‘Doctor Who’: ‘The Twin Dilemma’ DVD review

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Let’s play a game, you and I. Go now, and rent or buy ‘The Twin Dilemma’. Watch it, and at any random moment that you choose – it doesn’t matter when – hit the pause button. Then sit down, and imagine you’ve been asked the following question: ‘What’s going on?’. It’s a fair bet you’ll draw a blank.

Colin Baker had a bit of a tough tenure in the title role of Doctor Who – ratings were down, the show wasn’t as loved as it had been ten years previously, and, as lead actor, Baker took the flak, the blame, and ultimately, the bullet, when he was unceremoniously regenerated a few seasons later. On the evidence of this, his 4-part opening story from 1984, it’s clear the poor boy never stood a chance.

There are some terrific ideas here, chief amongst them the concept that you can’t trust your hero: suddenly the loveable Doctor, suffering from post-regenerative stress, is likely to lash out and strangle his companion (and sneer over her corpse). It’s the sort of audience unsettlement that Joss Whedon would be lacing his scripts with twenty years later.

The only thing getting strangled, however, is any life in the programme itself – this is all a bit of a mess: some guff about being able to save the universe if you do your sums right (actually, a fairly sound bit of hard sci-fi, but here delivered so banally that it comes across as the type of deep maths that’s hardly going to be giving Derren Brown sleepless nights anytime soon). A would-be villain turns up in the TARDIS, waving a gun in Peri’s face, and she ignores him so completely and entirely, you’re left wondering if he’s meant to be invisible. Later, the same character steals into the TARDIS wardrobe, and emerges looking like the dreg ends of last Christmas’ Quality Street. Again, this is unremarked upon by anyone else in the cast.

Of course, everyone’s dressed in a costume, rather than clothes. This applies to their dialogue as well, feeling unwieldy and unrealistic. There’s an over-reaching feeling of a lack of respect: for the casual audience, for the die-hard fans, and, fatally, for the actor coming into the title role. As well as his first story, this was the last story before the season break. He couldn’t have been killed off more effectively if he’d been gunned down by Daleks as soon as he came out of the TARDIS.

Those two stars below may seem sparse, but they’ve been well and hard earned – by a regular cast working hard against insurmountable odds, a great guest star (Maurice Denham) managing great things with a nonsensical script, and, in the saving grace for this release, a host of decent extras, particularly clips of Colin Baker appearing on various promos and manfully giving the party line about the costume he’s been forced to wear (it’s obvious that nobody thinks it’s a good idea). For fans, this is a curious if frustrating oddity. For everyone else, it’s a singular disappointment.

Released on DVD on Monday 7th September 2009 by 2Entertain.