The Twin Dilemma
|Dates||Mar. 22, 1984-
Mar. 30, 1984
With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant.
Written by Anthony Steven. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Peter Moffatt. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: In the first adventure of the sixth Doctor, he and Peri become involved in the hunt for two kidnapped twins, whose mathematical genius is being put to destructive use.|
Oh, for a Science Lesson... by Henry Lampman 14/2/07
Ahh, The Twin Dilemma, a story that most people seem to hate. Upon re-watching it, I can understand why. I won't say that it was complete garbage, but it comes close. It works on a few levels, namely to launch the slightly deranged 6th Doctor and establish his tense relationship with Peri. The spear in the side of this post-regeneration tale rests in its motivation. The underlaying plot reveals a serious lack of scientific understanding on the part of the author which is, to say the least, embarrassing for anyone trying to create science fiction. It is also fails by the standard of plain common sense, and does so quite badly. A discussion of this requires spoilage, sorry to say. I am not going to worry too much about it, given that this is pretty bad and has been out for over twenty years. The worst spoiler is clearly marked for your convenience.
This problem is first presented in the details early on. The rather zany mention of "zanium" right off the bat may have been an inside joke on what was to come. First, are these two twins such mathematical geniuses that the police commander knows of them and has always feared them falling into the wrong hands?!? Well, maybe so. Let's look beyond it. With a fully functioning transmat linked to Azmael's ring, why bother using the freighter at all? More so, why bother doing the first leg of calculation at the safe house on Titan 3? Is this really "galaxies away" from Jaconda? I am sure that we could find ways of rationalizing this, so let's move on again. How about the ambiguous use of the regenerative chamber? It apparently deconstructs and reconstructs the body and could be used as therapy for a Time Lord near the end of his final life cycle. So, I can understand it being used as a last-ditch transmat... but for time travel?!? Even if it could, why is there a spatial displacement? Never in the history of televised Who has the issue of spatial relativity to time travel been dealt with and this seems to violate what we have come to know over the years. Worse, how could it lead them back into the TARDIS... though this issue would lead us into a dangerous discussion of how the TARDIS registers outside impact in the control room or how a visage can move through it, as in Timelash.
Well, now that I have gotten that out of my system, let's get to the main motivation. This is where the lack of science hurts our science fiction the most. First, if the new ruler of Jaconda needs more room or resources, why not simply use their clearly available space capabilities to go to, or even colonize, nearby worlds for it. It seems silly to engage in the rather extreme and dangerous effort of moving two, smaller, outer planets into sync with Jaconda's orbit. Second, why would they believe that moving these planets nearer would give them "the same atmosphere and climate as Jaconda"? The climate issue could be glossed, but there is no way to do that with the atmosphere issue since a planet's atmosphere is made up of a finite and definite supply of gasses. Third, instead of putting them into consecutive orbit, they want them to occupy the same space?!? Even with the gloss and hand-waving involved, separating them temporally would ridiculously complicate things. Maybe it is a bizarre and paradoxical attempt to share the atmosphere. Either way, it is silly. Also, there is no mention of balancing the gravitic forces which, in real life, cause horrible surface tension on moons around some of the gas giants in our own system. Regardless, it doesn't matter because as these geniuses soon discover, the smaller planets will fall into the sun anyway.
Spoiler: This is actually the big secret plan! The smaller planets are supposed to fall into the sun and cause it to explode! Unfortunately, two "smaller planets" falling into a star, even at the same time, would not be likely to detonate it. It might cause massive solar activity which would scorch Jaconda, but not blow it up. Perhaps the temporal displacement would cause an explosion, but my scientific instincts (I am a real scientist) tell me that it wouldn't. Further, even if it did blow up their sun, why is that necessary to scatter the eggs throughout the Universe? Given the Newtonian Laws, simply launching them like torpedoes in different directions from a space freighter would do the job just fine. Supposedly, the eggs are durable and heat-activated. Does this mean that they would survive the stellar explosion and then be activated by it? Considering that seeds (and presumably eggs) are activated by their growing mediums, which in this care are the planets which they may chance to land on sometime in the next several million years as they fly through the cosmos, would it be wise to activate them right away in the stellar explosion?!? Oh, my aching head...
