The DaleksBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

I am anything but an expert on the Hartnell years, and I'll admit I approached this story with some hesitation, having recently been (very) disappointed by the dishwater-dull 'Dalek Invasion of Earth.' But I was actually pleasantly surprised (and sometimes delighted) by 'The Daleks' – it's a stylish and moody piece of television, full of memorable moments and challenging ideas. As a product of its time, it's undeniably pokey, of course, and will seem a bit padded to the uninitiated (the 'bacon and eggs' scene, e.g., is one I could have done without). Probably its biggest problem, of course, is the abrupt conclusion, where, as in the next Dalek story, the fearsome cyborg monstrosities are ultimately defeated by three or four unarmed men rushing up to them and pushing them over. It's a serious disappointment, but it can't undo the many successes of the story, and overall 'The Daleks' is consistently entertaining, a fitting debut for the Doctor's legendary enemies. 

One of the best things the story does from the very outset is to convey Ian and Barbara's continuing shock at what has happened to them, and their doubts about whether the Doctor can actually get them home at all. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill play their anger and fear quite convincingly in the opening scenes, and truly, the series might not depict the disorienting shock of space and time travel so well again until the Ninth Doctor picks up Rose, more than forty years later. (And, as with Rose, the characters of Ian and Barbara are used as a lens through which we see not only the reality of time travel, but the strange and alien Doctor as well.)

Once the story gets going, there are many moments that stand out as genuine classics, of course. Such examples as the mutant's claw creeping out from under the blanket and the first cliffhanger with Barbara are rightly singled out by fans, but for me the most seminal moment is the exchange after the Daleks reveal their plan to wipe out the Thals. When the Doctor incredulously fumes "That's sheer murder!" and the Dalek responds: "NO – EXTERMINATION," it's a chilling moment that spins out over the course of this series – we see how clearly different the Daleks' worldview is from the Doctor's (and ours), but we also see his mind working, and understand how his first encounter with his oldest enemies helped form the righteous indignation that would guide the character through the rest of this series. As for William Hartnell's performance itself, he stumbles once or twice in Episode One, but in general he's in terrific form. The First Doctor here is a fascinating character study – he's admittedly old and tired (Susan even apologizes to Ian and Barbara for his forgetfulness), but he also shows a surprising energy, driven, it seems, by his intellectual curiosity. He's hardly a superhero, or even much of a hero at all: indeed, he's selfish and scheming when tricking the TARDIS crew into accompanying him to the mysterious city, and harsh and cold when suggesting he'll leave Ian and Barbara on Skaro, or insisting that they use the Thals as cannon fodder for the Daleks so they can escape. But, as I said, he's increasingly moral and humane too, and of course he's quite funny in such scenes as his argument with Ian in Episode One.

As for Ian, the treatment of his character is rather dated - he comes off as a bit bossy, and more than a bit sexist, when he refuses to believe either woman alone could (or should?) be trusted with the drug-retrieving mission in Episode Two, or when he sends Barbara and Susan out of the room so that the men-folk can deal with the Dalek mutant. (Gee whiz, Dad . . . .) But Barbara comes off rather better, showing imagination and independence here, and acting as a great stand-in for the viewer when wandering alone in the frightening city in Episode One. Another writer once pointed out that a 'mature' female companion like Barbara wouldn't really be seen again in this series; it's true, and it's too bad. If only you could say the same thing for Susan, whose shrieking and sobbing here provide a sad precedent for many girl companions to come . . . .

As for the non-regular characters, Mark Campbell has notably criticized the treatment of the Thals, summing up 'The Daleks' as "a questionable morality tale whereby 'ugly = bad' and 'pretty = good,'" and it is a legitimate point. In particular, the way in which Susan and the rest of the TARDIS crew instinctively trust the Thals simply because they're well-formed physically is annoying. But in all fairness, there's more to the story's philosophy than that – after all, the beauty of the Thals is less linked with their 'goodness' than with their pacifism, which it should be remembered is *criticized* by the script (however respectfully). The individual Thals are rather blandly characterized, and the overtly philosophical dialogue is occasionally heavy-handed (Terry Nation seems more interested in giving them symbolic things to *do* than believable things to *say*). Still, one has to admire the seriousness with which the theme is approached – especially in the context of a fledgling children's TV show!

