Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews: Vol. 3.2
When we last saw the good Doctor he’d been exiled by those meddling timelords to Earth. With his TARDIS not functioning and the knowledge required to fix it being stripped from his mind he falls in with The Brig and U.N.I.T., spending his time attempting to repair the TARDIS and investigating unusual events that turn out to be related to aliens.
Back to the Earth-bound TARDIS.
With The Mind of Evil still awaiting a release date we’re speaking straight onto…
The Claws of Axos
Before getting into the plot of the serial, there’s something that has to be addressed. The blue screen effects in these episodes are bad. Really bad. It’s often out of proportion with the characters and has very obvious patches missing where the blue screen shows through. Can’t hate it to much for that – it was new technology being used without the benefit of computer editing. It’s always good to see film-makers pioneering new technologies, especially with the benefit of hindsight revealing what an important role that technology would play in film and television, but it can be distracting.
Technology aside there is plenty to enjoy about this set of episodes. When the Axons land of Earth in need of fuel they offer to exchange the miracle substance ‘axonite’, a ‘thinking molecule that can replicate any substance. As the Doctor investigates their craft, which he discovers is a living organism, he finds that the craft ‘feeds’ itself by drawing in energy from life forms using axonite, and the plan of the Axons is to spread the substance across the globe and wipe out all living things.
The concept of a genetically manipulated organism being used for space travel is pretty ahead of its time, even predating Battlestar Galactica which used the idea to good effect. Science fiction television show V also made use of the idea of aliens swapping advanced technology for Earth’s resources, and in that case it was also a ruse. The story continues to follow these ideas until the end where the dynamic between The Doctor and The Master is further explored when the two join forces to manipulate space and time to defeat the Axons. All up a great set of episodes.
Colony in Space
While Jo Grant continues to assist the Doctor while he is attempting to fix the TARDIS they are shocked when the craft activities and takes off. The Time Lords have need of The Doctor’s abilities in the future and have taken control of the TARDIS to transport him to a planet that has recently been colonised by human settlers who are struggling to produce enough food to survive. They discover that they’re not alone on the planet – the representatives of a mining company has set up shop and have been trying to drive the settlers off their rightful claim.
The story is this episode is somewhat padded and disjointed and the Doctor unravels the mysterious goings-on and attempts to make peace between the two factions. The story on its own would’ve been enough to carry the serial, but a secondary narrative concerning a native alien species is less interesting and doesn’t fit in will with the political themes of the main story. On the whole it would’ve been more interesting focusing on the claims made by the colonists and the corporation.
It is welcome, however, seeing the Doctor get away from Earth and have a proper sci-fi adventure again, and Jo getting the opportunity to do some real adventuring around through space and time.
Taking a different turn from the more traditional Doctor Who science-fiction template. During an archeological dig under a hill called Devil’s Hump located near a small English town called Devil’s End (which apparently was a good idea) a local woman claiming to be a witch warns them of the danger. Surprisingly, while watching this play out on the BBC, the Doctor tells Jo that the woman is right. The new local vicar, actually The Master, is supportive of the dig and starts performing ceremonies in an underground cavern. By the time The Doctor arrives on the scene there are strange weather, earthquakes and the Master has brought a gargoyle to life to do his bidding (the dream).
At this point everything seems more supernatural based than science-fiction, but there’s a cool concept that develops as the serial moves along. The Master is trying to invoke Azal, and ancient alien who is part of an alien race called the Dæmons who have visited Earth over the centuries to manipulate the human races race along the evolutionary path. As a result their appearance – a large horned creature – has been depicted in human culture throughout history. Azal is the last of his kind and has arrived to decide if the human race can continue, and The Master hopes to manipulate him to his own end.
The basic story is brilliant and the plot moves along at a quick pace, with a number of different threads that come together at the end. While this incarnation of the Doctor is a bit more cocky than the previous and it’s a change to see him in a situation where he seems to be at his wits end. As the final episode to the eighth Doctor Who season it couldn’t get better. That is, until the beginning of the next season. Next: DALEKS!