Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: The Two Doctors DVD

By Jim Smith on 26 November 2005

The rather generically entitled ‘The Two Doctors’ is a very standard example of ‘Doctor Who’. Despite the obvious ‘glamour’ of it featuring the 80s Doctor (Colin Baker) meeting his 60s self (Patrick Troughton) and old chum Jamie (Frazer Hines) for a spot of conceptually peculiar cross-temporal adventuring it’s not the ‘event’ that the re-appearance of the series much loved second lead actor could (should?) have been.

Neither is it, incidentally, the quality production that the money clearly thrown at the serial (it was largely filmed on location in Spain, and it has a gargantuan running time of 135 minutes) should have created. It is, however, rather entertaining, and a bog standard example of ‘Doctor Who-as-the-general-public-understand-it’.

Some not-quite-as-well-designed-as-they-should-be monsters wish to acquire some information/technology, which will enable them to achieve some sort of military victory. This is the 1980s, so Doctor Who’s own people the once omnipotent, now merely omnipresent, Time Lords are somehow involved, and while it’s a pretty solid adventure story, backed up by some pleasingly grandiloquent performances from an excellent cast. It is also extraordinarily blandly directed, even by the general standard of 80s TV. The studio sequences in particular lack the vibrancy, pace and life of, say, a small cheese omelette falling slowly off a table and into a little pile of dust. In the dark.

Mind you, very little ‘Doctor Who’ is noticeably directed, and while Peter Moffat’s camerawork and editing are sloppily lacklustre here, they don’t drift into actual ineptitude. Well, not too often anyway, and overall production is of a slightly higher standard than you expect from ‘Doctor Who’. The Spanish locations are charming, glossy and pointless, and some of the sets are excellent (a nice basement) while others are dull (a grey space-station kitchen) but the whole serial strikes a nice tonal balance, it’s a grotesque, anti-military, anti-factory farming runaround, with some pleasing conceits and much good verbiage. It’s flawed fun, with some nastiness and thought, which pretty much makes it bog standard ‘Doctor Who’, for my money anyway, and it’s far more watchable than many, much more highly thought of, ‘Doctor Who’ serials.

Both Doctors give strong performances; Troughton is a worried, greying, slightly arrogant schoolboy, alternatingly entirely unaware of, then suddenly very proud of, his own erratic brilliance. The adjective ‘Chaplin-esque’ is often, thoughtlessly, used to describe Troughton’s Doctor, but watching this it’s clear how much of the Second Doctor’s body language, and facial tics, are lifted from the Chaplin’s silent movie era persona. Colin Baker, often criticised and much underrated as Doctor Who, is also on fine form. Random, caustic, edgy, but also brave, noble, proud and sentimental, it’s a performance the actor is thinking about at all times. It’s also something of a shock to realize how good he looks in the part, with his vile clothes and shocking air and a physicality that moves between the effete and implicit violence from moment to moment; this Doctor truly is a fallen aristocrat, a renegade peer, a feudal Lord of some unimaginably vast culture who has loudly and publicly gone off his nut. Also hugely enjoyable are Clinton Greyn’s spluttering Group Marshall (“Inflexible policy!”), Frazer Hines’ sly Jamie (“Look at the size of that thing, Doctor!”), John Stratton’s roaring Shockeye (“I can just taste that Flesh!”) and Jacqueline Pearce’s supercilious Chessene (“Ahead, lies a vision!”).

As is usual with the BBC’s Doctor Who DVDs, there are plenty of extras. Of especial interest to your reviewer is ‘A Fix with Sontarans’ a sketch of some dozen minutes or so from ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ which features Baker’s Doctor in character, battling Sontarans alongside pre-teen Dr Who fan Gareth Jenkins and his old assistant Tegan (who left before Peter Davison bequeathed Baker the title role). As a child I was delighted by this segment of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’. In my child brain Tegan had been gone since forever, and I delighted in seeing her again as much as those twenty years my senior did in the re-appearance of Troughton and Hines. It’s still a fun little romp, and notable for the way that it shifts when Gareth Jenkins enters the fray – Baker stops playing the Doctor to the camera and directs his performance entirely at the little boy, he’s no longer thinking of the audience, he’s thinking of making meeting-Doctor-Who-in-the-TARDIS as real as possible for this child. Which is absolutely the right thing to be doing, of course, and emphasises Baker’s commitment to a part he publicly admitted he adored playing.

Baker’s enthusiasm for the part also come across in a 30 minute BBC schools radio programme included as another extra which, along with ‘A Fix….’ helps go a long way toward demolishing that nonsensical old chestnut (put around by the 70s retro brigade, incapable of seeing that ‘I don’t like this’ doesn’t actually extend to ‘No one likes this’) that kids didn’t like ‘Doctor Who’ in 1985.

There are four documentaries; ‘Under the Lights’ is an exhaustive (and exhausting to watch) compilation of studio footage detailing the amount of work that went into a day in an electronic video tape studio in the 80s, ‘Under the Sun’ is an equally vast compilation of unused film footage. ‘Sun’ is more enjoyable, at least partially because the actors seem to be having more fun, and again Baker’s commitment and enthusiasm are both apparent and vast. Sadly both documentaries feature minimal Troughton, although that’s hardly something the team behind this disc could help (the actor died in 1987 and they’re relying entirely on archive material for his contribution).

‘Behind the Sofa’ is a strangely non-comprehensive tribute to ‘Doctor Who’ writer Robert Holmes. Those of the late Holmes’ colleagues who do turn up contribute bright anecdotes and obviously genuine emotion when talking about their friend and colleague, but a couple of Holmes’ scripts are jumped over for no readily apparent reason. A few extra minutes devoted to discussing ‘The Ribos Operation’ would have been much appreciated by those of us here at Shiny Shelf, as we’re all rather partial to that one.

‘Adventures in Time and Spain’ is a largely to-camera piece by Gary Downie, who worked on ‘The Two Doctors’. Seemingly an interesting man who clearly cares about his subject, Downie is unfortunately obviously uncomfortable in front of a camera, and this gets in the way of the information he’s trying to convey.

The ‘Fortieth Anniversary Celebration’ (i.e. neat trailer thing) and some alternating commentary tracks featuring (in various combinations) director Moffat, Pearce, Baker, Hines and Nicola Bryant (CB’s assistant, Peri) round out the package. Hines in particular is amusing, and Baker is articulate and thoughtful as ever.

This is neither the best Doctor Who TV story, nor the best Doctor Who DVD package of recent months, but there’s much to enjoy here all the same.

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