Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Two Doctors written by Robert Holmes and directed by Peter Moffatt

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor’s nearly become cannibals and their companions are both almost eaten! Robert Holmes is trying to tell us something methinks…

Aristocratic Adventurer: I always remember Terrance Dicks mentioning that Robert Holmes always wrote in moments of charm for Jon Pertwee’s screamingly serious third Doctor that softened his character and added some much needed humour. He achieves exactly the same thing with the sixth Doctor in The Two Doctors who was suffering from a tumultuous reputation at this point. Throughout this story he manages to be witty, clever, insulting and wonderful fun to be around. If you were not convinced at the beginning of the story, then he has fully emerged as the Doctor by the end. His delightful interaction with his former self sells his status as the latest to carry the torch. What’s the use of a good quotation if you can’t change it? Isn’t it lovely to see the Doctor and Peri chilling out for a change having a lazy afternoon fishing (and barking at each other, naturally). He suffers a mind lock with his former self when he is being tortured (does that mean all his previous incarnations experience a moment of pain as well as the memory bounces down from one to the other to reach the sixth). Once he gets a scent of a mystery he cannot leave. I love his arrogance mouthing off to the stations computer and then scoffing at its attempts to kill them. This really is a Doctor that you would want on side in a barney. He affectionately strokes Peri’s face after she faints. I can't imagine anything more essentially Doctor-ish than using bits of old wire in improvised escape plans. How does he breathe when he closes his respiratory passages? With difficulty! Notice how he is a lot softer with Jamie than he is with Peri (I like to think it is because he remembers their previous rapport but the truth is he is probably muted because the Highlander would more than likely deck him if he treated him to the same abuse). Poetic melancholy is how he responds to the end of the universe, a far cry from how the fifth Doctor would(n't) have reacted. There are real moments of lunatic eccentricity (‘Something to do with getting my haircut!’). He puts Peri down in the funniest of ways (‘Small though it is the human brain is quite effective when used properly!’). Once they arrive in Spain he strips out of that ridiculous coat and looks gorgeous in his colourful waistcoat. He’s interested in everything! The Doctor is rubbish at subterfuge, hanging off windows and tiptoeing about; he would make a terrible spy. He gets a kiss from Anita (for a second he is dumbfounded) and Jamie doesn’t (and he is gagging for it). Even though he is tricking Stike it was some very quick thinking to feed Jamie lies without acknowledging the presence of the Sontaran. Poor sod, he is chained up, slashed with a knife and stalked through the Spanish hills by a cannibal wielding a samurai sword. All in a days work. I cannot be the only person that thinks the Doctor murdering Shockeye with cyanide is a good thing? He tried to eat Peri and Jamie! Finishing off a nourishing story the Doctor considers the theme of the story and decides to turn vegetarian. Colin Baker is a delight in The Two Doctors, here is a man playing his dream role and loving every second of it. I just can't resist him.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: How fabulous is it to have Troughton back for the length of a six parter? He lights up any story whenever he appears. It warms my heart to think that he got to have this much fun with the part so soon before his death and he realised how much he was still loved by his fans. The sixth and second Doctors are my favourites so sticking them together charms me before the story even begins. Setting this story where he does Robert Holmes irreverently pisses off the whole of fandom by screwing up the end of The War Games and creates fan theories to explain his causal mentioning of the Time Lords. It's a hilarious finger in the eye for conformists. The Doctor tirades against the Time Lords continually trying to control his life. Think of the commotion if the scientists at Camera knew he had arrived, naturally they would all be scrabbling around after his autograph. I love how he oils the console! Jamie is not for sale, more’s the pity. He’s a bit of an exile these days. Not as progressive as you might believe and his diplomatic skills consist of behaving petulantly, insulting and childish. Nobody sulks quite like Troughton. He reacts very dramatically to the news of Jamie’s death, bless him. ‘Oh my giddy aunt! Oh crumbs!’ – this might be something of a parody of the character Troughton played but who cares, he is sublime in his last performance. The Doctor suggests a Sontaran should resign and take a pension. I love how he winds up Stike; he presses his buttons brilliantly and gets a slap around the chops for his trouble. He’s witty in the face of his own death (‘Doing the job on the cheap are you?’). Troughton’s eye rolling Androgum Doctor is irresistible; he has great fun strolling about Spain with John Stratton mentioning mouth-watering grub. ‘Some of us have these little privileges!’

