Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma
(4 episodes, s21e21-e24, 1984)
He’s the Doctor, whether we like it or not.
After some updated and more colorful credits, we find two twins are playing a game of space backgammon. They are named Romulus and Remus, which is a bit on the nose. The boys move on to a new strategy game when a stranger named Professor Edgeworth materializes before them. After a cryptic but friendly discussion, the trio vanishes.
On the TARDIS, the Sixth Doctor shows off his new looks after regeneration, but Peri is not impressed. This Doctor is more vain and arrogant, readily denouncing his predecessor’s “feckless charm.” Ouch! He goes into the wardrobe to change clothes and has a minor breakdown. He breaks out the Second Doctor‘s fur coat and the Third Doctor‘s maroon velvet jacket, both of which he rejects in favor of a garish technicolor number topped with a cat brooch for luck. Peri remains unimpressed, but she does take time enough to change clothes as well.
Edgeworth and the twins appear on a spacecraft staffed with goat-bird hybrid aliens. The goat-birds take the twins to another room as Edgeworth contacts his boss, a slug-like entity known as Mestor. Edgeworth is tasked with taking the boys to Titan III.
The Doctor, unimpressed with Peri’s style, sets course for a holiday planet called Fiesta 95. He wanted to go to the Eye of Orion but cannot remember the way. Adopting a less antagonistic tone, he asks Peri about her name (which is short for Perpugilliam, and must have been absolute hell for her in American public schools) and recites a poem about a peri (a beautiful fairy in Persian mythology that starts out evil until completing a penance to achieve paradise). He then goes crazy, accuses Peri of being an evil alien spy, and attempts to choke her to death. Peri defends herself with a mirror which, when the Doctor looks into it, causes the Time Lord to recoil.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with him?
When the Doctor recovers, he doesn’t remember the incident at all. He also doesn’t believe Peri when she tells him what happened. When it finally clicks, he is distraught and decides to enter seclusion as a hermit on Titan III. When he touches the TARDIS controls, the time capsule goes just about as crazy as the Doctor but makes its way to the secluded planet. When the TARDIS shakes violently, the Doctor decides to investigate the cause.
The twins’ father returns home and reports their disappearance. The authorities are concerned about the twins being kidnapped by extraterrestrials and make it their top priority. Apparently, these kids are super important or something. On the ship, the kids attempt to escape by fiddling with the electronics and emitting an erratic signal. The authorities find the ship running under a fraudulent registry, and when they challenge it, the freighter jumps to warp speed (even though it’s not supposed to be designed for that). The jump destroys the authority ships in the process.
Edgeworth, the goat-birds, and the twins arrive on Titan III. Mestor contacts the professor, chews him out for his carelessness, and orders him to set the twins to whatever task they’re there to accomplish. Later on, Edgeworth chides the twins for not working fast enough. They aren’t allowed to use electronic means after the distress signal incident, so they’re working equations by hand. Edgeworth persuades them with tales of Jaconda and Mestor threatens their lives. As they work the mathematics, the twins soon realize that they’re meddling with enough power to destroy a planet.
Peri and the Doctor venture onto the asteroid and find the wreckage of one of the police ships. They find a survivor and the Doctor chastizes Peri for jumping to conclusions. They take the officer back to the TARDIS and Peri calls the Doctor out on his attitude. At that exact moment, the officer springs up and holds the Doctor at gunpoint, threatening to kill him for the destruction of the police squadron. Peri pleads with the officer, and he is soon disarmed after he passes out. The Doctor initially has no desire to provide aid, but Peri persuades him.
While discussing their situation, Peri and The Doctor spot Edgeworth’s building on the scanner. The Doctor coaxes Peri into exploring, even confusing her for Tegan at one point as his mind continues to sort itself out. This incarnation is far more bold and willing to rush headlong into the unknown with a foolhardy flourish. They infiltrate the bunker and are apprehended by the goat-birds, during which the Doctor pretends to be a meek pilgrim who uses Peri as a human shield. They are taken before Edgeworth, maintaining their guise as pilgrims until the Doctor recognizes the man behind the face. Edgeworth is Azmael, a renegade Time Lord whom the Doctor recognizes from an adventure in his fourth incarnation.
The Doctor discovers what Azmael has done and is disgusted. Azmael rejects the Doctor’s help and locks the travelers in the bunker before transmatting to his ship. As the Doctor sets to work in deciphering the lock combination, Peri discovers a time bomb ticking away. The Doctor repurposes a revitalizing modulator chamber as a device that will rewind the user ten seconds. Peri steps in and vanishes and the Doctor follows just as the bunker explodes. They both reappear in the TARDIS console room to find the injured police officer holding his freshly reassembled gun on them.
Okay, so both of these elements are really lazy storytelling. First, Peri hid the gun’s power pack in the wardrobe room, but Officer Lang just happens to change into the one tunic with the power pack in its pocket. That’s way too convenient. Second, the Doctor and Peri have been inside the bunker for much longer than ten seconds. Simply rewinding ten seconds isn’t enough to place them back in the TARDIS, which makes the improvised temporal teleporter a bit beyond normal suspension of disbelief.
On the upside, I did like the callback as the Doctor (who apparently believes in luck now) strokes the cat brooch to compensate for his guesswork and MacGyvering of the revitalizing modulator. On the downside, he’s still being abusive toward Peri by cursing her out for something beyond her control.
