I was born and raised in New Mexico, USA, and grew up during the ’80s and ’90s. In those days, American exposure to British television came primarily through late night broadcasts on local public broadcasters. In my case, this was KNME-5, Albuquerque’s PBS affiliate. Every evening at 10 PM they would air an episode of Are You Being Served?, the classic British farce. 10:30 would see the broadcast of another Brit-com, perhaps Keeping Up Appearances, or maybe Waiting for God. All good stuff, always entertaining. But nothing could compare with Friday nights, when KNME would follow Are You Being Served? with Doctor Who. As a kid I would stay up to watch these shows, recording them on poor quality ELP VHS cassettes so I could watch them over and over. I would marvel at the adventures of Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and Jon Pertwee, and thrill at the exploits of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.
But I rarely got to see anything of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Oh, I knew about them, from viewings of “The Five Doctors,” from a showing of “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and from my copy of Doctor Who: The Time-Traveler’s Guide. Still, seeing them was a rarity, an unexpected treat on those occasions where they appeared. You can imagine then my excitement when the latest episode (latest for me, anyway, since the show had ceased airing in Britain by this point) of Doctor Who appeared, entitled “The Two Doctors!”
I was enthralled! From the opening sequence with the Doctor and Jamie in the TARDIS (in black and white, no less!) to the final closing moments of Baker and Troughton bickering over the TARDIS remote, I was glued to the screen. For 10-year old French Fried Geek, Doctor Who didn’t get much better than this. This was one of the first stories that I purchased on videotape (at our local Suncoast Videos shop, anybody remember those?). I loved the set design of the space station, especially the odd juxtaposition of old and new in Dastari’s office. I enjoyed the scenes in the TARDIS, with it’s high tech console. I was intrigued at the idea that the Doctor could have died in the past, but still be alive today. Basically, there was nothing about this story that I didn’t enjoy.
So, flash forward 20 years. The last time I saw this story on the ol’ videocassette must have been nearly 15 years ago, and somehow I managed to avoid purchasing the DVD of the story, passing it over for other stories I hadn’t seen yet.
This past weekend my wife and I took a mini vacation to Avignon, France (which was AMAZING, by the way), a three hour train trip from our home. Before setting off I grabbed my iPad and headed to the iTunes video store to see what I could occupy my train time with. Lo and behold, I found “The Two Doctors” available for purchase there, along with a few other classic Doctor Who selections. The price was right, a mere $4.99 for 135 minutes of Time Lord entertainment, so I picked it up. Once more I would be able to experience “The Two Doctors!” Would it live up to my childhood recollections??
The Media: First, let me say a couple of words about the iTunes purchase process, video quality, and extras. Purchasing is as simple as clicking “Buy” and waiting for it to download, loading it on my iPad was as simple as plugging the ipad in. Couldn’t be easier! ITunes makes these things so simple. The quality was passible. I think it is encoded at less-than-standard definition, but it didn’t detract from the viewing. There are absolutely no extras supplied with the show, so that right there is a reason to purchase the DVD, since the DVD extras on Doctor Who releases are always excellent.
So, onto the story, and the question asked earlier: Did the show live up to my recollections? The answer is, yes and no.
The Story: Lets start with the plot. As a child, I needed just enough plot such that the story wasn’t completely nonsensical. As an adult, I can see this story is walking that line. While it is simple enough to follow, there are holes large enough to fly a Sontaran battlecruiser through. The plot relies on a massive coincidence, that of the 6th Doctor arriving on the space station concurrently with the 2nd Doctor. Okay, I can get behind that whopping large coincidence, but why try to justify it with the 6th doctor experiencing a connection to his earlier self? What was so different about this particular experience of the 2nd Doctor that would trigger this response in the 6th?
And how about Dastari? It appears that he is working for Chessene. If so, why was he drugged as well? And why did the other inhabitants die of their food poisoning? Also, I feel like his rehabilitation happens quite quickly .On a related note, it seems quite convenient that the control room of the space station contains a holographic torture projector. I suppose this must be standard equipment. In fact, the entire plot to frame the Time Lords seems ridiculous and doomed to fail. It wouldn’t take long for someone to realize that the Doctor is not being executed, since they would undoubtedly flip the switch on the projector.
Poor Jamie. He becomes, for some reason, a crazed beast, who growls and makes a nest, yet is cured of his PTSD by a nap.
And lets talk about violence for a moment. Many people claim the Colin Baker era featured much gratuitous violence, and a Doctor with no sense of morality. I’m not convinced this is true. Other Doctors have killed before, or encouraged killing. The Doctor has never had a lock on morality. However, there are two moments in this story which leave you wondering if the critics may have a point. First, the pointless murder of Oscar. His murder was a senseless act, which did not move the plot along one iota. The Doctor barely bats an eye at this tragedy before moving along with his plans.
