And May My Bones Rot for Buying It!
The Twin Dilemma
Due to be Released: 7th September 2009
Produced by 2Entertain
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The Twin Dilemma. If you look up bathos in the dictionary, it's defined as follows: "An abrupt change in style, usually from high to low, e.g. The Caves of Androzani followed by The Twin Dilemma", and there can be little doubt that it is the most bathetic adventure in the history of Doctor Who. In some ways, I find that quite endearing. If people ever ask me what I think sums up Who, then bathos would be high on the list along with "infinitely flexible format", "hiding behind the sofa" or "it embodies the history of broadcasting in the UK". It's these sudden swings in fortune that have shaped many Who fans, including me. You can never rest on your laurels. Tom Baker is riding high, and then suddenly we're all terrified of Buck Rogers. Peter Davison is blowing the ratings through the roof, Adric's death is being talked about at school, and then suddenly the Xeraphin come and ruin everything. Even more recently, we were only given a couple of days to enjoy Rose and its success in the ratings before Eccleston quit and that cold clammy fear was once again creeping up fandom's collective neck. So although The Twin Dilemma lacks crucial elements such as good writing, decent acting, nice sets, good costumes and a discernible budget, it still has the power to make Doctor Who fans of a certain age feel even more miserable than usual. No-one can take that away from it.
cold clammy fear was once again creeping up fandom's collective neck
Other than that there's not a lot to say about the story itself, as even now any comments are drowned out by the whistling sound of the show's credibility plummeting to rock bottom. It was, and remains, so bad that people have been stunned into assuming that its lack of quality is somehow significant. No longer just a story, it becomes instead an emblem of failure, and is seen as the inevitable consequence of years of bad choices by the producer and script-editor. "Oh if only they'd stopped making the show when Davison left it would have gone out on a high" is the well-known mantra. As if for added symbolism, it is said that a studio recording session for The Twin Dilemma was attended by Robert Holmes who gloomily sat in the production gallery shaking his head with sorrow and muttering "This isn't Doctor Who". (By the way, legend has it that it was at the very same studio session that poor old Holmes was also given the sad news of Douglas Camfield's death. Surely no-one deserves a day like that.) It's almost as if people feel that Doctor Who was fundamentally broken under the weight of this story's badness, like a decrepit old donkey after ferrying one too many loads of manure, but tempting as that thought is, I think we have to resist it.
like a decrepit old donkey after ferrying one too many loads of manure
In fact, The Twin Dilemma was a classic end of the season adventure with all the usual inherent problems of lack of money, lack of energy and lack of sanity. In two out of the previous five years the last story didn't make it to the screen, and even in this case studio problems nearly led to cancellation although surely this time it would have been a blessing. Bad luck also intervened - the writer Anthony Stevens had problems delivering the script and made up all sorts of outlandish excuses such as his dog ate episode three, his typewriter had exploded and that he was too busy to write as he was indexing his video collection. Despite all that, the catastrophic problem with this production was John Nathan-Turner's unhinged decision to use it as The Sixth Doctor's debut. At the time I thought this was a wonderful idea, but then I was a fifteen year old cretin - what was JN-T's excuse? It might be too easy in retrospect to mock this - he evidently thought that 9 months off the air before the new Doctor got into his first full story risked losing the audience. But the most recent example of that scenario was only two years earlier and Davison's debut went like a rocket and his era never looked back, so it was hardly an evidence-based decision.
As it is, the audience certainly got more than a glimpse of the new Doctor, but it was a pity their eyeful was of a costume so hideous it beggared belief. I'd love to know how much that coat cost - was it half a million or just a cool million viewers? Saward and Turner compounded the offence by overdoing it with the new Doctor's abrasive side, especially as there would be nine months to go before they could rectify this, and then there's Colin Baker's own performance to consider. I'm not going to go there as I know there are a lot of Baker fans, particularly of his Big Finish work, so maybe it's better to agree to differ. I feel that Baker's strength is in the theatre and the last thing The Twin Dilemma needed was a central performer banging it out to the back of the stalls. Put all of this together and you're left with a dreadful mess, but it's still somehow grimly fascinating.
I'd love to know how much that coat cost - was it half a million or just a cool million viewers?
Fortunately, the experience is much improved when accompanied by the production notes and commentary. Colin Baker gets things going nicely with his heavily sarcastic comments about "this wonderful story", and they all get stuck into the hapless Romulus and Remus without compunction. All the old anecdotes are here, and we get the full version of Baker and McNally's attack on Bryant's blameless backside. Indeed McNally is a very welcome inclusion in the team, as when he's not gleefully taking the mick out of his costume, or regaling us with stories about Maurice Denham, he makes some very pertinent points. He's the one who makes the connection between Ricky Gervais and Mestor, and is very dry on the latter's mask: "It's important to have a mask that doesn't inspire humour...I'm not sure that was fully achieved here". Baker is as usual good value, mixing epic understatement "I've attended a fair few conventions" and comments about his falling out with Saward, with a general feeling of wistfulness about this being his last commentary. Whatever your opinion of Colin as a Doctor, it can't be denied he's been a great ambassador for the show, and as he showed in that famous appearance on Saturday Superstore which he carried out in the full knowledge he'd been sacked from his job, he's also a greatly dignified professional.
