5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
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THE TWO DOCTORS
"Are you trying to be funny?"
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Dear God. What a stinker.
All Doctors All The Time episodes sound like tons o' fun, but they tend to end up disappointing. Usually, the landscape's just too stuffed with Doctors and companions to leave any room for plot, characters or sense. Still, The Two Doctors sounds like a good idea: after all, two Doctors is a lot more manageable than five. And the Second and Sixth Doctors together? Laugh riot or what?
What, as it turns out. The Three Doctors was pretty passable. The Five Doctors scraped into passable by a toenail. The Two Doctors is at the bottom of a long mineshaft with passable almost out of sight at the top.
We know it's not unusual for a Doctor Who story to be tedious to the point of unwatchable. After all, we've watched all the Fifth Doctor's episodes. But it's bitterly disappointing that The Two Doctors falls into this category, because it had so much potential. The Second Doctor and the Sixth Doctor should be a brilliant combination. The script is by Robert Holmes, who's turned out some of Doctor Who's best stories. And the story itself has some striking aspects which could have made for a plot with real zing.
Alas. Where do we start?
Well, since it's called The Two Doctors, how about we start with the utter lack of twoishness? The whole point of these multiDoctor extravaganzas is to see the Doctors together, right? Trading quips, one-upping each other, the whole snarkarama? So what do they do here? They spend two interminable, sorry, 45 minute episodes with the Doctors hardly glimpsing each other, then in the third they exchange barely a couple of grunts. This so isn't what we wanted to see.
As for the Robert Holmes aspect, let's remember that while he might have scripted The Talons Of Weng-Chiang and Ark In Space, he also wrote The Sun Makers. And here, he also had one and a half hands tied behind his back, what with the last-minute big switcheroo from New Orleans to Seville and all. The script was gutted, and so are we.
And the plot. You know, it's actually got quite a lot to say. It's often described as being a commentary about eating meat (or even cannibalism), but we don't think that's what it's about at all. We think it's about the ways people use depersonalisation to make it okay to do bad things. As long as you convince yourself that whoever or whatever you want to do the bad thing to isn't like you, then it's justifiable to do it. That's why Chessene and Shockeye call humans, who are so obviously similar to themselves, "it" and "jacks": they want to draw a line between them and us. And while we might tut-tut at their cruelty and indifference, that's pretty hypocritical of us: just like the Androgums, many humans have no problem deciding that a cow, or a duck, or someone with a different colour or religion or sexual orientation from them is lesser than them and therefore a fair target. The plot of The Two Doctors even underlines this by showing Oscar's indifference to the deaths of the insects he kills and by showing Jamie regressing to an animal state.
Good stuff, eh? Well, yeah, it might have been. Problem is, all that incisive social commentary's crushed under the weight of a plot that goes nowhere, does nothing and has comedy Sontarans in it. Oh, yes, and don't forget the horrible coincidences and paradoxes. The Doctor, figuring his earlier self is sick, rushes off for medical advice to the very spot in time and space Earlier Self has just been. How lucky is that? Far too lucky, you say, and you'd be right. In fact, there's too much luck in this story altogether. When Peri's neck is on the chopping block, for example, she's saved not by the heroic intervention of the Doctor but by sheer chance. If it'd been up to the Doctor/s to save her, it would have been roast Peri that evening and don't hold back on the mint sauce.
The Two Doctors is equivalent in length to a six-parter, but there isn't enough plot to eke out even two. Nothing happens. The Doctor is going to be operated on to extract his time-travel molecules (or whatever). Then he isn't. There are some Sontarans with an anger management problem. Then there aren't. They break for lunch. They mop up the blood and go home. And honestly, we're not exaggerating if we say that really is it. So excruciatingly plotless was it that two of us started playing with the office battling Daleks and had to have them taken away and be told to concentrate.
The characters are also deeply disappointing. We were looking forward to seeing Jacqueline Pearce, but while she does what she's supposed to perfectly adequately, the character is just Servelan with the seduction module disconnected. John Stratton does a good job as Shockeye with what he's been given - he's OTT ("Hurr! Hurr!") but then so is the part, and he occasionally touches the Shakespeareanesque heights Robert Homes clearly envisaged for him ("The blood is warm and salt, Doctor!").
Nevertheless, we HATE HATE HATE this character. His one characteristic - the ruthless pursuit of food, as if you didn't know - is pretty striking, and if he appeared in just one or two scenes he would have made a hell of an impression. But he doesn't. He appears over and over and over again, and every single time he has the exact same schtick to do he started out with. The exact same! We wanted to shove him into one of his own ovens. Dastari is so colourless we almost forgot to mention him. And Oscar and Anita are nothing but two giant rolls of padding.
Jamie is terrific when he gets a chance, but most of the time he stands around twiddling his sporran with absolutely nothing to do. As for Peri, ugh. It's not surprising she got treated as food when they made her look like cheesecake. She looks great, of course, but we feel sorry for her being forced to be such obvious eye candy. Like Jamie, she does a great job when she gets a chance, but the quasi-rape scene with Shockeye, in which she doesn't even get a chance to defend herself, leaves, you might say, a very nasty taste in the mouth.
