Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Serial 140: The Two Doctors

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor), Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown, Jamie McCrimmon

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Peter Moffat

Background & Significance: In 1985 Doctor Who turned twenty two. So it was a few years past the 20th and still a few years from the 25th. Other than that, it's not really that remarkable. Sure, I suppose it's the sole season featuring Colin Baker as The Doctor. Compared to the previous twenty two, his twenty third is positively abbreviated, so it's hard to count that in my head. This was his first proper season. Other than that, there's nothing special or remarkable about it, is there?

And yet here we are talking about a multi-Doctor crossover.

Given the rousing success with which Robert Holmes had written "The Caves of Androzani", Eric Saward was quick to hire him back for another go at some Doctor Who. John Nathan-Turner (capable of knowing how good "Androzani" was and being not unintelligent) was quick to acquiesce to the idea. So we have the return of Robert Holmes offering one of his last stories for one of the most... marmite seasons of Doctor Who ever. And he was given a laundry list of things to do: bring in the 2nd Doctor. And Jamie. And Sontarans. Oh and set it in America. We're thinking New Orleans, because that lines up with your desire to do a story about food.

It was soon changed from Seville from New Orleans because the location filming fell through. And honestly, why not Spain?

But the point stands that this story had a laundry list of things to accomplish and Holmes had three whole episodes (the equivalent of a six parter in the old, 25-minute episode days) with which to incorporate all his ideas. And is it too much? Perhaps? How does Holmes react to the violence and intensity that he helped usher in with "Androzani"? How does he handle all of these elements and how does Colin Baker do? So many thoughts. I mean, well, we haven't talked about C. Baker in a god damn age. And it'll be the last time we talk about him. Sad.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

There are only thirteen forty-five episodes of Doctor Who (not counting the re-edited version of “Resurrection of the Daleks”. And given that it was an intense format change after something that had (more or less) been the norm for twenty plus years it’s easy to assume there would be some whiplash.

I mention this because we have Robert Holmes writing for the forty five minute format. He’s one of only two writers in the Classic series to have prior Doctor Who experience before working with the 45 minute format (the other is Eric Saward), and so it’s interesting to see how he handles it. Also interesting because he’s Robert Holmes: one of the best Doctor Who writers of all time and one of the few masters of the Doctor Who structure of the Classic series (the others that spring to mind are Whitaker and Hulke and… uhhh… I’ll get back to you).

Having covered all the rest of this season previously, it’s not hard to see that no one actually REALLY got the hang of this structure. Classic Who has a history of meandering and strolling leisurely through its story because a hundred minutes is quite a lot of time to kill.

Holmes, though, had a history of making stories that shredded through their running time, stories that were paced very well (“The Space Pirates” is an epic exception) and never really seemed to spin their wheels too much or waste anyone’s time. And yet here he’s wasting everyone’s time. I’m sorry, but he is. This episode is forty five minutes of setup. And that’s… mostly okay, I suppose. But the problem is Holmes is clearly writing to a structure that is unsustainable. It’s one thing to do a first episode that’s forty five minutes long if you have to close it off forty five minutes later. It’s quite another to have a forty five minute episode that you have to close off ninety minutes later.

It’s a betrayal of principles, which, I guess, no one seemed to notice. Nathan-Turner famously did away with the six part stories when he took over the show. When the episode numbers didn’t work out, he begged for the budget for episodes enough to get the season to nothing but four parters. When that didn’t work he did a two-parter. And the thought process here is something along the lines of “well it’s a three parter” which is, I GUESS a good way to cheat the whole thing because you’re not making stories that are four episodes any more. No. Now it’s ALL two parters! So what’s one three parter? I mean, you’re still at a “less-than-four” number and (because we’re in a place where we can hindsight the whole thing) the three part episodes more than worked in the McCoy era. I mean, the heavy hitters are mostly four-parters, but the three parters are still pretty good on the whole.

Except for the fact that… well… to make that argument basically means that you’ve just admitted you can’t do simple math. So by winning on a technicality (“The Two Doctors” is less than four parts) Nathan-Turner basically went back on one of his hard-line stances. And for what?

