Review: [DW] “The Two Doctors”

22×4. The Two Doctors
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Peter Moffatt
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Second Doctor and Jamie travel at the Time Lords’ behest to the scientific research station Camera, where the corrupt scientist Dastari, the augmented androgum Chessene, and the murderous Shockeye are collaborating with Sontarans to unlock the secrets of time travel technology. The Second Doctor is kidnapped and brought to Seville, with his Sixth incarnation and Peri, having rescued Jamie from Camera, in pursuit, while Chessene and Dastari prepare to harvest the symbiotic nuclei from the Second Doctor that make time travel possible.

Review: Unlike in the first two multi-Doctor serials, the Second and Sixth incarnations encounter each other mostly by chance rather than because someone is purposely trying to bring them together (as did the Time Lords in “The Three Doctors” and Borusa in “The Five Doctors”). I’d like to praise the script for finding a new way to involve more than one Doctor in the same story, but unfortunately it doesn’t hold up as a whole.

The Sixth Doctor is drawn into the story because he senses telepathically that the Second Doctor has been executed, passing out in the TARDIS and then heading to Camera to consult Dastari for medical advice. At first, it seems that perhaps a time paradox is in play as a result of the time travel experiments on board Camera, and that the logical contradiction of the Doctor being alive despite a previous incarnation’s death represents the beginning of the universe’s unraveling. Unfortunately, the script does not continue down this path (though I’ll admit I have no idea how it could have done that and still gotten back to business-as-usual by the end), instead explaining that the Second Doctor was just stunned and kidnapped and relying on a series of contrivances to move the narrative along. For example, is the Second Doctor being stunned really enough to make the Sixth Doctor think that he’s been killed and then pass out in the TARDIS? Isn’t it a little too convenient that he happens to go seeking medical advice from the same scientist that the Second Doctor was visiting when all this started? Is there any point to making Jamie so panicked and disoriented that he literally acts like a growling monster and assaults Peri, other than that the first episode needed a cliffhanger? And finally, since when does the Second Doctor run errands for the Time Lords? When he sent for them in “The War Games,” I got the distinct impression that he’d been entirely out of contact with them since the beginning of the series.

The behavior of the villains also doesn’t withstand much scrutiny. Dastari¬† passes out when the Sontaran attack begins, apparently because Shockeye had drugged all the scientists’ food in order to subdue them – but why drug Dastari if he’s in on the plot with Chessene and Shockeye all along? At first I actually thought he might have changed sides off-screen, perhaps after awakening to find Chessene and Shockeye in control, and I’m still wondering if that might be the case, given that he does have an off-screen about-face near the end when he seems to have reconciled with the Second Doctor by the time Chessene returns to the hacienda basement. Chessene also has an abrupt change of mind when she gives up on the plan to harvest the symbiotic nuclei from the Second Doctor, instead resolving to turn him into an Androgum. Why? Apparently because the Time Lords may intervene before the harvesting operation can be completed, but are we supposed to believe that changing someone into a different species is somehow quick and efficient by comparison? This strikes me as a case of what at least one Star Trek reviewer derisively described as “Fun with DNA,” and it’s no more plausible here than the time that most of the Enterprise crew turned into deranged animals and Picard and Data managed to “cure” them with some technobabble.

All this comes across, meanwhile, with a distinctly cynical and pessimistic tone, though the relatively small cast does at least preclude a bloodbath along the lines of, say, “Resurrection of the Daleks” or “Attack of the Cybermen.” Another contrivance brings most of the characters to the restaurant run by Oscar and Anita, the couple who initially put the TARDIS crew onto the villains’ trail, leading to a bad-tempered Shockeye assaulting Oscar, who then dies while lamenting the Hamlet performance that he’ll never give – in a scene that nearly becomes farcical for how the other patrons just go on with their meals as if they hadn’t just witnessed a murder. The Sixth Doctor brutally kills Shockeye with cyanide at the end, delivering a mean-spirited quip over his dead body, and both Doctors seem to embrace a sort of biological determinism in the way they talk about Androgums, discounting the idea that any member of the species could rise above their baser urges. This also undercuts the script’s apparent support for vegetarianism (something I’d like to get behind, as a vegetarian myself) – the only one who’s consistent in showing concern for animal suffering is Peri, and the Doctor doesn’t seem to be learning much of a “lesson” given his attitude to Androgums and his sarcastic humor about Shockeye’s death.

(On a related note, I think I’ve officially reached the point of finding the bickering between the Sixth Doctor and Peri annoying, even though I agreed with her distaste for the Doctor’s fishing expedition at the start. At times, it feels like the script is reaching for any possible reason for them to disagree, and not for the first time, I found myself questioning why she stays with him. As far as I can tell, “The Two Doctors” is set in the present day once they get to Earth, so why doesn’t she just go home?)

There is nothing wrong with bleak or violent content per se in science fiction – as I mentioned before, I’m a Blakes 7 fan too, and I consider “The Caves of Androzani” a high point of Doctor Who. But I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to undermine the Doctor’s own moral probity, which is something we’ve seen more of than usual in the past two seasons. Part of what makes the Doctor such a unique character is his relative distance from the audience (and from his companions) – in fact, I’m not sure I can even talk about his “character development” in the way I would for, say, the Blakes 7 cast, because his mind sometimes seems to function on an entirely different level. Part of what keeps him likeable and relatable, then, is the idea that however alien he may be, he will stand up for the “good guys” and refrain from resorting to violence too quickly. Take that away, and Doctor Who becomes a different kind of show – perhaps a sci-fi canvass that mostly rises or falls with the concepts and guest characters of each individual story. But even if that’s the intent, “The Two Doctors” would have to count as a fall.

Rating: ** (out of four)

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