Writer: Anthony Steven
Director: Peter Moffatt
Starring: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Kevin McNally (Hugo Lang), Maurice Denham (Professor Edgeworth/Azmael), Edwin Richfield (Mestor), Gavin Conrad (Romulus), Andrew Conrad (Remus)
The Gastropods have taken over the planet of Jaconda and intend to cause a massive explosion to spread the eggs over the universe. In order to do this, the leader of the Gastropods, Mestor, kidnaps two Earth child geniuses, Romelus and Remus to work on the equations to allow this to happen, meanwhile, Hugo Lang of Interplanetary Pursuit, is sent off to attempt a rescue. The Doctor and Peri become involved following a problematic regeneration, and aid Professor Edgeworth, the former leader of Jaconda, who is actually a Time Lord, Azmael, to save the universe.
Behind the Scenes
The Twin Dilemma is widely believed amongst fans to be the worst episode of Doctor Who ever made and has come bottom of Doctor Who Magazine polls in 2003, 2009 and 2014. Some quarters, including Russell T Davies, regard this episode as the beginning of the end of the show. Part of this may be due to the fact that it immediately followed Caves of Androzani, which is often held as one of the best stories. This is also the first debut story to be broadcast partway through a series since The Power of the Daleks in 1966.
The new Doctor, Colin Baker, had previously appeared in Doctor Who as a Gallifreyan soldier, Maxil, in Arc of Infinity, with his character even shooting Peter Davison’s Doctor in this story. Baker is widely believed to have got the part of the Doctor due to impressing the producer, John Nathan-Turner, at a party where he appeared to be holding court with a group of people. Nicola Bryant remained as the companion, Peri Brown, following on from her debut in Planet of Fire.
The story was written by Anthony Steven, who had a long writing career, spanning back to the 1950s. This was his only episode for Doctor Who, and by all accounts he struggled to conceive and write this episode, leading to script editor Eric Saward having to hastily rewrite and edit the script. The story was also beset with usual production problems with industrial action affecting studio shooting.
It is now known that John Nathan-Turner was looking to leave the show following the success of his tenure as producer since taking over in 1979, however, the BBC would not allow him to move on. From this point onwards, he asked every year to be allowed to leave the show, however, on every occasion, this was refused.
I’m going to be honest – I struggle to be critical of Doctor Who. It is a show that I love and I really struggle to pick flaws in stories. However, when confronted with an episode like The Twin Dilemma, this goes by the wayside. It gives me no joy at all that Colin Baker’s debut story is awful. It is fortunate then that he has been given the chance to redeem his Doctor’s reputation through strong work with Big Finish.
Right, with that out of the way, let’s address the major issue with the episode. The production team made the decision to make the new Doctor too unlikeable. The Sixth Doctor is such a stark contrast to his two most recent predecessors, Tom Baker and Peter Davison, and it feels like they decided to go drastically off the rails. The issues I have with this culminate with the strangling of Peri, which is a step too far considering that the companion is supposed to be the audience surrogate. For the record, I have no issues with making the Doctor sterner or not as amiable as some other – I like Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in series 8, for instance – but I feel that the production team here got the new Doctor majorly wrong. There are moments where the Doctor almost seems to be back to what we would regard to be normal, but then he goes and does something like arguing with Peri and storming off in Part 3. Then we get the famous quote
“I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.”
This is a direct address to the fanbase and really rubs me up the wrong way – I can only imageine how it felt in 1984.
In addition to this, there seem to be poor decision across the board, especially with costumes. The problems with Colin Baker’s costume are well documented and I won’t go into them here. But costumes seem to be a major issue with this story, which really detract from the story and make it rather laughable. The Interplanetary Pursuit uniforms, with their massive stars just look idiotic and impractical, and when Lang is given the opportunity to find a new outfit on Titan III, he manages to choose something worse than the Doctor. The direction is also standard Peter Moffatt fare – that is to say quite bland and uninteresting.
The villain, Mestor, is also forgettable and occasionally incomprehensible, and that’s really all I have to say about him. The other characters other than Lang are a really in the same mould. Remus and Romulus are irritating. Azmael is also a difficult character as we’re supposed to care when Mestor kills him, however, he is mostly memorable for kidnapping Romulus and Remus and threatening to kill them, which really robs his death of any emotional impact. The only reason why Lang doesn’t suffer with the same thing is because we see much more of him. Peri does not really do anything in this story either although there are some good moments when Peri bursts the Doctor’s pompous bubble.
This story suffers with really poor cliffhangers and resolutions. The most effective one comes in part two, when we believe that the Doctor has died and the resolution is quite clever. However, aspects like when Mestor captures Peri and threatens to kill her, but then finds her appearance pleasing, which completely undermines the initial cliffhanger.
I’ve got the joys of Time and the Rani next…
Verdict: A really disappointing episode, coming off the back of of one of the best. The start of the decline that led to the hiatus in 1989. Sorry Colin! 1/10