I could go on with this rant, but most of you have probably started skipping ahead by now. I'll finish my complaints with the ever-present question in this era of Who: Why does a presumably asexual gastropod want to, for lack of a better expression, get into Peri's pants? I can understand the urge in humans (or even humanoids) because let's face it, Peri is hot. But come on! This is beyond ridiculous.
So, is there anything to save this story? Yes, just barely. First, the characterization and relation with Peri and the Doctor is great and an indication of things to come. There is some silliness, like Peri's knowing use of the mirror and foreknowledge of the gun's construction, but it seems rather unimportant given everything I've already discussed. Azmael is great and works very well with the Doctor. I have my fingers crossed that I will someday run across him in one of the novels. Hugo was all right, though I didn't like him as much as a few of the other reviewers did. When the twins aren't playing with their childish speech impediment, they do their job well. The Jacondans have a unique look and are a credit to design, even with the occasional exposed neck and foil nose. They really work as a subservient people who are easily lead by outsiders. If nothing else, I am always a fan of "death by embolism" and purely psychic battles... though in this case and context, the ability to take over and inhabit the mind of another being violates principles from Trial of a Time Lord. Wait a minute! I just had a maddening thought. If Mestor's biological form is so cumbersome and useless that he wants to simply take over someone else's body... what does that say about the motivation behind that big, secret, ridiculously complicated plan we've been discussing?
A final issue is that of regeneration. Each time the Doctor regenerates, the process seems to affect the outcome. In the same way that massive radiation and psychic exposure caused the 4th Doctor to turn out a little nutty and the horrible physical damage caused the 5th Doctor to be fairly meek, the poisoning and nerve damage seems to have made this Doctor the way he is. Despite the maturity of age that he should have, it is warped with his persona and seemingly bottled up until his next regeneration. The neurotic displays here, which diminish slightly in future contexts, are an indication of deep turmoil and a wonderful setup for things to come at the end of Trial of a Time Lord.
There we have it. That is what forces this story into canon and gives it meaning. As a post-regeneration story, we can't throw it on the fire... no matter how badly we may want to!
Stop It, I Like It by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 24/9/12
Some things are probably bad for you but you like them anyway. The Invisible Enemy and The Horns of Nimon probably fall into that category. Conventional wisdom has it that The Twin Dilemma is bad for you. Very, very bad. But is it? Is it really? You see, the thing with The Twin Dilemma is that it's consistently entertaining. The production is somewhat garish when it isn't cheap, the acting of some of the guest cast is a little ropey and the plot is... Actually, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the plot. The result of these factors is that The Twin Dilemma is a very unloved story. However, there's something about it which prevents me from truly disliking it. I think a lot of this is down to Colin Baker, who truly gives it 500% and is constantly delightful to watch. His spiteful and indeed downright violent behaviour towards Peri is shocking. We've never had a Doctor like this before. Post-regenerative confusion is nothing new but what we see here takes that idea to new extremes. It's also rather shocking to see him exhibit such cowardice. We know that it won't last beyond this story, but even so it makes a dramatic change from what we know of the Doctor.
Colin Baker's rapport with Nicola Bryant is evident right from the word go, even if it is buried in a slew of constant bitching, although I suppose you could argue that that was a defining factor of their onscreen relationship anyway. Colin Baker has great comic timing and the script allows him to make use of this; e.g. that lovely little moment when the Doctor and Hugo correct Peri's American pronunciation of the word 'lieutenant'.
Other enjoyable witty lines include:
"I'm a knight-errant not an errant fool"
"What are you gonna do?" "Panic at any moment"
"I no longer even have any clothes sense"
"That's the seediest looking stately home I've ever seen"
"You're the Chamberlain!" "Yes." "I don't like you."
The Doctor squaring up to Mestor is a great scene, harking back to Tom Baker's style of flippancy in the face of dictators and madmen. His line about being threatened by experts in the past is also very well done.