And then there is the presentation of the Daleks themselves, of course. The physical travel machines work well – the image of a Dalek is one so familiar to us that it's worth reminding ourselves how strange and alien Raymond Cusick's design actually is. In a series known for passing off stuntmen in rubber masks as aliens, it's wonderful to see such a convincingly alien concept - there's absolutely nothing recognizably human about a Dalek. It's astonishing that Sydney Newman responded so poorly to such an original idea, in fact. The dilating eye is particularly disturbing (one wonders, actually, why Russell T. Davies didn't return to it with the Eccleston series), the machines glide rather quickly and smoothly, and even small touches like the Daleks passing a sheet of paper from one sucker arm to another is surprisingly impressive. 

As for their characterization, at this point, Terry Nation had not yet developed the arsenal of Dalek dialogue 'chestnuts' that he and other writers would use (and overuse) through the years ("I OBEY," "STAY WHERE YOU ARE – DO NOT MOVE," etc.); nevertheless, the Daleks make a tremendous impact in their voice and speech here. They are harsh and intimidating, certainly, in such scenes as the one where they force Susan to write her note, but rather than simply screeching slogans as they do in later stories like the overrated 'Remembrance,' these Daleks actually *think* as well, and demonstrate much personality. They are paranoid, interrupting and challenging even each other, and jittery, as when the guard Dalek orders the prisoners to move away from the sides of the door. They also show much evidence of their cunning and scientific approach, spying on their prisoners and analyzing their conversations (they are not for an instant fooled by the silly 'fight' the TARDIS crew use to disconnect their camera). Significantly, their intellects are shown to be as impenetrable as their armor – even the Doctor can't outtalk them (when he tries to stall them by telling them about the TARDIS, they are interested, but have no doubt they'll be able to comprehend its technology themselves after his death). And they are resourceful problem-solvers too, quickly burning through the blocked door, and conducting immediate experiments to determine the effects of the Thal drugs (and, just as quickly, learning how to counter them). But perhaps the most surprising thing about their characterization here is how *sad* these Daleks are – for one of the most notable things the story does is expose the Big Lie of Dalek superiority. After all, the first thing the Daleks do with the Thals' anti-radiation drugs is try to *cure* themselves, to rid themselves of their 'Dalek-ness.' It is only when the drugs fail, and they are left with no other choice, that they rationalize their compromised form, and convince themselves that their weakness is in fact the key to ultimate strength.

Just about every other aesthetic element of the story satisfies. The Dalek city is beautifully designed, and looks all the scarier and more distorted for being in black and white. The whirlpool in Episode Five is very impressive for the time, and the script does a good job of sprinkling its thematic content throughout a 'Lord of the Rings'-esque quest adventure. Finally, the seemingly intentional double entendre "Now there's a double meaning for you" is a shockingly risqué line. I gasped when I heard it . . . and I'm not easily shocked.





The Keys of MarinusBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

One of my favourite Hartnell stories to watch. Not so much because it's an example of one of the best stories from his tenure. Moreso just because it's a fun little story. 

Of course, when I say "fun" I don't just mean from a sort of kitschy "wow was that an awful effect" point-of-view. It's also just a fun storyline. Very comic bookesque. Not a lot of substance - just a bunch of "running around and getting into all kinds of trouble and then trying to find a way out of it" -type adventuring for our TARDIS crew. The sort of story the series could never get away with nowadays but, since it was still "finding it's feet" back when "Keys" was produced, it could pull something like this off now and again. 

"The Keys Of Marinus" has some very strong flaws to it, of course. The most obvious one being that the story has nowhere near the budget it requires to be executed with any degree of effectiveness. Particularly since all-new sets had to be built every episode with the location of the storyline changing all the time. Really, I'm amazed the production team even gave this a green light considering how limited the budget was back then. But what this does spell out for this story is some incredibly preposterous-looking moments where the effects are just so poor that it's laughable (the "ceiling of spikes" descending toward Barbara being one of the more notorious moments that come to mind that exemplify this). But the poor budget also meant minimal re-take facilities too. We get some nice dialogue flubs now and again and some really great "tripping-over-their-own-flippers" moments with the Voords. Quite impressively, however, there are some very nice effects that pop now and again too. The model shots of the island, of course, are probably the best examples of this. 

