Chapter 103. Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma (1986)

Synopsis: Peri has just witnessed her new friend die and be replaced by a completely different man. Unstable after the trauma of regeneration, this new Doctor is loud, violent and self-obsessed – and Peri is terrified of him. Deciding to become a hermit on a barren moon, the Doctor instead becomes entangled in a policeman’s investigation into the kidnapping of hyper-intelligent twins. The culprit is someone the Doctor once knew, but is now enslaved by a megalomaniacal slug with mind-boggling ambitions.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Home Time
  • 2. The Maladjusted Time Lord
  • 3. Enter Professor Edgeworth
  • 4. Mestor the Magnificent
  • 5. Titan Three
  • 6. An Unsafe Safe House
  • 7. The Reunion
  • 8. Jaconda, the Beautiful!
  • 9. End Game, Part One
  • 10. End Game, Part Two

Background: Eric Saward adapts the scripts by Anthony Steven for a 1984 serial.

Notes: Professor Archie Sylvest is a university lecturer who lives with his wife, Nimo, and their 12-year-old twin sons live at 25 Lydall Street, the only Georgian terrace left standing in a metropolis of ‘mirror-smooth’ and ‘flameproof, plastic buildings’. He has an android babysitter for the boys, which he knows they hate. Sylvest is scared of his children, something the boys exploit. He takes solace in harbouring murderous thoughts towards them (a strategy suggested by his therapist to help suppress his fears) while drinking too much Voxnic in the company of an attractive computer programmer called Vestal Smith. When Sylvest returns home drunk and discovers his sons’ disappearance, his concern is less that they might have been hurt and more that they might be used in some nefarious scheme or other.

The Time Lord process of regeneration is the work of a hormone called ‘lindos’, which works at lightning speed to repair every cell in the Time Lord body. An illustration of regeneration’s random nature comes in the story of Councillor Verne, whose stunning beauty distracted his peers from his unsuitability to office; his subsequent regenerations saw him grow increasingly unattractive until he became a ‘hideous monster’ who so distressed the then-Lord President that he ordered the Verne creature to be destroyed.

The new Doctor initially misunderstands Peri’s distress, but then apologises to her as he realises how terrified she must be. Peri is relieved and reassured – until she sees his new costume:

… each panel of the coat was quite different in texture, design and colour. This wouldn’t have mattered quite so much if the colours had blended, but they seemed to be cruelly, harshly, viciously at odds with each other. In fact, the coat was so gawdy it would have looked out of place on the back of a circus clown…. The whole ensemble was finished off with a waistcoast which looked as though someone had been sick on. (For all Peri knew, someone had.) The final touch was a livid green watch chain that at some time must have been stolen from a public lavatory.

Delightful! As she fights off the Doctor’s frenzied attack, Peri grabs the mirror in the hope of smashing it to use as a weapon against him.

The personal history of Professor Bernard Edgeworth – aka the Time Lord Azmael – is recounted: Like the Doctor, Azmael grew tired of life among the Time Lords and chose to retire; unlike the Doctor, the High Council decided Azmael was too dangerous to be allowed to escape their control and chose instead to kill him; they despatched ‘Seedle Warriors’ to assassinate him, only for the bloodthirsty squad to massacre the inhabitants of Vitrol Minor, where Azmael was hiding; Azmael brought legal proceedings against the High Council, who retaliated by framing him for their own crimes; Azmael’s last course of action was to gun down the High Council in their chambers and flee to the planet Jaconda. The specific species of gastropod that lays waste to Jaconda is the Sectoms. We also learn of the history of Titan Three, formerly home to the Mastons of Maston Viva, who fell victim to the generally bleak atmosphere of the planet and committed mass suicide, leaving behind their research equipment for Azmael to find.

‘Mestor the Magnificent’ is nearly two metres tall and considered ugly even by other gastropods. To allow him to stand upright, Mestor has grown two small legs that make him wobble as he walks, and two tiny arms, which serve ‘no particular function’ except to gesticulate as he speaks. 

His face, what there was of it, was humanoid in form. As he did not have a neck, head or shoulders, the features had grown where what would have been the underside of a normal slug’s jaw. As though to add to the peculiarity of a gastropod with a human face, the features were covered in a thin membrane.

Peri observes that the Doctor’s delusions lead him to act like Sherlock Holmes, Hern the Hunter (a dig at Doctor Who’s ITV rival Robin of Sherwood?), an explorer called Musk and a country squire. She apparently ‘never even grasped the fundamentals of the microwave oven’. The issue of the time delay with the matter transporter is removed; although Peri dematerialises first, the pair return to the TARDIS at the same time.

