Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Let’s bring back an old monster!
We’ve done quite a lot of that lately. I mean, what’s left?
The short potato men?
Yeah, but let’s make them really tall this time?
Nobody’s frightened of short monsters, are they!
Yeah, well, they need to be bigger too but that’s too much fuss. Personally I would make them really big and colourful – everyone would love that. But leave it to somebody else to have that bother in the future.
OK, what else?
Let’s do another multi-Doctor story! Colin wants to work with Troughton.
And what can we do with him?
Tie him up for the whole story.
You can’t ask Troughton to do that.
OK, well let’s make him behave completely different to the Doctor for the rest of the story. We can have a laugh with that.
Great idea. But he had companions.
That bloke who’s in Emmerdale Farm now will do. People will recognise him.
But he always had a girl with him as well.
No, no, no. People won’t want to see one of those. I mean, they’ll be all wrinkly by now. The dads just want to see young women in leotards.
But how will we explain that?
Just say she’s busy knitting or something.
It’s not the 60s any more.
Fine. We’ll be all feminist instead. Say she’s off on a course studying something.
But how will we get the two Doctors together?
Easy! Get the Time Lords to do it. They can send Troughton on a mission and then Colin can turn up in the same place.
But wasn’t Troughton on the run from the Time Lords?
Come off it! Nobody’s going to notice that.
I could check all this stuff with Ian Levine…
So, the problems with this one are pretty obvious. Robert Holmes lost his Doctor Who mojo in 1978 and back he comes again to try to inflict a bit more violent misery on the viewers. This is one of those Doctor Who stories that is trying to teach us a lesson, with the rather low-key and unsubtle message: don’t eat meat. And it’s a classic example of a writer so in love with his message that he is more interested in getting it across than getting the characterisation right, so both Doctors are skewed in odd directions. The Sixth Doctor is a killer who follows up his act of murder with a James Bond one-liner. The Second Doctor is much better, because most of his characterisation always did come from Troughton rather than the writers, but still Holmes manages to twist his relationship with Jamie into bizarre and uncomfortable shapes:
JAMIE: He’s got his head doon, Doctor. I can’t say I blame him.
DOCTOR 2: I’ll thank you not to speak in that appalling mongrel dialect.
But to be honest, Holmes was probably only interested at this point in shocking and upsetting the viewers. His writing post-1978 displays a boredom with Doctor Who, and an attempt to deal with that boredom by pushing boundaries. His final act, had his original Trial of a Time Lord come to fruition, would have been to write an unambiguously evil 13th incarnation of the Doctor and have him basically kill off the 6th. Here he writes one of his wonderful comedy characters with his typical skill for doing that kind of thing, and then has him brutally murdered, subverting our expectations. As per his previous effort, Holmes in fact kills off virtually all his characters.
Having said all that, I can’t help but like this story, and like it a lot. It’s one of those that is surprisingly enjoyable, and that’s mainly because of the actors involved. Patrick Troughton of course is magnificent. There’s no such thing as a bad performance from Troughton. Ditto Frazer Hines. Perhaps inspired by being on a working holiday in Spain and getting to work with the actor he respects above all others, Colin Baker is better than ever here. By this point in the series the abrasive edge has been taken off the Sixth Doctor to some extent, and he is actually something approaching likeable. Nicola Bryant of course has been fabulous since day one, but has repeatedly been given demeaning material to work with. So we get four regulars for the price of two, and they are all great.
