“The Two Doctors” is a story that I enjoy quite a bit, but in all honesty I probably shouldn’t since much of the narrative contains characters acting in gruesome and unpleasant ways. The inclusion of Patrick Troughton and Frazier Hines very much saves it from being nearly as grim as “Revelation of the Daleks”. I’ve tried to imagine the plot without the presence of those two actors playing the second Doctor and Jamie, and what we would end up with is cannibalistic aliens and Sontarans trying to learn how to time travel. It’s not quite as gruesome as turning corpses into food and cadavers into Daleks, but sometimes it comes very close. The plot is also nothing novel in bare bones form. It’s the novelty of two Doctors interacting that raises this story above average, along with the usual Robert Holmes characters and dialogue.
The story begins with the second Doctor and Jamie traveling to visit Dastari, an old friend of the Doctor who is in charge of a research facility experimenting with time travel. The second Doctor is working on behalf of the Time Lords, which immediately contradicts the history of the show. This, combined with the Doctor’s visibly older appearance and his knowledge of Jamie and Zoe’s fate in “The Five Doctors” have given rise to the “Season 6b” fan theory, which states that the Doctor did some work for the Time Lords between “The War Games” and “Spearhead from Space”. This has no real effect on the plot, but it is a notable glitch in an era known for mining continuity for story ideas. Particularly since Robert Holmes actually wrote for Troughton’s Doctor in his final season, and might have been expected to know better. Since I like the idea of a longer life for the second Doctor than what we saw onscreen, I’m perfectly happy to accept this as an older, post-“War Games” version of Two, working for the Time Lords in order to continue to keep his freedom.
Enough with that rabbit trail. Troughton is excellent in the early scenes, and is then wasted for most of the rest of episode one and much of part two. It’s not until halfway through part three that we really get to see some strong, extended action from him, and some good interaction between the second and sixth Doctors. For well over half the story, Troughton’s Doctor is imprisoned by the Sontarans and the Androgums who want to surgically extract the symbiotic nuclei that allow him to control the TARDIS. He’s strapped to a gurney and gets very little to do, and it’s a major deficiency in the story when what we want to see is a full-on involvement in events much as we saw in “The Three Doctors”. Back when the NA “The Left-Handed Hummingbird” was published, fans went on about how novel it was to see the Doctor as a victim as though it was something new. Did any of them watch “The Two Doctors”, where the second Doctor is very much a victim? He’s captured, drugged, comes within an inch of being cut up by a miniature chainsaw and is temporarily altered into an Androgum. If not for his future self coming along to rescue him, the Doctor would have been surgically butchered and his travels ended right there. If that’s not being victimized, I don’t know what is. And I don’t really care for it, to be honest. Troughton deserved a better role than this. He’s very much a guest star in Colin Baker’s show, rather than being given the equal billing and action that I’d have preferred.
Jamie fares somewhat better, and spends two episodes with the sixth Doctor and Peri. He’s not quite as front and center as the character was during his time on the show, but he’s still a welcome addition to the story. Notable moments include his disappointment when he tries to elicit a kiss from Anita, and his usual defiant attitude in the face of danger. The idea that he’d be temporarily deranged from fear has always seemed out of character however, and seems to have been added to the plot just to provide a cliffhanger for part one.
The villains of the story are three-fold, and consist of Dastari, the two Androgums Shockeye and Chessene, and the Sontarans. The Sontarans feel very tacked-on, and contribute little in terms of the story. They slaughter the inhabitants of the space station and transport the others to Earth, both of which could have been accomplished via other means. After that, they strut around and bark orders, plot to double-cross Chessene, and are themselves finished off via what the Doctor describes as a “double-double-cross”. They add some color to the plot, but little else, unless you count this appearance as the reason that the third Doctor recognizes them in “The Time Warrior”.