But some of the silliness of this story doesn't just stem from the production values. Some of the writing, itself, is fairly hard to swallow. I mean, I can accept a growth acceleration formulae that affects nature's "tide of destruction" or what-have-you - but specific vines trying to wrap themselves around peoples' necks and legs because of such a formulae seems a bit too much on the implausible side. As are the frozen warriors. Shouldn't they just be dead when they get unfrozen? Of course, good little fans that we are, we decide that they must have special "cryogenic suits" on. But shouldn't that have been established somewhere in the dialogue too? 

But, if you can put aside these objections. You do get a very imaginative and creative little run-a-round. Those same frozen warriors I just mocked were also quite neat, in their own way. And the idea of an entire city being one giant illusion was really fun too - with some effects in there when we see things from Barbara's point-of-view that were genuinely chilling.

Really, all the different locations they travel to have some nice ideas at work within them. Which is one of the strong points, overall, of this story. We get a planet that seems as legitimately diverse as our own. Something that happens rarely in Who or any other sci-fi series, for that matter. Most of the time, a planet is a "desert planet" or an "ice planet" or something like that. In Marinus, we have various climate conditions and societies. Even races. Which certainly scores some points in the story's favour. The fact that we get fun little storylines in all these different locations enhances my enjoyment of this tale even more. 

Because this is such an early story, a couple of significant things happen in it that I think are valuable to the overall show too. First off, even though the series was labelled by the BBC, at the time, as being for children - there are some somewhat "mature" things that occur in it. Most noteworthy, of course, is the attempt to rape Barbara during the episode in the polar regions of Marinus. But we also get some wife beating and some somewhat vicious-looking knife stabbings. Something you'd never see on a modern-day kid's show! But these moments are significant because it sets an important tone. That the BBC might be pitching this as being for children but that the people making the show itself see it in a very different light. That, already, this is a T.V. series that the production team recognise as having an adult market too. And though they're careful on how some of these sequences are portrayed, those moments are still included in the story rather than just cut out entirely as they would've been had the BBC been keeping a better eye on things! 

The other thing we see for the first time in this story is a "softening" of the Doctor. Up until Marinus, he's a bit of an anti-hero, really. Developing some likeability in Marco Polo, but very little. But his somewhat heroic entrance in the city of Milllenius paints him in a much nicer light than we've seen him in so far. His trial scenes and moment of melancholia after he's lost his case improve his likeability factor even more. It helps that Hartnell's "break" seems to have refreshed him and he gives a very strong performance in these episodes too. Slowly but surely, the Doctor is turning into the hero he would be as the series progressed. But we see some of those first signs here on Marinus. 

So, overall, there are some very definite moments in this story both in production value and writing that give it a bit of a "Plan 9 From Outer Space" kind of feel now and again. Something we Who fans definitely hate to see in the series (even though it happens all-too-frequently!). But those moments, I think, become forgivable as we also get a very imaginative little romp across a troubled planet full of intrigue and danger! I even like how, like the quest for the Key to Time in later years, the quest for the Keys Of Marinus also comes to naught. And we get one of those nice "some things are far too powerful for man to possess" moments as the story concludes. I always loved the way the series handled that kind of theme and it's neat to see that, even this early on, the Doctor's moral tone is getting very clearly defined. That, as heroic as he may be, he knows that even his sense of rightness has its limits and that he has no desire to ever "play god". 

Fun stuff. Not necessarily great stuff, of course. But still lots of fun!





The KrotonsBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Stories written by Robert Holmes that aren't classics tend to provoke one of two reactions: either vitriolic criticism disproportionate to other stories of a similar quality (such as with The Power Of Kroll), or else people come up with an excuse as to why Holmes wasn't on form. The Krotons being his first story, most of its bad points can be excused there and then for many fans – although the fact that they have to be excused in the first place logically means that the story can't be that good. However, when taken on its own terms The Krotons isn't that bad and I don't really think it's fair that it's crushed under the weight of Holmes's later work. Also, as his first story, there's no doubting that for better or worse this is an important story for Doctor Who.

