Aired 22 – 30 March 1984
Following the superb ‘The Caves of Androzani,’ it was almost inevitable that any story would seem like a letdown. Unfortunately ‘The Twin Dilemma,’ plagued by a hackneyed script and bland direction, is truly an uninspired Doctor Who offering regardless of the circumstances of its airing, a shame since it is also the first chance for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor to enter the spotlight.
The characterization of the Sixth Doctor is an intriguing one, one perhaps better on paper than how ultimately written and portrayed on screen. In a bold and inspired choice, the new Time Lord has an almost entirely different persona than his predecessor, brashly and arrogantly performing right from the start. The original concept was to have him start off as more of an unlikable anti-hero and to slowly win over audiences through the exploits of his adventures. This approach has worked in other franchises, but the writing on display here takes things a bit too far in the unlikable direction, not so much creating a more tragic figure than the Fifth Doctor whom he is so clearly a critique of in this ever-darkening universe as simply creating a more bombastic version prone to mood swings with flashes of cowardice and violence. At one point famously even trying to strangle and throw aside his companion, Peri, after alternately berating and dismissing her, the Sixth Doctor shows no remorse even as he understands Peri’s fear of him, passing it off as a bout of post-regeneration trauma that will lessen as time passes. To his credit, he is instantly terrified of what he has done, but the writing is unable to cast him as the intended anti-hero, instead treading perilously close to the characterization of a self-centred abuser.
For all the faults with the writing of this new Doctor, however, what cannot be faulted is Colin Baker’s performance. He is extremely commanding in the role and flits between emotions with ease as the script dictates. At one point worryingly convincing while struggling through bouts of madness, he is just as strong when finally allowed to show some compassion and softness toward the end of the story. This is perhaps the trickiest of Doctors to play, but Colin Baker aptly steps up to the plate and delivers a massive performance. It is just a shame that the writing let him down so much and quite frequently defaulted the character to argumentative and rude because, while great in those scenes, the glimmers of the softer side that sometimes shine through are often some of the strongest.
‘The Twin Dilemma’ is aptly named, juggling two storylines at ones, the less inspired rescue mission of the titular twins Remus and Romulus and the much more interesting story of a Doctor who has undergone a traumatic regeneration and is trying to rediscover his morality and his place in the universe. While Colin Baker is again fascinating in this portrayal of the Doctor who isn’t ready to be the hero and accordingly relies on Peri’s compassion and courage a great deal more than he’d care to admit, the main storyline fails to provide much interest in terms of a backdrop. ‘The Twin Dilemma’ insists on focusing on the Doctor and treating Peri as a secondary character despite her importance in driving events forward, and even then the story offers nothing new and is littered with cliched characters, situations, and plot points. Even the gastropod-like villain using the kidnapped twins to mathematically cause explosions to spread his race’s eggs throughout the galaxy, fails to capture the imagination and provide any truly tangible sense of threat.
In the end, it’s a bit of a shame that this is what Colin Baker was presented with as his debut episode as there just isn’t much to remember about ‘The Twin Dilemma’ other than Colin Baker himself as the Sixth Doctor starts down a turbulent road following his regeneration. It’s placement as a season finale is odd since the audience was intended to dislike the Sixth Doctor from the outset, meaning that there was always going to be a bit of a bitter taste left after its airing, but unfortunately the intended progression and story arc to instill honour and likability upon the Sixth Doctor never came to fruition on screen.