Sure, shooting in Seville can’t have been cheap, nor can it have been cheap getting Patrick Troughton. Or Frazer Hines. I mean, I’m sure they weren’t paid millions and millions of pounds, but they probably were not cheap to get because they were in such specific/high demand for this story (specifically, no one can replace them). Nor can it have been cheap getting Seville. Because god knows now that we’ve headed abroad the previous two seasons we have to go abroad for this one too. And I guess I shouldn’t complain, because all the location shooting is kinda really pretty and really exotic regardless of the story.

But shouldn’t this story be about more than just the location shooting? How about the good story with the good pacing and the good Doctor Who?

Why is this important? Why am I complaining? Because ever since I first watched this episode for the first time two years ago I found myself enjoying it with way too many concessions. I remember saying “this would have been the best story of the season and handily if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s three parts.” And being one episode in I absolutely stand by that. It’s not that this episode is bad (because it’s not), nor is it quite good. No, the problem is that it’s remarkably dull because everything is so… decompressed and almost nothing happens in this episode.

I mean, looking at this thing, you have The Doctor and Peri not even appearing until almost ten minutes in (it’s shy by just a few seconds, honestly). And while the first ten minutes DOES have The 2nd Doctor and Jamie investigating this space station, it’s also impossibly dragged out. I suppose the idea here is that we’re so starved for Hines/Troughton that we’ll watch them argue about opening the doors for two minutes or talking about where they are or talking about… nothing. And while I appreciate the sentiment (because it's not entirely unfounded), I have to say it tries my patience. Yeah, it picks up a bit when they step out of the TARDIS and meet Shockeye, but that’s mostly because we’re actually fulfilling the promise of the PREMISE of the god damn show. The show is not about what happens in The TARDIS. It’s about what The Doctor and his Companion find when they’re outside.

And yet they go and talk to Dastari, who’s this geneticist or whatever and beg him to stop whatever experiments he’s doing with the Time Lords. Its fine, but let’s be real. The scene drags like nothing I’ve seen on Doctor Who. My attention wanes almost instantly and it’s hard to focus because NOTHING IS HAPPENING AND THERE’S NO CONFLICT. The story is literally spinning wheels and marking time until the appearance of the Sontarans. As a problem, it’s a bad one to have, especially ten minutes in (when you kinda need to be hooking your audience with something, anything). But the reason the problem is exacerbated and so noticeable is that it never seems to ends. Scenes ramble on with little discernable point. And yes, that’s hardly accurate because every scene does accomplish something, but the rate to which things are accomplished is… impossibly slow.

I mean, look at The Doctor and Peri. They spend the first half of this episode (half!!!) getting to the space station and the next half moving through the “trials and tribulations” (booby traps) of the space station, trying to determine what’s been going on. And yes, that’s fine. Happens. And why not? It gives them something to do, but there’s a few problems. It has NOTHING to do with Colin Baker OR Nicola Bryant (who are both doing their darndest given what they’re given) nor does it really have anything to do with The Doctor who sees a problem (the space station is ransacked and a derelict) and seeks to solve the mystery of it. Likewise, Peri’s views (in which she gets really sardonic about having her life threatened and constantly and just wants to leave) are at least understandable and provide a certain conflict to the proceedings so it’s not just a whole lot of agreeing over and over again. It gives the Doctor/Companion team something to do.

The problem stems from the fact that this is all one big, cheap set piece starring our two leads. And that’s fine, but 1) it’s cheap and 2) we’re dealing with very, very low stakes.

But why are the stakes low? Why do we suddenly not care about the space station? I mean, it’s where we started and where a whole lotta madness came down. Yeah, it feels aesthetically interchangeable with just about every other sci-fi setting in this season (I’ve decided it’s the production design and the purple accenting/tones) so it feels like “Timelash” and “Revelation of the Daleks" after it, which is… impossibly generic 80s sci-fi in Doctor Who. And yes, those things don’t help. It looks like "The Twin Dilemma” and the less we can be reminded about that the better. But that’s not the issue here.

See, it’s fine to watch The Doctor and his companion investigating a derelict/abandoned locale. It’s almost standard Doctor Who, or at least, an easy way to get The Doctor into a mystery. Hell, it’s what Holmes did in “The Ark in Space”, which is actually not so terribly different than what happens with The Doctor and Peri here. But why is this more insufferable? Why am I not able to handle this wheel-spinning like I was able to handle it in “The Ark in Space”? Because the first episode of “The Ark in Space” is quite a fair amount of wheel-spinning and table setting and nothing REALLY happens until episode two when everyone starts waking up. No, this really isn’t different from that. And indeed, there’s a version of this in which The Doctor collapses and then chooses to go to Dastari, investigate, investigate, CLIFFHANGER (which in my vision would be different than what we got, but I’ll get to that in a minute).

