Oh my giddy aunt! What the bloody hell did I just watch? You might think, from the name, that The Two Doctors would be a team-up of Time Lords on a lighthearted adventure against some iconic bad-dudes, particularly with the inclusion of Patrick Troughton as the jolly and childish second Doctor. What I didn’t expect was this utterly bizarre trip through cannibalism, torture and some the darkest and weirdest themes Doctor Who has ever tackled. Was this even considered a kids’ show by this point? The decline into dark themes has been gradual, I admit, but this is a world away from the sort of story The Five Doctors was, just a year or so prior.
Things start off strangely in the second Doctor’s Tardis. Now, it’s great to see Frazer Hines back as Jamie, one of the longest-serving companions, but it is quite obvious that he’s nearly twenty years older. Even Patrick Troughton’s wig is now grey, and in addition to the clearly modern design of the control room, it suggests this version of the Doctor is set along some parallel timeline in which he never regenerated. He’s even on a mission for the Time Lords, which did not happen in the original timeline, and moreover the sixth Doctor has no memory of this adventure. But this is all completely ignored, and we’re supposed to accept that this all happened in the past (presumably between the points where Victoria left and Zoe joined). I gather there are some woolly ‘fanon’ explanations around for this, but it’s difficult to accept at face value.
I like Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, and he’s still a pleasure to watch here, but it’s just not the sort of story that suits him. I won’t even get into the bizarre restaurant scene towards the end, because I’m not entirely sure I didn’t just dream the whole thing. Remarkably, though the villains of the piece are the Sontarans, the scariest villain here is undoubtedly the cannibal chef, Shockeye. I have to give credit to the performance; his heavy breathing and leering gaze as he eyes up his prey and sharpens his blades is truly unsettling. The script is dripping with descriptive prose about tearing tender human flesh from the bone and so on, it’s hard to believe that Robert Holmes wrote this as a vegetarian; it comes across more like he was just really hungry. Well, intentionally or not, he’s created one of the scariest villains in Doctor Who, ever.
Almost everything about this story has a wicked tone, from the computer that tries to casually murder them on the space station, to the repeated capture of the heroes. Poor Peri is attacked by Jamie, chased through the Spanish heat and knocked unconscious by Shockeye, is literally seconds away from having her throat cut, and goes through the whole ordeal in a skimpy little outfit. Jamie doesn’t fare much better; in fact no-one really comes away well. The poor lady of the villa gets casually offed in seconds, the truck driver is killed and so is Oscar the restaurateur when Shockeye stabs him. Yes, this is a Doctor Who story where a cannibal goes around bludgeoning an elderly woman and stabbing people. What the actual flip?
And it’s another story where the Doctor blithely goes along with it. He puts Peri in danger repeatedly (the bit where he tells her to go into the dangerous house on her own is almost laughable; it’s like a horror parody), and he once again has little regard for life as he kills Shockeye with some cyanide(!!!). Although I can’t say he didn’t have it coming, did we really need the Doctor to offer another witty quip afterwards?
Frankly, this is one of the strangest pieces of television entertainment I think I have ever watched. While there is an interesting central plot, lots of it is just weird tangential filler (possibly because the runtime is 50% longer than the current norm) and it’s just filled with really dark humour and unsettling scenes throughout. I can’t say it’s entirely without merit, because I’m all for pushing boundaries and trying new things, and I would much rather it be bizarrely interesting and darkly comic than, I dunno, boring and bland. But, just, wow. I’m lost for words. And I really fancy a shepherd’s pie.