With this post, those fans who were holding their breath and thinking “Good grief, don’t tell me he likes The Twin Dilemma!” can now breath that sigh of relief – yes folks, it’s in the bottom ten, and quite rightly so!
This story is often found bottom or second from bottom of many fan lists, containing a number of controversial elements. Rather like with Paradise Towers, the awful reputation of the serial almost heightened my desire to see for myself what it was like. In actual fact, The Twin Dilemma shares with Planet of the Spiders and The Masque of Mandragora the unique distinction of being a Doctor Who serial that I first watched entirely on youtube – regretfully the BBC have ended this experiment and the episodes are no longer available to view on youtube. So, back when I was studying for my Masters and perhaps more distraction prone than I have since become, I settled myself down with a chicken korma, several tins of Coca Cola and a packet of poppadums, and resigned myself for the worst.
So let’s be fair – the serial is not bottom of my list because it was genuinely not the worst or most disappointing Doctor Who I have ever seen. But neither can it be consider especially good television. Several reasons for this gave already been mentioned when discussing Timelash – Colin Baker’s infamous technicolour costume (necessitating that his assistant Peri would have to wear equally outlandish attire so that she didn’t fade into the background); the horrible 1980s costumes; the worsening production values, and of course the incredibly silly decision to begin Baker as a wholly unlikable character, with the intention that you would grow to love the Sixth Doctor as more of his character was revealed.
I’m sorry to say that producer John Nathan Turner got the Sixth Doctor’s debut story badly wrong, on two fronts. First of all, he stuck it on the very end of Peter Davison’s final season, season 21. That meant that there was a sizeable wait before Baker would have his first full season, in which people would be judging based on this first serial – a huge gamble that colossally backfired.
Secondly, he misjudged how to introduce a new Doctor. A brilliant contemporary example can be seen in how Peter Capaldi’s twelfth doctor was introduced this year – deliberately acknowledging the dramatic difference from Matt Smith’s younger, ‘best mate’ likeable doctor and emphasising the alien nature of a time traveller who has lived for centuries. The same is seen when Tom Baker became the Doctor, and although the story is sadly lost, one can imagine the same disorientation when Patrick Troughton replaced William Hartnell in Power of the Daleks. The producers instead pitched Colin Baker as chronically aggressive, highly unstable, and seemingly devoid of judgement – his attire was supposed to be a reflection of that.
The most deservedly infamous example of this is of course that he attempts to strangle his companion Peri during one of his unstable moments – demonstrating the show by this stage had lost someone inputting some basic common sense. But there is no shortage of other poor production calls – the alien menace in this story is basically a giant slug, who intends to spread thousands of pods of his race throughout the galaxy by causing a sun to go supernova. To do this, he gets a rogue Timelord called Azmael to steal two boy geniuses (the titular twins) to work out the calculations. After many pratfalls and false starts, the Doctor of course saves the day, before confirming, much to the consternation of Peri and the viewers alike, that his new all shouting all posturing personality is who he is: “Whether you like it, or not!” But even aside of Baker’s unenviable briefing, and the truly atrocious costumes, it is the acting that really lets the serial down – the twins are nothing short of awful, and the other characters act like their heart isn’t in it.
That said, I have a slight fondness for this serial that is absent with many of the stories I have already reviewed. Perhaps because its so awful that I’m willing to be tolerant, or because I can see what they were trying to do. Perhaps even because it’s possible to look past the terrible costumes and acting in the same way one ignores the spaceships suspended on string from the first six seasons.
But even that fondness cannot forgive the gigantic slug, the hideous costumes, or the strangling scene.