Friday, 13 December 2013

The Twin Dilemma written by Anthony Steven and directed by Peter Moffatt

This story in a nutshell: Big sluggy eggs being scattered across the universe…

Aristocratic Adventurer: Still the most controversial characterisation of the Doctor ever despite efforts in the new series (The Doctor is Jesus! The Doctor is God!). The Twin Dilemma’s erratic and violent sixth Doctor should have been an intriguing curio at the beginning of a long reign but instead a dramatically reduced number of stories meant that it resulted in being seen as the point where the show really started to go wrong. That obviously wasn’t the intention (who would set out to do that deliberately?) and when watched with the hindsight of Sixie’s Big Finish audio adventures it makes a whole lot more sense and ultimately he shows the most character growth. This is my long winded way of saying that I don’t object to what was being attempted here (in fact after three years of colourlessness I rather welcome it) but what I do object to is the realisation where both the script and the Colin Baker (despite many flourishes of quality) push the envelope a little too far. I like it when a show moves the goal posts of expectation but this was such a dramatic shift it took many by surprise and many never recovered. This is going to be a celebration of The Twin Dilemma’s (and the Doctor’s) madness and I will try and find many moments of joy throughout this, the most lamented of stories as proof that Doctor Who offers treasure even in adversity.  

This time the Doctor can sense the regeneration has been a positive triumph in every fibre of his being. When Peri tries to show him the full horror of his visage he sees nothing but a noble brow, a clear gaze and a face beaming with vast intelligence. His breakdown in the wardrobe room is very disturbingly played by Colin Baker, switching from horror to dark poetry to maniacal laughter in a few seconds of material. You genuinely get the sense that this guy could be capable of anything. Whilst her incessant whining can grate on the nerves at times not even Peri deserves to be strangled and it might have been a step too far to have the Doctor physically attacking his friends – it turns the TARDIS into a place to fear rather than a place of refuge and that is a very uncomfortable feeling. I admire their bravery for attempting it but it does nothing but harm the introduction of the new Doctor. How can he recover the audiences sympathies after committing such an abusive action? When he realises how scared Peri is of him he suddenly has an epiphany, that he is a living peril to the universe and he must become a hermit. Poor Peri has to put up with his insulting, accusatory nature and you want to cheer aloud when she finally turns on him and tells him she never saw anybody who loved themself so much with less reason. When the Doctor started ranting on about sicknesses in the air and troubled vibrations, I thought he was losing it again. As soon as he meets up with his old friend and mentor the Doctor finally starts to stabilise and become somebody that we might like to get to know. Ten million million combinations might take even the Doctor a few days to crack. The Doctor hates hit or miss performances – he better watch what he says because he will be Sylvester McCoy in no time. In one of his strops we learn what the Doctor really thinks of himself; old, lacking in vigour, his mind in a turmoil and not knowing if he’s coming or going or being. Come the last episode he is extremely grateful to see Peri alive. I love how he so brazenly strolls into Mestor’s throne room and attempts to kill him, its about as far from the fifth Doctor’s softly softly approach as you can get and very funny. He really enjoys winding the big slug up and after four episodes of listening the Gastropod growling it is very refreshing. Colin Baker’s wife was right, Azmael’s death scene really is one of his finest moments in the series. A genuinely touching moment and the final affirmation that the Doctor is back and better than ever.

Busty Babe: Nicola Bryant is phenomenally good in this story and it is often overlooked amongst all of the dreck. Given the erratic tone of the piece more than ever do we need a human presence to empathize with and she makes the early TARDIS scenes a haunting experience. It's helped by the fact that despite their characters differences, she and Colin Baker have instant chemistry and try and make the most of their tension with some lovely little touches. Peri really doesn’t fancy shacking up in some utterly comfortless place where she and the Doctor can suffer together for his sins. She is practically his moral compass, having to convince him to save Hugo. Peri sheds real tears when she thinks the Doctor is dead so I guess she has adjusted to him after all. Even the Doctor is baffled by her response. At the end of the story the secret smile that she and the Doctor share suggest that we are about to go on a wild ride with the pair of them.