So a hatch gets stuck. Big deal. Why do people complain about this and not the wobbling ladder in Warrior's Gate? Because the goof occurs in the very first shot of the story, that's why not, and so there's no mitigation at this point in the way of quality elsewhere to offset it, so it gets inflated in the mind of the viewer into something more significant than it really is. Normally I try to avoid mentioning things that are criticised into the ground elsewhere, but I believe that the opening shot to this story has come under a lot of unjustified fire. However, the opening scene in general isn't actually that great. Opening scenes are rarely the programme's strongest feature, as the setting and basic core idea must be established without actually giving anything away; with this story (and many more) we get a variation on the portentous "you mustn't go in there – you know what will happen" that you'd expect to find getting a lot of coos from a pantomime audience.

Fortunately the regulars can be relied on to rock and roll, although since this is a Patrick Troughton episode it's debatable whether I needed to point that out. The Gond city is a good model, and the Doctor's comment about architecture being suited to low gravity is the kind of trademark tiny detail that gives Holmes's work so much depth and nuance. Unfortunately Zoe spends this episode being very stupid indeed ("There's a ramp, Doctor. And a door. Is it a wall?"), which is a shame as it lets the side down a bit. However, as I said, there's very little that Troughton can't make work. The death of the student is a nicely dramatic moment that moves the episode on from the opening's characteristic staginess.

The main set of the Gonds' learning hall looks decent as, like with a lot of black and white episodes, heavy contrast in lighting obscures the details and the depth making it look less confined and studioish. Now that the plot has been revealed a little bit more things are really starting to improve, and Philip Madoc puts in a brilliant performance like in all his subsequent appearances on the show.

The rescue of Vana is another dramatic scene, although Zoe's comment of "I think I can hear something!" as a loud buzzing rumbles across the landscape still places her IQ at sea level for the episode. I normally dismiss comments about the original series being sexist, but when companions chiefly characterised as genii are written to be so dim just to give the Doctor some foil I start to think they may have a point. The Doctor complaining about the loss of an umbrella is one of my favourite moments in the story (even at this stage Holmes was a handy man with a one-liner), and his protestation of "I'm not a doctor of medicine" is the first of many contradictions about the Doctor's academic status we see throughout the show; I like to think that the nature of the Doctor's degree is open to change depending on what he finds convenient.

I have to say though that some of the guest acting is over the top and portentous, especially the custodian of the learning hall, when compared against Troughton. Perhaps this is a reason for the story's poor reputation; I'm no statistician, but I note that stories notable for poor acting rarely feature in peoples' top ten lists.

The Doctor's darkly thoughtful assessment of "self-perpetuating slavery" is wonderfully dramatic and shows how well Troughton understood and keyed into the power of understatement as opposed to the manic we're-all-going-to-die acting of the guest stars. The Kroton voices are amazing, made all the better by us not being able to see where they are coming from at this stage. Unfortunately, next episode Patrick Tull's Cockney accent lets them down a bit (come to think of it, seeing them lets them down). Even in the self-consciously progressive 21st Century regional dialects haven't made their way into monsters, and they certainly don't sound very serious in the 1960s. It's unfair, there's no doubting, but can you imagine the reaction if the Empty Child was from Birmingham? It'd get laughed at, that's what would happen, and by the people who complain that the original series is too parochial. Coomin' ta find ya Moomay!

The snake-scanner-weapon-thingy is actually quite creepy, again because of the sense of the unknown (I just can't get enough of that), and it makes for the story's best cliffhanger. With part two coming along a bit more plot can be revealed, and the idea that the Krotons are only teaching the Gonds what they can't use to rebel against their oppressors is very 1984 when you think about it. There is a very well constructed scene at the beginning of the second episode, as Zoe uses the learning machine just as the Doctor discovers what's in the underhalls so that a sense of mystery is set up as the explanation of what's down there has to be broken off partway through.

The Doctor's line of "great jumping gobstoppers" is one that I would imagine gets very different reactions from viewers, either supporting or undermining my earlier comment about Holmes and one-liners depending on how much you want to see an episode written by Enid Blyton. Although I quite like the line it's not helped by the fact that this expression of surprise refers to a piddling little dinner gong – something that the Doctor himself remarks on.

