The Faceless Ones

It’s a flying beastie!

Jamie McCrimmon

Synopsis

Arriving at Gatwick Airport, the Doctor finds that a great number of young people are disappearing, including Ben and Polly.  Together with Jamie and Samantha Briggs, the sister of one of the missing people, he investigates what the Chameleons are up to.

Review

The Faceless Ones is latest Troughton era Doctor Who story to receive the animation treatment to allow us now to enjoy it in its full glory. The release gives the options to watch all six parts in animated format in colour or black and white, or to watch the surviving two episodes alongside the animation. Whilst writing my notes on this story, I watched the colour animated version, however, I have also watched parts of the two other options. I have really enjoyed the animation of these stories in the past and I am pleased to report that this one is no exception, helped in no small part by a great story.

As much as I enjoyed seeing this story in its full glory, there are some problems that I have here. It is a testament to how different television was in 1967 that this was how the departure of a companion was dealt with, as Ben and Polly are largely absent from the story, with the production team deciding to focus more on Jamie and Samantha Briggs played by Pauline Collins, who was being eyed up as a potential companion. Unfortunately, once Anneke Wills and Michael Craze stop appearing on screen it is all too easy to forget about them and their plight until they briefly turn up again at the end of Episode 6. It is also difficult to imagine any production set in modern times which would spend so much time fleshing out a character so much as Samantha Briggs is here, without having secured her signature as a companion going forwards. As it is, in terms of her departure from the story and her kiss with Jamie, it does feel unresolved. In modern television, contracts would have been signed months in advance of production starting, ensuring that the actor was committed to stay with the programme. This is something that will certainly return to be an issue with other actors, significantly, Caroline John, Louise Jameson and Mary Tamm, so I suppose we should be grateful we got a departure scene for Ben and Polly. The story being six episodes long makes it potentially too long, but I found it gripping for the whole of its running time, although the conclusion did feel a little rushed.

The story revolves around the mystery of missing young people who have travelled on Chameleon Tours, and Polly gets kidnapped very early on in the story when she discovers a body in their hanger. The Chameleons take the forms of some of the people they have kidnapped, leaving to a sense of unease about who is an alien which is pulled off really well. The shape-shifting nature of the Chameleons means that it is believable that the Doctor and his companions are regarded with suspicion by the Commandant of Gatwick Airport and the airport staff. Once the Doctor discovers the nature of the duplicates, the search is on for the originals as the copy cannot be sustained without the original being frozen. The Chameleons look fantastic in their usual form and the animation makes them look better than they did in the story, and it is actually quite nice to have a bit of a wait until we actually see them in their base form. The Chameleons have managed to go quite a while unchecked, as they state that they have been able to kidnap a large number of young people, which does stretch credulity slightly as it seems that people have only just started to notice that their loved ones have gone missing.

As Polly and Ben are sidelined for a lot of the story, the Doctor and Jamie are allowed to shine here. Troughton is fantastic as usual, and even in animated form, you find your eyes drawn to his performance, whilst Jamie gets a romantic interest in the form of Samantha and shows some initiative in his investigations away from the Doctor, including him hiding on the plane which prevents him from being shrunk. Pauline Collins is also good as Samantha, who enters the story looking for her brother who has travelled with Chameleon Tours. The rest of the performances are solid and I particularly enjoyed the performance of Bernard Kay in the join role as Inspector Crossland and the Director of the Chameleons.

Verdict: A solid Second Doctor story with a good storyline, if a lacklustre departure for Ben and Polly. It’s great to have this as a complete story and I’m really looking forward to the release of Fury from the Deep later this year. 8/10

Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Michael Craze (Ben Jackson), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Pauline Collins (Samantha Briggs), James Appleby (Policeman), Colin Gordon (Commandant), George Selway (Meadows), Wanda Ventham (Jean Rock), Victor Winding (Spencer), Peter Whitaker (Inspector Gascoigne), Donald Pickering (Blade), Christopher Tranchell (Jenkins), Madalena Nicol (Nurse Pinto), Bernard Kay (Crossland), Gilly Fraser (Ann Davidson), Brigit Paul (Announcer), Barry Wilsher (Heslington), Michael Ladkin (RAF Pilot) & Leonard Trolley (Supt. Reynolds).