Second, and perhaps more disturbingly, is the death of Shockeye at the hands of the Doctor. Now, it is true that the Doctor was being hunted by Shockeye, and I can even get behind the idea that killing him may have been the only option (though why knocking him out wasn’t an option I don’t know). The problem arises in one shot, as the doctor prepares the cyanide cloth. The camera cuts to Colin Baker’s face, and there is a look of glee at having devised a plan to kill Shockeye. Now the Doctor has killed before, but never joyously. And never with a cute quip following the killing. The Doctor is not James Bond. In fact, I realize now that every character in this story other than the Doctors and the companions ends up dead. As the Doctor himself said at the end of Warriers of the Deep, “There should have been another way.”
The Acting: A mixed bag. Colin Baker is quite good as the Doctor, condecending as always, but generally entertaining. And he seems to improve once he is out of his ridiculous coat! Nicola Bryant is fine as Peri. I wish she had been given something better to work with. Her continual bickering and timidness gets a little grating (not really her fault, as I feel like she does her best with what she is given), but her moments with Jamie are quite nice, aside from her comforting of the stricken Jamie (“I’m your FRIEND!”).
Then we come to Patrick Troughton. He effortlessly recreates his Doctor, and you totally believe it from the moment he appears, like he never left. Shame really that he is given so little to do, since he spends most of his time tied up in a basement. Still, he is a joy to watch, and the small interactions with Baker’s Doctor are some of the high points of the show. He is joined by Frazer Hines, who brings Jamie back for us to enjoy. He inhabits the character, and despite being given some dodgy material in the space station, really does an excellent job.
Dastari is adequately played by Laurence Payne, and Jacqueline Pierce’s Chessene is suitably menacing. John Stratton’s Shockeye, however, veers from the acceptable to the cringeworthy, as he chews through his dialogue with the subtlety of a clown. The Sontarans are played acceptably, if unremarkably, but you get no sense of them being anything more than bullies. Neither of these actors can hold a candle to Kevin Lindsay’s menacing Sontarans from the early ’70s. I would also like to mention Oscar, as played by James Saxon. This is a performance I have always enjoyed, and I think Saxon inhabits the role quite well.
The Effects and Production: I still love the design of the space station. I think it looks neat, and I like the colored light panels. I think the designers did a decent job here. I also think the darkened station looks quite spooky, a departure from the often over-lit sets of the era. The scenes in Spain are filmed well, making some good use of the house. But I have to ask, what was the point of the trip to Spain? Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea that not every alien invasion happens in the British Home Counties. But if you are going to take the trouble to make the trip to Spain, don’t you think we should, I dunno, see it? This story could have taken place anywhere. Seville is barely seen. Check out “City of Death” for an example of how to do foreign location filming. They managed to take full advantage of the sumptuous Parisian environment there, but completely failed to do so here. Shame.
Lets talk about the Sontarans for a moment. In all their previous appearances they have been seen as short, stocky figures. Suddenly they have grown into giants, giants in ill fitting costumes. And what a let-down in their revelation. They are seen in long-shot, carrying the Doctor into the house. There is no sense of drama or excitement to see the Sontarans in their first appearance since “The Invasion of Time.” What a shame.
Wife’s Thoughts: My wife sat next to me on the train as I watched, though she politely declined the offer to join me in my viewing. She did glance over from time to time, and her eyes were inevitably drawn to the ample bosom of Peri, which is on display for much of the episode. She took to reaching over and covering Peri’s chest with her finger.
Cat’s Thoughts: Emma and Gizmo stayed home while we traveled, so they didn’t get the chance to watch, though I’m sure they would have been horrified by the Doctor’s description of eating a cat…
Final Thoughts: So, the story is rough and silly, the acting ranges from excellent to subpar, and the production is far, far from faultless. It is clearly no “Pyramids of Mars.” So, in the final analysis, I love this story. Yup. Still love it. Perhaps my love for it comes mainly from good memories, not from critical analysis. There is no way that I would recommend this story as one of the best of Doctor Who. It is simply too broken for that. Yet, to me, it has charm. It is still a treat seeing Pat Troughton take on the role of the Doctor 15 years after he gave it up. I still get goosebumps when that first TARDIS scene begins in black and white. The show is entertaining, and perhaps a little cringe-inducing, but lots of fun to watch. And really, isn’t that why we’ve watched Doctor Who for almost 50 years?