Doctor Who: The Two Doctors

Having had “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors,” the next offering of a story in which the Doctor meets himself in a previous regeneration is “The Two Doctors.” Patrick Troughton is the only Doctor who appeared in all of them, and to good effect, since he is certainly one of the most entertaining of the Doctors. It is a pity that even in “The Five Doctors” they didn’t manage an appearance by Tom Baker. It would have been great to see him meet up with any of the others – and it still would!

In “The Two Doctors” the story actually begins with Patrick Troughton’s Doctor and his companion Jamie, and only brings Colin Baker’s Doctor into the story slightly later. The Second Doctor has been unofficially sent by the time lords to pay a visit to his friend Dastari on a space station, in order to get some dangerous experiments in time travel to stop. In fact, the Sontarans and other parties are working to get possession of time travel technology for their various ends. The Second Doctor ends up getting kidnapped as part of the attempt to get the technology to work, since it requires a time lord’s special biological imprint to function safely. (For the manner in which the Doctor as the agent of the time lords has been explained in relation to the earlier story, see the post linked to from here).

The episode has some wonderful bits of dialogue. One of my favorites occurs very early on:

DASTARI: Well, Doctor, what did you make of our chatelaine?
DOCTOR 2: Was she an Androgum?
DASTARI: She was. Now she’s an Androgum TA. Technologically augmented.
DOCTOR 2: Oh, one of your biological experiments.
DASTARI: I’ve carried out nine augmentations on Chessene. She’s at mega-genius level now. I’m very proud of her.
DOCTOR 2: Proud of her, or your own skill?
DASTARI: Perhaps a little of both, but all that Androgum energy is now functioning on a higher plane. She spends days in the databanks simply sucking in knowledge.
DOCTOR 2: She’s still an Androgum. You can’t change nature.
DASTARI: In Chessene’s case, I believe I have.
DOCTOR 2: That’s dangerous ground, Dastari. You give a monkey control of its environment, it’ll fill the world with bananas.
DASTARI: Oh really, Doctor. I expected something more progressive from you. Don’t you understand the tremendous implications of my work?
DOCTOR 2: Yes, that’s why I say it’s so dangerous!
DASTARI: Doctor, our races have become tired and effete. Our seed is thin. We must hand the baton of progress to others. If I can raise the Androgums to a higher plane of consciousness, there’s no limit to what that boiling energy might achieve.
DOCTOR 2: Dastari, I have no doubt you could augment an earwig to the point where it understood nuclear physics, but it’d still be a very stupid thing to do!

There are several tropes which are familiar from sci-fi in general and Doctor Who in particular, including the idea of augmenting organisms to exceed their natural capacities. But there is also a rather disturbing hint of a familiar colonialist trope as well – the idea of the savage whom one may educate, but who can never truly be civilized. That the language of “savages” and “civilized” occurs later in the episode reinforces the presence of this motif (see the quote below), which is disappointing. That the base, savage Androgums seem patterned on the Scots is all the more troubling, and surprising, given the presence of Jamie as a hero.

The motif also runs in reverse (as often in colonialist material, which often feared the possibility of enticement or corruption of the “civilized” by attractive elements in the “primitive” culture). The Doctor receives genetic treatment seeking to turn him into an Androgum.

The story also recalls My Fair Lady/Pygmalion, with sci-fi twists and reversals, once the possibility of the Doctor being turned into Chessene’s consort is envisaged. She had been made less Androgum in the process of augmentation, in her appearance as well as in her thinking, and was often ambivalent about her status and her relationship to her kin. Again, many of these are familiar motifs (seen recently in Avatar as well).

Religion features explicitly in a few places. The most visible (and hardest to interpret) is the piety of the old, blind Spanish woman, Doña Arana, who kneels and prays before a statue of the Virgin Mary, makes the sign of the cross, and soon after getting up is killed, Chessene, the Sontarans and the rest of them occupying her home. It is unclear what the significance of this is, other than to contrast the woman’s vain reliance on the Madonna or God, who fails to protect her from the augmented alien “goddess” who pays her a visit. The Doctor is at his least godlike in this episode, even though present twice over – he is fallible, susceptible to being genetically altered, and at one point Colin Baker’s Doctor once again doesn’t refrain from killing someone in self defense.