Hunky Hugo: I really wish JNT had seen the wisdom of keeping Kevin McNally on, Frazer Hines style, when it became so apparent that he shared such fun chemistry with Baker and Bryant. Hugo is sweet to Peri but doesn’t put up with any of the Doctor’s nonsense and holds him at gunpoint whilst he does as he is told. He’s young, strong, fit of limb, he’s confident in his mission, his energies boundless and he’s highly motivated to success! He even has a gun to enforce his will upon others. Hugo tells Peri not to waste her breath on the Doctor and that they will manage without him. With the Doctor’s blessing (and an insult of course) Hugo takes up the mantle of ruling Jaconda. What a shame because its clear that Peri is as sad to see him go as I am. McNally is playing a thankless role in a thankless story and he's excellent, giving far more than the material deserves.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Nothing but the grinding engines of the universe and the crushing borderm of eternity!’
‘He’ll be as right as rain whatever that means.’
‘I find you unreliable’ ‘So is most currency. Doesn’t stop people spending money wisely.’
‘What were you trying to do? Hard boil it?’
‘In my time I have been threatened by experts and I don’t rate you very highly at all!’
‘I am the Doctor…whether you like it or not!’

Lines You Will Never Forget: ‘Thou craggy knob!’
‘And may my bones rot for obeying it!’
‘Take care not to blow their hearts or minds!’
‘I don’t feel grown up any more!’
‘Silence wretch!’
‘By heaven Peri I was right!’
‘Now your family will have to starve without your company!’
‘I’m not letting a manic depressive paranoid personality like you shut me up!’
‘What is it?’ ‘The sound of giant slugs…’
‘No! Perrrrriiiii!’
‘It's very disconcerting to have a void in the middle of ones mind!’
‘Our genius has been abused!’

The Good: Regeneration is described as a swift, volcanic experience, a violent biological eruption which is probably the most poetic description of the experience ever recorded. The model work is of an extremely high standard throughout. It is so refreshing to get outside after an episode of cheap studio sets and the flaming wreckage of Hugo’s ship is very nicely done. Look at the face of the twin on the left when they first clap eyes on Mestor, it is the very image of ‘look as if you have just shat yourself’ terror – a small moment of enjoyment but I have to take them where I can. Because he is saddled with the twins, Noma and some dreadful sets you might be convinced that Maurice Denham is giving a bad performance but he is an oasis of skill amongst a sea of amateurs. It’s a very understated, touching performance that should be admired as much as the shows faults are laughed at. There is a very funny sequence where the Doctor wants to march on regardless and Peri suggests that there might be terrible danger so he changes his mind and wants to head back and then she wants to keep going because of the kids. It's an amusing reversal and a touch of charm that shows this pairing could work through all their adversity. The story of Amzael and the fourth Doctor getting drunk together (who else but the fourth Doctor could be imagined sozzled by a fountain?) certainly raises a smile. The danger of the imminently self-destructing Titan Three base is sold through the excellent performances alone. People bemoan the ugly location work on Jaconda…but that is rather the point. Slugs are bloody hideous monstrosities and imagine what they could do today with CGI? Moving two planets into a new orbit so you can strip them of their resources is just insane enough to appeal and the Doctor pulls apart the theory quickly enough to show the writer has thought it through. The actual plan to use the exploding sun to blow the eggs across the universe is devilish madness and the most brilliantly b movie plot since The Invisible Enemy (which was also about alien eggs spawning). I like the firwork guns that actually go ‘per-chew!’ Ugh, the melting Mestor is surprisingly effective (especially the grey snot that comes shooting out of his nose). Amzael sacrificing his life is a great way of him finally trumping Mestor. The horrifying idea of the Doctor leaving at the end with twins might have lead to some speculation that they were new companions (Ugh! Just imagine...Adric Mark II & III) and I like to think there is a Big Finish spin off series with the Doctor, Peri and the twins having a whole load of adventures before returning them home. 

