The Claws of AxosBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

In a season containing two stories often described as classic (‘Terror of the Autons’ and ‘The Daemons’), one story only slightly less well regarded (‘The Mind of Evil’) and one story generally regarded as a turkey (‘Colony in Space’), ‘The Claws of Axos’ seems generally forgotten. This is shame, since it is a neat little script and showcases the staple ingredients of the Pertwee era rather well.

The great strength of ‘The Claws of Axos’ is Axos itself. The means by which Axos attempts to invade Earth is novel for the era, the Axons instigating apparently peaceful contact and using a “Trojan Horse” in the form of axonite in order to gain a foothold on Earth. Visually, Axos works surprisingly well, benefiting from being what could have been a CSO nightmare; the gaudy appearance of the inside of Axos however enhances its alien nature. In terms of the story, Axos is extremely powerful, and the Axons make for impressive monsters. Apart from the mercifully brief attack of the duvet at the end of episode two, the Axon monsters are highly effective, not only proving to be almost indestructible, but also packing considerable punch, as demonstrated when one of them shoots out a tentacle at a UNIT soldier, who explodes in a ball of flame. The Master is vital to the depiction of Axos’s power; whereas he was attempting to use both the Nestenes and the Mind Parasite for his own ends and only later realized that he had underestimated them, he is clearly extremely wary of Axos from the start, to the extent that he is prepared to abandon his own TARDIS and steal the Doctor’s in order to escape. Considering that he compares it to a second hand gas stove, this nicely emphasizes his desperation. Special mention must go to Bernard Holley for his impressive performance as the impassive but sinister Axon Man and the voice of Axos. 

As in ‘The Mind of Evil’, the Doctor’s relationship with the Master proves a highlight. As in the previous story, the Master seems to rather relish working with the Doctor, whereas the Doctor himself just seems pissed off by the need to do so. Roger Delgado is on his usual fine form, ruthless one moment and charming the next. His brief stint as UNIT’s emergency scientific advisor is rather interesting, and is revisited to even greater effect in David McIntee’s ‘The Face of the Enemy’. Pertwee himself is also excellent here, and his performance in episode four is especially worthy of note. Increasingly foul tempered due to his exile, the Doctor is most convincing when he apparently abandons his friends, and his callous dismissal of Jo especially (presumably done to convince the Master of his sincerity) is all too believable. I also like the fact that he is so desperate to regain his freedom that he really does try and escape once he has defeated Axos. 

The UNIT regulars and Jo are well used here, even Yates who is happily relegated to an action role with Benton. Despite the seemingly missing CSO background during the land rover battle, the action sequences are, well, action packed, and work very well. Katy Manning succeeds in looking suitably devastated when the Doctor leaves with the Master, but Jo’s increasingly touching faith in her mentor nonetheless remains, as she suddenly realizes that he might return to the power station just as the light reactor is about to explode. 

The guest cast, or to be more accurate, the supporting characters, are rather more variable. Peter Bathurst is a fine actor, but Chinn is such a ridiculous stereotype that even he struggles with the pompous character. Paul Grist’s Filer is rather likeable, although his hair has to be seen to be believed, and during the scene in which Filer moans about Axos whilst semi-conscious in hospital, Grist delivers a truly terrible performance. Donald Hewlett’s dignified Hardiman is rather better, as is David Savile’s Winser, although the latter’s cry of “Oh, you stupid quack!” is horribly OTT. And Pigbin Josh is best not mentioned. No, really. 

My only real criticism of ‘The Claws of Axos’ is that the threat of Axos is made clear too early. The Doctor’s suspicions as the Axon leader explains the properties of Axonite, followed by Jo’s meeting with an Axon monster at the end of episode one, would have been sufficient, but unfortunately we also get Pigbin Josh’s death (look, he really wasn’t necessary at all, OK?) and a brief glimpse of the Axon monsters as Axos first approaches Earth. I also have doubts about the explosion in episode four, which doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as serious as an explosion at a nuclear power station should have been, and the Doctor’s explanation of the time loop, which is pure technobabble. Nevertheless, ‘The Claws of Axos’ is an enjoyable story, and considering the wealth of behind-the-scenes footage available, it is crying out for a DVD release.





The Claws of AxosBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by James Gent

I recently had the pleasure of seeing The Claws Of Axos for the first time, and on first viewings it struck me as one of the best of the Earth-based Doctor Who stories of the 1970s. Repeated viewings only enhanced my enjoyment, with its fast-moving scenes and direction, the well-realised visualisation of the Axon entity in its many shapes and forms, and the central concept of Axos itself – plus the central character of the third Doctor, far more abrasive than the avuncular presence of seasons nine to eleven.

The Axons are a nice twist on the alien races already encountered in the series. We have already seen. By “Axos” it has been the norm for an alien race coming in peace to be automatically viewed as hostile by the naturally distrustful Earth powers, in The Silurians, and it is quite interesting seeing their suspicions to be confirmed; and I particularly liked the twist on the contrast between pretty/friendly vs ugly/horrible aliens to be one and the same. Stealth invasion and body horror are not an original concept in Doctor Who, or sci-fi and horror in general, but always manages to be unsettling and disturbing, tapping into certain fears in the human subconsciousness, whether it is Quatermass, Alien or Rabid!

