The Twin Dilemma *

An abysmal debut for sixth Doctor Colin Baker – what went wrong?

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Twin Dilemma *

Season 21 – Story 136

“I am the Doctor – whether you like it… or not!” – the Doctor

Storyline
Peri doesn’t take to the regenerated Doctor at all – he is verbose, bellicose and given to moments of mania. Arriving on Titan 3, they become involved in the plans of Professor Edgeworth who has abducted teenage geniuses, twins Romulus and Remus, from Earth. The Doctor realises that Edgeworth is in fact Azmael, his old mentor from Gallifrey. Azmael benignly ruled the bird-like inhabitants of the planet Jaconda, until usurped by Mestor, an omnipotent gastropod. Mestor needs the twins’ mathematical skills to help re-align his solar system, thus causing an explosion that will disperse his eggs across the cosmos.

First transmissions
Part 1 – Thursday 22 March 1984
Part 2 – Friday 23 March 1984
Part 3 – Thursday 29 March 1984
Part 4 – Friday 30 March 1984

Production
Location filming: February 1984 at Springwell quarry, Rickmansworth, Herts and Gerrards Cross quarry, Wapsey’s Wood, Bucks
Studio recording: January 1984 in TC8, February 1984 in TC3

Cast
The Doctor - Colin Baker
Peri - Nicola Bryant
Professor Edgeworth/Azmael - Maurice Denham
Lt Hugo Lang - Kevin McNally
Mestor - Edwin Richfield
Sylvest - Dennis Chinnery
Noma - Barry Stanton
Drak - Oliver Smith
Commander Fabian - Helen Blatch
Elena - Dione Inman
Romulus - Gavin Conrad
Remus - Andrew Conrad
Chamberlain - Seymour Green
Jocondan Guard - John Wilson
Prisoner - Roger Nott

Crew
Writer - Anthony Steven
Incidental music - Malcolm Clarke
Designer - Valerie Warrender
Script editor - Eric Saward
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Peter Moffatt

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Picture the scene: BBC Television Centre, 15 February 1984, and there was I, walking round Studio Three, inspecting the sets of The Twin Dilemma, about to enjoy the recording of a television classic…

Only I don’t mean Colin Baker’s almost unspeakably dire debut story. In fact I had tickets to the BBC1 sitcom The Young Ones in a neighbouring studio. It was the hilarious Bambi episode, better known as the University Challenge one, featuring a then virtually unknown Emma Thompson, Ben Elton, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Sorry, Doctor Who. For once – no contest!

In any case, at the behest of producer John Nathan-Turner, the viewing galleries were locked throughout both of The Twin Dilemma’s three-day sessions, presumably to stop secrets leaking out about this key story – one I’m sure JN-T once cited as his own personal favourite.

I don’t recall him ever justifying this peculiar preference, but 25 years later fans’ own taste and judgment consigned The Twin Dilemma to the very bottom of Doctor Who Magazine’s Mighty 200, a survey of every transmitted story. How ironic that it should directly follow The Caves of Androzani, the “all-time best”. Pinnacle to drivel in one almighty nosedive.

Is The Twin Dilemma “the worst ever”? I’m unsure; there are other strong contenders from the 1980s. But it does pull off the trick of being both staggeringly dull and staggeringly gaudy.

Anthony Steven’s leaden script is plonked in the lap of lackadaisical director Peter Moffatt. The plot, such as it is, barely supports two episodes, let alone four, each limping towards abysmal cliffhanger close-ups that show Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in the worst light. It’s shot without flair in starkly lit studios and in not one but two quarries. The titular twins are reputedly brilliant but are dull-eyed lemons with pudding-basin haircuts; they speak with soft Rs – hence “Womulus” and “Wemus”.

We’re told that bad guy Mestor is a giant slug – lest we conclude that the rigid costume is a turd with antennae. It’s pitiful to realise that Edwin Richfield (Captain Hart in The Sea Devils) is buried somewhere beneath all that rubber. Much toil has gone into the make-up-and-feathers job on the crow-like Jocondans but that doesn’t stop them looking daft. If there’s any saving grace, it’s guest actors Kevin McNally and Maurice Denham who invest their underwritten parts with a degree of dignity.

The crucial failing, however, is the rubbish hand The Twin Dilemma deals Colin Baker for his introductory story. And here begins a tragedy really. Not just for Doctor Who fans and the series itself, but for its enthusiastic new star.

Baker has charisma in spades, screen presence delivered by JCB. As anyone can testify who saw him energise The Brothers (BBC1’s 1970s haulage drama), or an episode of Blake’s 7, even the dismal Peter Davison serial Arc of Infinity, Baker is incapable of an uninteresting performance. Strident, bombastic, often sneering but with beautiful diction, he commands a scene. He has a tendency to do too much for some tastes, and what he certainly didn’t need in Doctor Who was his volume dial turned up beyond endurance.

One episode of post-regeneration instability is manageable, but JN-T and script editor Eric Saward seem determined to challenge viewers with the most unlikeable Doctor on record. Having such an obnoxious figure in the Tardis, belittling, even assaulting his companion, makes for alienating television. There are chinks of light, but the antagonism between the Doctor and Peri would become a default setting. Why travel together? Why watch?

Indelibly, we have the sixth Doctor’s new clothes. Costume designer Pat Godfrey was asked to produce increasingly garish concepts before arriving at a putrid patchwork of fabric off-cuts, which JN-T gleefully trumpeted as “totally tasteless”. How is that a good thing? The sixth Doctor looks like Harpo Marx playing a circus clown, an eyesore that’s impossible to take seriously. Davison put his finger right on it when he later told DWM, “John managed to turn the Doctor into his own image.”

JN-T’s end-of-the-pier tastes are rammed home by the revamped title/credit sequence, cheapened by hideous kaleidoscopic lights, rather like the Blackpool Illuminations after too many beers. Even the neon Doctor Who logo is a blur.

If The Twin Dilemma is individually a disaster, it also establishes the opening titles, the Doctor’s clothes, his behaviour and sniping banter with Peri – all part of an unpleasant shift in tone that would permeate and eventually poleaxe the era. How did Nathan-Turner and Saward think that this approach might be in any way acceptable?

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Radio Times archive material

RT billings   RT feature introducing Colin Baker

RT images: 

  The Doctor & Peri   Hugo, Peri & the Doctor  

The twins with a Jocondan

[Available on BBC DVD]

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