No. The problem here is The 2nd Doctor.

He doesn’t do anything wrong. We just have a problem because we START with him. And it’s why Colin Baker is (once again) completely shafted as The Doctor in the midst of his own era.

The reason the stuff with The Doctor is dramatically unfulfilling is because the plot has clearly moved on. Based on the structure of this The Doctor spends the entire episode catching up to where the rest of the plot is (spoilers! It’s in Seville). If we had STARTED with him and then showed him investigating this space station and show him piecing out the crazy shit that went down (setting things up for a later payoff) this is way more satisfying. “This laser bolt here. It melted the lock.” “Someone shut down the auto-destruct.” “He crawled to this control panel and then was summarily stabbed.”

It’s more Sherlocky, which is good and interesting. Everyone loves watching someone suss out a mystery or a puzzle, especially if it’s important for later and/or remarkably clever (as The Doctor is).

But the plot has moved on by this point. Clearly. The Doctor is wandering around an area and everyone else has CLEARLY moved out. Dastari has clearly left the building. The Sontarans have already come, slaughtered, and left. The Doctor and Jamie are nowhere to be found. Shockeye, a Sontaran, and Chessene have moved onto Seville, where the story will continue. And that’s what we want. A constant sense of moving forward. Feeling like we’re stuck in neutral is a sure way to get me to turn the story off because I’d rather watch something that’s, well, more engaging. Because this is the opposite of engaging.

That’s why the stuff with Shockeye etc. is so interesting (more on Shockeye later). Because it feels like the real story.

And it also explains why two random asshat moth catchers are more interesting than The Doctor and Peri. I mean, is there any other explanation? Oscar and Anita are randomly thrown in the middle of here and they… they catch moths! That’s what they DO! How fucking boring is that? And it’s interesting because they’re actually engaging with the Sontarans. And how much does it take? LITERALLY they have to see a Sontaran sphere fly over their heads and get scared. THAT’S ALL IT TAKES FOR ME TO BE MORE ENGAGED.

So here’s how you fix it. Make the first episode about Oscar/Anita and Peri/Doctor. Have them wandering around their respective locales. Have Oscar/Anita witness the landing of the Sontaran ship and see Shockeye, Chessene, and The Sontaran (Major Varl) stepping out and heading towards a Hacienda. And then they see a stretcher unloaded with The 2nd Doctor on it. Unconscious but mostly seeming unharmed. Meanwhile Peri and The Doctor investigate this space station and then at the very end they’re attacked by a crazy person who turns out to be JAMIE (whom The Doctor recognizes). And then (AND THEN!) you back up at the beginning of episode two and basically do the opening of this episode again as Jamie retells it to The Doctor and Peri and we learn that The 2nd Doctor was here and what he was up to. And continue the story as normal (or maybe not, we’ll see what I have to say in the next episode).

Isn’t that better? Doesn’t that fix everything? Give me Robert Holmes writing THAT. It turns Troughton into an exciting reveal to have the kids coming back next week. It fixes this thought that The Doctor and Peri are redundant. That they are is inexcusable and should NEVER be the case; I don’t give a fuck what previous Doctor is crossing over into the modern story; there’s no reason why the current Doctor shouldn’t be the major focus of the story at hand. It’s clearly his story. Make it that way. I’m also just going to come out and say that there’s NO REASON this should be forty five minutes. Cut it to twenty five. Forty five is impossibly excessive and means we have entire scenes that meander and take their time and not in a good way. God. The forty five minute format is something no one EVER got to work out. And it means that we’re left on a cliffhanger that feels like BOG STANDARD Doctor Who for a twenty five minute episode. At forty five minutes it feels laughably anti-climactic.

And no story called “The Two Doctors” should be so anti-climactic at the end of episode one.

Part 2:

There. That’s better, isn’t it?