I found the Axons one of the most distinctive aliens in the series. In their humanoid guise, their androgynous appearance is quite appropriate for a race that is revealed to be a genderless consciousness, and their true nature as hideous blobs a grotesque contrast to their superficial form. Their amorphous mass of unformed organic blobs and tendrils gives them the impression of having been grown from their spaceship (which essentially they are) – the combination of the organic and the technological is always different to the more predictable sci fi norm of silver robots, and the Axons are clearly an inspiration for the Zygons and their spaceship.

‘Body horror’ – centred on concepts such as loss of individuality and human appearance, viscera, and hideous Freudian growths and appendages – is another element successfully realised in Terror Of The Zygons, which also featured shapeshifing aliens that could create duplicates of humans. The Axon creatures were obviously popular with the design department as they were reused, with a colour change, for that other body-horror shocker The Seeds Of Doom. Another nice touch to the Axons is Bernard Holley’s wonderful voice, which gives Axos a casually menacing and powerful aura for more sinister and subtle than the vocal histrionics of a Morbius or Omega!

What about the story? Obviously, it shares quite a few elements with Spearhead From Space, Terror Of The Autons, The Mind Of Evil and Inferno – a collective entity hoping to spread itself around the world by stealth, the Master collaborating with said alien entity for his own purposes, the infighting of the British Government providing as much threat towards Earth’s safety as the alien menace they are supposedly defending the planet from, and a highly pressurised industrial power complex. This might account for why people either love or hate this story – for me, any story influenced by the above stories (some of Pertwee’s best) can’t be bad, and these and other elements make it the quintessential third Doctor Earth invasion story. But, to those more immune to the charms of this format, the word quintessential can be replaced by the word ‘average’. There is an element of truth that watched alongside the stories that precede it The Claws Of Axos might give the viewer a sense of déjà vu, but viewed in isolation it is an exciting story, and mercifully isn’t dragged out to six episodes!

Another factor that may seem less if watched as part of Season Seven as a whole is the presence of the Master in his third story in a row. Personally, if the Master had only appeared in Terror Of The Autons, The Mind Of Evil and The Claws Of Axos, Roger Delgado’s reputation as one of the series’ finest humanoid villains could have been assured. It is a nice twist to see him double-crossed by his collaborators before we first meet him, and this does not diminish his villainy, as he is seen to have absolutely no principles or allegiances. Unlike the Ainley incarnation, Delgado’s Master has so many other qualities that being just a ‘baddie’ – he shares a scary amount of qualities with the Doctor, such as his charm, intelligence and air of sophistication, which is what makes their apparent collaboration towards the end all the more effective. The Master was introduced to provide not just a contrast to the Doctor, but also to suggest that they are two sides of the same coin – in a story where our hero is still a selfish, abrasive, arrogant alien genius, it makes you wonder just how far apart these two Time Lords are, and what would have happened if the Doctor had not chosen the path of goodness. It’s a shame that the series never fully explored the implications of their bizarrely competitive relationship, and that the next attempt to introduce a similar flipside to the Doctor’s conscience – the Valeyard – was just one of many interesting ideas lost in a story arc that became a game of Chinese whispers!

As I said before, the Doctor is wonderfully abrasive here, his opening scene in which he bangs the door against Chinn reminiscent of his arch treatment of Professor Stahlman in Inferno; another hangover from Inferno is when the discovery of Axonite provides the Doctor with an opportunity to get his TARDIS fully functioning again. The thing that appealed to me about the Doctor’s exile was that he was initially unwilling to be stuck on this “third rate planet” dealing with petty officials like Chinn, and – despite his heroism – always had one eye on a chance of escape, even if it meant leaving the Brig to deal with the latest threat to Earth’s safety. OK, this might make him seem callous and unlikeable, but I like these reminders that the Doctor is not a superhero or a saint, and has his own sense of self-preservation!

It is said that the once-influential UNIT became trivialised in Season Eight. The way I see it, The Claws Of Axos is one of the last times we see UNIT presented as a credible face of international relations, fleshed out with the addition of radar operatives and intelligence officers such as the briefly used Corporal Bell, who makes her second and last appearance in this story. Another criticism is that, far from being an independent body, they became indistinguishable from the regular army and in the pocket of the Government – here we have UNIT opposed, and at times, usurped by both the idiotic civil servant Chinn and the Army.

All these elements of this story – the Doctor’s less than squeaky clean personality, mankind’s greed and pettiness being as much a threat to the planet as invading aliens, UNIT’s status in Earth affairs – make me think that this story would probably be more at home in Season Seven. This is probably the only major flaw I can find in making this story something less than it could have been. In giving us an alien whose presence seems to pose a very real threat to the survival of the world, taking place on a national power source, it seems like the production team were going for a revival of the qualities that made Inferno such a stonkingly intense story, yet Barry Letts – who conceived Season Eight as a deliberate move away from high drama to family-friendly thrills and spills – got cold feet at the last minute and threw in some stereotyped characters. Bill Filer is amusing in the way that fake Americans in Doctor Who always are (The Tomb Of The Cybermen, Terror Of The Zygons) and a maverick element is always essential to balance things out between the Doctor’s impetuousness and UNIT’s establishment attitudes, but he seems like a more one-dimensional version of Inferno’s ‘everybloke’ Greg Sutton. As for Chinn… While the scenes of him conversing with his Edward Heath soundalike boss, who clearly trusts him as far as he could throw him, are amusing; the fact that the Government would choose such an obviously ineffectual individual to handle matters of international security does undermine any realism the story might be going for. Similarly, the story is let down by one of those Scooby Doo-style endings that dog even the most faultless story (The Leisure Hive comes to mind!) – the Doctor and the UNIT gang stand around in the wreck of a power station that provides energy for the whole of southern England, but these endings are what gives the show its charm: a nice cosy ending with everyone best mates again and Earth (or at least England!) returned to its homely, familiar self. These stories were made to be family teatime viewing, so I try not to carp too much about the endings. It’s easy to forget what it was like to have Doctor Who as part of our weekly routine every year – we all knew trouble would be around the corner again in seven days, as long as we tuned in the same Who-time, the same Who-channel!

