Thursday, 5 November 2009

Doctor Who: The Two Doctors

Part One

“Look at the size of that thing, Doctor!”

“Yes, it is a big one…”

So, to all intents and purposes the last ever old-fashioned six-parter. Phew!

There’s something rather worrying about a multi-Doctor story coming up at this point- it’s hardly likely to be seen as a vote of confidence in their new Doctor by the production team to pair him up with such a fondly remembered predecessor at this early stage. Still, the opening scene is great; we begin with the Second Doctor, in monochrome, with the old TARDIS console. Of course, the line about Victoria being off somewhere studying graphology is deeply absurd (probably a deliberate mickey take on the part of Robert Holmes, I shouldn’t wonder) and all that nonsense about the Doctor and Jamie working for the Time Lords would have completely broken continuity if Mawdryn Undead hadn’t already smashed it into a thousand pieces. Best not to think about such things. And I’m having none of that “Season 6b” nonsense, as I get my razors from that nice Mr Occam.

Anyway, we get a space station and the immediately fantastic John Stratton as Shockeye the Androgum, a fantastic character of the type we expect from Holmes. If we gloss over the continuity headaches then these opening scenes are great, marred only by the visual gag of the Doctor picking up a cucumber he expected to be a knife. I’m not one for insisting the Doctor should never use weapons but there are limits. And it’s decidedly odd hearing decidedly post- The Deadly Assassin sentiments about Time Lords being uttered by Patrick Troughton!

It’s great to see Jacqueline Pearce as Chessene, a suitably Servalan-esque character whatever the difference in her circumstances. And then we get a bit of proto-CGI applied to some Sontaran ships!

Meanwhile, our current Doctor is fishing while Peri seems bored. But at least their relationship is back on track again after the aberration of Mark of the Rani; they now seem like friends again. I believe this is our first sight of the Doctor’s umbrella? Anyway, I, er, approve of the way Peri is dressed.

The Doctor’s dialogue about fishing, incidentally, seems very much to parallel Shockeye’s earlier dialogue about eating humans. There’ll be a lot more of this sort of thing from our vegetarian scribe. Also disturbing is that they’re still on about the Doctor’s not-so-recent regeneration. It’s time to let it lie; this is the Doctor, full stop. Except that we, er, unaccountably have a multi-Doctor story at this point.

The Doctor collapses (well, a bit) in something of a Five Doctors moment as something apparently happens to his past self. The Doctor and Peri thus head to the space station, now occupied only by corpses. The baddies, meanwhile, head for a hacienda, not in Manchester but in Andalusia- it’s only 1985, after all; they’re about three years too early for Acid House.

Oh, and this is where we famously get introduced to our first Sontaran in long-shot, a fairly appalling lapse from Peter Moffat, who seems oddly sub-par throughout the story. The Sontarans look crap, for a start, and Shockeye’s Androgum make-up is a bit basic.

Towards the end we’re introduced to the lovely Anita and Oscar, who gets a speech on how he loves to kill moths with cyanide. Yep, another parallel with earlier speeches by Shockeye and the Doctor from our vegetarian scribe, methinks.

Part Two
“I think your Doctor’s worse than mine.”

Is it me, or have things been a bit slow so far? This is still shaping up to be a good ‘un, with great dialogue and characterisation in spite of some rather worrying flaws which I’ll get back to in a bit, but so far this has been oddly lacking in pace for a Holmes script. Things pick up now, though. It seems the “creature” that attacked Peri is in fact Jamie, and the Doctor becomes convinced that his earlier self has been killed and a time paradox has been created. The dialogue which follows would be embarrassing in the hands of a lesser writer, but we have Holmes instead; the Doctor’s soliloquy on the end of the universe is quite brilliant.

But the Troughton Doctor isn’t dead. He still has disappointingly little to do in this episode other than sit around, though. Meanwhile, Shockeye bites the head off a rat. Lovely. I could mention Ozzy Osborne here but I won’t.

The Doctor- er, the current Doctor- gleans the location of his earlier self with help from the bells of Seville Cathedral but still spares some time to give Jamie some advice about bathing (“You should try it more often”).

Interestingly, Holmes being a writer who first turned up quite late in the Troughton era, here we have the later, “Oh my giddy aunt!” version of the character, rather than the more manipulative character of the earlier stories who turned up again in The Three Doctors. Still, Troughton plays the part as though he’s never been away.

The scene where Shockeye discusses Earth cuisine, Spanish and Chinese recipe books to hand, is where the vegetarian and animal rights subtext stops being “sub” and really starts to intrude into the story. Subtle thematic nods (such as the aforementioned parallel speeches in the last episode) are fine, but by this point we’re really being bashed over the head with it. It doesn’t ruin the episodes (it’s got all of Holmes’ trademark wit and characterisation) but it does mar them somewhat.

Oh, and I love the bit where Peri, asked to provide a diversion for Chessene and co, protests that she doesn’t speak Spanish and the Doctor simply says “That’s all right. Neither do they.”

Part Three

“The nouvelle cuisine has not yet penetrated this establishment.”

I suspect another reason the story as a whole doesn’t quite reach Holmes’ usual standards is that he’s simply been given too many ingredients to deal with; two Doctors, Sontarans, and a Spanish setting (originally supposed to be New Orleans). Still, the final episode pretty much delivers. Early on our two Doctors first meet, but not for long; the Troughton Doctor is to be turned into an Androgum. Meanwhile, the Dastari / Chessene faction and the Sontarans have decided to betray and kill each other.

The whole episode centres around Shockeye and the Troughton Doctor, now an Androgum, heading to a restaurant while everyone else attempts to find them. Troughton as an Androgum is great fun, but it seems an odd decision to deprive us of seeing him playing the Doctor for such a large chunk of time. On the other hand, we do get the line about shepherd’s pie.

The setting moves to Seville (nice to see it) and unfortunately there’s another bit of performance from Colin Baker which doesn’t do it for me- “There’s more than one way to cook a cat”. Still, everything about the Doctor and Shockeye eating in the restaurant, with Oscar as waiter, is great. I love the description of all the courses they’ve consumed- along with their twelve bottles of wine. Unfortunately, Shockeye then kills Oscar, with the Doctor present. I know the Doctor’s not himself, but this is just wrong. He may not be the “current” Doctor but the character should never be put in this position. It’s been obvious Oscar was going to die all along, of course; as soon as his moth-killing activities became known it became clear that Holmes wasn’t going to let him survive.

We get more didactism as Shockeye tortures Jamie, claiming that he’s merely “tenderising the meat” and that “Primitive creatures don’t feel pain as we would.” It’s all far more blatant than I remembered. And it’s paralleled with the Doctor using Oscar’s cyanide to kill Shockeye. So, of our three characters to have made speeches in the first episode which defy Holmes’ vegetarian principles, two are punished by being killed- Shockeye by Oscar's cyandide for his moths and Oscar by Shockeye's knife, so each is killed in the way the other would kill an animal. Poetic justice, no doubt, if you're Robert Holmes. Only the Doctor, the hero of the show, is allowed to survive, albeit wounded by Shockeye's knife. And he’s going veggie to boot.

Oh, and the Second Doctor has a remote control for his TARDIS, does he? Slight problems reconciling that with The War Games, methinks…

Well, that was overly didactic, had too much on the shopping list to be included in the script, wasn’t particularly well directed, and although it was great to be seeing Troughton again this really isn’t the sort of thing to do with a new Doctor who hasn’t quite established himself yet. Still, it’s Holmes, meaning there’s wit and characterisation to see us through. The performances are largely good too; 4/5. It’s just that by Holmes’ standard that’s a sub-par score.


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