Then we have the Sontarans, who are just generic monsters, but if you accept them in those terms rather than trying to rationalise them as the same thing as Linx and Styre then they actually work really well and are quite scary. The contrast between the Sontarans and the Androgums, the two alien races in this story, is fascinating. It illustrates one thing very clearly: Robert Holmes was at his best when he was doing something new, rather than trying to recreate his perceived glory days. What appears to have been happening with Doctor Who around this time was an attempt to capture the magical formula of Doctor Who as it used to be: bringing back old monsters and old Doctors etc. Bringing back Holmes and asking him to write a script with one of his successful monsters from the past is all part of that, but it misunderstands why Holmes was successful originally. Linx wasn’t great because he was a Sontaran. Linx was great because he was something new and brilliant Holmes created. Holmes did most of his best work when he was taking Doctor Who in new directions. He was never interested in continuity much, or reliving past triumphs. That’s why, when asked to do a story with the Time Lords and the Master, he turned in the scripts for The Deadly Assassin, which stubbornly refused to actually feature the Time Lords and the Master, in any way that was recognisable from the past of Doctor Who.
So Holmes just throws in the Sontarans as generic monsters because it’s part of the brief, and instead creates a second race of aliens who are much more interesting: the Androgums. And he asks a question with them: can anyone escape from their innate instincts? The conclusion The Two Doctors offers us? No, you can’t. It’s staggeringly bleak and a hair’s breadth from being a nasty racist parable about the inherent differences between races, but it also does something very clever, in challenging our own prejudices about appearance.
If the Doctor killed a Sontaran in this story, how would we feel about that? Probably much the same as we felt about him shooting a Cyberman at the beginning of the season. Maybe a passing “tut tut, that’s not very Doctorish”. But when he kills Shockeye and jokes about it, that screams out its wrongness: the murderer Doctor. What is the distinction here? The Androgums and Sontarans are both alien races who want to kill humans. In one respect, Shockeye is a lot worse because he wants to kill humans and eat them as well, so he’s even more of a “monster” if we are going to apply any kind of morality to this. The difference is that he looks more like us, and that’s a fascinating subversion of aliens being written as monsters, especially in light of what Holmes does with Chessene, who looks completely human but still cannot escape her taste for blood. What makes the difference between a person and a monster in Doctor Who? The Two Doctors angrily throws that question at us.
Fascinating as all this is, I can’t help but love this story for one thing above all else. The Second Doctor is back and that’s a child-in-a-sweet-shop moment for me. The opening few minutes is given over to the Second Doctor and Jamie, with a glorious scene in the TARDIS that starts in black and white, and then they get to be the ones who first interact with the plot. It is a while before the Sixth Doctor actually shows up at all, and it’s a crushing disappointment when the 1980s reassert themselves. But, like everything in life, Doctor Who has to keep moving on. It can’t live in the past, and that was a lesson that was being learnt right here and now, in the mid 80s. A new direction was needed, and it would be found eventually, but in amongst all the floundering around trying to make bad ideas work in 1985, for a few glorious minutes everyone could pretend none of that was happening. Because for one last time, Patrick Troughton was the Doctor again. RP
The view from across the pond:
There’s a fine line we walk when Doctor Who gets nostalgic. When done poorly, it has the sense of wallowing in the past, desperate to capture lost magic by using every trick under the sun and failing dreadfully. Think about Attack of the Cybermen and its use of images from so many of the classic series greatest hits: An Unearthly Child, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Invasion. On the flip side, when done well, it brings those elements back to life, happily recreating them for a new audience. Luckily, having Patrick Troughton and Fraser Hines return for The Two Doctors was a step in the right direction. The black & white opening that shifts to color is a subtle effect that brings the past to life and firmly establishes the immortality of these characters.
The question that begs to be answered though is: where are they in their personal timeline? Is this some time before the Doctor’s exile and Jamie’s memory wipe? The story says that they are on a mission for the Time Lords, but how? By the time the Time Lords catch up to the Doctor, they immediately exile him and wipe Jamie’s memory of him. Besides, who gets punished then let out to do more of the very thing they were punished for, knowing full well that the punishment is still going to be carried out? Best to ignore this aspect of the story, because we’re still scratching our heads over it!