One criticism I find it harder to be forgiving of is the TARDIS scene with the Master. It’s great to see the Doctor back in his console room again, and temporarily back in time and space, so it’s a pity all we get is a tight shot of two walls and a door that refuses to shut properly!

The most famous blunder is the blue CSO backgrounds in Filer’s car and on the UNIT jeep. Given that even the most flawless of productions feature at least one effects flaw, it seems silly that these instances get singled out time and time again! It’s more than compensation enough that we get plenty of memorable images in The Claws Of Axos: the impressive-looking spaceship embedded in the surrounding of the English countryside in the middle of a freak snowstorm, the incongruous sight of the Axon creature striding across a metal and glass flyover in the Nuton complex, the spaceship’s root dragging a hapless tramp through its petal-shaped opening, the hideous sight of an Axon man’s face ballooning as it starts its transformation, the Axon man’s head spinning around Exorcist-style on the video screen, and the Freudian eyeball at the heart of the ship. There is a nice matte-style CSO long shot of the reactor which gives a great sense of scale. Even the fight between Filer and his Axon clone is well choreographed and cut-together, ending with a spectular double flip by a stuntman!

OK, it’s Season Seven Lite, but given that that most refreshing of seasons in Who’s history only gave us four stories, a slight return to its style is always welcome. Mixed with the ‘Pop Art’ design of Season Eight, and the welcome (if under-used) presence of new regulars Jo Grant and Captain Yates, and the Master at his martini-dry best, to me The Claws Of Axos is a distillation of everything I love about the Pertwee era and never less than watchable.





Death to the DaleksBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Death to the Daleks' has a fairly poor reputation, but I've never quite understood why. It may not be a classic, and indeed has several flaws, but it's still an entertaining, fast paced little story that generally works rather well on several fronts. 

Firstly, I said when I reviewed 'Colony in Space' that I'm a sucker for ancient races, super weapons and mysterious powerful alien races. Whilst the City isn't a super-weapon as such, the principle remains the same, and like the Uxariens, the fruits of their once mighty technology have slowly destroyed the Exxilons. I'm also a sucker for B-movie plots involving quests through labyrinths riddled with traps, so all in all 'Death to the Daleks' has a certain appeal for me thanks to the Exxilons and their City alone. The City works very well; it looks effective, and lives up to the threat that Bellal insists it poses; not only is it capable of draining power from the TARDIS in addition to the other ships on Exxilon, it also proves able to defend itself and has regenerative capabilities. The roots are surprisingly effective, despite the occasional glimpse of a wire holding them up, and the screeching noise they make as they attack is suitably chilling. The seeming ease (relatively speaking) with which the Doctor and Bellal reach the heart (or rather, the brain) of the City seems suspicious until they actually get there, when the Doctor realizes that the traps are designed to let intelligent visitors through so that it can add their knowledge to its own; having proved a threat to it, the City responds with the Antibodies, which are fairly creepy, especially as they are seemingly indestructible. The Exxilons themselves are a fairly basic primitive tribal society, which are rife throughout science fiction in general and Doctor Who in particular, but they look quite good and Bellal makes for a pleasing pseudo-companion (he doesn't actually do much besides allow the Doctor to explain the plot to the viewers, but he's quite likeable). The notion of the two Exxilon factions isn't really exploited, but then again there isn't really time to show them at odds; in plot terms, Bellal's breakaway group exists to explain the origins of the City and they do little else. The religious divide between the groups is plausible enough, although personally I suspect that Bellal's group is persecuted because they insist on walking around stark bollock naked. 

Considering how utterly ghastly their last outing was the Daleks are used well here. In many respects, they benefit from the plot, which sees them landing on Exxilon after the humans have been dithering and getting nowhere for some time, and quickly taking charge of the situation. After briefly panicking when they discover that their guns don't work, they make a bargain with the Exxilons to secure the parrineum, and to buy them time whilst they devise alternative weaponry, which is a least a nod in the direction of their old cunning and intelligence. It also speaks volumes about the Daleks that they quickly come up with a substitute weapon; this is understandable considering their helplessness when unarmed (note the Dalek that glides at the attacking Exxilons in Episode Two screeching "Exterminate!" almost instinctively and thus gets destroyed), but it also showcases their technical brilliance. Incidentally, their ability to move about on Exxilon is interesting; the script explains it away by stating that they move by psychokinesis, which is a rather startling new development, and one which suggests that Terry Nation suddenly noticed a plot-hole whilst he was writing and decided to hurriedly gloss over it. However, an upshot of this is that it also makes the Daleks look good, since however they do it, the fact remains that they retain motive power when even the TARDIS has been incapacitated. The irony of the Dalek involvement in 'Death to the Daleks' is that it is crucial to the success of the Earth mission; it is the Daleks who organize the mining (admittedly through their usual unpleasant tactics), and it is the Daleks who provide the explosives to destroy the beacon and end the power-drain. In addition, whilst we only see the two Daleks in the City tackling two of the five tests faced by the Doctor and Bellal, they don't seem to have much trouble with any them. In short, 'Death to the Daleks' makes the Daleks look pretty good. Having said that, the self-destructing Dalek in Episode Four is just annoying; it may be standard Dalek policy not to allow failure, but on an important mission to a dangerous planet on which three Daleks have already been destroyed it would surely make more sense for it to try and recapture its prisoner! 