On the bad side, the whole thing does look a bit cheap. It's only the Palace scenes that look acceptable, probably because the lighting level is kept relatively low. The costume designer isn't going to win any awards either. How anybody can complain about the Doctor's costume when he's sharing the screen with Hugo is quite beyond me. That... thing... that he finds in the TARDIS wardrobe is quite possibly the worst piece of clothing in the entire history of the series. I don't care about styles being different in the future, it's irretrievably hideous. The twins' clothes aren't that great either. Talking of the twins, they are by far the worst of the guest cast. I don't think it's down to bad acting per se, I thinks it has more to do with inexperience. Hugo is tolerable; occasionally he's quite good but I find his constant macho act tiresome. Maurice Denham is very good in his part and brings a much-needed sense of seriousness to the proceedings. Mestor is something of a contradiction. He looks silly, very silly in fact. Giant talking slugs are notoriously difficult to pull off and it just doesn't work here, but as a character he's quite effective. Given that the only expressive outlet for Edwin Richfield is his voice, he works wonders with it and is genuinely menacing. I'm not impressed by the whole embolism thing. I mean why? What is the point? Okay, so it's a novel way of killing people but as special alien skills go it's a bit off the wall and not in a good way. The Jacondans look silly and are utterly forgettable. I never once cared about their plight. I could complain about the fact that the science underpinning this whole story is ludicrous in the extreme as other people have. But I'm going to. This is science fiction. It does what it says on the tin.
The wreckage is Hugo's ship is convincingly done. The Police Headquarters aren't.
"Now I'm going to kill you" would have been difficult even for Olivier to pull off. See the cliffhangers to Episode Two of Terminus and Episode Five of The Mutants for similarly unsuccessful attempts at this kind of thing.
Malcolm Clarke's music is a million miles away from his work on The Sea Devils and therefore not very interesting. I didn't mind the Romulus and Remus theme though.
I won't be showing this to a non-fan any time soon, but I have a strange liking for it all the same.
"Who in their right mind...?" by Thomas Cookson 25/6/13
Since being freshly remastered on DVD, The Twin Dilemma has been somewhat reappraised lately. Youtubers have commented positively on uploads of the story, and on fanvideo tributes. Many fans now admit to liking the story. Gary Russell has said he liked the Sixth Doctor from the beginning (he was therefore the right man to oversee Big Finish's rehabilitation of him) and that he emulated this new dangerous antihero Doctor in his 1984 Audio Visual stories. Many fans say the scorn on Colin's era was largely retroactive and that, if not for the cancellation, Colin and his debut wouldn't be so maligned or made pariahs of. Certainly, ever since Doctor Who returned to TV, The Twin Dilemma has ceased being the death knell it once was.
I'm not a fan. I watched part one at age 17, and I vividly remember switching off after the first cliffhanger. That very scene seemed to achieve a critical mass of awfulness alone. Colin and Peri bickering over Hugo's wounded form. The insultingly ridiculous way Hugo immediately concludes that these people, who've carried him to safety without even disarming him, must be the ones who attacked him and prepares to execute the Doctor whilst still lying on the floor, where it would only take a kick from the Doctor to disarm him. I couldn't even care whether Hugo did kill this utterly hateable new Doctor. This was before I ever saw The Caves of Androzani, so it's nonsense when fans desperately claim The Twin Dilemma fell victim to higher expectations. So what did the production team believe the story's appeal would be? Why was JNT prouder of this story than almost any other he'd produced? What were they thinking?
I'll try to answer that without resorting to my Munchausen Syndrome theory. Let's say this wasn't a planned disaster to feed some narcissistic martyr complex. Let's say JNT genuinely did think this was a step forward. I'm not sure JNT thought in terms of steps forward. He set out to be different and to make his mark, but I suspect he genuinely saw himself as a fill-in guy, just like Graham Williams. He wanted to make the show glossy and tightly reigned. Sometimes he was neurotically controlling, other times incredibly fickle and negligent. Apparently, he only wanted to do one season, or leave on The Five Doctors, which in fact he banked on as being his proudest achievement. But given his neurotic conviction that The Five Doctors must be shown on the exact day of the anniversary, even though its 1973 predecessor wasn't (I mean seriously: put The Five Doctors at the beginning of Season 20 and already you've got a better season opener and a more plausible explanation for Tegan's return via the Time Scoop), the BBC only let him produce it as part of Season 21. And fan adulation kept drawing him back. There were other shows he apparently tried to launch and move onto (including a sequel to Compact), which the BBC rejected. Perhaps K9 and Company was one such failed escape route.