Barring one exception, this episode is a vast improvement over the previous episode. Here the plot “rockets” forward (“rocket” being a relative term) once it gets off the bloody space station, and it’s funny how like… once they get away from the space station, the moratorium appears in what is, essentially, a six minute scene right at the top of the episode. Six minutes! Like for reals you guys! And thank goodness Colin Baker is good and can carry the scene along without you actually realizing it. It’s just weird that they don’t really crosscut it with anything to spice up the intrigue or the scene and that later on Holmes almost remembers to do that.

Not to get paranoid about it, but it feels amost impossibly specific. Like all the stuff on the space station WOULD be the least interesting stuff of the story.

So discounting the stuff on the space station (beceause it’s rubbish and a big waste of time and makes me hate this episode), the rest of this episode plugs along nicely. It takes its time sure, but it’s good in the way a six part story is good. Holmes uses his extra time to give all the major players an opportunity to play against The 2nd Doctor. Sure, The 2nd Doctor is strapped to a table, but it still allows him time to talk to the Sontaran commander and Dastari (who still looks like he’s right out of “Revelation”. Like seriously? Are we so aesthetically uncreative?).

It’s padding, yes. But I don’t really mind it that much because it gives us insights into these characters and their drives. It’s also them revealing their plans in total baddie fashion. But at the same time, it’s more motivations than anything and I can forgive it.

And really, only Troughton could hold his own against so many rotating characters without being able to stand up. Is it a poor use of Troughton? I suppose. I do like him manically flitting about the place, but that’s all episode three, isn’t it? This is just him verbally sparring with the people around him and being a consummate professional and fantastic Doctor. And it’s hard to complain because I’ll take as much Troughton as I can get and he’s still remarkably good here. I love the way he treats the different players with different options of disdain. It really… enhances the reality of these characters, doesn’t it? We understand The 2nd Doctor. We trust him. We like how he sees the people.

It also means that we now have The Doctor becoming The A-plot. No longer is he running about trying to catch up to The Plot. No. Now we have The 2nd Doctor stuck in a quagmire of not-moving-forward while The Doctor and Peri and Jamie all figure out where to go and what to do next.

It’s an interesting TARDIS team and one of the most remarkably clever choices Holmes makes here. By taking a chance on Frazer Hines and Colin Baker chemistry, he plays on something that the Big Finish team would later pick up on and run with for a whole ‘nother trilogy. And I’ve no idea why it works that The 6th Doctor and Jamie is NEARLY as good a pairing as 2nd/Jamie. On paper, it makes no sense. Imagine the 3rd, 4th, or 5th Doctors with Jamie. It just wouldn’t work. And yet… 6th/Jamie just feels right in the way that 6th/Charley ended up feeling right even after she was written out of being the quintessential 8th Doctor companion.

Why is that, though? Does it have something to do with The 6th Doctor’s demeanour? Is he perhaps chameleonic in the way other Doctors (who aren’t the 2nd Doctor) aren’t? But that can’t be it (or can it?). Maybe he is, though. I’m just not sure.

Honestly, here, I’m reminded most about why I romanticize and love this story. Everything is painted in and drawn so lovingly. Hell, even Oscar and Anita are interesting here (and again, they catch moths) and there’s a… tragedy to this that I find myself heartbroken by even though it hasn’t happened yet. I mean… I know what happens to Oscar, but he’s a guy who clearly doesn’t deserve it. He’s sucked into this story because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. I mean, he probably would be anyways (in the next episode, I mean). But this is a guy who’s kind of a geeky lamer dude. An aspiring actor who just happens to also like catching moths. It’s… unfair.

And then there’s the intrigue about the Androgums. I think I’ll save all the talk of Androgums and Shockeye for later, but I love the way Shockeye and Chessene are conspiring against Dastari and the Sontarans. It’s all subtle and sometimes it’s easy to forget that Chessene IS an Androgum based on Shockeye’s insane behavior (remember that part where he murdered a rat and ate it raw? It’s hard to imagine Chessene doing something like that). But the truth is there and it’s interesting to see that the two characters are not so disalike. They are both self-serving but in different ways. Chessene just has the brain power to do something about it that’s more than eating her fill of food and flesh. And I love seeing the two talk and spar. They’re a really excellent creation of Holmes and… well… proof of why he’s so good at what it is he does.

Part 3:

God dammit, Robert Holmes. God dammit.