The human characters are less effective, with only the unpleasant Galloway (Duncan Lamont, who played doomed astronaut Victor Caroon in The Quatermass Experiment) standing out. John Abineri is wasted as Railton, and Julian Fox is rather dreadful as Hamilton. Joy Harrison has to suffer with being the token female, which is one of my main criticisms of 'Death to the Daleks'; Jill Tarrant is a member of a military expedition, and yet she spends a great deal of time panicking, or on the verge of tears, or asking a journalist with no military training what to do. It's utterly ridiculous; she's like the embodiment of passive sexism. 

The Doctor and Sarah are there usual reliable selves. Sarah gets sidelined for much of the story, but Liz Sladen does what she can with her limited scenes; her clobbering of the Exxilon in the TARDIS is a great scene, in part because it's rather claustrophobic, Sarah frantically trying to open the door of what should be a safe haven whilst her attacker starts to recover on the floor behind her. Pertwee isn't at his best or worst here, he simply puts in an average performance, although I do like his "a hit Sir, a palpable hit!" routine when the root attacks the Dalek. 

Production wise, the story is mixed. The model work of the city looks good, as does its final destruction. There are moments of impressive direction, including shots of the expedition's photographs of the City superimposed over Sarah approaching the edifice, and the surreal final test in the City. Showing us the attacking Exxilons from the point of view of a Dalek in Episode Two also works well, conveying the unarmed Dalek's panic at being unable to defend itself. Serves it right. However, as in 'Planet of the Daleks', the contrast between location footage and studio footage is rather jarring, especially as the extensive rocky sets look decidedly plastic. This is doubly unfortunate, since the location work is very atmospheric. I also wish that they hadn't used the static Dalek to bulk up numbers; I'm not sure why, but I actually find it far more distracting than photographic cardboard cut-outs used in the black and white Dalek stories. There is unfortunately some crap editing; it is obvious before the end credits role in Episode One that the Dalek guns don't work, and the cliff-hanger to Episode Three is beyond belief, consisting as it does of a shot of a tiled floor. There's also a pointless frame of Galloway screaming after he detonates the bomb at the end, which isn't remotely convincing. My strongest criticism of the story however, is the stupid incidental music, which robs several scenes of any dramatic tension that they might have had. A very silly musical sting for example, accompanies the first sight of the Daleks as they glide from their ship.

Despite these criticisms however, 'Death to the Daleks' is well paced and entertaining, and makes effective use of its eponymous villains.





Terror of the ZygonsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After Season Twelve ending on a sour note, Season Thirteen gets off to a great start with 'Terror of the Zygons'. After the shoddiness of 'Revenge of the Cybermen', 'Terror of the Zygons' succeeds on almost every count, boasting great location work, cracking monsters, fine acting and a first rate script. 

Firstly, the Zygons themselves are excellent. Their costumes are amongst the series' best efforts, their sucker-covered embryo appearance being visually striking and rather disturbing. Good costumes alone however do not a decent monster make, and the Zygons benefit from a script that portrays them as ruthless, capable warriors armed with a novel but effective weapon on the form of the Skarasen. Their sibilant voices are suitably threatening, and the implication that they are equipped with stings (it is never confirmed in the script, but the way their victims scream when strangled suggests that they are suffering severe agony) makes them physically formidable. Further enhancing the success of the Zygons is the strong visual design of their spaceship interior, its organic appearance making it look authentically alien and fitting in with the visual appearance of the Zygons to make them look perfectly at home inside it. The fleshy controls are so unusual for Doctor Who that they can't help but be distinctive, and it makes a refreshing change to see a spaceship interior that isn't all polished metal and featureless corridors. The script also helps to contribute the success of the Zygons through its attention to detail; several Zygons aside from Broton are referred to by name, and throwaway remarks about "organic crystallography" and "dynacon thrusts" (amongst others) subtly reinforce that these creatures are using technology not known to this planet. The fact that these references are mentioned briefly and in passing somehow ensures that they don't sound like technobabble. Attention to detail is very important to the success of this story, from the deafening effect of the Zygon spaceship taking off from beneath the Loch, to the sight of the fluid rising ominously in the self-destructor in Episode Four. 