The Androgums are the source of much of the gruesome material in this story, including cannibalism and torture. While both villains are well-motivated and entertainingly brought to life by their respective actors, they are among the more depraved villains we’ve seen in Doctor Who. Shockeye, the “pure” Androgum, is obsessed with food. More than anything, he wants to butcher and eat a human. He eats an old woman offscreen after snapping her neck, almost carves Peri up, and tortures Jamie by ‘tenderizing’ the meat prior to his intended dismemberment. He catches and eats a rat, and in one of the more offensively violent acts in the story, stabs a waiter to death after the audience has had time to get to know this charming and inoffensive character. Shockeye is acted with relish by John Stratton, who makes him about as grotesquely enthusiastic about his disgusting actions as possible. When the Doctor kills him with cyanide at the end of the story, it’s hard not to agree that he’s gotten his “just desserts”. As a teenager I wasn’t really bothered by Shockeye, but as an adult watching this story for the first time in a number of years, I find that eating a rat, stabbing a waiter and butchering a defenseless old lady really do go too far. Yes, villains should be nasty and demonstrate their evil nature, but there are lines that I don’t like to see crossed.
And it’s a shame, because as is usual from Robert Holmes, there’s some good character work on display. Dastari is described as an old friend of the Doctor, but the man is clearly willing to participate in highly immoral actions in order to promote his creation, the augmented Androgum Chessene. The Doctor warns him that her brutal nature cannot be changed, a point which Dastari refuses to believe. Rather than raising her to a higher plane of conciousness, it is in fact Dastari who is dragged down to her level as they plot with the Sontarans to slaughter the entire station of scientists, and then to butcher the Doctor for a fragment of genetic material. It is very telling that while Dastari is clearly increasingly bothered by the string of corpses left behind in Chessene’s wake that it takes the sight of her reverting to form and licking the injured Doctor’s blood off the ground to finally make Dastari decide that he’s had enough. It’s not the murders that finally cause him to snap, it’s the failure of his creation to live up to the standards he had set for her. The Doctor’s early observation that Dastari was proud of his own skill when it came to Chessene was dead on the money, and Dastari’s admission at the end that all the killing was ultimately his fault was long overdue. Fittingly, he is gunned down by Chessene without a second thought.
Chessene is the driving force behind all the events of the story. It was her enhanced intellect that drove the time experiments of Kartz and Reimer. Knowing that such experiments would draw the attention of the Time Lords, Chessene made a deal with the Sontarans to kidnap that Time Lord and slaughter the inhabitants of the Camera station so that evidence of the kidnapping would be hidden. It was always in her mind to betray the Sontarans, given her knowledge of the acid that kills them and the fact that she brought some along. She even betrays Shockeye in order to steal his genetic material and kills Dastari, proving the Doctor’s observation that to Androgums, treachery is as natural as breathing. Chessene has every intention of leading her people into conquest, presumably the better to eat every interesting race they come across. She is every bit as vile as Shockeye, but her evil is hidden beneath a calm and well-mannered exterior.
Finally, there are Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant whose characters are drawn into events when the sixth Doctor telepathically connects with the second. Presumably they’re in close proximity for this to happen since it has never been seen before or since, and the Doctor’s been in pain or in danger of death frequently throughout his life. The Doctor follows his younger self to Earth after rescuing Jamie and proceeds to work behind the scenes to rescue himself and thwart the Androgums and Sontarans. It’s a refreshing change of pace to have two incarnations of the Doctor encounter each other simply because they happened to essentially be in the same place at the same time, as the sixth Doctor notes. It’s an idea that makes good sense, and it allows the plot to work without being an epic adventure. Colin Baker gives his usual strong performance, and even gets to ditch the technicolor coat in favor of a Hawaiian vest and his usual yellow trousers. I love the “plain clothes bunch” joke when Oscar assumes the Doctor, Jamie and Peri are from Interpol. One of the best jokes in the story.
Troughton and Baker play off each other well. Like Two and Three in “The Three Doctors”, Two and Six argue and compete, but it all seems very natural and flows well from the situations the two end up in. Yet again, it’s a failing of this serial that we don’t see the two Doctors paired up more than the little screen time they get together in episode three. It’s a delight to watch them compete, and it’s also a delight to watch them work together at the end of the third episode.
I used to enjoy this story far more than I do now. I still enjoy most of it, and it certainly contains an interesting plot, but the black humor and gruesome subject matter detract from an otherwise reasonably good storyline and make portions of the story simply uncomfortable to watch. Troughton’s second Doctor has an unsatisfactory role as a victim for much of the story, but as always is delightful to see again and manages to add that little something special that he always brings to Doctor Who. The interaction between him and Colin Baker is a delight to watch. “The Two Doctors” has a lot going for it, but should have been so much more.