Monday, 10 August 2015

Story 136 - The Twin Dilemma

In which the new Doctor's regeneration does not bode well for the future. Peri has only just started travelling with the Time Lord, and suddenly he has turned into someone else - someone who appears to be less than friendly towards her. He is rude, sarcastic, pompous and arrogant. He changes his clothes and chooses a tasteless, garishly coloured ensemble - the coat a patchwork of different materials. At one point he grows quite paranoid about her, and attacks her as an alien spy. Realising something is not quite right, he decides to take himself off to some desolate place to contemplate for a time - and Peri will accompany him whether she wants to or not.
Meanwhile on Earth, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus Sylvest are causing their father some concern. They have brilliant mathematical skills which, if misused, could be catastrophic. After he has left them for the evening, a man materialises in their home. He claims to be called Edgeworth, and to be a friend of their father. Edgeworth places the boys in a hypnotic trance then all three transmat away to a waiting ship in orbit. Their disappearance is discovered when Prof. Sylvest comes home, and he informs the security forces. A squadron commanded by Lieutenant Hugo Lang is sent after the spaceship. Near the uninhabited planetoid Titan III, the squadron is attacked and destroyed. This just happens to be where the Doctor has chosen to isolate himself. He and Peri find the injured Lang - sole survivor - and take him into the TARDIS. Lt. Lang accuses the Doctor of being behind the twin's abduction.

The Doctor decides to investigate this crime. He notices an artificial structure on the surface of the planetoid. Inside, he meets - and recognises - Edgeworth. He has chosen this bleak place as a staging post. He is really a Time Lord called Azmael. He was once a close friend, the Master of the planet Jaconda. The Doctor last met him when in his fourth incarnation. Azmael insists that the twins are needed to save Jaconda. The Doctor and Peri are left trapped in the building when Azmael and his Jacondan servants, Noma and Drak, depart. Unbeknownst to Azmael, Noma sets a self-destruct mechanism in operation. The Doctor adapts a revitalising machine used by Azmael to act as a transmat and he and Peri get back to the TARDIS before the structure is destroyed. Lang insists on going with them as they pursue Azmael and the twins to Jaconda. Here they learn that the planet has been taken over by Mestor, leader of the giant slug-like Gastropods. The planet has been laid waste. To stop his people starving, Azmael has devised a plan with Mestor that requires the mathematical skills of Romulus and Remus. This involves moving planets within Jaconda's solar system, placing two outer worlds closer to the sun so that they will become habitable, and a potential larder for Jaconda. The more he studies the plan, the more it concerns the Doctor.

There are millions of Gastropod eggs in storage on Jaconda. Their shells seem especially hard, but react to heat. The Doctor realises that Mestor actually plans for Jaconda to be destroyed when the outer planets are moved. This will send the millions of eggs shooting out into space to colonise other worlds. Mestor has incredible mental powers - even more powerful than a Time Lord's. The Doctor devises a chemical which will destroy the Gastropod's body, but Mestor can transplant his mind into any living being. He takes over Azmael's body, and the Doctor uses the chemical to destroy the Gastropod form. Azmael is at the end of his regenerative cycle, and he elects to die - taking Mestor with him. The Jacondans rebel against the other Gastropods once Mestor is dead. Lt. Lang decides to stay on and help the Jacondans - becoming the new Master of the planet. The Doctor and Peri will take the twins back to Earth.

This four part adventure was written by Anthony Steven - his only contribution to the programme - and was broadcast between 22nd and 30th March, 1984. It was the final story of Season 21, and marks the beginning of Colin Baker's tenure as the Sixth Doctor.
So... What went wrong? Why is this story continually voted least favourite of all-time? It was 200th out of 200, then 241st out of 241, according to polls in DWM.
Unless it is related to one of his Big Finish productions, Colin Baker has refused to talk to DWM since these results were published - and all to do with the reception of this story.
The person who should be blamed least is actually Anthony Steven. On paper, this is quite acceptable. With another Doctor and a different production team, this would only be average, rather than universally ridiculed.
There are other factors at play which lead fans to hold The Twin Dilemma in such low regard.
First, we have the new Doctor. It was brave move - one that should be applauded - to have the new man the polar opposite of the "nice" predecessor. Darker, more prickly, unpredictable. All well and good - trouble is they maintain it for too long. It is fine for the Doctor to suffer post-regen issues for the first episode or two, but we expect to see our hero emerge by the story's conclusion. Here, the decision is made that this is going to be a long character arc.

