Review [DW]: “The Twin Dilemma”

21×7. The Twin Dilemma
Writer: Anthony Steven
Director: Peter Moffatt
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: A newly regenerated and unstable Doctor is reunited with his friend Azmael, who labors under the thumb of the tyrannical Mestor on the planet Jaconda and has kidnapped the human math prodigies Romulus and Remus as part of a plan to revitalize Jaconda’s future, only to discover that Mestor has more sinister plans in the works to distribute his species’ eggs across the galaxy by causing Jaconda’s star to explode.

Review: I’m pleased to report that I did not actively dislike “The Twin Dilemma,” which seems to have a poor reputation among Doctor Who fans, but I can’t say that I was especially impressed with it either. As the introduction to a new and controversial Doctor, it mostly gets the job done. It’s not always clear (and perhaps isn’t meant to be) when his behavior is attributable to post-regenerative instability and when he’s simply being a more petulant, rude, and bombastic person than we’re used to from previous incarnations – notably, he seems well aware of his immediate predecessor’s fallibility and even somewhat contemptuous of it. In any case, Colin Baker handles the role ably, keeping us guessing as to what he’s thinking or how he’s likely to react, and he and Nicola Bryant portray his newly problematic relationship with Peri with considerable hostility but enough of a sliver of friendship that it doesn’t become outright unpleasant to watch (though it comes close a few times, and I was surprised that Peri never simply asked to be taken back to Earth). I can’t help but think, however, that the creative team might have earned a little more viewer sympathy if we’d gotten a better sense of the terror that the Doctor must feel at realizing that he doesn’t have complete control of his own mind. On the other hand, introspection is a difficult thing to portray in a character who’s supposed to be a hyperintelligent alien, and perhaps it’s understandable that they shy away from it here as they typically have in other serials.

The serial’s plot, meanwhile, is fairly weak material. For one thing, it’s never explained exactly how Azmael – himself a Time Lord – became so involved in Jaconda’s affairs or how Mestor managed to gain the upper hand over him. There could have been an interesting parallel to the Doctor’s own investment in Earth’s well-being – is Azmael similarly estranged from Gallifrey and has he ever been sanctioned for it the way the Doctor has? – but this angle is never explored, and Mestor is just your textbook blustering villain. And while nitpicking the science on Doctor Who is probably a fool’s errand, the concepts in play here feel especially half-baked and not entirely consistent with the rest of the series. Normally I’m intrigued when time travel actually becomes part of the story rather than just the pretext for the Doctor’s involvement, but the idea that you could maneuver two small planets into Jaconda’s orbit but avoid the negative side effects by displacing them into a different timestream seems at odds with everything we know about how time travel on Doctor Who works, and the idea that the two small planets being sucked into Jaconda’s sun would cause some sort of supernova also seems dubious. This whole scenario also makes something of a fool of Azmael by suggesting that he was too distracted by other issues to realize what would actually happen to the two planets – unless he’s undergoing his own post-regenerative disorientation, a Time Lord shouldn’t just “overlook” something like that.

I can give “The Twin Dilemma” some credit for being willing to challenge the audience with this abrasive and unpredictable new Doctor, even risking making him unlikeable at times, but as a story it’s rather mediocre and wouldn’t pass muster on its own without the draw of upending the status quo for the two lead characters.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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