The Doctor's test is one of the story's two main comic-relief scenes; normally for my sins I get a bit sniffy about this sort of thing but it has a witty charm (not to mention great acting) that puts it far ahead of the clever-clever approach adopted in episodes like The End Of The World. The idea that the machines plant emotions in the minds of the users to make them feel valued is a great one. 

Using a chain to protect themselves from the Krotons' force field is a minor contrivance but helped by the brilliant shots of it breaking under the strain; also, the brain-scan sequence has to be one of Doctor Who's trippiest moments and I must confess I can't watch it without wanting to sing 'Tomorrow Never Knows' to myself. The Krotons' first appearance is also great (to the extent where their actual look is even more of a disappointment) with them slowly appearing in their tanks while the Doctor shows genuine concern. As I mentioned though, the Krotons look ridiculous (it's easy to see how the rumour that they were designed by a kid who won Blue Peter competition started – no disrespect to kids, but you know what I mean), and the cliffhanger to the second episode is distinctly average. It's more notable in the third episode than the second, but the Krotons seems to have gone in for some seriously natty '60s décor for the Dynatrope, with those black and white spirals on the monitor screens.

Selris's argument with Thara about attacking the Krotons is actually a very well related anti-war sentiment; when a fictional war is used it reduces war to an abstract concept meaning that ideas related to it don't date or become inappropriate with time to the extent that I think they will do in, for example, World War Three. The Krotons obsession with "procedure" makes them sound like Douglas Adams's Vogons, as a Kroton makes its way very slowly across the wasteland to the TARDIS. I have to say that the story has slowed down dramatically (it is an episode three; if I was to say that Holmes is usually quite good at them I'll be violating a point I made in my introduction about not judging the story by his future episodes, so I won't). By this stage, the "should we attack the Krotons / shouldn't we" argument is going on too long.

The HADS are a big contrivance, a bit like the pause control from The Android Invasion, which crops up once to get the TARDIS out of a tight spot and then is never seen again. However, "you can tell that the Captain is not at the helm" is another great line.

The chemistry scene is another comic relief scene although this one is based on slapstick rather than witticisms, but it still has a lot of inoffensive charm. This can be contrasted with Selris's death which seems slightly disturbing given that he's such a hapless character and that the mortality rate in this story is actually fairly low, at 33.3% not including the Krotons themselves. The Doctor and Zoe playing for time is another fun scene, and the shots of the Krotons and the Dynatrope dissolving look great.

All in all, The Krotons is a distinctly average story; average does not mean bad. Possibly the final word has to be that maybe, with far stronger stories like The Power Of The Daleks and The Web Of Fear missing from the archives, there is a certain amount of bitterness over what the BBC decided to keep.





Spearhead From SpaceBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Scott Moore

Spearhead from Space' is an enjoyable and stylish start to the Pertwee era. The story not only successfully introduces the main character traits of the new Doctor, but also makes a clean break from the 1960s era of the television programme. Fine performances from most of the cast, excellent directing, the extensive location filming, a good script, and numerous touches of humour combine to create an entertaining and not-entirely-unconvincing story despite the B-movie plot it partly shares with the 1966 film 'Invasion'.

Whereas much of 1960s Doctor Who feels like televised theatre (or, at its worst, pantomime), 'Spearhead from Space' is a more of a movie on the small screen. The serial clearly benefits from being recorded on film with a considerable amount of shooting on location. But it also has a faster pace than earlier Doctor Who and more creative camera work.

Jon Pertwee does a good job of portraying his new character despite having relatively little dialogue in the first half of the story. His Doctor is clearly more action-oriented even than his immediate predecessor, still eccentric but softened by a debonair charm. The only fault I can find with Pertwee's performance is that he occasionally resorts to clownish grimaces – witness his facial expressions when shot at the end of episode one, or when attacked by the tentacles in episode four. Nicholas Courtney also puts in a convincing turn as the Brigadier, who although clearly a man-in-charge can be diplomatic and is open to suggestions. Of the regular cast, only Caroline John fails to convince in her role but this is partly the fault of the script, which fails to supply dialogue that portrays her as the experienced and well-qualified scientist she is meant to be. Because she is a woman she is soon shoe-horned into the role of pretty, young assistant for the much older Doctor. Still, her initial air of arrogance and clear displeasure at the Brigadier's sexist comments marks her as a more mature and realistic character than most of the previous female companions.