Another key factor in the success of the Zygons is John Woodnutt's superb performance as Broton in both his Zygon form and in his guise as the Duke of Forgill. Woodnutt, who previously appeared as the confused Hibbert in 'Spearhead From Space' and as the Draconian Emperor in 'Frontier in Space', is very, very good here, imbuing Broton with real menace, but also making him an actual character rather just a generic villain. As the Duke, Broton is required to pose as a human, and during the scenes in the castle in Episode Three, it is possible to forget that he's really a bigheaded green and orange alien warlord, as he displays dry wit and quiet courtesy, but he retains an air of menace as he keeps a cold, calculating gaze on his visitors at all times. As a Zygon, he's a threatening presence, glaring balefully from beneath large brows and hissing malevolently as he arrogantly boasts of Zygon supremacy to first Harry and later the Doctor. But he also has moments of real motivation; his announcement to Harry that he can never return home is matter-of-fact, but briefly stirs sympathy, before he flatly states that he intends to conquer Earth instead. He agrees with the Doctor's point that conquering Earth will be rather difficult for just a handful of Zygons, but adds that although it will be challenging it will not be impossible, which suggests that he has carefully considered his plans, rather than just decided to seize supreme power for the sake of it in a moment of megalomania. His defiant last words, as he grunts "the Skarasen will destroy you all", indicate a refusal to just give up even in the face of overwhelming odds, which I find strangely impressive even though he is trying to wreak havoc with a big puppet. 

John Woodnutt is not the only actor to put in a good performance in 'Terror of the Zygons' (although whilst I'm still on the subject, his performance as the real Duke of Forgill is further credit to his talents, possessing a warmth and good humour absent in Broton's impersonation). Angus Lennie is great as Angus McRanald, the local landlord who remains sceptical of UNIT's and Sarah's claims about monsters and aliens with bugs until the Zygon posing as Sister Lamont kills him. In truth, Lennie's performance is very similar to his performance as Storr in 'The Ice Warriors', but he's so right for the role that I don't really care if he's typecast or just playing himself, or simply doing a very good job. As with the Zygons, he benefits from the attention to detail in Robert Banks Stewart's scripts, and although his talk of second sight and knowing all the local gossip isn't remotely important to the plot, it adds some nice characterisation. Huckle too is well acted and characterised, Tony Sibbald providing a much better American accent that previous actors have done in Doctor Who! His performance nicely conveys Huckle's anger and distress at the loss of so many of his men and is, again, an example of the attention to characterisation that makes 'Terror of the Zygons' work so well. 

The regulars all benefit greatly from the script too. Tom Baker is superb, and it is impressive to see the Doctor's mood changes as he becomes involved in mystery of the rigs' destruction. Initially sullen and moody at having been summoned by the Brigadier to solve a problem relating to fuel, he's brought around by the Brigadier's sharp retort of "you don't want any more people to die?" which not only again nicely highlights the Doctor's sense of moral obligation to help people, but also serves as a reminder of how well the Brigadier knows him. As the story progresses, the Doctor gives an impression that he is enjoying himself, even when being chased across Tullock Moor by the Skarasen, admiring the creature as it stomps away in Episode Three. His scenes with Broton are great, as he casually belittles his enemy with lines like "Very good, very good. Almost impressive!" and "You can't rule the world in hiding. You've got to come out on to the balcony sometimes and wave a tentacle!" In addition, I also like the fact that this doesn't at all rile Broton, despite the Doctor's best efforts. I also like the Doctor's attitude towards the Skarasen; he has no qualms about blowing up the Zygon spaceship with them on board, but seems quite happy to let the monster go home (not, admittedly, that there is much else he could have done about it), since it was its masters who were responsible for it destroying the rigs and since it is basically a dumb animal that isn't really to blame. The unusual concept of the huge reptilian monster being allowed to go home and relax at the end of the story is rather endearing. Oh, and I love the Doctor's Scottish costume in Episode One!

Sarah and Harry also get plenty to do. Sarah's investigative skills are put to work in Episodes One and Three, and in addition she shows her usual mixture of curiosity and courage in following the tunnel in Forgill Castle down into the Zygon spaceship and rescuing Harry in the process. Mind you, points are deducted for her dithering on the cellar steps in Episode Four when the Doctor tells her to fetch the Brigadier. Harry also proves his value here. This is Harry's last story as a regular, and it's a shame to see him go, especially since his last ever appearance in the television series is in a story almost as bad as 'Revenge of the Cybermen', but at least he gets a last decent showing here. As well as getting another chance to put his medical skills to good use in Episode One, it is also Harry who first meets Broton, and learns about the Zygons, and although the Doctor doesn't actually find this out, Harry saves his life at the beginning of Episode Three, his interference with the Zygon controls releasing the trionic activator from the Doctor's hand just as the Skarasen attacks. Harry's last scene in the story, as he stands beside the Brigadier in full military uniform and politely but respectfully declines another trip in the TARDIS is a somehow very appropriate departure for him. In addition, Ian Marter gets to show off his acting skills by briefly playing a villain, which he does rather well; the nasty, sneering Zygon Harry is markedly different from the real Harry and the murderous look on his face as he attacks Sarah with a pitchfork is alarmingly convincing. 

'Terror of the Zygons' also marks the last appearance of the Brigadier for a good many years, and the last decent appearance of Benton and UNIT. As in 'Robot', the Brigadier retains some of his old credibility, or at the very least some of his old charm, and most crucially seems suitably commanding when he's organizing the attack on the Zygon ship in Episode Three and the hunt for the Zygons in Episode Four. The Brigadier is the subject of some wit, most notably his "Asleep? Impossible. I was on duty" line in Episode Two, but the story manages to incorporate this without making him the buffoon of 'The Three Doctors'. And in his last semi-regular story, it is worth noting that he finally meets a non-bullet proof alien menace, something he wished for in 'Robot', as he shoots Broton at the end. Benton too comes over well, ever likeable and ever reliable. I particularly like his "Why are you whispering?" scene with the Doctor in Episode Two.

