Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Peter Moffatt
Starring Colin Baker (The Doctor), Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Jacqueline Pearce (Chessene), Laurence Payne (Dastari), John Stratton (Shockeye), James Saxon (Oscar) and Carman Gomez (Anita)
I chanced to watch ‘The Two Doctors’ recently quite by accident. The Sc-Fi Channel was having a “Doctor Who Easter Weekend”, showing episodes from what is commonly referred to as the “classic series”. I wasn’t aware of this, but came across it while aimlessly channel surfing the day after ‘The Eleventh Hour’, the opening episode of the new Doctor Who series, had been broadcast by the BBC.
I probably watched some Doctor Who episodes in the era of the first Doctor, William Hartnell, and I was definitely watching at the time of the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, but it was during the time of Jon Pertwee that it became my favourite television show. Pertwee was the third Doctor and played the role between January 1970 and June 1974. I continued to watch regularly for the next ten years when the role was played by Tom Baker and Peter Davison, but I was beginning to flag by the time of the arrival of Colin Baker as the sixth Doctor in March 1984. I certainly watched some of his first season and, I think, bits of the second season, but I don’t have any particularly vivid memories of any of it. Watching ‘The Two Doctors’ did not bring back any memories at all, so it is quite possible I had not previously seen it.
This was not the first time the Doctor had encountered a previous incarnation of himself. ‘The Three Doctors’ in December 1972 and January 1973 marked the tenth anniversary of the show and brought Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell together. The twentieth anniversary was marked by ‘The Five Doctors’ in November 1983, with Peter Davison joined by Tom Baker (little more than a cameo appearance pieced together from old unused footage after he had declined to be involved), Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton and Richard Hurdnall, standing in for William Hartnell, who died in 1975. Hurdnall himself died just a few months after ‘The Five Doctors’ was first broadcast. Unlike those two stories, ‘The Two Doctors’ did not mark an anniversary.
This was a troubled time for Doctor Who. Michael Grade, who became Controller of BBC1 in 1984, made no attempt to hide the fact that he detested the show, calling it “rubbish” and “pathetic”. There was a gap of eighteen months between the end of the first season with Colin Baker in the lead role and the start of the second season, at the end of which Grade sacked Baker, calling his performance, “Utterly unlikeable, absolutely god-awful in fact.”
Although long-term fans of Doctor Who have often been critical of the quality of the episodes during this period, Colin Baker has been defended with increasing regularity and his portrayal of the Doctor seems to have found more and more fans over the years. Baker himself, in my limited experience, has been very gracious about the whole experience and certainly appears to hold no ill-will towards the character or the show itself.
Prior to the arrival of Colin Baker, each Doctor Who story had been shown in multiples of 25-minute episodes, usually four or six. The episodes were now 45-minutes in length and ‘The Two Doctors’ was shown across three episodes between 16 February and 2 March 1985. It was written by Robert Holmes, who had been responsible for many Doctor Who stories, dating back to 1968 when Patrick Troughton portrayed the lead role. Troughton, whose time as the Doctor came to an end in June 1969, reprises his role here, alongside Frazer Hines, playing his companion Jamie, an 18th Century Scottish piper and Jacobite. By 1985 both Troughton and Hines were rather long-in-the-tooth for their characters, but strangely this does not prove to be much of a problem.
The story as it was first written was set largely in New Orleans, but when funding to film on location in the U.S. did not materialise this setting was changed to Spain, for no apparent reason. It’s a visually appealing setting, but seems to serve no purpose whatsoever and it doesn’t have any real bearing on the story. Robert Holmes, a vegetarian, intended the story as an allegory about meat eating and attitudes towards the treatment and slaughter of livestock, so perhaps the setting had some relevance in this respect that became lost in translation. The production in Spain was, apparently, plagued by all manner of technical problems.
The story is rather strange and some aspects of it are rather disquieting. The Androgum have no ethical grounding and although this is not always successfully projected, there are troubling moments, including what could be taken to be a representation of the attempted rape of Peri by Shockeye, a character who spends much of the two hours of running time wanting to cook and eat human flesh and who, because the point is laboured to breaking point, does become decidedly irritating as a result.
The two Doctors spend surprisingly little time on screen together and as such there is not much interaction between them, which does rather seem to the defeat the point of the exercise. The character Dastari, who seems to be a kind of updating of Dr Solon from an earlier Doctor Who story ‘The Brain of Morbius’, unfortunately wears a pair a glasses that make him look like a cross between Brains in ‘Thunderbirds’ and a member of The Buggles. This did make him rather difficult to take seriously. The Sontarans, adversaries of the Doctor that had been created by Robert Holmes and had been seen in three previous Doctor Who stories, are rather ineffectively used here. For all of these criticisms, there was something very likeable about the whole thing.
What surprised me most was how good Colin Baker was in the lead role and how much I liked Peri, the Doctor’s companion, portrayed by Nicola Bryant. I had always remembered her as a rather irritating character, but that was not the case here at all. In fact, she seemed rather spirited, even if quite clearly the character was intended to do little more than add a bit of “sex” to what was always a rather sexless show.
I enjoyed ‘The Two Doctors’ immensely, much to my surprise. It is not the best of Doctor Who and the story is a little threadbare, but watching it just 24 hours after ‘The Eleventh Hour’ I was struck by how good the show used to be. This is not intended as a criticism of the revived series, which I like very much, but it brought home to me again that I do find the constantly frenetic pace of the show now a little wearisome after a while.
Robert Holmes died in May 1986, having finished a draft of the first episode of the final story for the second and final season of Doctor Who featuring Colin Baker in the lead role.
Review posted 5 April 2010