Jan. 22nd, 2019

purplecat: The Sixth Doctor (Who:Six)
"You thought The Woman who fell to Earth was a bad regeneration story!" says I. "Wait 'til you see this!"

Strangely enough, the Teenager, was not motivated by this statement to watch The Twin Dilemma with us.

Actually way back when, in 1984, The Twin Dilemma was the story from the previous season that I chose to keep on video tape while over-writing the others with different programmes (Betamax tapes were quite expensive (at least on my pocket money) so space on them had to be rationed). This, in retrospect, seems like an odd choice but just because fan wisdom has consigned The Twin Dilemma to the very bottom of the polls doesn't actually mean its bad, does it?

Well, there are moments, particularly when Maurice Denham is on screen, that The Twin Dilemma shows signs of being good. It is not unusual for a Dr Who guest star to appear to think they are in an entirely different show from the rest of the cast. However normally this manifests as scenery chewing, while everyone else vainly tries to take things more seriously. In The Twin Dilemma we have the reverse. Denham's Azmael is restrained and dignified while everything else is over the top and garish. But then the eponymous twins will put in an appearance, or a particularly clunky piece of dialogue will go down, or the "super genius" villainous Mestor will do something pointless and/or idiotic and you'll realise that yes, it really is bad.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course. I think there is lots that is rubbish about The Twin Dilemma which has nothing to do with the Sixth Doctor himself, however the introduction of the Sixth Doctor at his most unpleasant does not, in retrospect, help the story. At the time, in so far as I remember, one of the things I liked about the story was Colin Baker's performance. This was in turn fuelled by some of the pre-publicity. I think in particular an appearance of Colin on Blue Peter where he was enthusiastic and entertaining in person, and the clips selected as previews (the "noble brow" speech, I think) seemed equally funny and entertaining out of context. In context, well, the attempted strangulation of Peri is uncomfortable to watch and the resolution awkward. Since the show is unwilling to really examine what it would be like to be stuck in a time and space machine with a dangerously unstable Time Lord who might attempt to murder you at any moment, it falls back on making Peri whiny and petulant. Thus is a Doctor and companion dynamic established that it would take the show far too long to overcome. A better script/better direction might have redeemed this presentation of the Doctor, but what we get is heavy-handed and clunky, lurching as awkwardly as the Doctor from peril, to comedy, to exposition.

Weirdly, large sections of the plot seem to have been lifted from Frontios earlier in the season. I'm not sure if that's pure coincidence, or a sign that The Twin Dilemma had to be written and produced in a hurry. However, given Frontios is pretty decent despite its dodgy monster costumes and story of giant woodlice trying to take over the universe via planetary mechanics (woodlice that turn back into harmless creatures when cut off from their leader), there is no reason The Twin Dilemma could not have been pretty decent with its dodgy master costumes and story of giant slugs trying to take over the universe via planetary mechanics (slugs that turn back into harmless creatures when cut off from their leader).

The Twin Dilemma is better than Time and the Rani. Somewhere in there, there is an at least half-decent story. We get glimpses of it from time to time - from Azmael's quietly despairing dignity, to the hints of politics both on Earth and on Jaconda. But the script feels like a first draft, the sets and direction look like they were thrown together at the last minute, the twins acting ability is functional at best, and stilted at worst. It was an unfortunate start to the Sixth Doctor's era and where Time and the Rani turned out to be very atypical for the Seventh Doctor, The Twin Dilemma functions more as a template for the era. Much of what was wrong with the 1985 season of Doctor Who has its roots here and that probably makes it a worse regeneration story than Time and the Rani, because its effect was far more long-reaching.

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