Okay, so, if when I had finished part one you had asked me whether or not I would put this story at the top of my Colin Baker list I would say “no way in hell.” I mean, it’s still up there. It’s no “Attack” or “Timelash” or “Mark” or “Varos” or “Twin Dilemma”, but it’s just a drag. That first part was, anyways. Super drag. Super boring. Scenes that go on for too long. Nothing happening. Padding out the wazoo. When we got to episode two it was much, much better, but relatively speaking. Still about the same in terms of rankings (there’s not a lot of good Colin Baker on TV, you guys) but it’s a far cry from me being bored out of my skull. Hell, enjoyable is enjoyable and consistent and it’s hard to argue against that.

And then episode three reminds me why I really, really loved this story the first time. Because I boy howdy legitimately do love this story based purely on this episode alone.

So let’s talk about it.

The thing that strikes me most, and immediately is the tone. And tone is something that’s mostly conveyed by the director. Or at least, it’s the director’s job. And it’s not something that was prevalent in the first two episodes, but Holmes digging into an episode that goes ridiculously Holmesian creates a tone that is… impossibly strong. And perhaps that’s because it’s the third episode and things are happening fast and furious and hot and heavy, or maybe it’s because Peter Moffat (for all his faults) really, really gets it.

And it shows. Because this is easily the best single episode of Doctor Who he ever directed because it’s bloody specific.

This can’t have been easy. Robert Holmes fits into that same category as other creators like Joss Whedon and Bryan Fuller as writers who have a very specific tone that straddles the line between wonderfully comedic and terribly dark so it becomes… undefinable. It’s hard to capture (as Whedon was quick to point out on the recent commentary to the deliciously delightful Cabin in the Woods) and when you find someone who gets what you’re going for you hold on tight to them and never let go (and so he said about his editor Lisa Lassek).

Peter Moffat has never had that much of an effect on Doctor Who. His stories are always hallmarked by “competence”. Uninteresting camera angles, flat direction, but consistency. Nothing egregious. Standard.

Here it’s different. There’s shots that are exciting. Watching The Doctor flee from the house with the gash on his knee, watching Shockeye chase after him, or even watching Chessene lick The Doctor’s blood off the step (more on this later) are all shots that are visually arresting (and not even the Chessene one because of the licking of the blood, although that does help). Watching The Doctor and Jamie flee from a Sontaran while it shoots at them reminds me greatly of some of the better action sequences in “The Visition” (in a good way; that shit was and is legit exciting).

Really, too, it’s also… well… it’s echoes of Androzani, isn’t it? We’re just a few short weeks away from talking about it, but “Androzani” really became the boiler template for all future Eric Saward stories because nothing ever got the tone and feel as right as Androzani did. But what Androzani has that this episode has (that the previous two didn’t have) was any overtly science fiction elements. That story was all about ambience and atmosphere and being in Andzoani Minor. It’s missing from the first two episodes because the first two episodes are primarily based on a spaceship that is clearly sets and artifice. And it’s fine, but it’s not grounded in any sort of tone or feel except “sci-fi” or… something. There’s nothing specific to it. It doesn’t feel special. It doesn’t feel intentional. It feels incidental.

But everything about this episode feels remarkably specific and not really in a way that bothers me. Tonally, this story has been remarkably dark in its subject matter. Other stories feel violent to be violent and their violence does not stem from anywhere… organic. But with Holmes I’m almost willing to forgive it because he’s always heading to a definite place and because his humour goes so completely over the top into “hilarious” territory. I mean, I don’t see any of the other stories in this season being nearly as out and out hilarious as the bit where Shockeye walks in carrying the bloody, dismembered leg of a Sontaran. It’s grotesque but exceedingly hilarious. And it’s not like it’s not given a lot of play. Shockeye holds it for the whole scene and then just leaves it on a chair in the same way you’d casually set down a bag of food because you’re too busy for it.