The supporting characters are generally well-served both by the script and the actors. Hugh Burden is excellent in his portrayal of an outwardly human character with a disturbing and somewhat chilling mien. Anthony Webb supplies a convincing Dr. Henderson, while John Breslin manages to rise above the usual stereotypes for his second-in-command Captain Munro. Both John Woodnut and Derek Smee are also fairly successful at avoiding typical B-movie characterisation, despite one or two lapses. Unfortunately, the characters of Sam Seeley and his wife Meg seem to have been left over from an early script for 'Invasion' (presumably) supplied to Hammer films

The locations are generally used to good effect by the director. The plastics factory is entirely plausible and even the BBC building is passable as UNIT headquarters. I wasn't convinced, though, by the hospital interior, which with its surfeit of wood panelling looks more like a country hotel. On the other hand, the special effects and some of the design work is rather poor. Applying paint to the faces of the actors portraying certain of the autons works surprisingly well, but the plastic faces of the others are a little too crude and the eye holes are inexplicable (except, of course, to enable the actors to see where they are going). Furthermore, when Channing orders, ''total destruction'' I expected something more spectacular to happen to the victims of the autons' weapons than simply to disappear between frames. Still, the scene where the shop-dummy autons awaken and attack the terrified inhabitants of London is handled well enough to instil some suspense to the proceedings. The shot of the Nestene pods descending to earth is mercifully brief, but alas those green, rubber tentacles are allowed to writhe around for far too long. Given the fact that they are totally unnecessary to the plot, and Jon Pertwee's accompanying facial expression is so ludicrous, they take the prize for comic low-budget production moment of the story.





InfernoBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

‘Inferno’ is considered one of the more memorable Jon Pertwee stories, in large part for its notable parallel-world gimmick. And yes, it is just a gimmick – the plot device is effective in its shock value, no doubt (yanking the rug out from us three episodes in!), but for all the story’s serious tone, it mainly just gives the UNIT regulars an opportunity to dress up and play the baddies for once. The ‘sideways slide’ actually has very little to do with the episode’s true plot – really, the sudden power cut to the TARDIS console could have been caused by anything, and happened in any story. And not only is the ‘slide’ a gimmick, it’s a red herring as well! It doesn’t explain what the green glop is, or how it turns people into Primords; all it does is show the Doctor what will happen if he doesn’t stop the Inferno drilling, which he was already trying to do anyway. (Ultimately, what’s causing the phenomenon is never really explained, and once the project is finally halted, the Doctor seems to lose whatever interest he might have had in the mystery.)

That said, ‘Inferno’ is still quite watchable, making up for what it lacks in brains with a serious and scary style, and an unusual realism. Like many Pertwee-era stories, this one is long, and yet for the most part it doesn’t feel it. The most notable and successful of the story’s elements has nothing to do with parallel universes – it’s the sound of the Inferno drill itself. Doctor Who is famous for over-extending itself – throughout its history, it’s tried to actually show us things like spacecrafts landing and giant monsters attacking, despite having just a tenth of the budget necessary to pull the effects off well (if that). And who am I kidding, this is certainly part of classic Who’s charm and evergreen appeal. Yet, it is extremely interesting to see the production team exercising the rare piece of aesthetic sleight of hand. And how well it works! The drill’s incessant, god-awful grinding, with the characters having to raise their voices to be heard above it, does more to convince us that there’s a giant machine just off-screen than any tightly shot model ever could. Sure, we don’t get to see the drill – we really don’t need to.

The Primord plotline is played very straight, and the fact that most of the characters are unaware of the mutations until late in the story adds an element of danger and menace. The episode’s horror elements, while subtle, are still quite effective. The Dog-faced Boy costumes are ultimately rather silly-looking, but in the early episodes the Primords (influenced possibly by Night of the Living Dead, but actually looking forward to later vicious-zombie movies) are quite scary and believable, especially given that the world in which they are an aberration feels so real to begin with. And personally, I find something quite sickening about how the mutating humans uncontrollably rub the green slime onto their faces – Olaf Pooley really seems to be relishing his ‘serving,’ and the effect is practically obscene. (Stahlman is a marvelous villain – in a series legendary for bad guys who want to take over the universe, this kind of petty monomaniac is refreshing and totally believable. He doesn’t have delusions of grandeur, exactly – he’s just the boss from hell.)

