Friday, March 9, 2007

DWM Review: The Twin Dilemma!

The Doctor has regenerated, having sacrificed his fifth persona to save Peri's life. But things are not going well... On this occasion the process of regeneration is by no means smooth, for the even-tempered, good-humored Fifth Doctor has given way to a rather disturbed and unsettled successor. However, when he becomes caught up an in extraterrestrial kidnap involving old friends and enemies on the distant world of Jaconda, the new Doctor's disorientation could prove fatal and also could spark off a galactic war...

The Power of the Daleks, Spearhead From Space, Robot, Castrovalva and now The Twin Dilemma, five of the most important stories in the history of Doctor Who - each introducing to the public a new version of the Doctor. In the Dalek story producer Innes Lloyd chose to cover the change by bringing back "everyone's favourite meanies" and giving them Radio Times coverage.

When Jon Pertwee assumed the role producer Derrick Sherwin slipped the drastic change amidst the reformatting of Doctor Who as a show - with his new life at UNIT, and shop window dummies coming to life, the new Doctor was almost secondary to the plot. When Tom Baker arrived Barry Letts opted to bury the alteration with a typical UNIT story. In Castrovalva current producer John Nathan-Turner devoted a whole four part story to the regeneration, a regeneration gone wrong.

The Twin Dilemma was in many ways similar to the character of the new Doctor; a fair mixture of all that had gone before. The first episode had the immediate effects of the change, a majority of the twenty-five minutes based in the TARDIS itself, then the second episode concentrated more on the story proper. The third episode was nearly all story and then the final episode rushed everything into an action-packed climax and by the very end the sixth Doctor seemed settled in and Peri - and the viewers - had accepted him.

Perhaps to balance out with Castrovalva, The Twin Dilemma showed a failed regeneration as a large part of the plot, but secondary to a horror story - despite all the monsters and special effects of the season, the idea of the walking dead attacking the living still proves to pack a punch. In particular the zombie attacks of episodes one and three, the first of which is made truly unsettling by Edward Richfield's psychotic laughter track, and the fact the zombie's victims also joined their ranks off-camera. Coupled with the desperate military figures and panic stations, there was a whiff of George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which is ironic as the story is primarily about the Doctor returning from the grave.

As a story, The Twin Dilemma pulled off the difficult challenge of juggling the idea of a planet of zombies, a cold-hearted public relations exercise between the government and the military, a giant and rather squashy slug who wants to take over the universe using only his mind, a retired Time Lord who unwittingly inspired the Doctor's childhood, and a couple of unEarthly twins called Womulus and Wemus (sic) whose mathematical skills are just a front for their true nature. On top of that it tried not to divert the viewer's attention from the new Doctor, complete with a horrible costume and a rapidly-mistrusting Peri.

Colin Baker's first 90 minutes of playing the Doctor were nothing short of splendid - deliberately over the top during part three (reassuringly, only in the episode where the Doctor explicitely goes insane), where he rants and raves quotes from Bob Dylan and Shakespeare and throttling Peri as and when the moment seemed appropriate. But even in his quieter, more settled moments it was a joy to watch his looks of hurt and disgust as his predecessor, actions, morality and costume were discussed. But it's still not clear 'who' the new Doctor is at the end of the story, as his new personality deals with the inner demons the fifth Doctor was avoiding all year. The new Doctor has cleansed himself not only in mind, but in body, and apart from a determination to enjoy his life and explore the universe, is very much a blank canvas. Unlike his outfit, which thankfully is acknowledged as being hideous by characters as varied as an American botany student and a mutant Tractator, rather than being presented as something normal.

Nicola Bryant also makes the most of this packed storyline, credibly adjusting to a new version of a man she hardly knew. The way the plot progressively tore down her trust in the Doctor as his mental state deteriorated, made the final episode and its brutal fight to the death between the two former friends painful viewing, but at least Peri defeating the Doctor is a role model for any young girls to fight back rather than be victims. Her willingness to forgive the Doctor for his outrage is also a nice contrast to the recently departured Tegan who ran off before the Time Lord had a chance to explain.
On the guest star front, Paul Darrow's Minister seemed to be Avon with all personality removed which could arguably be an improvement, and made the beurocrat a credible threat despite the fact he barely has a scene with the Doctor and is at no point trying to take over the universe. Martin Potter's Azmael was far more impressive than his successor Maurice Denham, like Peter Davison playing an old man in a young man's body and crucially lacks the confidence even that Doctor possessed. Kevin McNally's Hugo at first might have seemed companion material until his Harry Sullivan facade was revealed to be just that, with the script allowing more room for character development than might be expected. It's just a pity the brusqe Fabian played wonderfully by Sermour Green didn't get the chance, coming across as some space age Brigadier without any of Hugo's dark sides. The Jacondans (sic) were superb, and deserve a second go - if only to justify the fact there seemed to be hundreds of outfits made, though it would be hard to percieve them as anything other than the "zombie bird people".

Over all, as an end to the 21st season of Doctor Who and as an introduction to the Colin Baker era of the series, The Twin Dilemma was full of flair and style (but maybe not novelty), that puts it above almost every other story in this series. The story alone would likely be remembered as a good adventure, maybe even a classic, even without Colin Baker's magnificent portrayal. With the new Doctor it looks as if the next few years are going to be some of the best the programme has seen, and that can only be a good omen for the continued success of the show.

All it needs is a move back to Saturdays...

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