At the time of writing, there have been 236 Doctor Who stories broadcast on TV; 239 if you consider the Trial of a Timelord to be four separate serials in their own right.
So it’s baffling that the highest and lowest rated Doctor Who stories of all time could be shown one after the other.
It just doesn’t seem to make any sense.
How can quality and audience appreciation differ so wildly in the space of one week?
How can you go from the final episode of Caves of Androzani – a success on every conceivable level – to the first episode of the Twin Dilemma?
Surely the people in charge of Doctor Who should have seen this coming and done something about it before it was broadcast? You’d think that until you realise that the Producer, John Nathan Turner believed the latter story had more potential.
Anyway, in this review I’ll look at the Twin Dilemma, assess if it’s bad enough to merit its infamy and try to get to the bottom of why it’s so disliked.
Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma Review: What’s This One About?
There’s a new Doctor in town and he’s an arsehole.
And a giant slug captures two horrible wunderkind twins because…erm…he wants to move two planets into position so he can hatch some eggs or something. I’m not entirely sure.
Thoughts – Why Is It So Bad?
On a previous run-through of Doctor Who, I got to the Twin Dilemma and ended up switching it off around half way through episode two. I just found it embarrassing to watch.
Well that’s the question.
As much as the plot is poor and a bit difficult to follow at times, there have been ones either equally bad or even worse. I found whilst watching it that Mestor, the Giant Slug, was quite a fun character to watch. He’s no Sharaz Jek, but he’s not without his comic charm, and under the makeup, Edwin Richfield (Captain Hart from the Sea Devils would you believe) does a good job on the voice and in gesticulating wildly.
If you had the same basic storyline with Peter Davison as the Doctor, I don’t think it would be considered quite as bad as it is.
So what are the problems?
The Baffling Characterisation of The Sixth Doctor
I don’t mind Colin Baker. As I said all the way back in my very first Doctor Who related post in 2011, he does an excellent job in the Big Finish audio adventures and is the man at the helm for some fine examples of Who done right, like The Holy
Terror, Jubilee and The Pirates.
But if you only get to see his television work – and the Twin Dilemma in particular – you’d be entitled to wonder why he was hired, because on the whole, his performances – mainly down to the character of his Doctor – are horrific.
I get it; they were going for a William Hartnell situation where he’d start of as a bit of a dick and then improve and become a favourite of the viewers. That might have seemed like a good idea on the drawing board, but in reality, it was a staggeringly
The problem is that Baker’s attempts to play the part come across as forced, over the top and alienating to the viewer. That’s both down to his own deficiencies as an actor and the writing of the character. With the Doctor bobbing from one extreme to the other, I doubt even the top actors the UK had to offer could have done any better.
I’m finding it difficult to put into words just how bad he is in this story because…well…where do you start?
Following on from the intense performance of Peter Davison and the brave characterisation of the Doctor in Caves of Androzani, why would the viewer want to see domestic abuse within the walls of the TARDIS and a lead who bounds from being rude, scared, stoic and content ten times each within the same scene?
Why would the viewer want to watch the Doctor bickering and attacking Peri? What good does it do? Where’s the payoff?
What’s the point of having the Doctor not be the hero, especially when the only other member of the regular cast isn’t a strong enough actress to step up in his place?
Why would you write a story that ends with your lead actor having to say to both Peri and the viewer at home “I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not”? What possible good can come from a statement that basically says “Fuck you viewers,
you’re stuck with me even if you think I’m crap”. And why would you broadcast a story where you know the new Doctor is so bad that you have to put that little disclaimer/warning at the end anyway?
He’s the Doctor whether we like it or not? Well who’d have believed the show would be canned a year later.
I just find Colin Baker, and Peri too in fairness, to be an embarrassing couple to watch.
And that’s the word that describes the viewing experience of Twin Dilemma best – embarrassing.
Costume and Design
Another aspect of the Twin Dilemma that’s embarrassing is the choices of costume for the cast.
Obviously I have to start with Colin Baker’s costume. What were they thinking? Or more particularly what was John Nathan Turner thinking? Or deeper than that; what were the BBC thinking letting a bloke who thought Hawaiian shirts were the
height of fashion oversee any costume design choices for the lead character in one of their top shows?
If it’s possible for a costume to define a character, this is it. How can you take the Doctor seriously when he’s dressed like a clown and he even acknowledges that himself? And if he acknowledged that he picked the costume because he wasn’t right in the head, why not change it later?
