Doctor Who complete reviews: The Two Doctors
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Putting aside the anticlimax caused by the hype at first broadcast, is the latest 'Time Lord reunion' worth celebrating?
How many times have you been promised the world but have never received the goods? Like the time that you were promised an a la carte menu in your local restaurant – when in fact all you received was a tiny plate of pretentiously-assembled food that wouldn't satisfy a hamster (all to the tune of £50-plus prices of course). Or like when you're shown around a house that's supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime palace and it turns out to be the sort of hovel that you might see in an episode of Shameless. Heck, LordSirBaronDukeKingAlanSugar gets this on a weekly basis with The Apprentice, as a small army of incompetent wannabes promise the universe and a gaggle of ponies, but always end up failing to deliver. No wonder Sugar's face is in perpetual scowl mode.
This rarely happens in Doctor Who. Most of the time, what you see is what you get. Especially with a Robert Holmes script (post Space Pirates, naturally). You know that you'll get a cracking adventure full of witty lines, memorable characters and action. Having just produced a bonafide classic like The Caves Of Androzani, it was a safe bet that Robert Holmes would be asked back to Doctor Who. Sure enough, the following season, he came up with The Two Doctors, a story that sees the return of the celebrated Second Doctor and Jamie. Out of all the season 22 stories, this was the one that had the fans in a drool.
So what happened?
In the long term, The Two Doctors didn't quite live up to its promise – and therein lies the clue to its less-than-stellar reputation. It promised way too much, and naturally couldn't hope to produce a good coherent story in the process. The Two Doctors was the point at which JNT's odd shopping lists had one too many ingredients. This time around, not only do we get The Second Doctor and Jamie, we also get the return of the Sontarans, a brand new race called Androgums, the setting of Seville and also an extra episode (the equivalent of two 25-minute parts). Again, it's an achievement that The Two Doctors hangs together at all, but looking at it again, at times, it feels like it's done so with paper clips and sticky back plastic. The shopping bag definitely developed a hole.
"While Holmes' script is undeniably well-written in places, there's still the feeling that it's been rewritten countless times"
A cursory glance at The Two Doctors reveals the usual Holmesian trademarks – humourous quips, double acts and lots of violence. They've been in evidence in past stories, but somehow, the usual trademarks don't quite come together this time. It's possible that Holmes might have felt overburdened by the many demands placed on him. What we get is a somewhat convoluted plot involving The Second Doctor and Jamie acting on behalf of the Time Lords to investigate the dubious machinations of renowned genius Dastari. Already, we're on shaky ground, since continuity nerds are wondering how the hell the Time Lords managed to get the Second Doctor and Jamie together in the first place when the two were separated at the end of The War Games.
That's a poser for someone with a brain the size of Jupiter, but events become even more muddled in The Two Doctors as we find out that Dastari is in cahoots with his augmented Androgum Chessene, her pet weirdo Shockeye, and the Sontarans. The 6th Doctor and Peri then arrive to find an abandoned Jamie, who then follow the captured Second Doctor to Seville of all places. Cue lots of odd detours, subplots and padding as everyone faffs about under sunny Spanish skies – causing more viewer headaches than a nationwide outbreak of flu.
While Holmes' script is undeniably well-written in places, there's still the feeling that it's been rewritten countless times. For example, the motivations of Dastari and the Androgums seem to change more times than the weather. They're an odd lot – Dastari is touted as a genius – presumably he's augmented himself by making him a three-way cross between Cliff Richard, the bloke from The Buggles and a lifesize Thunderbirds puppet. Chessene is of course played by Jacqueline Pearce who's better known to sci-fans as Queen of Camp, Servalan from Blake's 7. The problem with Pearce's bored performance is that she evidently thinks she's still playing Servalan, except that she's doing so while wearing a bacofoil gown and a black cat on her head. Shockeye is probably the worst casualty – we're meant to think he's a vicious cannibal hellbent on eating everything and everyone that crosses his path. Instead though, he looks and sounds like a lecherous old pervy uncle at a Braveheart fancy dress party.
And as mentioned, none of these characters actually know what the hell they are doing. Dastari starts off as misguided scientist, then willing accomplice to Chessene, and then back to misguided scientist and ultimately, traitor. Chessene can't make her mind up whether she wants to be augmented further still or whether she wants The Second Doctor to become an Androgum (eh?). And yet by the end of the story, she's lapping up blood off the pavement with all the refinement of a sozzled chav puking in the gutters outside a tacky nightclub at 3am in the morning.
At least Shockeye maintains some degree of consistency, although this means that he just bumbles around leering and muttering like a man in a dirty mac making his way through the contents of a top shelf at the local newsagents. He's lusting after Peri (“Ho ho! What a fine, fleshy beast!”), Jamie and anything with a pulse (for food, of course) – but John Stratton's rather hammy performance just doesn't cut the mustard. Or the roast beef, come to that.
"The Sontarans are basically stooges, and stupid ones at that"
In the middle of all this, we have the Sontarans. Interestingly, Robert Holmes once said that he wanted to redress the balance after The Invasion Of Time, a story that he felt didn't do much justice to his creations. Well, their reputation takes one hell of a battering in this story. They're basically stooges, and stupid ones at that -easily fooled by Chessene's double-crossing ways to the point where they're forced to stagger around in copious quantities of green Swarfega.