Production-wise, 'Terror of the Zygons' is magnificent. The location work is superb, and although it wasn't filmed in Scotland it looks very authentic. The impressive incidental score helps to create this impression too. The Skarasen is of course the story's greatest limitation, but Douglas Camfield's careful direction means we only get very brief glimpses of it for the most part, save for the cringe-worthy shot of it rising out of the Thames at the end. Generally, the direction is very good, and the multiple fading shots of the Zygons' hands as they manipulate the controls on board their ship in Episode One are worthy of special mention. Overall, 'Terror of the Zygons' is a superb Doctor Who story and perfect start to the season.





Genesis of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

I've been dreading reviewing 'Genesis of the Daleks'. It is a story generally regarded as a classic, but for me it long suffered from the principle that familiarity breeds contempt. Once it was released on video, I watched it regularly until I became sick of it, and just as I decided that I didn't want to see it again for a very long time, BBC2 announced what the next story would be following the repeat of 'Doctor Who and the Silurians'… As it turned out however, that was the last time I saw it prior to this occasion, and after a lengthy absence, my enthusiasm for the story was entirely rekindled. 

'Genesis of the Daleks' is not perfect. I'll get my criticisms out of the way first, and the first is that it is rather padded during the first three episodes. Sarah's abortive escape attempt up the rocket scaffolding makes for an exciting cliffhanger but is a narrative dead-end, and the dystronic toxæmia from which she was so determined to escape is conveniently forgotten after the first five minutes of Episode Three. In addition, the scenes in the cave leading out of the Kaled bunker add little to the plot, rendering the shots of Davros' giant clam mutants pointless. Given that they are woefully unimpressive, this is unfortunate, since they need not really have been there. My other, criticism of 'Genesis of the Daleks' is that the meagre distance between the Thal and Kaled cities stretches credibility somewhat; we are expected to believe that a lengthy war has been fought on the doorsteps of these cities, each housing the last remnants of their respective races. I can think of an explanation, which is that the cities, both of them extremely spartan in décor, are an equivalent of the trenches used in world war one, built relatively recently on either side of the no-man's land in between (the wasteland), and that they represent the last bastions of civilization on the benighted Skaro, both races nearly extinct after a millennium of warfare. That said, it is always a bad sign when the viewer has to contrive explanations for threadbare areas of the plot, and given the many, many excellent aspects of this story, it is a shame. 

The rest of 'Genesis of the Daleks' however, is outstanding. This is the bleakest and most powerful illustration of the horrors of war ever seen in Doctor Who on television, presenting us with an unrelentingly grim atmosphere from the very first shot of Thal soldiers mown down in slow motion. There are many familiar images of war used here, from the trenches to the mine-riddled wasteland between them, the terrible sense of waste and weariness and the atrocities committed by both sides. This latter issue illustrates the effect of the war on the people involved in it; the Kaleds are represented by blatant Nazi imagery from the start, which never fails to convey a sense of evil. The Mutos represent the human cost of war, victims scarred by weapons and abandoned by the Kaleds out of their desire to keep their race pure, reflecting the eugenics beloved of Hitler when he spoke of the Aryan race. Jack-booted and goose-stepping, the Kaleds, or at least the military elite, are clearly based on the Third Reich, and in the midst sits Davros, representing not only Hitler, but also people like Mengele, an utterly immoral scientist taking advantage of the war to further his own ghastly interests. Perhaps more unexpectedly however, the Thals, previously cast in the role of heroes due to their long enmity with the Daleks, are just as bad, happy to use "disposal labour" to prepare their rocket, and normally killing the Mutos on sight. Their wholesale slaughter at the hands of the Daleks, and the shock displayed by Bettan, later changes their role as they become the lesser of two evils, but lest we forget only a short time before they effectively commit genocide, wiping out nearly all of the Kaleds. The production reflects this general sense of horror too, not just in the gloomy trenches and wasteland, but throughout the bunker and both cities; in any other story the drab sets might be a disappointment, but here they are wholly appropriate, since the functional, utilitarian décor suits the mood, suggesting that after centuries of conflict neither race have either the resources nor the inclination to consider aesthetics. 

One of the most famous, and indeed most interesting, scenes in 'Genesis of the Daleks' occurs at the beginning of Episode Six, as the Doctor agonizes over the decision as to whether or not he can destroy the Daleks utterly. The reason I find it so interesting is that I disagree with his argument, but nevertheless find it to be a fascinating character moment. The Doctor's indecision rests on his reluctance to commit genocide, explaining to Sarah that he doesn't have the right to destroy an entire intelligent species; his excuse is that future worlds might become allies because of their fear of the Daleks. My personal opinion is that for all that the Daleks are an intelligent species, they are more a force representative of a force of nature; twice during the story, they are compared to a virus, once by the Doctor himself when he is trying to convince Davros to change their nature, and later by Sarah as she tries to convince the Doctor to complete his mission for the Time Lords. I've argued before that the Doctor's stance is akin to refusing to prevent an outbreak of smallpox, on the grounds that the survivors might be brought closer together as a result; other fans disagree, but I maintain that the Daleks are essentially an intelligent plague, utterly destructive, ruthless and completely beyond redemption, and devoted to exterminating or subjugating all other forms of life in the cosmos. Ultimately, I feel that the Doctor's dilemma boils down not a reluctance to destroy the Daleks per se, but rather to a refusal to accept for responsibility for such an action, which would have far reaching consequences for the entire universe. However you interpret the scene however, it remains very dramatic and compelling. 

