|At last, the Doctor is confronted with the horror of|
a wardrobe choice worse than plaid pants.
It’s February 16, 1985, which is, if we are being honest, yet another odd time for it to be on the road from June of 1969 to January of 1970, but hey, there was still an awful lot of acid going around in 1969, and who are we to question it. Perhaps Doctor Who just nipped off to Woodstock and lost track of things like everyone else. We’ll be here again later, so we may as well skip the music and news and get on to the meat of things, namely the latest adventure of Patrick Troughton, a story called The Two Doctors.
Starting off, it’s shocking how much has changed in this six month gap between seasons six and seven. I mean, look at the new opening credits. The starfield opening is certainly lush, and it’s hard to imagine how it was done with 1970s theme music, but what the heck is with this awful theme music? This isn’t going to stay around for the whole decade, is it? Still, things pick up immediately after. And you get to see the switch to color live! They turn the switch right in the middle of the episode, with the opening scene fading from black and white to color! That’s cool!
Hm. Much as it’s tempting to just continue to review this trying to maintain the conceit that it is a Patrick Troughton story, I think we have to admit, this approach is not even remotely maintainable through the full two and a half hours of The Two Doctors. So let’s back up and take this more honestly. Monday we looked at the slightly bewildering Season 6B idea on its own, as a follow-up to the Troughton era, and found it wanting. Today, in the second and final part of our tour of a fictional season of Doctor Who, we look at the story most responsible for this idea. It’s fair, before we get too deep into this, to ask why we’re even monkeying around here in the first place instead of being into the Pertwee era already.
The answer, roughly, is that this whole idea is too self-evidently ludicrous to take seriously. It is obvious watching The War Games that there is no Season 6B. Or, actually, no. It’s not obvious, because The War Games is so far from supporting a Season 6B that in and of itself, nobody would have come up with such a silly idea. (OK, not quite nobody) Season 6B, in terms of The War Games, isn’t even wrong. It has no relationship whatsoever with The War Games. And yet multiple writers have opted to set stories in this obvious anachronism. It’s a paradox within Doctor Who – something that clearly does exist from one perspective, and clearly doesn’t from another.
I should also, I suppose, briefly disclaim regarding the Colin Baker era, given that it is possibly the most contentious era of Doctor Who there is, save possibly the Sylvester McCoy era. Actually, it’s not even particularly contentious – almost everybody finds massive fault with it. It’s more that there’s an elaborate blame game, with all of the primary sources having massive axes to grind with the other primary sources and generally suggesting that the era would have been great if it weren’t for X. (Generally X is either John Nathan-Turner or Eric Saward.) I tend to agree with the assessment that the Colin Baker years are deeply, deeply flawed. I think the problems are far, far deeper than what can be laid at the feet of one or even two particular creative forces. All of which said, I actually enjoy the era, with this story being one of the high points. It’s just that, more than any other era of Doctor Who, it is one I often have to enjoy in spite of itself.
So yes. To get up to speed, in 1985, while Colin Baker was the incumbent Doctor, Robert Holmes was commissioned to write a story pairing him with the Second Doctor. The result is The Two Doctors. But for reasons obscured by the mists of 1985 (which will turn out to be a very misty year, with almost nobody involved in the series having an account of it that is entirely compatible with anyone else’s), he did so in a way that wrecked havoc with continuity. Specifically, he has the Second Doctor and Jamie traveling alone together (Victoria is said to be “studying graphology”) in an apparently accurately steerable TARDIS doing missions for the Time Lords. All parts of this, including, frankly, Victoria the graphologist, seem patently ludicrous in terms of the Troughton era, where the Doctor clearly could not steer the TARDIS and where Jamie has clearly not heard of the Time Lords (since he asks about them in The War Games).
The resulting continuity problems are why the Season 6B idea was cooked up. Mind you, Holmes seemed to know what he was doing at the time. Which isn’t surprising – we shouldn’t forget that Holmes wrote the stories immediately before and after The War Games. In an interview, quoted extensively here, he states his view that the Time Lords were in partial control of the TARDIS throughout Troughton’s tenure and that the trial was a hypocritical sham – certainly a view consistent with his later interpretations of Gallifrey, though equally clearly not intended by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke in 1969. I’ve my own theories on why he tortured continuity so viciously, but we are going to do this story again when we hit it in the normal sequence of things, so I should leave something in the tank for that reading. (One clue – it has to do with Attack of the Cybermen.) Tat Wood, in About Time, also makes a strong argument based on the fact that there is a continually advancing “present” for Time Lords and that Troughton was working not for the Time Lords of The War Games, but rather for Time Lords from the Colin Baker era who were looking for someone they could send subtly.
All of which said, Season 6B still feels like a better explanation than Holmes’s, if only to account for Troughton’s behavior in this story. Some fans opt to get hung up on the fact that the Doctor and Jamie are visibly older in this story than they were in the 1960s. This strikes me as a strange thing for anyone who is generally OK with pretending that men in rubber suits are monsters to complain about, given the difficulties of casting a fifteen-years-younger Patrick Troughton in 1985. But that’s not the only issue here. At one point in the first episode the Doctor lays into Jamie for speaking in a “mongrel” tongue. This would be alarmingly cruel coming from the Sixth Doctor’s mouth. To hear it out of Troughton’s is jaw-dropping. There is no point anywhere in seasons 4-6 where Troughton’s Doctor would ever say anything like that to Jamie. If nothing else, Season 6B makes more sense than fouling the actual televised Doctor with that.
But that’s hardly the only problem here. Watched immediately after The War Games or, as I ended up watching it, interleaved with episodes of Spearhead From Space, The Two Doctors is jarring in its extremity. It’s not just the anger of the Second Doctor. It’s not even the violence of it – the lion’s share of The War Games, after all, is set in a reenactment of World War I. Rather, it’s the way the series here revels in the violence.
