What’s It About?
The Second Doctor and Jamie are sent by the Time Lords to Space Station Chimera to investigate time experiments. The Doctor is captured because the masterminds behind the experiments need a Time Lord so they can unlock the secrets of TARDIS technology. Meanwhile, the Sixth Doctor develops a sensitivity to his past self’s abduction and realizes that if he is not able to save his past self, his present may be irrevocably changed.
Primitive Creatures Don’t Feel Pain in the Way We Would
It is always a joy to see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines reprise their roles in Doctor Who. For me, however, this story is less about Troughton and Hines’ return and more about Robert Holmes. Yes, he was back a year earlier with “Caves of Androzani,” but “Caves” was somewhat atypical for Holmes. It lacked his humor and witticisms. It was Holmes as dark cynic; “The Two Doctors” is Holmes as biting, witty cynic.
Like “The Sun Makers,” “The Two Doctors” is harsh in its commentary, but instead of focusing on the British tax system, Holmes unleashes his disdain on people who eat meat. Holmes was a vegetarian, and his use of Androgums as a stand-in for carnivores leads to some wonderful dark comedy. The only problem is that by making Androgums a stand-in for a group, a viewer could choose to try other readings instead of the vegetarian reading. In such a case, statements referring to Androgum nature being savage, lesser, debased, and primitive can take a decidedly racist tone. Attempts to modify Cessini to a more civilized existence have certain Imperial overtones. But it is clear that the author’s true intent was to excoriate meat eaters. This is probably the best lens to read “The Two Doctors” through.
Some criticism has been levelled at this story due to the cruelty exhibited in the story: the Doctor delivering a one-liner after killing Shockeye, the death of Oscar, cannibalism. Some of this serves the social commentary, but with Oscar’s death I think the story veers too far toward the grim. Oscar was played as a thoroughly ridiculous character up to this point. He was absurd. His death is filmed as tragic, but I almost wonder if it was meant to be in the absurd, comic vein in which he was written. Indeed at times, as Oscar waxed of Shakespeare, I anticipated his death was being deliberately over-played, melodramatic, his injuries a mere superficial wound and revealed as such with great embarrassment. But no, he died. The bleakness of this moment threatens to distance the viewer from the story.
In spite of this, “The Two Doctors” is a very good story. There are things to be critical about, but the storytelling is quite good and the directing creates effective mood, even when I disagree with the mood chosen.