Sunday, 10 January 2010

Postcards from Another World, or, What if Twin Dilemma Had Been Great?

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.

Part One: 1984 - The Turning Point

Doctor Who’s 21st season started badly but it ended on a high, with two of the best regarded stories of all time back-to-back: Peter Davison’s swansong Caves of Androzani, and Colin Baker’s triumphant introduction in Twin Dilemma.

It was a turning point for the series, and it came at a crucial moment in Doctor Who’s history - during the Peter Davison years episodes had been shown mid-week, twice-weekly, up against ITV heavy-hitters such as Coronation Street, and ratings had fallen as a result. Shortsighted as ever, BBC executives did not see the slump in context and instead blamed the decline in ratings on a decline in the quality of the programme (if we were feeling charitable we might assume they had watched the 21st season’s opening story, Warriors of the Deep, before drawing this conclusion).

Producer John Nathan-Turner (known as JNT) and Script Editor Eric Saward were presented with an opportunity to capitalise on the publicity surrounding the departure of Peter Davison from the role of the Doctor and the introduction of new Doctor Colin Baker. If they could attract a higher audience to the episodes surrounding the changeover and sustain them to the end of the season, it might deflect some of the criticisms being levelled at the show.

Initial ideas for the story of Twin Dilemma saw the Doctor acting erratically, in a “post-regeneration crisis” (an idea which found favour with actor Colin Baker, who would have a chance to stretch his acting muscles while finding his feet with the character), but wiser heads prevailed against this in view of the pressure the show as a whole was under - the Doctor acting out-of-character, even temporarily, might alienate the viewer from the hero of the story and jeopardise the precious ratings.

JNT persuaded his Script Editor that it was vital that the new Doctor “hit the ground running” and the story was re-written with this in mind. Several early scenes saw substantial alterations, or were dropped in their entirety - including one in which the Doctor goes crazy and attacks his companion Peri (played by Nicola Bryant).

The last six episodes of season 21 put an extra million onto the viewership - from 7 to almost 8 million - not the standout success that JNT was hoping for, but enough to satisfy someone at the BBC that Doctor Who was worth giving a chance. From the 22nd season it would be returned to Saturday evenings. Doctor Who was coming home.

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