I wasn't expecting much from the extras on this release, but although they are few in number they certainly provide some varied entertainment. There's no 'Making of' piece, or a specific documentary on the introduction of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, but so much of this ground was covered in Ed Stradling's Trial and Tribulations that I doubt another feature on this topic would have been sustainable. Having said that there's probably someone somewhere gnashing his teeth over the omission. Controversy over the choice of extras featured in the Doctor Who DVD range has been getting quite noisy of late, and this release rather brilliantly, if almost perversely, comes with features that span the polar opposites of the various contretemps. On the one hand, courtesy of the aforementioned Ed Stradling, there's the heroically anal The Star Man. The producer behind Paris in the Springtime and other well-regarded and thoughtful features has turned his attention to...the shimmery coloured lights on The Twin Dilemma's title sequence which Sid Sutton explains in as much detail as could ever possibly be needed. How people can say these releases don't cater for the hardcore fans any more is beyond me. It doesn't get much more hardcore than this outside of that fan-made documentary about Timeslip, or the general output of the Test Card Circle.
On the one hand, courtesy of the aforementioned Ed Stradling, there's the heroically anal The Star Man.
At the other end of the scale is Look 100 Years Younger from James Goss. This feature involves Colin Baker and comedian Amy Lame (Loose Women, Richard and Judy) sitting on a sofa and analysing the costume of each of the Doctors. Now I doubt that many of your typical Who DVD buyers subscribe to Amy's fan page on Facebook, and it's fair to say that if you didn't like James Goss's frockumentary about Lalla Ward's dresses then you probably won't like this. But no-one can complain that there isn't variety when it's included alongside The Star Man. I found the piece a bit so-so, but it's worth it for two moments. One is at the end, and I won't spoil it other than to say that the handiwork of the mighty Farmergeddon is involved. But the stand-out moment is when Colin Baker, for no obvious reason, begins to chat about the feel and effect of wool on his John Thomas. OK he doesn't say that exactly, but via certain facial expressions Baker definitely gets the message across. He makes such a point of it that I dread to think of the results if Brendan Sheppard had been the producer: "But what does happen when wool rubs against a penis? We just don't know. So we asked Professor Fee Lin Itchi from the Textiles Department of the University of Neasden" And a CGI recreation of Colin's trouser problem doesn't bear thinking about.
But what does happen when wool rubs against a penis? We just don't know.
After such a whimsical if harmless piece, I was looking forward to a good solid buzz of nostalgia from the clips of Breakfast Time and Blue Peter. Instead I got a world of madness. If you thought Colin Baker's appearance on Wogan promoting Trial of a Time Lord was awkward then you ain't seen nothing yet. Selina Scott was always a shocking interviewer (as witnessed by her legendary performance during the 1983 Booker Prize ceremony) but here she adds outright hostility to her usual incompetence. Admittedly, Colin Baker doesn't help by correcting her on several things before she's even finished her first question, but that doesn't quite explain why the rest of the interview goes so ill. She clearly stuns Baker by asking him "Why didn't they get someone suave and charismatic for the role?" before following it a bit later with a rather pointed "Aren't you worried about following a really popular Doctor?" and a sadly unprophetic "Aren't you worried about being wrapped up in it for years to come?". It could scarcely be more negative and downbeat, and it obviously preys on Baker's mind as he refers back to the more hostile questions later on. His final appearance in this sequence of short interviews features him sans costume and back in civvies - clearly he wanted to make as sharp an exit as possible. Firstly to get away from the vengeful Selina, and secondly to escape Frank Bough before he asked him out for a for a pint and a spit roast. Or maybe he just wanted to change out of his scratchy woollen underwear. Either way the appearance is a complete car crash, and I'm seriously considering putting Colin in touch with Donald Trump as soon as possible as I'm sure they'd have a lot in common.
"Why didn't they get someone suave and charismatic for the role?"
Blue Peter is a lot less hostile as Janet Ellis is incapable of being anything else but lovely, and Baker successfully reins in his more schoolmasterly moments. It's still a bloody weird feature. I saw this (and the Breakfast Time extract) when it originally went out, but I'd forgotten the freaky sequence where Jack the cat is transported into the TARDIS. Not only that, but of the clips featured from The Twin Dilemma, pride of place goes to the Doctor violently assaulting Peri, which is an odd choice for use in a kids' programme being shown at around 5.20pm. Even Janet Ellis looks slightly taken aback. Completing this run of odd features is a hidden extra which includes about three minutes of silent unused location material from The Twin Dilemma. I personally think that these kind of clips have a creepy atmosphere, but if you like watching odd footage of a Harpo Marx lookalike shot in the style of late Antonioni then this is stuff for you.
It's a relief to turn to the normality of another episode of Stripped for Action which this time unsurprisingly concentrates on the comic strip universe of The Sixth Doctor. I'm not a huge comic strip aficionado, but I've really enjoyed this series of features which as well as looking great, has consistently included talking heads that talk well. It's the highest quality piece of creative work on this DVD release by a mile, just knocking Blue Peter off the top spot. I think that The Twin Dilemma itself just about made fifth place. Possibly.