There is also a reference on Dastari’s part, and later on Chessene’s, to her being elevated to among the gods. Here is one example:

DASTARI: I shall put her among the gods. There need be no limit to her achievements.
DOCTOR 2: There’ll be no limit to her capacity for evil. She’s an Androgum, Dastari, whatever you may say! She’ll snap off the hand that feeds her whenever she feels hungry.
DASTARI: You don’t know Chessene. I confess I was sad that the Time Lords chose to send you as their emissary, because I’ve always had a certain regard for you, Doctor, personally, and the operation will, by necessity, be very painful. But
DOCTOR 2: It’ll hurt you more than it hurts me.
DASTARI: What gives you that idea? No, I was going to say but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you have been part of a great undertaking.
(Dastari leaves.)
DOCTOR 2: You are an irresponsible old fool! The Androgums are barbarians! Release them into time and every civilised people in the galaxy will curse your name!

Another important bit of dialogue, which gives insight into the culture of the Androgums, involves a conversation between Chessene and the other main Androgum character in the episode:

CHESSENE: You think of nothing but your stomach, do you, Shockeye.
SHOCKEYE: The gratification of pleasure is the sole motive of action. Is that not our law?
CHESSENE: I still accept it, but there are pleasures other than the purely sensual.
SHOCKEYE: For you, perhaps. Fortunately, I have not been augmented.
CHESSENE: Take care. Your purity could easily become insufferable.
SHOCKEYE: These days, you no longer use your karam name, do you, Chessene o’ the Franzine Grig?
CHESSENE: Do you think for one moment that I forget that I bear the sacred blood of the Franzine Grig? But that noble history lies behind me, while ahead? Oh, ahead lies a vision.

While it might lead to criticism of the plausibility of this imaginary race, the episode can serve as a useful starting point for discussion – in particular, of whether any group has ever or could ever achieve dominance and power while focusing on satisfying only our baser instincts.

Shockeye actually mentions the old woman’s religion previously referred to – but only to say that he doesn’t care about the religion of “primitives” – only what they taste like.

The Androgum characters thus also introduce the issue of perspective: from what perspective, if any, can different cultures in fact be judged “primitive” or “superior”? To a culture that regards hedonistic satisfaction of pleasure as the highest and most worthy end, a culture that failed to pursue or attain that end might seem “primitive.” And so, we are forced to remember, might we, when viewed from the perspective of another culture – alien or terrestrial.

This episode of Doctor Who serves as a reminder that, even as it is sometimes dramatic and even scary, Doctor Who has consistently and persistently ventured into comedy as well. Some elements are not intelligible except in the way that things are on comedies – just realistic enough to work, but clearly contrived to make us laugh. When Doctor Who enters this territory, it usually does so effectively. But even the comical elements often serve to make or bolster a provocative point. So too in this episode, for instance when Shockeye is “tenderizing” Jamie while he is still alive, and he reassures Dastari that he needn’t worry that it hurts, since “Primitive creatures don’t feel pain in the way that we would.” Here too, the fact that primitiveness is a matter of perspective, and thus we should think twice before inflicting pain that we would not wish inflicted on us by those who view us as we view animals. This is not the first time the Doctor has encountered aliens who said that humans are like animals in some sense (it comes up in “The Faceless Ones” which I recently blogged about).

I honestly cannot remember whether I had seen this episode before when I was younger – there are definitely some from several of the Doctors’ tenures that I missed. But either way, I certainly enjoyed it now. Have you seen this episode? If so, what did you think of it?

  • Geoff Hudson

    Does there come a time when one can’t tell the difference between the two, Dr Who and Jesus?  

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Not if one is sane. I have no idea how it might seem if one is not.

      • Geoff Hudson

        But how does one know one is sane?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Presumably that would involve taking parallelomania, in and of itself problematic, to a ridiculous extreme.

  • Just Sayin’

    I missed this one when it came out.

  • John

    I saw it in the 80′s.  I liked it.  It’s no surprise I liked it since it was written by Robert Holmes. I pretty much liked every Doctor Who story written by him.  The humor in the story is also characteristic of his writing.  It’s not a coincidence that he wrote many Tom Baker stories, and the Tom Baker doctor is associated with humor.  Other than general impressions, I don’t remember many details of this story since it’s been so long since I’ve seen it.