Mike Sutton takes a look at the much maligned debut for the Sixth Doctor which has just been released on R2 DVD by 2 Entertain.
There has become a canon of Doctor Who stories which are considered “the best”. The order varies but the usual suspects for inclusion include Genesis of the Daleks, The Caves of Androzani, Pyramids of Mars and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It doesn’t seem to matter who is doing the ranking, these stories and a few others always end up on top. Equally, there are some stories which are unloved by virtually everybody. Someone somewhere must like Underworld, Time and the Rani or Timelash but I’m yet to meet them. I suspect that there’s even a couple of fans of Dimensions In Time lurking around somewhere. Principle amongst these unloved children of the Time Lord is The Twin Dilemma which has come at the bottom (or at best, second to the bottom) of virtually every poll conducted since its first transmission, beginning with the Season 21 survey in DWM. Watching the story again, it’s not hard to see what’s wrong with it but I have to say that I didn’t find it nearly as offensive as I expected to. In fact, in a couple of respects, it’s rather good.
Following his regeneration at the end of The Caves of Androzani, the Doctor is volatile and aggressive towards his companion Peri. Meanwhile, things are going wrong on the planet of Jaconda which has been taken over by a race of giant slugs who wish to spread their eggs through the galaxy with the help of twin mathematical geniuses from Earth.
I could waste a lot of words ripping certain aspects of The Twin Dilemma to shreds. The design in particular deserves a good deal of contempt since it’s horribly cheap – Hugo’s bomber jacket is notably foul and a garment which even Jimmy Saville wouldn’t be seen dead in while the Gastropods look even more stupid than the Myrka, and that’s not a comment I make lightly. However, most of the criticisms are familiar and self-evident. I’d prefer to mention a couple of the things which make the show worth watching.
Firstly, the plot is rather good even if there isn’t enough of it to stretch over four episodes. The idea of a legendary threat to a planet proving to be true is reminiscent of other stories, notably State Of Decay and suggests a mythic grandeur for the Gastropods which almost survives their ludicrous appearance. Their plot – to use mathematics to alter the physical universe – is also interesting, if a little reminiscent of Logopolis and it’s a shame that the actual maths required of the allegedly brilliant twins is so simplistic.
Secondly, the performances throughout, with the exception of the twins who seem to have no acting talent whatsoever, are exceptionally good. Oliver Smith and Barry Stanton are wonderful as the Jacondans and Edwin Richfield, although required to do little except bluster, has a suitably powerful speaking voice. There’s a delightful performance from veteran Maurice Denham as the Doctor’s old friend turned reluctant adversary and Kevin McNally is simply perfect as Hugo, a character who is so engaging that he deserved to be seen again.
Most importantly, however, there is Colin Baker’s performance as the Doctor, a tour-de-force which looks far more impressive and daring than it did back in 1984. At the time, the decision to make the new Doctor a bit more edgy and unsympathetic seemed unwise, especially considering that viewers had a full nine months before they got to know him better. But in hindsight, it’s a triumphant idea which produces the most entertaining regeneration performance in the show’s history. Colin Baker relishes the chance to snarl and smirk at the somewhat insipid Peri and he goes for her with gusto. This ‘Dark Doctor’ is like a total reimagining of the role and it looks thoroughly up to date considering our current obsession with complicating and darkening our childhood heroes. Colin gets all the best lines and has an absolute ball. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that he makes the story worth seeing all by himself. He even just about gets away with the worst costume imaginable, although it’s a close thing.
As we’ve come to expect, this is another good Who disc from 2 Entertain. However, it has to be said that the quality of the extra features isn’t quite as consistent as it has been on some other discs in the series.
The Restoration Team have produced another excellent transfer from the original VT and 16mm film materials. The film sequences look particularly good and apparently benefit from the use of a print owned by a collector. The vibrancy of the colours throughout is worth noting, particularly since the colours in this episode are so, er, striking. The mono soundtrack is a model of its kind with crisp dialogue, strong music and no problems at all.
There are, as ever, a variety of extra features although most of them are rather briefer than expected.
Commentary with actors Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Kevin McNally
An excellent, lively commentary track from three very engaging characters, all of whom get along very well. It’s particularly interesting for a concise explanation from Colin Baker regarding the long-running animosity between him and Eric Saward.
The Star Man
An interview with Sid Sutton about the starfield title sequences for the programme which he designed between 1980 and 1986. Sutton is fascinating about the basics of his craft and speaks with much enthusiasm.
Look 100 Years Younger
This discussion of the Doctor’s various costumes features Colin Baker and comedian Amy Lamé and promises to be more entertaining than it is. Colin is his typically ebullient self but his companion doesn’t bring much to the party and it’s too short to go into any detail. Some nice clips of course but, on the whole, this is eminently missable.
Stripped for Action – The Sixth Doctor
A further installment of the documentary about the Doctor’s comic strip adventures and not one of the more interesting ones. A long list of interviewees helps somewhat however – John Ridgway, writer Simon Furman, former Doctor Who Magazine editors Alan McKenzie, Gary Russell and Alan Barnes – and it’s nice to see how the strip developed, especially for those of us who had given up on DWM at the time.
Frank Bough dusts himself down, blows his nose, puts his heels away and interviews Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in a series of snippets from Breakfast Time in March 1984. Each spot is too short to gain any new insights but it’s nice to see the Breakfast Time trappings again and Colin and Nicola come across well. Selina Scott is also present, looking more than ever like the head prefect of a school for girls whose main ambition in life is to appear in a shampoo commercial.
A far better interview of Colin Baker, this time by Janet Ellis who asks some good questions and shows real rapport with her guest. Nice regeneration clips too.
We also get the usual continuity announcements, photo gallery, production subtitles and a coming soon trailer, this time for The Keys Of Marinus.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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