The Two DoctorsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 August 2005 - Reviewed by Matthew Carr

Disclaimer..."This review was originally to be written in Hong Kong, but sadly American funding has failed me and I am forced to relocate to County Durham. This location work was entirely integral to the plot, oh yes indeedy, but don't worry as I'm sure the change will have no effect on the finished product".


I am very fond of 80s Doctor Who, certainly more so than others. These are the years which first sparked my interest in the show after all. However, if anyone were to try and defend the shows' twilight years, the most advisable thing to do would be to erase 'The Two Doctors' forever.

The Second Doctor and Jamie are sent to the scientific research station Camera by the Time Lords to put a stop to some worrying Time Travel experiments. The station is attacked by Sontarans, and the Doctor is kidnapped. The Sixth Doctor and Peri arrive at the station shortly afterwards, and teaming up with Jamie they follow the Sontarans to Earth.

Easily the biggest problem with 'The Two Doctors' is the sloppy, lazy direction and editing. Revealing the returning monsters via a computer voice identifying their ships is almost forgivable, but then why do we not see them during their invasion of the station? It seems as though the Sontarans were intended as a surprise for later in the episode, but that this was forgotten at some stage. Eventually introducing the Sontarans in long-shot is another unforgivable lapse. Worst of all, Moffatt misses the chance to recreate the monsters' defining moment from their first appearance in 'The Time Warrior', by actually cutting away from a Sontaran just as he reaches up to remove his helmet! I mean, can you believe it?! The cliffhanger to episode one is particularly dire, and coupled with the direction and editing here becomes entirely bereft of drama. There are gaping holes in the script and far too much padding, and a committed director would certainly have demanded further re-writes to tighten things up (the same could also be said of the script editor, but more of that later). I always feel that there is a steady decline in quality of Peter Moffatt's work on Doctor Who - his first directorial effort in 'State of Decay' is easily his best, and his final in 'The Two Doctors' is easily his worst. There are a few moments of inspiration to be found - the shot of Shockeye stalking Peri at the close of episode two, for instance, is particularly effective and sinister. On the whole though, this story demonstrates a director tired, bored and apathetic towards their work, and the fact that this was Moffatt's final work on Doctor Who can only be met with relief.

Let's not pile all our disappointments on the director though. The script is wildly inconsistent and a huge let down. Episode one in particular is hopelessly padded, resulting in poor Colin Baker spending most of his scenes going "" and gurning like an idiot in a desperate attempt to use up the time. Throughout the story, the dialogue ranges from inspired and witty to banal and clunky at the drop of a hat. It is public knowledge that Robert Holmes was less than impressed to be given a 'shopping list' - Sontarans, two Doctors, foreign location - but this is exactly what he and Phillip Hinchcliffe used to do - Renaissance, Portmeirion, cults - and nobody criticises them for it. I think the difference here is that the elements chosen by JNT are rather arbitrary. The second Doctor and Sontarans are used purely for the sake of bringing back old favourites. Seville is used not because it would be an interesting and attractive location in which to set a story, but because they want to film overseas, apparently just for the sake of it (some might say, purely to give the cast and crew a cushy foreign holiday, but I couldn't possibly comment). It seems as though no one gave any thought to whether these elements would actually make a good story. Holmes writes the Sontarans on autopilot, and is obviously having much more fun with his new ideas - Shockeye is a delight, and the Androgums are a very interesting race. Oscar is another rather camp and theatrical pleasure. Indeed, both these characters are classic Holmes creations. It seems to me that the script editor should have picked up on a lot of these faults and demanded re-writes, or done them himself, and yet again nothing was done. I don't pretend to know whether Eric Saward was in awe of Robert Holmes and blinded to the scripts' faults, or simply didn't care, or if the entire team genuinely believed that they were making a quality programme, but something somewhere went badly wrong here.

The variation between performances in 'The Two Doctors' is dramatic. Patrick Troughton is on his usual superb form as the second Doctor, however Colin Baker seems lost for most of the first episode (pehaps due to the obvious faults of the script) and his performance only really slips into gear in episode two. Frazer Hines phones in his performance, and Nicola Bryant is utterly dire (though with a cleavage like that, who cares?). Of the guest players, John Stratton is excellent as Shockeye (once you get used to him), Jacqueline Pearce is...well, Jacqueline Pearce, and James Saxon gives a fine performance as Oscar. Laurence Payne is just about adequate as Dastari, and Tim Raynham and Clinton Greyn do a good job of stomping around and shouting.

The overseas location work might be very pretty and can be of great benefit to some stories, but it is unnecessary and completely irrelevant here. Inevitably it leads to a lot of pointless padding in episode three as the Doctor and friends run around Seville for no very obvious reason and stand around fountains for the sake of showing off the local sights. Any story would suffer under these circumstances, but mid-way through the final instalment of a story the length of 'The Two Doctors' is unforgivable.

It has to be said that despite the effects being to a fairly high standard, the serial suffers because of its' gaudy, mid-80s production values. The costumes particularly are dire, with the unbearably awful Sontarans (their collars don't meet their bodies!), Chessene's wig, and Dastari's outfit all being memorably crap. Peter Howell's incidental score is typical 80s fare and particularly bad in places, though I think the 'war march' that accompanies the Sontarans is quite effective. As with most early to mid-80s episodes, the lighting for all of the studio scenes is far too bright, and they would have done well to follow the examples set by the previous years' 'The Caves of Androzani'.

A common complaint about the Colin Baker years is the level of violence on display, and whilst I've never really understood what the fuss is about I certainly think that 'The Two Doctors' crosses the line in places. Oscar's death is often commented on, and I can see why. Far more alarming is The sixth Doctor's murder of Shockeye - thoroughly unpleasant, alarmingly out of character and followed by a god-awful Bond-style quip, it should never have been allowed.

There are so many moments in 'The Two Doctors' where you think "Ah yes, here we go, now it's getting itself together", but it never happens. With a bit more editing during scripting, and a half-decent director, this could have been something really special. Sadly, it is an opportunity wasted. Troughton is superb and seeing the two Doctors together on screen is a delight (and honestly, I cannot imagine any other combination of Doctors being so perfectly matched), but this could have - and should have - been so much more. 3/10