Busty Babe: I always thought Peri was a little grumpy and nervous in this story but upon watching I was quite impressed at the amount of fun Holmes manages to have with her. Bryant and Baker were often given abrasive material to play but they share superb chemistry and when given sparkling lines they work magic together. ‘Perhaps you should see a Doctor?’ - nice one Peri! Sometimes she makes amazingly shrewd remarks. Poor Peri is half-frozen, asphyxiated, forced to clamber through miles of pipe and savaged by horny and deranged Highlander. Don’t get this American babe angry, she knees Jamie in the nuts and then gropes the Doctor. It’s great that it is Peri’s suspicious mind that conjures up the idea of the Sontarans trying to set the Time Lords up. Her reaction to the end of the universe taking centuries is hilarious (and the Doctor’s reaction to her even more so). Proving that she is learning (albeit slowly) Peri grips the console when the Doctor announces he is landing. She’s only good for causing a distraction and Shockeye describes her as a ‘fine, fleshy beast!' Shockeye gets as far as holding a huge shearing knife to her throat and to top that off she gets a jug of water in the face! Peri talks about tourists eating paella and chips as though from experience; I bet she had plenty of holidays when she was younger, the spoilt brat. Nicola Bryant trying to salvage something poignant from Oscar's death scene is hilariously funny, she's acting her heart out whilst he hams up his final breath. I love how well she slips in with the second Doctor and Jamie, it's like they have always been together.

Scots Babe: All Jamie has to do is stand in the background and admire the Doctor’s diplomatic skill! Hines and Troughton slip back into their old magic routine with effortless ease. It's like they have never been away. He is described as having soft white skin whispering of succulence. I wouldn't argue with that. Deranged with extreme fear at seeing the Doctor put to death, he attacks Peri. Although I think that is just his excuse to get his leg over. He thinks Peri’s Doctor is worse than his (many would agree but not me). The randy old sod finally gets a smacker…with Peri!

Sparkling Dialogue: I could happily recount the entire script since this is one story that is sold by its dialogue. Simon and I quote this story more than any other, its one that both a Doctor Who addict and a non-fan enjoy with equal relish. Go figure.
‘You give a monkey control of its environment and it’ll fill the world with bananas!’ which is a great line but made even funnier when we see Peri chomping on one later in the story.
‘You have more letters after your name than anyone I know. Enough for two alphabets.’
‘Christopher Columbus…he had a lot to answer for!’ he says looking at Peri...
‘Like a star on my dressing room door it becomes conspicuous by its absence!’
‘Eternal blackness. No more sunsets. No more Gumblejacks. Nevermore a butterfly.’
‘I don’t speak Spanish!’ ‘That’s alright, neither do they’ ‘But what if a Sontaran answers the door?’ – this is gold! Simon adores that scene.
‘Have you ever eaten a Sontaran?’ ‘Certainly not!’ ‘No, nor have I. They always seem so tough and tasteless.’
‘But I remember a dish…Shepherds Pie!’
‘Do you serve humans here?’
‘That is a 20 Narg note! You can change that anywhere in the nine planets!’
‘This is the part where I always say you can tell a butcher from a botcher!’
‘The time continuum should be big enough for both of us…just.’