The problem is compounded by making this the final story of the season rather than launching him at the start of a new one, when we might be consoled that things might get better next week. This unlikable Doctor stays in the fans' minds for the whole of the next 9 months.
Having the story at the end of the season also means (a) the money's run out, and (b) it has to immediately follow the previous Doctor's high profile finale. Another huge mistake.
This story looks cheap and tacky - the sort of production which non-fans point and laugh at. Shiny "outer space" fashions; flat, overly-lit sets; pedestrian direction; monsters in cumbersome rubber suits.
The acting is generally atrocious throughout - and this has to include the declamatory Mr Baker. There is nothing naturalistic in his performance at all. Some of the cast are actually very good actors - Kevin McNally (Lang) and Seymour Green (Jacondan Chamberlain - see The Seeds of Doom) are great elsewhere, as is Edwin Richfield (Mestor). Just look at his Captain Hart in The Sea Devils. He's totally wasted here.
Worst offenders are the Conrad twins - Andrew and Gavin - and Helen Blatch (Lang's boss Fabian). Biggest disappointment is Dennis Chinnery (Genesis of the Daleks and The Chase) who we know can do so much better.
The only person who emerges with any kind of dignity is stage and screen veteran Maurice Denham, who plays Azmael / Edgeworth. Everyone else thinks they are doing pantomime.
At no point at all in the story are the ethics of first Azmael, then Lang, ruling over the Jacondans ever challenged. What does the Doctor, who has known this soldier / policeman all of 5 minutes, think Lang will do once ensconced as ruler over this world?
As for the Sixth Doctor's costume - I am not even going there.
Episode endings are:
  1. Believing him to be responsible for the death of his squadron members, Lang levels his gun at the Doctor... Cue the first of many, many lame "Colin Baker Cliffhanger Reaction" shots.
  2. Peri is safe back aboard the TARDIS but the Doctor has not appeared. On the scanner, she and Lang see Azmael's safe-house explode...
  3. The Doctor is about to run off and save Peri but is stopped by a Jacondan guard. Azmael declares that she must be sacrificed to prevent Mestor discovering their plans... Cue the second of many, many...
  4. The new Doctor informs Peri that he is the Doctor, whether she likes it or not. For the first time in the series' history, we - the audience - are threatened in a cliffhanger.

Overall, is it as bad as I have made out? Polls suggest I am not the only one who thinks so.
Things you might like to know, but were too afraid to ask:
  • Twins Gavin and Conrad are the sons of someone who has featured in Doctor Who a few times. Les Conrad appears in stories such as The Ambassadors of Death and The Caves of Androzani. In the former he is one of the two policemen seen at the very start of Episode 7. In the latter, he was one of the gun-runners. Gavin's real name was Paul, but there was already an actor called Paul Conrad.
  • Location filming generally took place before rehearsals and studio recording. In this instance, due to industrial action at the BBC, the filming actually took place part way through.
  • Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker did not hit it off immediately, and only warmed to each other when they attended a US convention just after the story wrapped.
  • Blatant plot contrivance #1: Prof Sylvest finds a powder called Zanium of the floor. So that means an alien abduction? Well of course it must.
  • Anthony Steven was ill and unable to contribute much in terms of rewrites, so a lot of what we see on screen is down to script editor Eric Saward. One idea dropped from the mix was that the new Doctor's persona was due to his previous self being on the brink of a nervous breakdown, after trying to make himself too human.
  • It was fan continuity adviser Ian Levine who recommended making Azmael another Time Lord. At one point he was going to be called Aslan.
  • The first VHS release of this story was as an exclusive for WH Smith. That shop was the only one near where I lived that stocked the Who videos, so I got it straight away. May my bones rot for doing so...
  • Blatant plot contrivance #2: Of all the thousands of costumes in the TARDIS wardrobe - that being one of thousands of rooms aboard the ship - Lt. Lang finds the power pack of his pistol in a jacket pocket straight away.
  • Colin Baker did not feature on the cover of the Target novelisation for this story, though he does feature in the original draft painting. He only found out later that this was due to an argument between Target and his agent, and was not best pleased about it - especially as he was busy fundraising for Cot Death charities at the time, following the death of his son Jack. Colin was the only Doctor never to appear on the covers of any of his story novelisations.
  • Fabian was originally going to be a male character, and the Jacondan Chamberlain female.
  • A poll in 2003, for the 40th Anniversary, by DWM actually spared this story the wooden spoon. It used a different voting system to the one for the "Mighty 200" and the 50th Anniversary polls. The 2003 poll, which appeared in a Special Edition, did put the Sixth Doctor's costume as third worst thing in the history of the programme. Michael Grade came top, followed by the Myrka.
  • Oh, let's try to end on a positive note. The story has some very good model work, and I have already mentioned Maurice Denham. It was a brave attempt to do something different with the Doctor that just did not pay off, as you had a script editor who thought the part was miscast, and a producer determined to take the programme into light entertainment territory.

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