Doctor Who episode 623: The Twin Dilemma – Part One (22/3/1984)
‘I never saw anyone who loved himself so much.’ The new Doctor’s era begins with a burst of colour, each sparkle and each spangle in the title sequence in glorious neon, the slightly kinked logo a sort of luminous purple. It sets the scene perfectly for a story that’s bright and bold unlike the hallmark pinkish greys and beiges of the Davison stories. The Sylvest family look like they live in a set from a kids’ TV show. This makes a striking contrast to the grimdark of Androzani, and with the introduction of two Adrics, capable of manipulating reality with their maths, surely it’s going to be twice as good.
This is like opening a bag of Skittles for dessert after the well-prepared meal of The Caves of Androzani. The contrast probably doesn’t do The Twin Dilemma many favours, but it does clearly ring the changes just as The Invisible Enemy after Horror of Fang Rock. Androzani pushed Season 21’s darkness to a natural endpoint, and it makes sense to follow that with something brighter and more cheerful. Had the story developed in this vein it wouldn’t be a classic, but I can see how it wouldn’t be a disaster.
Then we meet the new Doctor – and he’s immediately sitting up and taking notice, not confined to bed like his three predecessors. Again, this is a good move: it’s the last story of the season and it needs some energy, and to crack on and establish the Baker Doctor before the long break. I enjoy his self-satisfaction, confounding expectations: Pertwee, T. Baker and Davison all looked a bit dismayed the first time they saw themselves in a mirror; C. Baker couldn’t be more delighted. I’m less sold on Peri’s apparently instant dislike of this new guy, but I can see the logic of having the audience surrogate needing to be wooed.
And that’s where I think The Twin Dilemma starts to falter. Because the new Doctor isn’t interested in wooing Peri. Instead, he seems to enjoy annoying her (chucking away the second Doctor’s fur coat in disgust when she laughs at it). If I squint, I could see this sort of relationship working like screwball comedy, but that relies on both parties being able to give as good as they get. Pretty quickly, it becomes clear that Peri is going to be a ‘faint-hearted girl’. The strangulation, which is pretty much the worst thing any of the show’s leads has been asked to perform, isn’t funny. To be clear: it isn’t meant to be, but it kills any possibility of this being a fun sparring partnership and sets the tone for a relationship that has an undercurrent of abuse. I hate it. And I hate that the Doctor’s idea of contrition isn’t to try to make it up to Peri, but to compel her to become his disciple on Titan 3, slave to his desires whether she likes it or not. What on earth were JNT and Saward thinking?
It’s almost worse that Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant perform these scenes so well. Baker’s moments of madness have a truly unhinged quality about them – the mad laugh he gives as he collapses into a clothes rail is chilling. Maybe Androzani really did drive him insane. Bryant’s “you cannot be serious” look as the Doctor picks out his new coat, and her eye roll as he falls to his knees to eulogise Titan 3 are very funny. Given the right material there’s a double act here that’s thrown away in badly judged violence and appalling dialogue (‘It’s the diminutive of my proper name,’ isn’t something any 1980s American teenager would ever say).
The rest of it is the normal mix of good and bad. The Jacondan costumes are quite good (they look a bit feathery and hairy, like Behemoth in Blood on Satan’s Claw). Mestor looks rubbish (are we supposed to think his eyes are in his face or poking out of his head?). Maurice Denham and Kevin McNally are good, but are frequently paired with actors who aren’t (Denham’s scenes with the twins, in particular, are robbed of any pace and life by the awkward pauses and carefully coordinated in-unison line readings). The costumes fit the new, Technicolor aesthetic but with some weird choices (why does Elena wear massive 1980s earrings while in uniform?). Hugo’s crashed spaceship is genuinely good, Malcolm Clarke’s comedy music with discordant undertones is the perfect accompaniment to an episode that could have been an upbeat and fun launch for a new era but ends up just feeling wrong.
Next episode: The Twin Dilemma – Part Two
Delightful of WordPress to eat this comment, let me try that again…
I loved the costume as a child but as an adult with a bit of design training I find the texture clash to kill it far more than the colours… at least it looked good when John Ridgeway drew it in DWM.
There’s a theory that Capaldi’s first season is an attempt to rehabilitate the Doctor and Peri’s initial dynamic but honestly even that was a bit wearying. Maybe it’s just a bad idea regardless of execution.
Definitely a very tough idea to pull off