As for the parallel-continuum aspect, it’s of course fun in its way. Caroline John probably comes off the best – there’s something recognizably Liz Shaw-like inside her, but for the most part she’s frighteningly hard and steely. Nicholas Courtney has perhaps too much fun as the Brigade Leader – there’s a semi-foreign accent that comes and goes, and the shouting and crying are not much more than ordinary Who ham. But there are things to like about his performance as well – he and John play off each other beautifully in the interrogation sequence (“Name?”), and his posture as the Brigade Leader shows that it wasn’t just in the eighties that this actor started to pack on the pounds. (In other words, it reveals how much of Courtney’s trim bearing as the Brigadier is actually physical acting.)

As for the Doctor himself, Pertwee is like-ably crabby throughout; his up-yours responses to Stahlman’s pig-headedness are particularly well played. I’d forgotten just how serious the Third Doctor is – and, for as much as I do enjoy the ‘cosmic wisecracker’ approach taken by Tom Baker and some of the other actors, it’s nice to see a Doctor who can tell the Brigadier that he was at Krakatoa in 1883, and not play it for laughs. It’s kind of a spooky moment when Pertwee says he was there; we believe him, and for a moment we see the Doctor as others must see him – as a figure of bizarre mystery, full of tales which fly in the face of common sense, and yet which have the air of truth nonetheless.

All told, an entertaining story, well worth watching.





The Claws of AxosBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Adam Kintopf

People seem to want to like ‘The Claws of Axos,’ and others have shown that there are things *to* like about it. The organic, parasitic spaceship with its satellite ‘crew’ is a good idea, one that I would say is better realized here than in ‘Terror of the Zygons.’ The exchange in which the Axon ‘leader’ hesitates on the word ‘ship’ is particularly nice in communicating the idea that these are not typical sci-fi aliens (i.e., humans with scales, extra eyes, etc.). The Axons look good in all their incarnations, and the way in which they transform is horrifying and quite wonderful.

But ultimately the story remains a minor one at best, and even considered as such, is less than the sum of its good parts. For starters, the plot is needlessly complicated – this is one of those stories that seems straightforward enough, but if you stop for a moment and think, you’ll realize you have no real idea what’s going on. As is the case with many of the Pertwee stories, there really is no need for the Master to be in it at all; the character is included for one reason only - to give the Doctor access to a working TARDIS, so he can create the time loop at the end. And, speaking of which, Axos’s desire to achieve time travel is itself another pure contrivance, designed simply to allow the Doctor to use a TARDIS as a silver bullet to eliminate them. Why else have them try to do anything more than suck the earth dry? (Isn’t that frightening enough?) I suppose Baker/Martin and the production team wanted to come up something a little different than a typical ‘blow everything up’ Who finale, but it all seems a bit awkwardly assembled to me.

And there are blatant stupidities besides. Not only does showing the Axon monsters in the prologue spoil the suspense, it also has the unfortunate side effect of making the Doctor look stupid, since he tells Chinn not to assume that Axos is hostile after we already know that it *is*. And while the Doctor or Jo might be curious (and reckless) enough to climb inside the Axos pod at the first opportunity, I find it hard to believe that such a huge party, including the head of UNIT, important Ministry of Defense officials, and Nuton Power Complex administrators, would just traipse blindly into this completely unknown alien organism. 

As for the actors, Peter Bathurst throws himself into the part of Chinn, but the character is still pretty tedious – such a broadly drawn caricature of an old-fashioned ‘England for the English’ conservative that even lefties will find it hard to enjoy. (Although Chinn should quickly be pointed out to critics of the new series who claim that liberal sympathies first came to Doctor Who with Russell T. Davies.) The other actors are better – in particular, it might have been nice to see Filer reappear in some other UNIT stories – but they sort of disappear in the messiness

Let’s see, what have I forgotten? Well, there’s Pigbin Josh, of course – alas, poor Pigbin! There’s not really much to say about him; the very *idea* of him is in poor taste, needless to say. But I have to admit, I crack up every time his ‘rustic’ musical theme plays, and his death is so unnecessary that . . . well, you just can’t help feeling sorry for the cracked old stereotype, can you?