If anything, though, that really sums up the level of involvement in the story, though. They really don’t do much, do they? Their solo goal is to “obtain time travel”, but the reasoning for this is never explicitly stated. And clearly (as pointed out in essays by both Philip Sandifer AND Robert Shearman) this seems the point. Holmes has the opportunity to bring back and do more with his original creations. The last time he did this it was with The Autons (doing “Terror of the Autons” after “Spearhead From Space”) and it featured him unleashing the promise of “aliens made of plastic” (essentially; it’s not entirely accurate but let’s go with it) by introducing the giant clowns and the plastic flowers and the evil phone cord. Here, though, he does nothing because he has no mandate TO do anything. All that Nathan-Turner said to Holmes was “bring back the Sontarans because god knows you’ll want to do something new with them after the last two times, which, I will admit, were not nearly as good as the first time.”

True to form, this episode is remembered because it’s one of the four Sontaran stories in the Classic series. But it’s not remembered as an Androgum story. Which is important, because (as Sandifer and Shearman both note and I agree with) this really should be the first Androgum story of many.

Because really, the thing I take away from this story (and what I didn’t the first time) is that it’s an Androgum story and NOT a Sontaran story. I walked in initially wanting a Sontaran story. I ended up disappointed. But if you approach it as an Androgum story (that happens to feature Sontarans) I can’t imagine walking away from this story thinking it anything less than tremendously satisfying. And I think the reason for that is because the Androgums are given an enormous amount of play. Sure, they’re not QUITE as ingenious as The Sontarans (what with the probic vents, amongst other things), but there’s a delightful barbarism that comes from Holmes’s wonderful imagination as he introduces the Androgums and builds them into fantastic Doctor Who monsters and without making them overtly grotesque or monsterific; (as Shearman/Sandifer point out: they look almost completely human/Time Lord).

Holmes also does this by starting them in a place of barbarism. They are, it seems, completely undignified. They are cannibals and obsessed with food. And yet, within their drive for food (we are, of course, going purely with assuming that Shockeye is a typical Androgum just like Linx was a typical Sontaran) they have remarkably refined tastes. Shockeye is remarkably specific with regards to knowing what he wants when it comes to a meal, knowing what part of the “animal” to select, what types of sauce to use, and how to prepare it. It’s a strange type of sophisticated, and difficult to argue anything otherwise. Hell, even the drive and tenacity with which Shockeye treats the situations presented to him are remarkably charming and endearing. He can think of nothing except consuming a human while on Earth (because it’s the local cuisine) and it’s honestly… well… it’s cute, isn’t it?

But that's not enough, is it? Holmes has to take this one step further and drive the point home. Because the moment in which Chessene sees The Doctor's blood on the ground is wonderfully... Androgum. And in a way where you wouldn't necessarily expect it. Chessene, as we are told early on and is proven throughout the story, is an Androgum but taken to a higher genetic level. She's got Androgum qualities, but they're heightened an increased brain capacity and an intelligence not usually afforded to Androgums. And yet! She cannot escape the drive of her base genetic code. Her licking the blood off the step is a luxury not even Shockeye indulges in (he's too busy giving chase to The Doctor). And it's a statement that turns Dastari around. He's aware that his genetic manipulation can't ever completely erase genetics: once an Androgum, always an Androgum. And Chessene fights it. Oh how she fights it. But she gives in and it's... delicious. Not just her drinking the blood (because she certainly seems to think it is), but as a character beat and a moment in the story. This is the true Chessene and why the genetic manipulation is a "bad" idea. Chessene is dangerous. She will plot and scheme like Dastari AND she'll feast as Shockeye feasts. It's why she's the last to go: in a Robert Holmes bloodbath/slaughter-ending the last (evil) character to go is always the evilest and most dangerous. The best for last, as it were.

I suppose now’s good point to sidebar into the death of Oscar, which, on initial viewing, left me somewhat ambivalent while on this viewing it left me feeling somewhat crushed. Oscar is the death in this that feels completely… unjustified, I suppose? No, perhaps that’s not right. Unfair. It feels unfair. And the reason for that is because he’s about as innocent a character as you can possibly imagine. He collects moths (he has hobbies, but the hobby is cute). He is an aspiring actor (he has dreams). He is temporarily running this restaurant for his friend (he is kind-hearted/giving). He wants no part of the narrative (he doesn’t deserve what the narrative foists upon him).

Yet for all of his troubles, he is murdered, killed by Shockeye in exchange for the bill. And it’s horribly unfair and tragic to see because… he didn’t deserve it. He was just doing his job.

