“There is a point beyond ‘trouble’. You can’t help me now.”- Azmael
It’s no secret that most people consider the era sixth Doctor to be the worst of the series; that opinion definitely applies to this dreadful debut episode. In an effort to be “different”, they decided to have the newly regenerated Doctor be literally unhinged and cruel. This might have worked if the mania then settled into the Doctor’s “normal” personality, but Colin Baker’s portrayal throughout remains pompous and overly verbose such that your still not sure if the Doctor is like our Doctor or not. I don’t mind the equally garish clothes, but what I really don’t like is that he is so horrible to Peri that it makes no sense that she would have any care or loyalty to him at all. It stretches credibility that she would not immediately run away from this madman who shows no characteristics of her former friend. Indeed, it flies in the face of the premise the show has used in the past—despite being unrecognizable due to regeneration, his friends always recognize his character and authority as the real Doctor in the end. Here, it’s even implied at one point that compassion is an alien concept that the Doctor doesn’t understand.
The rest of the story is not much better. There’s a lot of lackluster acting and uneven portrayal of the twins. They could have played up their odd genius and assumed mental connection (there’s one moment where you get some of that creepiness as they speak in unison), but in the end they just seem whiny and not the threat they are presented to be. The costumes of the giant slugs look silly and the bird-like creatures, though admittedly quite and elaborate and sophisticated costumes, are actually incongruous to the cheapness of the rest of the story and thus seem a bit odd. I have especially never enjoyed the sudden appearance of old Time Lord acquaintances of the Doctor popping up on random planets, and this device is used to excess here. How and why does Azmael become the “master of Jaconda”? How is he allowed to live freely there? Why is it not a big deal that he has given the secret of time travel to a world conquering slug? It undercuts the idea of the Doctor having been a renegade unique in his wanderings and also confuses the notion of what a Time Lord is.
The dialogue throughout the story is not at all natural either. You could argue that it’s the Doctor’s personality but even Peri speaks in absurdly awkward phrases like mentioning about her name: “It’s the diminutive of my proper name, Perpugilliam.” Nobody talks like that—especially a young college student who was ready to quit school and travel the world. I do like that she starts to show some spunk in how she confronts the new Doctor. (“My outward appearance is of no importance whatsoever.” “Well, it is to me. I have to live with it!”) But at other times their supposed arguing seems to have no chemistry as if the lines are just being read.
There are also elements in the story that are just flat out glaringly incorrect. The use of the modulator for example. The Doctor converts it to supposedly send Peri and himself ten seconds back into the past to be in the TARDIS—but they’ve already spent hours elsewhere as evidenced by the many scenes we’ve seen them in. An embarrassingly silly oversight. Nevermind that the premise doesn’t make sense either—wouldn’t sending them back into the past have them overlap with their own history? There’s also some wonky physics that implies the size of an object determines how far away its orbit from the center will be. At least the location shooting with the crash of the space ship is nicely done—I wish they could have used that set more.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
All the talk of btain embolism an as execution method of the poor lower class work (and worse Mestor’s callous acknowledgement that his family will starve without a breadwinner once he’s killed) is disturbing. It’s also sad when they realize that poor Drak is standing their dead with his brain burned out because Mestor was using it to eavesdrop on their conversation.
The Doctor’s explanation of regeneration is quite surprising: “Regeneration in my case is a swift but volcanic experience. A kind of violent biological eruption in which the body cells are displaced, changed, renewed and rearranged.” This description much more fits the modern day version of the show, so it’s interesting to see it her.
The whole story—it never moves along and is mostly just full of the Doctor blustering.