Then we have Davros, played brilliantly by Michael Wisher. Davros is undoubtedly one of the series' greatest villains, and is one of the most potent symbols of evil ever to appear in Doctor Who. Much as I like the Master, he is motivated largely by his rivalry with the Doctor and on occasion will switch sides; for all that he is ruthless and has committed unspeakable crimes, he can still on a certain level be reasoned with. Davros however, is a different matter entirely. He is entirely focused on the development of the Daleks and will stop at nothing to achieve his aims. Initially, he is a villain by association; not only is he responsible or the creation of the Daleks, he is visually associated to them by the fact that his wheelchair resembles a Dalek base. However, his characterisation is such that it is quickly established that he is a villain in his own right, and one whose sense of morality is diametrically opposed to the Doctor's. The first real glimpse of his true nature is in Episode Two, when Ronson saves the Doctro's life by deactivating the newly armed Dalek; an astonished and furious Davros questions how Ronson can possibly consider a single worthless life to be of more value than his Dalek's instinct to destroy, and this is the first clear indication that Davros is way beyond the Doctor's ability to reason. The more the story progresses, the more terrible Davros is seen to be, one of the key moments being his decision to exterminate "the whole of the Kaled people", a statement which briefly shocks even Nyder. The fact that he is prepared to sacrifice his own race to ensure that his work can continue is utterly chilling, and is compounded shortly afterwards by his "retaliation" against the Thals, as he gives his Daleks their first ever taste of mass slaughter. 

By far my favourite scenes in 'Genesis of the Daleks', and indeed one of my favourite scenes from the whole of the series, is the Doctor's attempt to reason with Davros in Episode Five. He asks Davros if he would unleash a virus that would wipe out all forms of life in the universe; Davros, rather than coming round to the Doctor's way of thinking, is fascinated by this concept, and considers it carefully before deciding that he would, since that power would make him a God, a power which the Daleks will grant him. The scene is supremely effective in summing Davros up and is wonderfully directed; as Davros considers, the incidental score grows louder and more impressive in the background, rising to a climax as Davros screeches about power and the Daleks. Most disturbing of all, is the moment when, as he considers, his finger and thumb crush an imaginary vial of virus confirming in an instant that the Doctor has absolutely no hope of ever reasoning with him. 

The Daleks themselves are used sparingly in 'Genesis of the Daleks' as they take a back seat to Davros, but when they do appear they are highly impressive. Their casual destruction of the Thals is a great visual image, as the newborn creatures glide unstoppably around the Thal dome, exterminating without hesitation anyone they find. The fact that Davros is so utterly evil also benefits the Daleks, as they turn on him in Episode Six. Having just added to his other crimes during the story by trapping and disposing of those scientists who are no longer loyal to him, even Davros is horrified when his creations turn on those who have remained loyal, the ever-faithful Nyder among them. In his last few moments, as he tries desperately to reason with the Daleks, he comes to the horrified realization that they are so much a product of himself that they will let nothing and nobody stand in their way, not even him. It is a fitting irony that just as the Doctor tried in vain to reason with Davros, so Davros now tries in vain to reason with the Daleks, and is ultimately so shocked by the results that he reaches for the button that will destroy them utterly before he is gunned down. In many ways, the Daleks are once again the living embodiment of the horrors of war, born out of it and representing all that is terrifying about it. 

There are many minor aspects of 'Genesis of the Daleks' that work so well. The fact that the Daleks are mutations of the Kaleds is brilliantly ironic, given that the Kaleds are so obsessed with racial purity that they exiled the Mutos (even more ironically, it is Nyder who tells us this, despite his total devotion to Davros's project). The gimmick of the Time Ring works well too, since it is far easier to lose than the TARDIS, and creates an additional level of tension by increasing the chances of the Doctor, Sarah and Harry becoming trapped on the nightmare that is Skaro. David Maloney's direction is superb, especially during Episode Six, as the tension builds and builds to a climax that, unusually, sees the Doctor departing without having achieved a great deal. And lastly, whilst Michael Wisher steals the show, mention must be made of Peter Miles' Davros, a character as thoroughly unpleasant and ruthless as his superior. Overall, 'Genesis of the Daleks' stands as one of Doctor Who's greatest stories, and maintains the adult feeling of 'The Ark in Space' and 'The Sontaran Experiment' whilst taking it to another level entirely. What a shame it couldn't last…





Planet of EvilBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 December 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

'Planet of Evil' has fallen on hard times. Back when fans' only knowledge of old Doctor Who stories were hazy memories story guides like that in Doctor Who: A Celebration, 'Planet of Evil' was a terrifying story that drew on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to great effect and was even compared to Alien, as a monster picked up on an alien planet slaughtered the crew of a spaceship. With the video release however, opinions became rather more divided, and 'Planet of Evil' was found by many to disappoint. But 'Planet of Evil' doesn't really deserve its poor reputation. Whilst it is overshadowed by the stories on either side of it, it still has much to offer.

