Thursday, 29 October 2009

Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma

Part One

“Take care not to blow their hearts or minds.”

So, is this story going to equal its illustrious predecessor? Take a guess…

Right from the start there are reasons to doubt the wisdom of introducing a new Doctor at the end of a season, however good an idea it may seem in theory. Castrovalva, shown after an unusually long gap, made effective use of the regeneration as a pre-titles sequence; here we get nothing of the kind, being thrust straight into the aftermath. And then there’s the lack of a wider change in the programme’s style to go with the new Doctor; most notably there are only minimal changes to the title sequence.

The opening scenes are hardly encouraging. Annoying, badly-acted twins; poor sets and costumes; patronisingly poor dialogue. The whole set-up reeks of “this’ll do, it’s only kids’ TV”. And yet…
The scenes concerning the Doctor’s regeneration and Peri’s reaction feel very different from these scenes, presumably as they were handled by Eric Saward rather than Anthony Stevens. This isn’t to say that this aspect of the programme is without its own serious faults, which I’ll come to in a minute, but the ridiculous stuff with Jaconda, giant slugs and space police feels like something from a different and much poorer programme than the scenes in the TARDIS.

The new Doctor is arrogant and overbearing, very, very different from his previous incarnation, which “had a sort of… feckless charm which simply wasn’t me!” This sort of dialogue feels very fresh and different after the last three seasons, but if toned down would actually be quite in keeping with the broad outlines of the Doctor’s character as portrayed with Hartnell, Pertwee and Tom Baker. I also like the obligatory wardrobe scene. It’s a brave move to give the Doctor mood swings and make him unlikeable but I actually think it works quite well- at this point, that is. There’s a line that hasn’t yet been crossed, and we’re not too far outside the tradition set by Robot and Castrovalva.

The scenes outside the TARDIS continue to be atrocious- from the costumes of the space police to the woman playing the police commander to the dialogue (“and may my bones rot for obeying it!”). But inside the TARDIS that line is crossed with the Doctor trying to strangle Peri. This goes beyond mere unlikeability to actually undermining the viability of the new Doctor in his first episode. The Doctor should be erratic, certainly, and arrogance, even extreme arrogance, has always been there in his character. But, as good old Terrance Dicks is often fond of saying, the Doctor should never be cruel or cowardly. In this episode he is both.

Oh, and the twins' put-upon dad is Gharman from Genesis of the Daleks.

Part Two

“It worked. It actually worked!”

Whatever the huge mistakes in the script’s characterisation of the Doctor, Colin Baker is never less than great, and there are some encouraging signs in this episode, such as the new Doctor’s apparent fondness for literary quotation. Unfortunately he also has to be persuaded to save Hugo’s life, and has another fit of cowardice as he and Peri encounter some Jacondans, trying to blame everything on Peri. This sort of characterisation is just unforgivable, and comes close to actual sabotage of the character.

Back to the plot, the Doctor recognises Edgeworth (a brilliant but utterly wasted Maurice Denham) as his old Time Lord drinking pal Azmael, and there’s some discussion of how crowded this “deserted asteroid” seems to be getting. Which is unfortunate, as it highlights what a huge coincidence it is that the Doctor and Azmael to have arrived there at the same time. Also a ridiculous coincidence is that Hugo, trapped in the hugeness of the TARDIS, somehow manages to track down the power pack to his gun from its hiding place.

Part Three

“The sound of giant slugs!”

To Jaconda, then. Hugo’s temporary addition to the TARDIS crew gives us one amusing line (“Lieutenant!”), but I seem to recall this was ad-libbed, which must be true as it’s far too good to have been scripted. The Doctor has another rant of self-pity, but at least from this point on his erratic behaviour doesn’t stray into cruelty or cowardice.

More silliness occurs: Mestor looks ridiculous and Edwin Richfield is wasted in the role; all the stuff with moving the planets about is deeply silly; the twins get awful lines like “Why do you like to play the man of mystery? It’s a role you play very badly?”- the irony being, of course, that Denham is acting them both off the screen.

Part Four

“Our genius has been abused!”

As soon as the Doctor points it out, Azmael immediately realises that the whole guff with the planets is obviously stupid, apparently. Gah! Please make it stop! The Doctor subsequently works out that Mestor intends to cause a supernova courtesy of Jaconda’s sun, which will disperse the slug eggs across the universe. So, er, two small planets falling into a star will cause a supernova how, exactly?

The conclusion with Azmael sacrificing himself to kill Mestor, who’s taken over his mind for some reason, is embarrassingly poor, but at least Colin Baker continues to impress in the confrontation scenes with Mestor. Peter Davison, like Troughton, had been playing the Doctor as a part, while Colin Baker is more in the larger-than-life tradition of Pertwee and Tom Baker, but it feels to be getting this type of Doctor back again. I just hope he settles down.

Well, obviously that was a 1/5. Embarrassingly poor, although the fact it was entertainingly bad means it scores better than certain other stories.

As for Season 21 as a whole- well, it’s the worst yet, as I rather embarrassingly seem too be saying every season at the moment! And at 2.857/5 it’s the first season I’ve ranked below 3/5 on average, in spite of the fact it contains two stories I rated 5/5. That feels a bit awkward, as I’ve never felt any particular dislike for the last two seasons, but that’s how the stories rated!

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