To best comprehend Colin Baker’s first episode as the Doctor, perhaps we start with the serial’s last line: “Whatever else happens, I am the Doctor, whether you like it or not!”
Well, that’s a little brash, ain’t it? The first part of The Twin Dilemma even has the newly-regenerated Sixth Doctor go in brief little fits of madness in which he attempts to strangle and kill his own companion Peri (Nicola Bryant), resulting in intense psychological torture for the young woman. Especially coming off of the more easy-going Fifth incarnation played by Peter Davidson, the shift in tones between Doctors is nothing short of jarring, and in looking at the ratings for this serial, the public en masse agreed (note how viewership drops by over one million viewers between Part One and Part Four). Baker’s Doctor was just as pompous as Tom Baker’s fourth, but sans the same lovable charismatic charm, marking for a very, very odd introduction to a whole new era of Who.
The plot is simple: two mathematically brilliant young twins named Romulus and Remus (played by real-life twins Gavin and Andrew Conrad, respectively) are kidnapped by an old man named Edgeworth (Maurice Denham), who has been told by the slug-like ruler Mestor (Edwin Richfield) that he needs the boy’s brilliance in order to help construct a diabolical scheme that will eventually rearrange some planets (although the reasons why are unknown to Edgeworth himself).
The twin’s father contacts the authorities and soon an international search party are sent forth to try and retrieve the boys, all while the Doctor and Peri wind up getting mixed up in the hunt as well. Along the way, servants’ brains are fried, the Doctor pledges to take a 1,000-year sabbatical, and Mestor’s diabolical plan is finally revealed (and, oddly, it’s not all that different from the plot of Transformers 2).
Yet, in its own way, The Twin Dilemma is not as much about the plot as it is about introducing the new Doctor’s persona. Frequently, the show usually goes with a “lightweight” sort of episode to get things into motion, but with Colin Baker, producer John Nathan-Turner wanted to try something new. The plan, apparently, was to make the Sixth Doctor wholly unlikable at first, but then very gradually peeling away layers until we see a more humanized, lovable version of him.
Of course, that isn’t how things played out, and instead of making a dislikable Doctor that we could grow to love, Colin Baker’s first appearance was just out-and-out dislikable, showcasing a hubris and harshness that was heretofore unseen in the Doctor’s emotional canon. For his part, Baker isn’t at fault here: he plays a self-centered Doctor offshoot quite well (too well, perhaps?).
Instead, The Twin Dilemma is a serial that drops the clever literary allusions that so peppered Who-episodes of yore and instead seeks to create its own sci-fi world, which, truth be told, just doesn’t hold up as strongly. It’s not that the episode is unmatchable, boring, or the worst serial to ever grace the franchise (as many fans have oft-claimed); it’s just that the Sixth Doctor’s first appearance is so off-putting, it’s hard to really rally behind the rest that The Twin Dilemma has to offer.
This aspect is wisely sidestepped in many of the special features that dote this disc. Although the interviews with various BBC television programs show Baker featuring a bit of smugness to him, some of the behind-the-scenes moments prove far more entertaining. After a serviceable look at how the title sequence was constructed with Sid Sutton (in a featurette called “The Star Man”), we get a real fun little interlude called “Looking 100 Years Younger” wherein Baker and Amy Lamé look back at each of the Doctor’s wardrobes and note what made each of them so unique, from the too-high pants for Second Doctor Patrick Troughton to the “geek chic” look for Tenth Doctor David Tennant.
When it comes to Baker’s own turn, he notes that his carnival-like jacket was like “an explosion in a rainbow factory”, and takes it with relatively good humor. The long-running “Stripped for Action” featurette series continues to be the best extra of the bunch (as per usual), showing that during Baker’s run as the Sixth Doctor, the Doctor Who comic strips got even more daring, taking bold, smart chances with the character and even giving him a talking penguin sidekick named Frobisher (no, really).
When all is said and done, The Twin Dilemma remains serviceable Who fare, but not a “great” serial by any stretch of the imagination. Although Baker’s tenure would eventually climb to solid thematic ground (like on the great, twisting Trail of a Time Lord), this is one of those rare regenerations that can be considered wholly inessential.