His death, while tragic, fits perfectly in this… nightmarish tone that Holmes cultivates. He has a history of wholesale slaughtering his entire hoarde of characters in order to make the point of the story (“Pyramidsof Mars” and “Androzani” come to mind) and the only character to make it out of this story who isn’t The Doctor or a Companion is Anita, and even then she’s left mourning over Oscar’s body after his death. The rest of this story is a bloodbath in which the Sontarans are killed by Chessene/Dastari, Shockeye is murdered by The Doctor, Dastari is murdered by Chessene, and Chessene falls into The Doctor’s trap and dies screaming.

All of this is the result of numerous twists, betrayals, and doube-crosses. Yes. The betrayals come hot and heavy all throughout this episode. The Sontarans choose to betray Dastari and Chessene while the two of them are quick to pull a fast one on the Sontarans. And then you have Chessene preparing to double cross Dastari (which she does). And I love that. It feels so Androzani itself because it gives the characters specific wants and goals. Most of the time you have characters working with very specific goals that feel unsurprising when you see them scheming. But here we’re reminded that this uneasy Androgum-Sontaran-Dastari alliance is a pit of vipers. Everyone is only around because they need them for one goal. The second they have outlived their usefulness they plot their removal. And it’s so Holmes. Holmes’s characters are the conniving bastards who do this. And they’re this more than just about any other writer (excepting Eric Saward).

It’s the point, I think. And why not? As far as stories go, it’s remarkably gruesome and violent. Possibly the most violent Doctor Who story I’ve ever seen.

What I love most, though, is the humour as brought by Holmes. It’s delightfully funny. And not just the stuff with the dead Sontaran’s leg. Basically any scene with The Doctor and Shockeye is… incredible. There’s nothing like watching them form a comedic duo and head into Seville to feast like kings. Watching Shockeye dress up in coat tails like The Doctor and seeing the two of them march down the street like a pair of tramps or vagabonds is just… impossible not to love. And leave it to Patrick Troughton to completely sell every aspect of being an Androgum. He relishes in it and brings out all the traits that we come to understand: the ravenous appetite, the barbarism, the conviction/drive.

I mean, is there anything funnier than Oscar telling Anita that The Doctor and Shockeye ran up a bill of eighty one thousand, six hundred pesetas? And then listing all of the food and the sheer amount they’ve eaten is ludicrous. And then Shockeye being entirely nonplussed at having eaten thirty six thousand pesetas of food.

It’s incredible and one of my favorite things. Eric Saward is quick to point to this as “one of the funny ones” when it comes to this season and it’s easy to see why. This is about as wantonly funny as Holmes ever got. And yet it never feels like anything but the dark tone of the season. And that’s the thing about Holmes: it feels like a Holmes story and yet it also feels like a story that only could have come out around this time. He turns the violence of the whole situation to his advantage. More than any other Colin Baker story (outside of PERHAPS “Revelation”) this is the one that best balances the tone and gets it exactly right.

And with Peter Moffat no less. Of all the people. But it just goes to show you: 

Final Thoughts?: If this story were two episodes it would easily be the best of its season.

I know that's not exactly the popular opinion. "Vengeance on Varos" is held in higher regard than this, but the truth of the matter is I legitimately love everything about this that isn't in the first episode.

And why not? It's quintessentially Robert Holmes. The entire third episode is relentless in its scope/plotting. It's exciting. It's violent. It's sad. It's funny. Everyone dies. It's shot in Seville and shows the hell out of it. Originally it was supposed to be New Orleans, but that fell through, and you wouldn't REALLY know. The scenes at the hacienda are gorgeous and watching everyone race through Seville in search of The Doctor is basically the last half of the last episode of "Arc of Infinity" only done way better. The characters are ridiculously good (except the Sontarans) and it is a secret, scathing critique of returning monsters (who return because they are monsters who have returned). And of course it has the Androgums, which are wonderfully brilliant and terribly delightful to watch/experience. I almost want more of them, but at the same time that would defeat the point/statement that Holmes is trying to make here.

But enough of all the hashing I did before. Let's talk about the eponymousities of this.