The planets that form part of Mestor’s plans are called Muston and Seniel  The Doctor recalls his past companions, including a rather brutal summation of Adric and his ‘childish antics’, a desperation ‘to be loved and accepted for what he was’, which prevented the Doctor (or at least, this incarnation) of ‘ever being able to fully praise, help or ultimately like him’. The Doctor’s first meeting with Mestor is delayed until the climax – their prior conversations conveyed via a hologram link.

Cover: Due to a breakdown in negotiations, an earlier cover showing Colin Baker was rejected (the actor’s agent enquired how much his fee might be for using his likeness and the publisher, misunderstanding the enquiry as a demand for payment, panicked and cancelled the already completed artwork). Andrew Skilleter’s second painting offers up a very green cover featuring a Jacondan, Mestor and some gastropod eggs. The 1993 reprint used Andrew Skilleter’s art for the VHS, again showing a Jacondan and Mestor, but this time joined by the Doctor.

Final Analysis: This is more than just an adaptation; its position in the history of Doctor Who offers us a little insight into events behind the scenes. It was written and published before the increasingly public fall-out between Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner, but the causes of Saward’s dissatisfaction can be seen here in his depiction of the lead character. Even though it’s the post-regenerative monster that he’s writing, and even though he turns the self-serving and cowardly acts into something more whimsical (thinking he’s Sherlock Holmes etc), some of Saward’s negativity is still very much evident. In the final confrontation with Mestor, he frames this Doctor as sounding ‘more like a street bully than a Time Lord negotiating with a creature capable of taking over the universe’ and his pleading with the despot is ‘foolish, almost childish’. The conclusion to the tale is much less confident and reassuring than on TV. Peri even tells the Doctor she just wants to go home.

‘… whatever else happens, I am the new Doctor. This is me whether people like it or not.’

The statement was as bland and as sterile as it sounded.

Peri hoped that she had caught a glimpse of a smile as he uttered it.

If she hadn’t, this particular incarnation of the Time Lord would prove to be a very difficult person indeed.

Hugo Lang is also subject to a character assassination, the dogged and determined police officer becoming a self-serving and ruthlessly opportunistic man who pursues the twins only for personal glory and who decides to stay on Jaconda to extort money from Mestor’s chamberlain.

This is still a diverting read though, as Saward tries hard to make it more entertaining than he managed to make it on screen. As with the fox in The Visitation, Saward once again uses the form of an animal to witness events; the arrival of Azmael’s ship and his kidnapping of the twins goes undetected by anyone on Earth except a ginger cat, who prides himself on knowing what is happening before anyone else and vows to tell nobody about what he’s seen. His telling of the circumstances of Hugo Lang’s crash on Titan Three make for a scene straight out of Star Wars and, as the quote above shows, he succeeds in making Mestor a horrifying and fearsome presence. 

We’re now in the period where authors were encouraged to attempt something other than a straight retelling of the TV show and for many readers, the episodes would still be fresh in the memory. Saward attempts something in the style of Douglas Adams as his narrative regularly drifts off to discuss various tangentially related topics: A mention of Azmael’s revitalising modulator leads to a detailed history of the life and convoluted death of the machine’s inventor, Professor James Zarn, as well as the results of his other great scientific success, involving the Social and Sexual Life of the Veedle Fly; the acid that the Doctor uses to attack Mestor is Moston acid, which ages its victims to death and which is a product of Professor Vinny Mosten, about whom we also discover more than we’d ever hoped; even the floor of Mestor’s chamber, decorated with a celebrated Jacondan mosaic, inspires a further condensed history lecture. Whether or not this is a successful approach is down to personal taste. Personally, I rather enjoyed it, even if I was slightly worried every time a new brand name or invention popped up. Stop trying to make ‘Voxnic’ happen, Eric. It’s not going to happen.

3 thoughts on “Chapter 103. Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma (1986)

  1. I found this a strange read. It’s like so much extra stuff goes on in the book in a valiant attempt to take the readers mind off the actual story!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A laudable aim. The Target novelisation of Slipback is also a decent diversion. I like Saward in print, even “Doctor Who and the Visitation”, his first, has some style (the aforementioned fox’s point of view for instance, which drew prise from DWM’s reviewer a the time, I remember). Aside from Slipback, I haven’t heard his earlier or later radio work, but I gather it was accomplished (Richard Mace as a Victorian detective, etc). It could be that his TV outing wasn’t his peak; though watching Marie-Clare’s reaction videos to Earthshock this week, I am struck by how good and flowing (yet impactful) Saward’s dialogue is.
      DOCTOR: Magnetic clamp.
      ADRIC: Magnetic clamp. How much damage could this bomb do?
      DOCTOR: Enough.
      ADRIC: Enough for what?
      DOCTOR: To make life intolerable for the few who survived.

      Liked by 1 person

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