5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE TWIN DILEMMA
"A most extraordinary improvement."
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If you thought our slamming the Fifth Doctor was controversial, try this on for size: we like the Sixth Doctor. Yes, even in Twin Dilemma.
Yes, we've heard all the arguments about why it's the worst story in the Whoniverse. But it isn't. So there.
We're not saying it's perfect or anything. You could spot the faults from five miles away with a blindfold on in a howling blizzard at midnight. But none of that matters: shear away all the stupid stuff, and you're left with a regeneration story that's an absolute cracker.
And that's what matters. When the Doctor regenerates, it isn't exactly a trivial event, is it? So whatever alien villainy's going on in the background is just a showcase for the important stuff: who, exactly, is he now? And that's why we like Twin Dilemma. We're left in no doubt that the Doctor's a very different man from who he used to be. And it's like a bomb going off.
The Doctor's new personality is stamped all over Twin Dilemma. He's arrogant, vain, boastful and childish (and we can't even blame any of those on the regeneration), but he's also quick-witted and (eventually) compassionate. All of this in just four episodes, and most of it took less than one. In fact, he has a more defined character in ten minutes than the previous Doctor managed in three years. There isn't any other Doctor who arrives with quite such an impact.
Of course, some of the impact is literal, and that's fine by us. We'll have no truck with the school of thought that says It's Just Wrong for the Doctor to try and kill his companion. Why the hell not? The man's unstable, after all, and why shouldn't it show up that way? It also makes perfect sense to us that regenerations get more difficult the older the Time Lord gets, so if this is the most extreme regeneration yet, that's only as it should be.
Yes, it's shocking when he tries to strangle Peri, and it's just as shocking when he cowers behind her. And shocking is good. It's a hundred times more interesting than the last regeneration, which consisted mostly of vague confusion and a little lie down. We've always liked it when they remind us the Doctor isn't human, and they've gone out of their way to bring that element back to this Doctor. It's like having a bucket of cold water dumped over our heads - startling, yes, but definitely refreshing.
And Colin Baker impresses us right from the get-go. We've always rated him as an actor - anyone who thinks he's OTT in Twin Dilemma because he just can't help himself has obviously never seen him as the super-controlled icy villain Paul Merroney in The Brothers - and he doesn't disappoint here either. He's hampered by a Saward-doctored script which veers between OK and appalling, but that's hardly his fault: it's true that some of the instability sequences seem overdramatic, but with that script we're at a loss to see what else Baker could have done. Let's face it, there isn't an actor alive who could deliver "The very core of my being is on fire with guilt, rage..." and come out of it looking credible.
But in amongst the ludicrous dialogue, there are some genuinely fantastic Doctorly moments. Baker's superb comic timing is evident all the way through, but we particularly love the perfectly judged pause and delivery of his judgment of Peri's outfit ("Yuk!"). The childish need for revenge and the touch of malice covering his hurt feelings about Peri's opinion of his own ensemble - it's all in there in one great syllable. The coldness with which he tries to kill her is convincingly menacing, but equally convincing is the utterly Doctorly concern in his voice afterwards ("You really are frightened, aren't you?). We love the scandalised way the Doctor reacts when it's pointed out that Peri is pretty. And Baker's performance in Azmael's death scene is one of the great Doctor Who moments.
It's a pretty good story for Peri, too. The courage we saw in Caves Of Androzani's back in spades: not only does she accompany the Doctor on his trek across Titan even though she suspects she's being exposed to radiation, she also insists on forging ahead to try and find the missing children when the Doctor's gone wibbly. What's more, she doesn't give up on being concerned for the Doctor even after he's tried to remove her head. Yes, there's a lot of bickering, (and about time the Doctor gave as good as he got, we say, after watching Tegan rip strips off the Fifth Doctor while he stared at his feet and mumbled) but by the end the two of them have forged a close bond that's a credit to both their characters.
And the rest of it? Well, it's not very good, really, is it? The first two episodes are, however, much better than the last two (yes, we know you don't agree with us). We like the strongly visual opening shot of the twins playing whatever that backgammony game is, and we love the surprise element of the quiet opening in a galaxy far, far away (or something) when you're expecting it to be all about the regeneration. Most of the scenes with the Doctor and Peri yapping in the TARDIS are in those episodes too, and because we're most interested in character we think those are the strongest (yes, we know you think we're completely loony). In the latter half of the story, however, things descend into a Saward-engineered morass of stupidity in which somebody other than the Doctor ends up saving the day (shades of the Fifth Doctor).
Some of the comedy elements, like the Doctor's plan to become a hermit with Peri around to "minister unto [his] needs" (Fnar! Fnar!) are hilarious, but they sit very uneasily with the rest of the script. Maurice Denham as Azmael gives a terrific performance which masterfully ignores the fact that nothing about his character actually makes any sense. And the whole twins/Mestor/slug farrago is utter rubbish from start to finish. Although, to be fair, we might not have given Mestor a fair go. Every time he heaved into view in all his cross-eyed, deely-boppin' glory, we laughed so much that we never heard a word he said.
Ridiculous villain. Appalling acting. Cheap tinfoil sets. Preposterous science. Tick, tick, tick, tick. But none of that matters. The Doctor's back.
MORAL: Juggling planets should only be attempted by a qualified professional. Do not try this at home.
IN A WORD
"Sweet? Effete! Sweet? Sweet? That says it all!" And do you know, it kind of does.
The costume is, of course, hideous. We'd love to have seen Baker’s choice of black velvet.
NAH. KILL HIM
The Doctor and Peri debate whether it's too dangerous to revive Hugo after he's tried to kill the Doctor. Why don't either of them ever consider tying him up before bringing him round?
ROOM FOR ADVANCEMENT
What’s a Time Lord doing knocking around on Joconda, referring to "my people"? For a bunch who are supposed to hang round Gallifrey all the time, these Time Lords certainly get around.
LOOK WHAT I FOUND
There’s plot stupidity, and then there’s unforgivable plot stupidity. Guess which one having Hugo find the power pack in all the massive space of the TARDIS is?
We were puzzled as to why Hugo’s character appeared in the story at all, since he seems completely pointless, until we figured out that he was being trialled as a potential companion. Thank God they didn't take him on, since he's about as interesting as a damp haddock.
I DARE YOU TO SAY IT
"It's the difference that remains between us." "I may be behaving like a manic barometer..." "The matter that contains your genius…" Could this be the worst dialogue ever written?
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