episodes, almost the equivalent of a traditional 6-parter. We haven’t seen Who serials that long since the Seventies.
The story has its critics, but I can’t honestly say I’m one of them. It’s not the best work Holmes has done, but it’s far from bad. He does everything you should do in a story–especially a Doctor Who story. He establishes a premise for the Second Doctor being involved, and for the Sixth Doctor crossing his time line. Also, the Doctor can’t just leave without rescuing his old self, otherwise he would be putting himself in grave danger, with the possibility of even greater danger should the Sontarans learn how to time travel. None of the characters are window dressing; they all play a part in the plot. The two humans, Oscar and Anita, show our heroes the location of the hacienda where Dastari has set up shop. They are also running the restaurant where Shockeye and the Second Doctor dine, and where Shockeye commits murder. Dastari leads the time travel experimentation, and is the reason both Doctors are there. The Androgums and the Sontarans both want the experiments to succeed for their own agendas, providing conflict and creating obstacles for our heroes to overcome. Holmes even makes the rather arbitrary location work as part of the story plot (it was supposed to be set in New Orleans, but that fell through so they went to Seville).
Holmes also makes the most of the three episodes by taking his time to develop characters and weave the plot. Characterization was one of his gifts, and we see that here with Oscar the moth collector and actor, who helps the TARDIS crew but ends up on the wrong end of a knife. He also created quite a vile race in the omnivorous Androgums. It seems Homes was vegerarian, so this story provided him an easy platform for biting commentary on meat-eating. Especially harsh (though, as a vegetarian myself, quite amusing) was his comment as he’s tenderizing Jamie’s legs, that as a “lower creature,” humans don’t feel pain like the “higher” Androgums do, so there’s no real harm in malleting his muscles!
It’s nice to see Jamie again. He was supposed to be in “The Five Doctors,” but Fraser Hines’s schedule didn’t permit. He seems to slip back into the role rather effortlessly, even to the point of failing to flirt with Anita. At the end, he steals a peck on Peri’s cheek, as if to prove to himself he’s a lady’s man (see similar awkwardness at the end of “The Faceless Ones”).
The darker tone to the stories this season continues. Not only do we have the Androgums, and their talk of eating flesh, and devouring humans, but there are some unusually graphic scenes (graphic for Who, anyway). In one scene, Shockeye carries the lower half of a blown-off Sontaran leg, complete with protruding bone and green blood. And when Oscar is stabbed, he bleeds. At the heart of Dastari’s time travel plan is the recovery of symbiotic nuclei from a Time Lord (namely, the Doctor), and his talk of gene splicing is a bit macabre. Chessene (wonderfully portrayed by Jacqueline Pearce), who is supposed to be a technologically augmented Androgum, able to rise above her base instincts, finally succumbs to her native tastes when she falls on the ground outside the Hacienda, wipes blood from the ground with her hand, and licks it. Again, strong stuff for Doctor Who.
There are a couple of places I would most fault “The Two Doctors.” The first, and most obvious, is with the Sontaran costume design and casting. The Sontarans are supposed to be a clone race of short and stocky warriors. The two Sontarans we see are both tall, one is taller than the other, and one (maybe both, I don’t recall) sports a goatee! And the facial prosthetics are not nearly as good as the original 1974 mask (see “The Time Warrior”). I can only wonder how Robert Holmes, creator of the Sontarans, let this happen. Perhaps he had no say in the matter, which would not be unusual.
Also, I think Oscar’s death scene is a little too light. Oscar hams it up because that’s his character, though since he really is dying, I can’t imagine he would be so theatrical about it. Anita cries, and is upset, but she’s not really distraught. Even if she didn’t love him as much as he thought she did, she just witnessed a murder. Perhaps they dialed it back out of regard for the children in the audience, though that would be inconsistent given the tone of the story.
Overall, “The Two Doctors” is a good story, and worth watching. It’s not Must-See Who, but it is Patrick Troughton’s last appearance as the Doctor, so the Whovian should watch it if only for that reason. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the best of the Holmes canon, but there’s a lot worse you could watch.