It’s not just him though, Peri’s outfit is horrible and how Kevin McNally’s character thought that the sparkly multicoloured item was the best thing he could take from the TARDIS’s wardrobe is a mystery.
Then you’ve got those silly minions of Mestor who I thought were meant to be raccoons but were apparently designed to look like birds, and on top of that, those twins with their smocks and pudding bowl hairstyles.
The Twin Dilemma looks gawdy, and people who defend it by saying that it looked “of the time” are clearly discounting all the stories that came before it.
It Feels Like Kids TV
The worst and yet most accurate thing I could say about the Twin Dilemma is that it looks and feels like you’re watching a kids show. Having just broadcast the most adult Doctor Who story they’ve ever done, this feels like an episode of the sort of thing that Andy Crane and Ed The Duck should have introduced in the Broom Cupboard.
There’s just a sense of the show being taken in a new direction that nobody will like.
The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count
So we had the Fifth Doctor Timeline, and I feel for the Sixth Doctor stories there needs to be a new gimmick.
What I’m going for is the Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count.
Four episodes in, and three of them have finished with a close-up of Colin Baker’s face. Two are in peril, one is a happy mugshot, but it all amounts to the same thing.
Current Count: 3.
- Another element that goes against The Twin Dilemma is the incidental music. It’s a mess. Rather than create a score specifically for it, like…you know…every other story, Malcolm Clarke just borrows from his past work on serials likeEarthshock, Resurrection of the Daleks and Enlightenment, and fits it in wherever he likes whether it suits what’s happening on screen or not. The only new bits of music are ones that I associate with Attack of the Cybermen as well, and those bits are crap.
- On the other hand, the updated theme music is pretty good, with the inclusion of the whoosh sound when the logo appears.
- Those twins…bloody hell. For a start, nobody but nobody likes wunderkind children, especially ones who are over-confident, but to have unlikeable characters played by really bad actors makes it worse. It’s like Adric in stereo.
- And that’s the thing here; some of the actors are just pathetic. One of those bird things that speaks to Mestor in episode four should have been paid off and sent home, while the second in command played the part as if he was in a Carry On film.
- Mestor himself though is potentially the most powerful opponent the Doctor has ever faced. He can boil someone’s blood just by looking at them, take over the mind of a Time Lord, open the TARDIS door from afar through the power of his own will, project his mind across vast distances of space and use a random person as his own personal CCTV system before killing him without leaving a scratch.
- And yet he needs two people to help him walk up a couple of stairs; a bit like my Gran.
- Speaking of projecting his mind into that of a Timelord, when he does that to Azmael, you get to witness the worst ever example of an actor miming while another actor speaks the lines. Pitiful.
- What exactly is the dilemma involving the twins? And could the story have done without them completely? Probably.
- Edwin Richfield has been to the William Hartnell school of hand acting.
- Even allowing for everything bad about Twin Dilemma, the fact is that having two stories within the same season where the villain is a giant variety of something you’d find in your back garden is one too many.
- What sort of line is “The sound of giant slugs” anyway?
- But clumsy dialogue plagues all four episodes. I don’t have the spirit to go back and find many specific examples, but one I distinctly remember is “It’s called compassion Doctor; it’s the difference that remains between us”. Urgh. You just wouldn’t say that.
- It’s nice that the writer couldn’t be arsed coming up with a name for the two planets that needed to be moved.
- As you’ll know, Colin Baker was cast on the strength of impressing JNT at a party. Unbelievable.
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #200
Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma Review: Final Thoughts
So is the Twin Dilemma the worst Doctor Who story ever?
Well there have certainly been more boring ones, and there have been ones that have had more irritating music or worse actors in supporting roles.
But I don’t think there’s ever been a story where the worst part if it is – by any way let alone a long way – the character of, and the actor playing the Doctor.
The production team have created a rod for their own back by going down the route of making the Doctor an alienating figure to the viewer, and it’s something that the show doesn’t recover from over the next year.
The plot of the Twin Dilemma ultimately pales into insignificance when compared to the antics of Colin Baker on screen, but as an overall package, it’s an embarrassment.
It’s the first and probably only time I’ve put on Doctor Who and felt wrong for watching it; felt like a show I couldn’t admit to being a fan of.
I can accept boredom over embarrassment.
So yes, the Twin Dilemma probably is the worst Doctor Who story, and the sad thing is that it didn’t need to be. If you had the same plot with a few better actors, Peter Davison at the helm and a costume designer who wasn’t on drugs, you’d have something a lot better.
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