Their appearance is equally nondescript. A good director would have maintained the menace of Sontarans, keeping them out of sight with subjective POV shots and occasional close-ups of eyes or claws. But Peter Moffatt just introduces them in the dullest long shot possible. Fair enough, since these Sontarans have all the military might of a bored tortoise, but a little bit of effort might have been nice. Their appearance doesn't tally with the idea that they're all identical either. These ones are a lot taller and also have necks. Clinton Greyn does his best, but you can't help feeling that Sandi Toksvig might have been a better choice.
Maybe the heat's affected the Sontarans' thirst for war. Given the sweltering conditions and the hot costumes, a thirst for freezing orange juice was probably a bigger priority. The setting of Seville undoubtedly looks good, but like the earlier Arc Of Infinity, you have to wonder why it was necessary to set the story overseas. Possibly, this is to liven up the tedium of part two, in which nothing happens at all. Really, nothing happens. There's the momentary threat of universal oblivion, but this turns out to be a red herring (good speech from Colin's Doctor, though). After which, the episode consists of people talking aimlessly about aimless things in a dungeon or on grassy Spanish knolls. Nothing at all is achieved by the episode's conclusion – you could easily cut this story down to two parts and it wouldn't make any difference.
About the only thing that does happen is that Shockeye eats a live rat. A short sequence for sure, but in hindsight, it's something of a turning point for the show's immediate future. Real life baddie Michael Grade made no secret of his dislike for Doctor Who at the time, and was presumably rubbing his hands with evil glee at the way in which this violent story unfolded. In addition to the rat sequence, Shockeye manages to cannibalise an old biddy and stab a camp old thesp in his own restaurant; Chessene goes about licking blood off pavements like it's strawberry jam, and Doctor Number Six notoriously kills the out-of-control Shockeye with cyanide. Talk about giving yourself enough rope.
At about the same time that Two Doctors first went out, Grade's new favourite, EastEnders made its grimy debut. Some have argued that Doctor Who's cancellation (well, 18-month hiatus) was a by-product of this, since significant money was allegedly being invested in the Beeb's new flagship soap. Hindsight's a funny old thing though, since while Doctor Who eventually rose from the ashes to great acclaim in the 21st century, EastEnders still limps gloomily on with all the speed of a zimmer-frame contest, and worse still, resorts to tasteless shock tactics like making a character swap her dead baby for a live one.
Although Doctor Who doesn't plumb such low depths as EastEnders, The Two Doctors does have questionable taste when it comes to violence. In The Two Doctors, most of the violence just seems to occur for shock tactics rather than progressing the plot. The aforementioned stabbing of Oscar, for example, is pointless. Up until now he's been an ineffectual, cowardly buffoon, but there's still no real need for Shockeye to go and stab him in the chest. Worse still, it's hard to tell whether the following scenes are being played for real or for high farce. There's a certain silliness about Oscar's last demented mumblings, and The Doctor's “Good night, sweet prince” epitaph is just as naff.
The most notorious outcry is when The Doctor rigs up the trap to kill Shockeye. You could hear the cries of outrage as Doctor Number Six smothered Shockeye's leering gob with cyanide-infested chloroform – despite the fact that he was acting in self-defence, and also despite the fact that he'd killed his enemies before. The Fourth Doctor killed Solon with cyanide too, and no one batted an eyelid. He also shoved Magnus Greel into the heart of his distillation machine and again, no one whispered a word. The mild-mannered 5th Doctor also wiped out a race of Daleks the previous season, and again, not a peep. So while Shockeye's death is pretty brutal, and The Doctor makes another Bondian quip (“Your just desserts”), the outrage wasn't really warranted.
In the middle of all this bad taste, lazy direction and seemingly improvised plotting are some good points. Chiefly, it's great to see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back. It's as if they'd never been away, since both slip back into their roles with ease. Troughton is also clearly having the time of his life as the Androgum Doctor, rolling his eyes and salivating over the prospects of a million food courses. Hines also works well with the Sixth incarnation and Peri, and it's amusing to see him still try and fail to win over the laydeez. He doesn't get the kiss that he hoped for from Anita (she likes pompous, loud-mouthed loons, I guess) and Peri's “Huh??” face when he gives her a peck on the cheek at the end is priceless. Just a shame that the 6th Doctor and Peri are still squabbling and shouting at each other like little children – Peri even mouths “I hate you!” behind the man in the multicoloured coat at one point, which begs the question: Why doesn't she just leave if she hates life aboard the TARDIS so much?
So anyway, good points. Well, some of the Seville location filming is stunning, and lends the production quite a classy air. Couple this with Peter Howell's flamenco-tinged score, and you do pine for those lazy hot days on holiday – especially if you review this story on a rainy January day. The set designs are also pretty good, including the hacienda interiors and the imaginative space station depths.
And at the heart of Robert Holmes' story, there's actually a moral message to be had. As the 6th Doctor says: “From now on, it's a vegetarian diet for both of us” as he gently leads Peri away to a menu of nut roast rolls and tofu burgers. I guess the main theme is that of excessive greed and gluttony – don't forget this is the 1980s we're talking about, a decade that has Excess as its mantra. Many Doctor Who stories have warned against the dangers of greed, whether it's greed for knowledge or power or wealth. But with The Two Doctors, the moral is somewhat fudged by too many iffy elements and mixed messages. With its overt scenes of violence and cannibalism, The Two Doctors is the equivalent of hiring Ronald McDonald to distribute flyers for vegetarianism.
So The Two Doctors does promise an awful lot, but while it serves up the welcome return of the Second Doctor and Jamie, it also serves up a side salad of padding and a big dollop of overcooked plot – with probably more blood and gristle than most people would care to savour.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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