The Twin Dilemma
|The Twin Dilemma|
|Air date||22 - 30 March 1984|
|Written by||Anthony Steven|
|Directed by||Peter Moffatt|
|The Caves of Androzani||Attack of the Cybermen|
The car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides and a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt and we're on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death. The sun has fallen down and the billboards are all leering and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles. It went like this: the buildings tumbled in on themselves, mothers, clutching babies, picked through the rubble and pulled out their hair. The skyline was beautiful on fire, all twisted metal stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze. I said: "Kiss me, you're beautiful - these are truly the last days." You grabbed my hand and we fell into it like a daydream or a fever. We woke up one morning and fell a little further down - for sure it's the valley of death. I open up my wallet and it's full of blood. 8/10 it's alright.
~ The Radio Times review of this episode.
The Twin Dilemma was the seventh and final story of Season 21 of the programme Doctor WhoTheFuck. The best thing that can be said for it is that it wasn’t a Pipe and Gin Baker script. Oh, and the barely-used spaceship that was inspired by the Battersea Power Station is alright too, I guess. It was the first full story to feature Colman Barker as the Sixth Doctor, the last story to feature half-hour episodes until Season 23 and the first to completely shed any sort of dignity the series might have hopelessly clung to up to this point.
The fact that it is universally reviled in the fandom comes as no surprise if you’ve ever seen it. Fan polls in 1998, 2009, and 2014 voted it the worst Doctor Who story ever, even when Dimensions In Time was included in the running. Now let that sink in for a second... just.. let it... sink in. Another poll in 2003 used a different voting system and The Twin Dilemma was not among the twenty-five stories which received no votes, which means people went out of their way to down-vote it rather than just ignore it. Both the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela petitioned the UN declare it an atrocity against televisual story-telling, but only Callow Barker was out on trial over it, documented in 1986's Trial Of a Timelord season. Baker was sentenced to pies for his participation and has been suffering under the harsh sentence ever since. The real tragedy of all of that is that this is the only canon episode of Doctor Who.
The previous serial, The Caves of Androzani, is frequently said to be among the very best Doctor Who serials in the history of the series, while The Twin Dilemma is cited as one of the worst, if not THE worst, and it's the most commonly blamed target for the show's Dark Age, which leads one to wonder how the hell that happened. The review in Doctor Who: The Television Companion describes The Twin Dilemma as "painful to watch,” which handily won The Daily Mail’s “Greatest Fucking Understatement Of The Goddamn Year” award for 1998. The Twin Dilemma was even parodied by Ricky Gervais (aided by David Tennant) on his television programme Extras, which is second only to “being praised by Ricky Gervais” as the worst insult one can possibly receive.
You know what the television programme Doctor Who was showing ten years previous to the broadcast of The Twin Dilemma? Robot, Tom Baker’s first story, that's fucking what. Hard to believe how such a surge of popularity and as quick a nose-dive could be separated by just ten short years isn’t it? It’s also harder to fathom how an irrationally-acting madman with a head of crazy-hair had become so fucking popular in the role of the Doctor while the same became so despised just ten years later, I mean, Jesus Christ!
The story begins with Wrongulous and Weemus, a twin pair of super-mathematical geniuses, playing with pyramids on a Backgammon board like the profound Mensa-mites that they are and seriously, what is it with JNT regeneration stories being about mathematics? Peri dislikes the new Doctor who’s (see what I did there?) afraid of "the grinding engines of the universe and the crushing boredom"…
Oh, "of eternity."
Things proceed to tell a boring tale of child trafficking and companion-strangling, accompanied by lame synthesizer music crashing about (except when it's music by and for mosquitoes or an insipid tinny harpsichord intro march for our new Doctor) and poor acting- and scripting- and set design- and costuming- choices. The almost talentless and definitely charisma-lacking cast includes an old man who makes fourth-season William Hartnell look the picture of rosey-cheeked youth (what is it about Timelords except the the Doctor always being old and tired?), some cast members lucky enough to hide behind their "alien bird people or something" make-up and Mestor, a cross-eyed slug alien as the main villain whose voice is muffled beneath his ridiculous mask, or maybe that was the poor sound design-choices.
The Very Few Interesting Bits
The slow-going first episode ends with Collie Baker giving us the least believable look of fear in a close-up no less. Part of a spaceship set is noticeably covered in crumpled aluminum foil. Peri gets tired after following the Doctor over twenty yards away from the Tardis in the second episode and is whiny throughout the entire story. Part two ends with Peri crying in a most unbelievable manner - if the Doctor really had been blown up, she’d have been celebrating, right? When Mestor’s body dies in part four, one of the bird aliens sounds like Graham Chapman crowing like a rooster ("A'good niiiight-a-ding-a-ding-ding-ding!" And cue the bird alien guy). But that spaceship? That was ok, they should have used it more.
It may be unfair to use a man's own words against him, but this one deserves being kicked when it's down. Don’t take my word for it though, let's just let this episode describe itself, it does so much better than I can:
“It was horrible.” - Peri
“Something’s wrong.” - The Doctor
“What you and I need is a cave, some utterly comfortless place, where you and I can suffer together.” - The Doctor
“I never saw anyone who loved himself with less reason.” - Peri
“Words spoken in the sickness of transition.” - The Doctor
“What an awful creature, I’ve never been so frightened in my life” - Weemus! No wait, Romulous! I don’t remember which one it was now, and I don’t really care. And neither will you.
“An unthinking act of foolish bravado.” - The Doctor
“We are in no sense survivors.” - The Doctor
“That hardly sounds in character.” - The Doctor
“Poor fellow. He’s not a bit like that, really.” - The Doctor
“If you had behaved as I have, I’d have been pleased at your demise.” - The Doctor
“You call this beautiful? Doctor, it’s absolutely ghastly!” - Peri
“Oh no.. let this not be true.” - The Doctor
“Our genius has been abused!” - One of the twins
“You fool, why did you do it?” - The Doctor
“Sorry about that.” - The Doctor
“Whatever else happens, I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not.” - The Doctor. We didn’t.
A novelization of this serial, written by Eric Saward Esq., was published in hardback by Target Books in October 1985, and in paperback in March 1986. The cover illustration originally featured Calamine Baker’s face but was changed when his agent inquired about a royalty fee and his face was found to hinder sales, being no higher than fifteen copies before the change of cover. A total of seventeen copies have been sold to fans in the years since, unaware of just what they were purchasing. In January 2012, an audiobook of the novelization was released, read by Baker himself, who can be heard noticeably choking up and sobbing at numerous points.
The Twin Dilemma was released on VHS in May 1992, available exclusively through branches of Woolworths as part of a special promotion, selling seven copies (three of them to Backer himself). Woolworths itself no longer exists, as you may note, and there’s a good reason for this. A general release followed in February 1993, moving up the total to thirteen units sold. It was released on DVD on 7 September 2009 in the United Kingdom and on 5 January 2010 in the United States, the only Doctor Who release marked with large, red warning stickers detailing a heavy-handed “no returns under any conditions” policy. The DVD release created an international fan backlash that saw many using their copies to blow “CD bubbles” for a growing YouTube channel.
I didn't find it any less boring, misguided, nonsensical or amateurish than probably over 80% of the JNT-era.