Thus we have a weird juxtaposition of the Doctor arriving in a place his past self is already investigating. So the Second and Sixth Doctors intersect purely by chance and they are tremendous fun. And that’s the essence of their interplay: fun. The Sontarans are back and they are attacking a space station in the hopes of gaining some Time Lord tech. This isn’t their first time trying to get their hands on Gallifreyan hardware. By the new series, we’re lead to believe Sontarans are all short, blue-armor clad warriors not unlike fantasy Dwarves in space. But during the original run of the show, they were average sized and wore dark armor. And Stike, the leader of this group, is physically imposing. His height and military bearing give the impression of a general still very much in his prime, ready to tackle the universe. And that creates a potent threat considering this is the race that has already once successfully invaded Gallifrey.
To help them along, we’ve got to give special mention to the music. There are a number of pieces of music from classic Who that we remember very clearly: The Sea Devils or The Leisure Hive, Kassia’s Wedding or Logopolis and of course, Tomb of the Cybermen! But the music used for the Sontarans is incredible. What makes it even more surprising is that I have never encountered it anywhere on tape or CD and, believe me, there have been a number of Doctor Who CDs released that consist of music from throughout the series. Somehow, this magnificent piece never features. It evokes a desperate battle; there’s the military drum beat mixed with an almost melancholy sound of desperation that propels the Sontaran scenes higher than we’ve ever had them.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Chessene and Shockeye, who are two of the most uninspired villains in Doctor Who history. The Androgums are little more than cannibals and, while that is scary, it offers little as a Doctor Who monster. Chessene has been genetically modified to fight her base instincts and overcome her bushy eyebrows and bad skin, and Shockeye of the Quawncing Grig is just a rotund man with horrible eyebrows and worse skin. We once again get the message that “ugly is bad”, done to the nth degree and I expect better from Doctor Who. (Although fairness where due, I always like the sound of Shockeye’s clan.) Now, that said, watching Chessene fall to her knees at the sight of blood is disturbing because she doesn’t fall like a 1960s damsel that can’t handle the sight of it, oh no! She falls because she’s barely able to overcome her desire to drink the blood!
And that brings us to the problem with Colin’s era: it’s extremely violent. The cannibalism alone is gruesome, but to have an onscreen stabbing complete with blood or the bloody green death of the Sontarans or, perhaps most vile of all, the Doctor suffocating Shockeye with cyanide laced cotton, it was all the wrong path for a family show to take. Yes, it may be “more mature” but good storytelling doesn’t need it to be. And what gave Doctor Who its incredible television lifespan was good writing, not “being more mature”. And poor Oscar Botcheby! What a likeable character to have cut down (literally) in the prime of his life leaving only his wife Anita to survive the story! Just awful. I cannot help but agree with Roger that Robert Holmes, the writer of this story, does seem to be missing the mark. Perhaps he was trying to make another of his statements, this time about eating meat, but by the time the story is over, I was more concerned with finding my symbiotic nuclei to isolate the Rassilon Imprimatur with a briode nebulizer. Say what?? In fairness, I loved the terms but throwing out technobabble does not a good episode make! (Wait, what now?)
Filming the story in Seville was lovely. Almost as lovely as Peri. But I would not have complained if they spent more time fishing for gumblejacks, even if watching someone fish wouldn’t have brought in the ratings. (That assumes anyone would be watching the Doctor at that point anyway!) Speaking of noticing the Doctor, why do I get caught up on such little things? For instance the Doctor getting caught up in wires! He passes out, falls into wires and hangs exactly like a living being would not. His arms lock him in place when what should have happened is that this arms would be thrown up and his body would fall. But then we couldn’t have him hanging around… Still, it’s a fun story just to watch the Doctors interact or Jamie ogle Peri. You can’t help but enjoy that character interaction! And in the end we have a fun story, even if it is a bit gruesome.
Last thought: if the Second Doctor has a Statenheim Remote control, that the Sixth Doctor claims to always have wanted, where is it now? Or is this like that age old question: if the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the square on the other two sides, why is a mouse when it spins? Never did know the answer to that one. But how many adventures could have been solved with one of those, huh? ML