The Sixth Doctor's perfectly fine, but the Second Doctor's utterly wasted. Not only does he have far too little screen time, when he is on screen he rarely gets a chance to exercise his Doctorly muscles (about the only time he really sounded like himself was in the "Oh, my giddy aunt! Oh, crumbs!" line). The sinisterness of his Androgum incarnation is completely undercut by the comedy eyebrows, and by the uncertain tone of the thing.
Ah, yes, the tone. It's utterly dreadful. It can't decide if it's deadly serious, blackly comic or what, and as a result it wavers about uncertainly. Take the Sontaran leg, for example (and you might as well, because the Sontaran isn' t using it). Wrenching horror? Tee hee? You decide, because the director certainly can't. And the tenderising of Jamie: probably supposed to be horrific, but far too funny for that. (It reminded us of the hilarious scene in The 10th Kingdom where Wolf tucks grandma into a roasting pan, complete with veges and herb garnish, except that that actually worked because it was meant to be funny.)
Then there's the killing of the truck driver: a pretty horrific moment, you'd think, especially as the Doctor's one of the perpetrators, but instead, what with the clownishness of Shockeye and the Androgum Doctor and all, it's played almost for laughs. But there actually aren't any laughs, and the audience is again left scratching its collective head and wondering what the hell it's supposed to be feeling. Same thing with Oscar's death: he has to die, because of the evil moth-killing, but it's all so arbitrary (and let's not mention the embarrassingly misjudged Shakespeare stuff) that the audience is left as cold as a polar bear on skis.
As a result of all of this, the deep points the script's trying to make whizz harmlessly past the audience and self-destruct while the audience is trying to work out yet again whether it's supposed to be laughing or shivering. And so the whole thing makes about the same impression as an ant does on a block of granite.
And the location? The lovely expensive Spanish location, paid for by the hapless licence holders? It's utterly pointless: for all the relevance of it, it might as well have been set in Bognor Regis. Or the bottom of a quarry.
Ugh. It misfires on just about every level.
MORAL: Too much of one cook spoils the broth.
EASY COME, EASY GO
The Sixth Doctor and Peri donít seem all that faffed about their TARDIS disappearing, do they?
IíVE GOT A BIT OF A COD
Oh, that scene where Colin juggles the rubber fish to make it look alive. Sad, sad, sad.
WHATEVER YOU SAY
We love the way when the Second Doctor says "Run, I say! Save yourself!" Jamie doesnít bother with the selfless protests but just cuts straight to the beetling off sharpish.
How come at the beginning theyíre drugging Dastari and then later heís helping them? And how come Shockeye helps Chessene after sheís shot him?
CIRCULAR LOGIC WILL ONLY MAKE YOU DIZZY, DOCTOR
"Iím here now, therefore I cannot have been killed then. That is irrefutable logic, isnít it?" Sure it is, Doctor. Unless you were to, say, oh, we don't know... regenerate?
NO, AFTER YOU
Just after the pin galaxy discussion, the Doctor fiddles with the console then is thrown backwards. Unfortunately, Peri throws herself backwards just a little bit later.
BRING IT ON
All that stuff with the Doctor blithely ignoring the computerís threats is ridiculous Ė itís an insane risk. Although if the computerís so dumb it only depressurises one room at a time, maybe not.
ALSO, WHATíS THE CAPITAL OF PERU?
'"Where are we?" "Dastariís office." "Howíd you know?"' Like thatís important?
EVERYBODYíS DEAD, DAVE
"Theyíre all dead, Peri." How the hell does he know? There arenít even any bodies!
SO OVER IT
Why does Peri suddenly swan off in the middle of the Doctorís lecture about the computer?
YOU MEAN LIKE THIS?
The Doctor says "Donít come anywhere near me!" After which, of course, they all rush over.
We must admit, we do quite like the line about the haircut followed by the tune from "The Barber Of Seville".
FIRST TAKE YOUR COW
"They are penned in small confined quarters to fatten more rapidly." It says that in a recipe book?
WE KNEW SONTARANS HAD TO BE GOOD FOR SOMETHING
I KNOW YOUíVE GOT ONE OUT THE BACK
Why does Shockeye keep asking if they serve humans? Heís already been told several times that they donít.
"Just a load of tourists eating paella and chips." Killer line.
Shockeye suggests they have Periís "saddle and haunches" for supper. Considering he got through a small mountain range of food for lunch, how farís that going to go?
There arenít many good scenes here, but Chessene licking the Doctorís blood is certainly one of them. If only the rest of it had been like that.
POISON DOESNíT COUNT
More of the hypocrisy weíve come to know and love as the Doctor waxes great about his antipathy to violence at the beginning, only to cheerfully off Shockeye later.
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