The Good Stuff: There’s a wonderful moment of nostalgia as we open on the second Doctor and Jamie in black and white. Shockeye’s kitchen is a wonderful set strewn with carcases and huge cooking pots. John Stratton gives one of the best guest performances in the shows entire run, he says every line with sensual relish, making each one disturbing and very funny at the same time. Dastari’s study is another great set, huge gorgeous globes and plants tarting up the usual stock sci-fi sets. The Saward era continues to expose the hypocrisy of the Time Lords; he had a rant in Attack about their meddling, met two renegades in Mark of the Rani, their interference in other peoples time travel experiments is exposed here and we finally uncover their depths of deception in Trial of a Time Lord. The era plays as a perfect explanation as to why they had to go in the new series. It’s nice to keep the Sontarans off-screen during their invasion to maintain the mystery. Servalan in Doctor Who is another of my wishes come true and whilst Jackie Pearce is phoning it in for the most part, she did that for the majority of her run in Blake's 7 and was still fabulous. It’s great to return to a location we have already seen but for it to be given new emphasis because of the attack. Why didn't Doctor Who do this sort of thing more often? It's a startlingly atmospheric and cheap. I love the realisation of the computer turning the station into a death trap. Setting the Time Lords up to take the blame for the attack is a fantastic idea, I wish we could have seen that followed through with some sort of consequence (for the Sontarans or the Time Lords). The Dona Arana’s theme is gorgeous. Murdering and eating an old blind woman, those Androgums really are savages. The designs continue to impress as we head down into the service ducting, endless scaffolding that is atmospherically lit, highlighting the actors in blood red silhouettes. Oscar and Anita are the most superfluous of characters, a theatrical restaurateur and his dark eyed naiad but in the hands of Holmes they are such fun to be with that any objections are moot. For once the Sontarans are important characters instead of stock heavies and Holmes is perhaps the only writer who has the right to take the piss out of their comic one-track-mindness as much as he does. I will never forget the first time Simon watched The Two Doctors and the moment when Shockeye bit into the rat sent him into a gag reflex! It is horribly macabre and very funny (especially when he holds the creature up with a giant bite mark carved out of its side!). 'Smoke might just be tolerable.' A simple mention of memory affecting drugs clears up all of our logic gaps in one foul swoop, I like how Holmes bothers to concoct a reason to explain how the earlier Doctor doesn't remember events in the same way Baker, Martin and Dicks failed to do in previous multi-Doctor celebrations. If the Sontarans acquired time travel technology they could head back into pivotal moments in their war with the Rutans and turn all of their defeats into victories. The stakes are high if they succeed. Stike’s blazing eyed reaction to being called a coward is a memorable scene. Both cliffhangers are great but the end of part two wins out because Shockeye is such a savage piece of work and having him leer down the camera at the audience is shiversome. Jamie always was protective of his best friend and Stike gets a dirk in the knee for lying to the Doctor and to affect their escape. The first meeting between the Doctors is worth waiting for, its pure (‘SNAP!’) magic. It soon becomes the Seville Massacre when Cheseneye and Stike turn on each other but then it's a Saward script edited story so of course the majority of the guest cast have to be exterminated. Love the Sontaran theme, it's especially dramatic during their death scene. Comically childish and viciously savage, the Androgums are one of the most frightening humanoid races in Doctor Who. Stike’s death takes place in three, equally undignified, hilarious stages. Step One – he is burnt by acid. Step Two – he is electrified by the module. Step Three – he is blown to pieces by his spaceship. The final (chokingly funny) indignity is when Shockeye holds up his bloody stump of a leg which is so far beyond tasteless it’s hilarious. Turning the Doctor into an Androgum might feel like Bob Holmes has run out of things to do but it mixes the two themes of this story, the loss of identity and animal savagery in brilliantly comic fashion. The Andalucian location work is bleached in glorious sunshine and features a wonderfully furious Spanish guitar score courtesy of Peter Howell. If Holmes knew how much Oscar's death was going to upset fandom I am sure he would have pushed it even further. I find it screamingly funny, shot through with jet black humour ('dissatisfied customers usually just don't leave a tip.'). Cheseneye lapping up the Doctor’s blood isn't just there to gross you out (it is one of the few times Doctor Who manages that feat) but also demonstrates Holmes’ theme of fighting your nature perfectly. Tenderising the meat and breaking up the fatty tissues is such an inspired way for Jamie to be tortured. Suddenly we’re in Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory as Shockeye draws his huge Samurai sword and hunts the Doctor’s through the dusky hills – this story is beautifully iconoclastic, it features the weirdest of juxtapositions (the horror of Shockeye and the beauty of the landscape) that make it utterly unique.With five corpses littering the hacienda lets hope that Peri called in Torchwood Spain. ‘That’s the point, its not in two places at the same time. My TARDIS is at least five minutes walk from here!’ – Holmes is such a tease. 

The Bad Stuff: Colin Baker’s harness is very obvious at the end of part one. Similarly, Oscar’s blood pouch is very apparent.

The Shallow Bit: Peri just loves having her best friends on display, doesn’t she? They are squeezed together and smooshed throughout the story with hormonal glee. Jamie finally gets his leg over. ‘A young one with a good proportion of meat to the bone’  Shockeye squeezes Peri cleavage together like cookie dough at the beginning of part three. ‘There’s some juiceful meat on this one alright!’ – Jamie’s equipment gets a mention.

Result: I love The Two Doctors with a passion bordering on insanity so please feel free to skip this one if you don't. People bemoan Peter Moffatt’s direction saying that the story lacks pace but have you read the script? This is not supposed to be a dynamic piece, it’s written as a piece of theatre with character interaction and fabulous dialogue triumphing over action. It's a televisual matinee with the added bonus of delicious visuals. Don’t watch The Two Doctors if you want a fast paced action romp (and it was the norm at the time so I am not surprised that people were a bit bewildered by this) but if you are in the mood for rich performances, a fruity script, sumptuous design and sunny locations then this is a real treat. Holmes’ script is brilliantly subversive, exploring the themes of identity and animal savagery with intelligence, blackly comic touches and witty loquaciousness. Everyone is running around in the sun having a great time, chewing on their lines and having a blast in each other’s company and their chemistry glows on screen. You could dismiss the whole piece and say that it is slow paced and the direction misses the mark on the occasion but that would nitpicking and ignoring a wealth of treasures within. I've listed plenty of examples above of why I adore this adventure so much but there is just as much again that I have failed to include (in fear of testing your patience to the limit). Probably the most pleasurable story to watch in the classic series last ten years, at least for me: 10/10


RPetes said...

So nice to see TTD getting the acclaim it deserves - thank you!

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Anthony Pirtle said...

One of the great things about Season 22 is the variety of stories it features. This, Attack of the Cybermen, and Vengeance on Varos are all great stories, and they're so very different from one another.