There is, for someone accustomed to the approach of season six, something genuinely shocking about the relationship between this story and violence. It’s not just a problem with the Doctors, although they certainly are out of sorts. Troughton is less upset about having just been turned into an Androgum and watching his dinner companion coldly murder someone than one might hope. Baker, on the other hand, is almost unrecognizable as “the Doctor” at times when compared to the character as understood in 1969. It’s not just that he dispatches one of the main villains by smothering him with cyanide – something that is not quite unreasonable in and of itself given that the villain is a murderous sociopath who wants to eat him and his companions and that he is actively being hunted by said villain and is wounded. Rather, it’s that, after killing him, Baker’s Doctor stands over his corpse and makes wisecracks at him. This is the problem – it’s not difficult to imagine Troughton killing things – he basically ran around with a gun shooting Ice Warriors in The Seeds of Death. It’s that it’s nearly impossible to imagine him reveling in it and gloating about it.
But it’s not just the Doctors reveling in death here. It’s the entire production. Every inch of this story seems to fetishize death, whether it be in discussions of it or, in the end, in grotesque shots of Sontarans with their (alarmingly bright green) viscera spewing about the place. This is Doctor Who that does not just use violence to resolve plot threads here and there, it seems to love violence and see violence as central to the show’s pleasure.
Admittedly, the story has a point to make about that. Not just in the way that it ends with the Doctor committing himself to vegetarianism (a commitment that actually seems hard to justify for Baker’s Doctor, who has been far less confronted with the horrors of the Androgum diet than any of the other leads), but also, as Rob Shearman points out in his quite brilliant guest-defense in About Time, in the entire treatment of the Androgums. Shearman makes the compelling case that the central cleverness of the Androgums is that they act and are treated like generic Doctor Who monsters, but they look basically human only with red eyebrows and some warts. Thus, Shearman argues, the Androgums become a critique of typical Doctor Who monsters. The Doctor standing over Shockeye’s body and gloating is supposed to be uncomfortable.
Shearman also argues that Troughton’s Doctor is made deliberately unlikable through the whole thing, with his only turn at clowning around in the manner the fans wanted being when he himself has been turned into an Androgum, arguing that this is the sort of crowning glory of Holmes’s by then famous sense of black humor (which has not been on full display in either of the Holmes stories we’ve covered). It’s a fair argument – Holmes is certainly that clever. But there’s something we can’t quite get around here. All of this remains incredibly cynical and, at times, downright mean-spirited.
Yes, there’s a brilliant black humor in tweaking fan expectations and parodying the normal treatment of aliens by having excessively human monsters. The latter is even, as a commenter pointed out in the comments on the World Game entry, largely a critique on the Troughton era. After all, I ended the Troughton era by observing that the problem the show was running into was, basically, that it had a psychedelic trickster god, an 18th century Scotsman, and a futuristic walking computer ambling about and in no way intervening in any real human dramas. It was, in other words, all monsters and no heart.
Certainly The Two Doctors can’t be accused of having nothing to say about people. But at least in comparison with the Troughton era, I’m not sure it can be credited as having anything good to say about people. The lack of connection with human concerns is certainly alleviated, though notably only in the Sixth Doctor. Holmes, in playing Troughton fairly unsympathetically through this, actually never really has him interact meaningfully with human concerns. Indeed, Holmes doesn’t really have Troughton interact meaningfully with much of anything in this story – he’s shorted any real moments of triumph or accomplishment in the entire plot.
But here we come back to the first problem we noticed with Troughton’s Doctor in this story – his laying into Jamie for his “mongrel” tongue. Yeah, the Doctor has human concerns in this story. But his concern with humanity seems largely to be disdain. Look at the interaction between Baker’s Doctor and Peri throughout the story, especially coming off of the effortless camaraderie of the Troughton/Hines/Padbury team. Look in particular as Peri appears to mouth “asshole” at him after a particularly bruising bit of “banter.” (although apparently the canonical epithet is “I know” in response to the Doctor saying something snide about humans, I’d point out that the mouth motions are virtually identical) Troughton’s Doctor may have been blind to humanity at times, but again, he at least always seemed to like people. Baker’s Doctor seems to both understand them and frankly despise them.
It’s not that this story is, as Tat Wood suggests in his review of it, simply mean-spirited and cruel. It has a point. Rather, it’s that it’s cynical. Troughton’s Doctor was fundamentally utopian. In the end, it can be argued, misguidedly so, but utopian all the same. Baker’s Doctor isn’t at all. Baker’s show isn’t at all. It’s not that the show has nothing to say, nor that what it has to say is wrong. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to have anything good to say about the world. It is an ugly, cynical, and vicious show, at least when compared to the Troughton era.
Which is basically where the entire Season 6B debate ends up. Yes, in terms of what happens on screen up to 1985, Season 6B is probably the easiest and simplest explanation for the continuity errors involved in The Two Doctors. It only involves retconning a single episode of the Troughton era, unlike Holmes’s apparent intentions, which muck up most of the era. Tat Wood’s explanation may be slightly better, but fails to account for Jamie not knowing who the Time Lords were in The War Games, which is still a significant hole. Watching The Two Doctors in 1985, assuming a Season 6B makes more sense.
But from the perspective of the Troughton era? It’s not just that, as we saw on Monday, Season 6B is ludicrous in terms of the 1960s. It’s something more than that. It’s not that Season 6B is a bad way of reconciling 1985 Doctor Who with 1969 Doctor Who. It’s that, for someone who loves the Doctor Who of 1969 in all its psychedelic and utopian glory… why would you want this to be a part of it?