The Doctor sets course for Jaconda and then confers with Lang and Peri about the plot, swaying Lang to his side in the process. On Jaconda, Mestor executes a lower-class goat-bird for stealing to feed his family to prove to us that he’s a bad, bad character. Shortly thereafter, the TARDIS arrives in a Jocandan wasteland, which the Doctor eventually realizes is not the beautiful planet he once knew. He also recognizes that it is the work of giant gastropods, prompting him to return to the TARDIS to figure out his next course of action. Reluctantly, he is swayed to move the TARDIS to the palace and accompany Lang and Peri to rescue the twins.
After arriving on the planet, Azmael takes the twins on a tour of the palace, showing off the laboratory and the storeroom of gastropod eggs. Mestor enters and tries to persuade them that their actions are benevolent. Azmael asks Mestor to refrain from monitoring his thoughts and remove his guards. Mestor eventually agrees and departs, and Azmael details his plan to save Jaconda: The star system has three planets, and the two outer planets will become moons of Jaconda – picking up Jaconda’s atmosphere and ecosphere by timey-wimey plot means – and provide more places for the slugs to conquer.
As the travelers navigate the palace, the Doctor offers a Jacondan history lesson by way of pictograms. Shortly afterward, Lang gets stuck in a gastropod slime trail after two of the creatures pass. Of course, it’s a mere matter of plot convenience as no one got stuck in Mestor’s slime trail during the lab visit. The Doctor has another of his childish tantrums and blames Peri for the entire situation, storms off, stumbles into the lab, and attacks Azmael before coming to his senses. The twins reveal that Azmael wasn’t responsible for the bunker’s self-destruct, prompting the Doctor to learn more about the plot surrounding him.
Meanwhile, Lang breaks free and accompanies Peri to find the Doctor. The goat-birds attack Lang and leave him for dead before taking Peri to Mestor. Lang comes to, stumbles into the lab, and tells the story. When the Doctor realizes that Peri is likely going to die, he suddenly (and unconvincingly) grows a backbone of compassion for her.
Lucky for him, Mestor sees no reason to kill Peri. Unlucky for him, he is taken before Mestor.
The Doctor agrees to help Mestor while Azmael restores the twins’ hidden memories. Number-crunching commences, and Azmael reveals his plan to overcome the gravitational stresses by shifting the minor planets into different time zones. The Doctor points out that temporal displacement won’t stop the massive gravitational explosion, and that Mestor must know about the consequence.
Meanwhile, Mestor magically gains access to the TARDIS and sends his minions to do evil within.
The Doctor enters the gastropod hatchery and examines the eggs. He discovers that they are tough enough to survive the solar explosion, and will likely hatch under extreme heat spread throughout the universe through Mestor’s plan. This must be a Star Trek Abrams-style supernova or something.
The twins destroy their notes, keeping only the records in their photographic memories. Peri, Lang, and the twins head for the TARDIS while Azmael (who is on his last regeneration) and the Doctor confront Mestor. The Doctor tries to destroy Mestor with acid, but the slug is protected behind a force field. Meanwhile, Lang stymies an attempt to kidnap the twins. Mestor uses his last resort and projects himself into Azmael, intent on taking over the Time Lord’s body and mind. The Doctor uses a second vial of acid to destroy Mestor’s body while Azmael forces a regeneration to destroy Mestor’s mind.
The act of forcing a regeneration when none were left to him causes Azmael to die. Before he does, in perhaps the most emotionally driving moment of the story, he passes a crystal ring to the Doctor.
Lang removes the now liberated goat-birds from the TARDIS and he offers to remain and assist with rebuilding Jaconda. The Doctor gives him the ring as a badge of office and the travelers say goodbye, setting a course for Earth to take the twins home. Peri confronts the Doctor about his instability, but the Doctor retorts that he has finally stabilized and reminds her that he is an alien, so his methods can be foreign to her.
He is now the Doctor, whether she (or we) like it or not.
I know that regeneration stories are hard. Each incarnation of the Doctor is a unique interpretation of the character, and as such, it takes time for the actors and creative teams to settle into their respective voices. It’s why I give the +1 regeneration handicap, and it’s why I can abide by the (nearly meta) admonition from this new Doctor to give him time before making final judgments on his character.
It’s almost as if the creative team from 1984 could see the future. Keyboard warriors of genre fandoms across social media, take note: The Doctor has another lesson for you. One performance is not substantial enough to make a final decision on a character (or a show, for that matter).
That said, I can criticize this story’s Doctor. He is arrogant and rude, but well beyond what the Third Doctor brought to the table. This sixth incarnation takes being a pompous ass to a whole new level. I’m not a fan of this clownish blustering that downplays compassion, abuses his companions, and places them in mortal danger. I would willingly travel with each of the previous five, but I wouldn’t step foot in this Doctor’s TARDIS based on this story.
The story itself was found lacking, particularly with the sloppy writing and consistency errors that I noted earlier. Aside from the touching death of Azmael – which was a missed opportunity that could have revisited the Monk, the War Chief, the Hermit, Morbius, Andred, Drax, Chronotis, or even Maxil (which would echo The Enemy of the World) – I didn’t find much to engage with beyond my anger with the Doctor.
I do find the speculative ramifications of Azmael’s death quite fascinating, particularly on how regeneration works near the end of the thirteen life limit. Apparently trying to break the limit on one’s own is far too taxing and doesn’t result in a full regeneration. I also liked the “Doc” callback, a running gag that has touched Tegan and Steven Taylor with another grumpy Time Lord.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.