The Bad: Starting the story (and the era) with an introduction with Womulus and Wemus, the diabolically acted titular twins is not the most auspicious of starting points. The ‘because mother gave birth to us does that automatically grant her a place in our affections?’ line conjures up Adric style feelings of irritation in seconds. They have horrid bowler haircuts (just like Adric), rubbish geeky tunics (just like Adric), they are being brought to life by hideously unconvincing actors (just like Adric) and get their jollies by immersing themselves in mathematics (just like…oh you get the idea). You get the impression that if they both were taken advantage of by a good a woman it would do them the world of good. Just like Adric. Whilst he does prove to be correct Professor Sylvest’s declaration that the twins equations could change events on a massive scale does indeed err on the wrong side of melodrama. It's made worse by the realisation which makes the game look really boring. Thanks to the robotic performances of the Conrad twins you really cant tell any significant difference once they have been hypnotised. A fabulously awful performance that is overlooked because of the twins is Barry Stanton as Noma who is the living embodiment of a slack, camp as Christmas toady. From the Bonnie Langford school of acting, he stresses every line of dialogue as though it will be his last. The Jacondan makeup is one of the few things that is universally praised about this story but it's actually pretty basic, just some silver paint, horns and feathers. Compounding this shows problems is Malcolm Clarke’s music, which is intrusive and fails to whip up any kind of atmosphere, it just scratches away at the back of every scene like an irritating itch in the back of your mind. I’m not sure which set makes the least impression – the Sylvest household, the police headquarters or Mestor’s throne room. They’re all equally dreadful and artificial looking. I cannot believe they wrapped up elements of the sets in tin foil and plastic sheets – surely they cannot of looked any cheaper than that before? Nothing will quite prepare you for the sight of the pot bellied, boss eyed, hand flapping Mestor sitting in his tacky throne room (complete with the giant frog decked in Christmas tinsel). A more cumbersome, less expressive Doctor Who monster you never did see. Umm…the Doctor has spent the entire episode acting like the villain of the piece so why should we care if Hugo kills him? The location work on Titan Three doesn’t match the image on the scanner in the slightest. I have absolutely no idea if the Doctor’s plan to send them ten seconds into the past and transporting them into the TARDIS makes any sense but he sounds convincing enough so we’ll believe him. Hmm…Hugo just happens to put on the coat which has the power pack to his gun in the pocket? The embolism scene must rank in the upper echelons of most cringe worthy scenes in Doctor Who – watch that guy shake his stuff as his blood boils like a raging stream! ‘Look at the trees!’ the Doctor cries on the Jacondan wilderness which made have had more of an impact if they had bothered to erect more than three stumps in the mud. How stupid to actually show the Gastropods walking. Spare us the thought of a giant slug salivating over Peri’s assets. It's handy that there was slug poison hanging around in the laboratory. How cheap is the revolution on Jaconda, it's just a few ‘per-chew’ sounds in the distance!

The Shallow Bit: The costume designer in this episode has a lot to answer for. The Doctor winds up decked out in the most lurid colours for the rest of his era, Peri selects a gingham blouse that would make Doris Day proud, Hugo gets trussed up like a chicken in bacofoil, the twins tunics are the epitome of geek and poor Azmael is forced to wear a cardboard wedding dress! As Peri so succinctly puts it ‘Yuck!’ Hugo is the first of a long line of hotties (especially in his black T shirt and braces) who would be appearing in Doctor Who from now on (other highlights of the Colin Baker era are Jason Connery, Gary Cady and Glen Murphy).

Result: The first episode of The Twin Dilemma is the bravest and stupidest single episode of Doctor Who ever produced. When JNT said ‘this is the one I’ll be remembered for’ he was being extremely prophetic. The idea of making the new Doctor a villainous character is fascinating (Avon in Blakes’ 7 is proof it can work) but the realisation (just like practically every aesthetic decision in this story) is appalling and really harms Baker’s attempts to settle into the role. After this shock of acid thrown in your face things quickly settle down into something a lot more tolerable from the second episode onwards and whilst there are still a mountain of problems to overcome (primarily the twins and Mestor with a special mention for the uber-camp Noma) the performances of Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Kevin McNally and Maurice Denham really sing and provide some great moments. Because of all the drama in the TARDIS the plot only kicks in around episode three but what transpires is a fun b movie style invasion of the universe which you might try and resist but actually becomes quite engaging despite itself. Worst first episode ever? Maybe. Worst story ever? Not even close: 5/10


Anonymous said...

I cannot understand how can you give this a 5/10 whereas Arc of Infinity gets 2/10? It doesn't make sense at all - the latter had a better villain, a better Doctor, a better PERFORMANCE by a Doctor, a good companion in Nyssa, and a great villain in Omega. This one has literally nothing good about it.

Joe Ford said...

Hmm...perhaps because I'm not you and I have different tastes. I love these mad 'how can you possibly think that?'rants, some Doctor Who fans genuinely forget that not all people think like them.

Liam Morrell said...

You're quite right. There a lot of episodes far worse than this, I think that the sixth doctor's characterisation in the first episode has prevented fans from being as forgiving of the rest of its flaws as they have with other stories. I mean Four to Doomsday, Time-flight, Underworld and Black Orchid are far more flawed than this story. Ultimately TTD is more interesting than any of these and i'd say the twins are the only truly terrible performances. I'd blame the director for the production flaws. Mestor is quite creepy in his hologram scenes, he should have been shrouded in darkness.

Anthony Pirtle said...

I know I'm in the (extreme) minority here, but I always found the first episode of this serial to be pretty entertaining. It ranks as one of my favorite post-regeneration performances, along with the 2nd and the 12th Doctors. All three of them touch on the Doctor's darker aspects to the point of shaking their companions' faith in them, but only Baker goes so far as to actually attempt to murder one. It's a ridiculous, over-the-top, funhouse ride of an episode.