First, Troughton, because he's the guest star here. Troughton in this... I mean... the first time I thought he was horribly underused, and in the first episode he is (because the first episode is rubbish). But watching him in the back two is a reminder as to why he's one of the top (and I mean top) actors in the history of the role. The guy is given nothing to do in episode two-- hell, he's basically reduced to flailing and jiggling his arms and yet he steals every scene. And then in episode three he cuts loose. Completely loose. That's apparent from the FIRST SECOND Shockeye unveils him as an Androgum and Troughton digs his teeth into the part and never lets go for a second. Watching him eat is hilarious. Watching him bounce off Shockeye is brilliant. Watching them trounce around Spain dressed like Vagabond Hobos is incredible. Hell. There's even the way he sprints (and I mean SPRINTS) after that truck to try and hitch a ride. I mean, my god. This is a man in his mid 60s, less than three years away from his death (by over-exerting a heart condition no less) and yet he's sprinting around like a man in his 30s. If that's not quintessential Troughton (young man in an old man's body) I don't know what is.

It's no wonder he's honest to god one of my all-time favorite Doctors. Jesus.

And then there's Colin Baker.

Okay. Colin Baker? Honestly pretty damn good here. He's remarkably restrained after the previous few stories and that's the sorta thing that comes with time with his Doctor. But at the same time, we have Holmes writing The Doctor in a way that feels positively quintessential. He understands The Doctor and gets The Doctor's moments and movements. Now, I'm not sure why the holy hell The Doctor had to murder Shockeye (I suppose it was a life or death situation and there was no other choice; kill or be killed, as it were) but surely there musta been another way. And yet, his relationship with Peri here is tolerable, even palatable. His dealing with the other characters is quite delightful. And his smugness is perfectly restrained by... well... everything, like I said. It's a reminder of why Colin Baker is one of the good actors in the role. He's total Doctor here, but in a way that contrasts with Troughton's interpretation. He's perhaps less... specific than Troughton. But Colin Baker IS one of my favorite Doctors and watching this story I'm reminded why.

And you know what? This might not be the popular opinion, but there's nothing like seeing The Doctor and The Doctor tied up to a post and exchanging words and complimenting and berating each other for their separate and yet mutual thoughts. Its' one of the highlights of the story, yes. It's what we've been waiting for, yes. But the key here is that it doesn't disappoint. Compare this scene to the final beat of "The Five Doctors" where the teasy conversation is there almost because "it has to be". Here it's more organic (mostly because it's not at the end, I suppose). This is part of the plot of the story and it led us to this moment here. And I don't care what you think about Colin Baker, I don't see how you can be a Doctor Who fan wanting a multi-Doctor crossover and be disappointed by this.  Isn't this what you want and doesn't it work spectacularly? God. It's just... brilliant and makes me ache for another multi-Doctor crossover. Hell, maybe something like this, where the catharsis of seeing our Doctors get two minutes alone together feels totally worth it.

But more than anything, there's a casualness to it. This is a story that our heroes just happen to partake in. It's not an event. It's not a big splashy. It's just a small story that happens to crossover.

Is it weird I prefer that? I mean, I prefer most things about the third episode in general, but the fact that this story exists as a small moment makes it feel all the more remarkable. Who doesn't love it? Seriously. Watching Troughton is always a delight. Watching him squeeze into a Colin Baker story is brilliant. But watching the two of them interact and play off each other is more than just fanwank. It's two men who know each other intimately and yet both can't help but argue because what else would you do if you met yourself? I just.... I love it. I love the lack of flash. I love that it was a fun idea and a cool possibility and they went for it and this is what we got.

They didn't need a reason. They just did. And why does it have to be a big deal with bells and whistles? All that matters is it be a kickass story. Who cares about the why; let's just have a good time.

It's really good, I say. And yes, I say that unabashedly loving the third episode and actively despising the first. But the point stands. This is a great story and a gem of its era. If it were one episode shorter it would absolutely be the pick of the season. Were that the season's other stories here could achieve its greatness. And it's not even Holmes's best. No. Those are coming up. But it is one of Colin Baker's best and Troughton deserves some particular applause for carrying along this story even in the face of it being completely unintelligible (why are they turning him into an Androgum again?). It gets us to interesting places. It takes us to beautiful places. And it's all the richer for it.

See? All it takes is a kickass episode to completely turn me around.

Next Time!: 1st Doctor! Giant bugs! Beauty! Special effects! And ambition out the wazoo! "The Web Planet"! Coming Next Tuesday!

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