Firstly, the jungle set, one of the story's most famous aspects, is pretty good. It looks suitably different from any jungle on Earth, and its rubbery vegetation gives it a very alien feel, which is enhanced greatly by the wise decision to shoot many of the jungle scenes on film. Indeed, Zeta Minor is one of the most unearthly alien planets seen in the series, with its weird foliage, non-reflective black pool and the Anti-Matter monster. The monster too is far more alien than many seen in the series, due to its appearance as a red outline (an obvious, but effective homage to Forbidden Planet), and the fact that unlike many intelligent aliens in Doctor Who it doesn't speak English, its only communication with the Doctor achieved through a surreal scene in a black void. 

Set amidst this alien landscape, Episode One gets off to a promising start. Sorensen sets the scene with his terse assertion that the planet is alive, and the deaths of the two Morestrans are dramatic and disturbing, as they vanish screaming in agony, only to reappear as quite convincing shriveled corpses. The sense of danger established in these early scenes is maintained throughout, with the Anti-Matter Monster and the Anti-Men well nigh unstoppable; the tension in Episode Four as the marauding advance through the ship and agonized screams are heard over the communications system, whilst the ship plummets back towards Zeta Minor is palpable. However, flaws start to appear in Episode One as the Doctor and Sarah are imprisoned in a room from which they can easily escape; admittedly the script addresses this, and it gives Sarah something to do since it is she who realises that with the failing power the magnetic window locks will have weakened, but it feels very contrived. 

I'm in two minds about the Morestran probe ship sets. They are very sparse, and this contrasts sharply with the jungle on Zeta Minor, and this makes a certain amount of sense since it further enhances the planet's alien feel and also military vehicles are not renowned for their décor. On the other hand, these sets are so stark and featureless that they are actually boring to look at, and ironically the comparatively moody lighting in the corridors makes them marginally more interesting than the command area. The Morestran costumes are also pretty awful, which doesn't help the story's visual appeal during the latter two episodes. 

In addition to these minor flaws, there are two aspects of 'Planet of Evil' that I originally considered to be weaknesses, but as the story progressed I found that, bizarrely, they actually added to the story. The first is the anti-matter plot line. As Kate Orman has pointed out, anti-matter does not cause people to turn into ape-men, it simply causes huge explosions in collision with matter. Initially, this makes this plot seem like pure technobabble, but then in Episode Two, during a conversation between the Doctor and Sarah, it is pointed out that matter and anti-matter in collision causes a massive release of energy (as seen in 'The Three Doctors'). Suddenly, by addressing this inconsistency, the script makes the anti-matter plotline seem less like technobabble and more like intentional fantasy, and in doing so adds further to otherworldly nature of Zeta Minor, subtly reminding us that this unique planet is a gateway between universes, neither entirely in this universe nor the universe of anti-matter. This also ties in with the Doctor's implication that if the Morestran ship manages to get too far from Zeta Minor with anti-matter on board, there will be a cataclysmic explosion that will threaten the entire universe, suggesting that Zeta Minor exists in a state contrary to the laws of physics. 

The second aspect is Salamaar. In my opinion, there is no evidence in Doctor Who that Prentis Hancock can act; he was wooden in 'Planet of the Daleks' and he's wooden here, although it doesn't help that he's playing very similar characters in both stories. Nevertheless, Salamaar the character is rather interesting. He's ludicrously unstable and clearly unfit for command, making reckless decisions and twice intending to execute the Doctor and Sarah simply because it will make his life easier if they are responsible for killing the Morestrans on Zeta Minor. When he eventually accepts the truth, he adopts a death and glory attitude, launching a suicidal and misguided attack on Sorenson that further endangers the surviving crew. Initially, I found it absurd that such an unstable character could become commander of a military expedition, but as the story progressed this too made me think; there are hints that Sorenson's influence back on Morestra will get him whatever he wants, and once these hints of corruption are sown it raises the obvious possibility that Morestra is so corrupt that Salamaar himself reached a high ranking position because of friends in high places. This is further supported by the fact that the much more competent but disruptive Vishinski holds a lower position, raising the possibility that his outspoken nature has harmed his career. 

The acting in 'Planet of Evil' is variable. Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen by now play their roles with ease, and the Doctor gets to be suitably impressive here, claiming that he is not without influence and proving able to communicate with the Anti-Matter Monster. Sladen is convincingly frightened at appropriate moments, especially the cliffhanger to Episode Three and during the final attack of the Anti-Men in Episode Four. Frederick Jaeger is superb as Sorensen, playing the tortured scientist with great emotion. Sorensen's initial obsession with his work is so all consuming that he blames the Doctor and Sarah for the deaths of his colleagues and strenuously denies both the Doctor's claims about Zeta Minor and also the transformation that he is undergoing. But Jaeger suggests that Sorenson is also troubled by his conscience, and his quiet confession to the Doctor in Episode four that "My hypothesis… was false" has rather a noble ring to it. In story terms, this admission seems to bring him redemption, and the Anti-Matter Monster unexpectedly cures him at the end of the story. Vishinski is also well acted by Ewan Solon, but the other Morestrans are utterly forgettable, with one or two (Ponti being a prime example) being quite bad. 

In summary, 'Planet of Evil' is flawed but effective and certainly doesn't deserve its recent poor reputation. In a weaker season it might stand out more, but as it stands it is overshadowed by both 'Terror of the Zygons' and the story that follows…