JNT's approach was more about leaving viewers hanging and tantalised, than about actual payoff. He was all about showmanship, pretension, continuity nods and season-ender cliffhangers. The Twin Dilemma was business as usual then, but was positioned in a way that conclusively proved that even the best-written, best-directed story couldn't turn the show around now. Janet Fielding said that often the cast were told to improvise a sense of fraughtness or urgency for the sake of engaging the casual viewer. Scene-running orders were often unclear, so it was about making every scene dramatic, resulting in all the horrid histrionics onscreen. Notably, the same approach seemed done in 1981's Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy TV series, which was incredibly jarring. It's the only incarnation of Hitch-Hiker in which Ford is an unlikeable hothead.
But JNT clearly thought this approach worked, and The Twin Dilemma seemed to consist of nothing else but histrionics, so he clearly thought he had achieved what he did best: projecting his volatile personality on-screen. Arguably, JNT's workaholic lifestyle was impairing his judgement heavily, in a way mirrored frequently in the Doctor's own catastrophic judgement. Eric Saward describes JNT often sleeping in his office after returning jetlagged from overseas conventions. Sleeplessness and his notorious alcoholism all adding up to severely impaired judgement and stories that even looked chemically run. Volatile, reckless, directionless, morbid, incoherent and shambolic.
JNT wanted to appear in control and like he knew where the show was going, but he didn't. Mark Strickson says JNT was insecure, coming from a not-so-priviledged background and trying to prove himself amidst the BBC higher ups. And whilst JNT's memoirs don't exactly paint him as introspective or self-critical, perhaps his desire to leave early demonstrates conscious awareness that he might ruin it by staying too long.
But The Twin Dilemma was a product of arrogant hubris. JNT by now thought the show was indestructible. It's almost unfathomable that he still believed this story was exemplary 20 years later. But if say he'd made the same praise about Mindwarp, that would make sense. Productionwise, it's solid and contemporary. It utilises Colin's ability to play the villain of the piece, emphasising the beauty and importance of the Doctor's heroism through its absence (like when Peri doesn't have the Doctor to help her subdue Sil's men, so she starts firing recklessly). It brings the retro style of Flash Gordon perfectly into the age of Yuppiedom, corruption and exploitation. Mindwarp is what The Twin Dilemma should've been. JNT just didn't see how The Twin Dilemma was so utterly behind the times in terms of look, pacing and characterisation. The Twin Dilemma is Doctor Who as modelled on cheap, melodramatic old sci-fi B-movies without anything to update the style.
JNT was behind the times, and conceived the Sixth Doctor as an old-fashioned masculine pulp hero, typically belligerent, standoffish and caddish. As Lawrence Miles argued, such characters may be one-dimensional and frowned on now as regressive dinosaurs, but they were also iconic and tapped into culture in its rawest form. This is probably what JNT wanted. For this Doctor to be iconic and make a sharp, unforgettable impression by being volatile, aggressive, confrontational and distinctively dressed. He had such faith that this Doctor would be such an iconic enigma, and that ending the season with his shocking debut would create audience intrigue.
RTD used the same approach for the Ninth Doctor, which worked and captured the public's interest (although I personally disliked Eccleston's thuggish belligerence). There's something insidious and reassuringly affirming about such a figure. So what went wrong with Colin? Well I'd venture that gradually on TV he became the very reassuring figure that the times needed. His pomposity and Kantian nature could be comforting in a fractured, contemptful, defeated society that was anything but comforting. Certainly he was more reassuring to the times than his ineffective, pious, appeasing predecessor who forced the taste of defeat and inadequacy down our throats.
But The Twin Dilemma offers no real comfort. Many say the moment where the Sixth Doctor rubbishes his predecessor's 'feckless charm' is contentious, mean-spirited and can only be appreciated if you disliked Davison too. I think the scene was meant to poignantly reaffirm Davison's loss. That the Fifth Doctor really has gone, and this new guy is someone else, someone cold and callous in a way that'll take some getting used to. You'd be forgiven for thinking he will later win us over and prove himself an affirming hero. But it doesn't happen. All the worst histrionics and excesses propel the story in completely the opposite direction. It's 100% petty nastiness with barely a glimmer of endearing charm. Nothing is nurtured about the new Doctor in this poisoned soil. Every single opportunity is taken to force cranky childish tantrums over nothing.
The final closing line "whether you like it or not" sums up the 80s, really. A confrontational age of political polarisation and hyperbole. "Do or die", "You're either with us or against us!" Much of 80s cinema and TV was so belligerent, confrontational and racked with overkill that watching it could make a moderate viewer feel queasy and ill, even now. And with JNT's working model being very Thatcherite in terms of cult of personality, media manipulation and rejecting the old radicals as 'dead wood', we weren't going to get the Doctor we needed: the middle ground between Colin and Davison. In the 80s, there was no middle ground.
Davison's era, in keeping with the reactionary times, had a castrated, apolitical straight-laced schoolteacher type of Doctor. But rebellion became fashionable again in 1984, amidst Terminator, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and miners' strikes. So the Doctor gradually returned to being a rebel again, but now he championed cheapened, shallow ideals. Significantly, he was still heavily castrated in Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks, which were both Season 20 leftovers. Unfortunately, in this reactionary climate, the rebel Doctor was portrayed as more of a danger to his friends and allies than his enemies.
Maybe the in-universe reasons why this happened are the events of The Keeper of Traken. The Master's enhanced psychic abilities allowed him to briefly control the Doctor and then telepathically stalk him throughout Logopolis. So a survival instinct compelled the Doctor's consciousness to go into retreat and withdrawl throughout the Fifth Doctor's life, to prevent the Master sensing him, but at the loss of his strength of character and decisiveness. In this fragile mental state, he could only cope with the volatile nature of the universe by denying it and believing that non-violent resistance could work and diffuse conflict. Various violent events and failures, the Master's 'death' in Planet of Fire, and the traumatic regeneration combine to finally unleash all the repressed essence and fury of the Doctor, but it all emerges volatile and unstable. But he's back to being a pro-active, pragmatic hero.
Perhaps Davison and Colin fans will always do this dance. If you loved 'nice guy' Davison, then your dislike of Colin's meanness makes you appreciate Davison even more. But if you hated Davison's sanctimonious, ineffectual preaching, then Colin's arrival and kicking ass is a moment of victory.
I'd say that, despite The Twin Dilemma's awfulness, it wasn't a wrong direction for the show. Frankly, the Fifth Doctor's warped moralizing would be far uglier without the balance of Colin's amorality. There's potential in this new Doctor, and frankly Season 22's ratings and quality were no worse than Season 21's. JNT went to great lengths to appeal to fandom. But he was finally listening to the right kind of fan when Colin Baker suggested rebuilding the Doctor's mystery and ambiguity. It's actually unsurprising that JNT thought Colin was a winning choice who understood the character and could entertain a crowd.
The Twin Dilemma is audaciously thrilling, on paper. Replacing the kindly hero with a cold, ruthless, foreboding void, leaving us with no comfort zone and doubting everything we previously assumed. Pre-empting how Revelation of the Daleks, Mindwarp and Impossible Astronaut were unforgettably frightening examples of how strange, sour and acidic this unique show can be. The problem is sheer overkill excesses. Far from being thrilling, it's exhaustingly obnoxious and painfully clunky. The Doctor's unsteadiness is so relentless and obstinate that it kills all momentum. These insane fits, by nature, don't add to his character.
I scoff at claims that the coat was the problem. Fans often try making one superficial design disaster the sole issue. Besides, I never minded the coat. But it's true that one wrong ingredient can make the whole character fall apart. Just like with Davison, making the character excessively whiny, pig-headed, self-aggrandising and self-pitying kind of ruins the whole mysterious, cold, apprehensive vibe you're going for. The 'iconic' character completely falls apart and ceases to work then.
The Twin Dilemma's aims can be appreciated now, but only from a vast distance. Back then, like so many curative measures to keep the country going, it simply had to serve for the moment.