Writers: David Ellis & Malcolm Hulke

Director: Gerry Mill (original production) & AnneMarie Walsh (animation)

Parts: 6

Behind the Scenes

  • This story sees the departure of Ben and Polly as played by Michael Craze and Anneke Wills respectively. They are notable for being the first characters to act as companions to two incarnations of the Doctor, having first appeared in The War Machines.
  • This is the final appearance of Michael Craze as Ben Jackson in any medium. Craze passed away on 7 December 1998, however, the part has been played by Elliot Chapman for Big Finish and by Jared Garfield in Twice Upon A Time.
  • Only Episode 1 and 3 exist in their original form in the BBC Archives.
  • The story was originally written for William Hartnell’s Doctor by Malcolm Hulke and David Kerkham (whose pen name was David Ellis) and set in a department store. Script editor Gerry Davis liked the Chameleons but decided to change the location.
  • At the time of broadcast, this was only the second story set in the modern day, with the first being The War Machines. Coincidentally, the two stories are set on the same day.

Cast Notes

  • Pauline Collins was offered the opportunity to become the new companion to the Doctor, an opportunity which she declined. Collins would go on to play Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw.
  • Bernard Kay previously appeared in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Crusade.
  • Donald Pickering was in The Keys of Marinus and would go on to appear in Time and the Rani, along with Wanda Ventham, who previously appeared in Image of the Fendahl.
  • Christopher Tranchell was in The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve and The Invasion of Time.

Best Moment

The passengers disappearing on the plane at the end of Episode 3.

Best Quote

We could eliminate a whole squadron of their toy planes, and they’d never get on to us. Their minds can’t cope with an operation like this. Remember the teachings of our Director – the intelligence of Earth people is comparable only to that of animals on our planet.

Blade

Silver Nemesis

Silver Nemesis Nemesis

The bear will not pursue us – such things happen only in the theatre.

Lady Peinforte

Synopsis

The arrival of a mysterious comet heralds impending danger from enemies old and new.

Review

Silver Nemesis is another story, like Time-Flight, where a poor reputation can’t help but damage your impression of it going in.  As anniversary specials go, it certainly feels very different to its predecessors marking the 10th and 20th anniversaries respectively.  Sadly, I found that the reputation is well founded.  It feels very derivative of Remembrance of the Daleks, a story in the same season, and I’d far rather think of the season 25 opener as the anniversary special.  I made the mistake of watching the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD and the writer irritated me so much, so that might explain why I’m not very favourably disposed towards it!

Silver Nemesis

One of the major problems with this story is that there are just too many villains.  You’ve got the Cybermen, De Flores and his neo-Nazis and Lady Peinforte and Richard from 1638.  The Cybermen are more than capable of carrying a story on their own and Lady Peinforte is ‘essential’ to this mess of a story, and considering that we had seen a neo-Nazi group in Remembrance, De Flores’ Nazis could have been scrapped with little to no impact on the plot.  It would certainly save us from Anton Diffring’s disinterested performance throughout this story.  The abundance of villains means that it feels like there are large amounts of time where the story just completely stops for them whilst another group to do something.  This means that the Cybermen feel as though they are just there to be cannon fodder, especially considering the seeming abundance of gold that most characters just so happen to have on their person.  Their entrance into the story at the end of Part One and their fight sequence at the beginning of Part Two are nicely done, but for the rest of the story it certainly seems that they are unable to hit a barn door.

There is something that staggers me about the creation of this story.  The writer, Kevin Clarke, was able to call up the Doctor Who production office and get the 25th-anniversary story having never previously written for the show makes my mind genuinely boggle.  Add to that the fact that when he first spoke to John Nathan-Turner, Clarke admits that he did not have any idea of the story he wanted to tell and blagged it and he was not laughed out of town seems ridiculous.  Ultimately, this is a remake of Remembrance of the Daleks in the same season.  The idea of a comet with powerful and desirable contents returning to Earth at 25-year intervals thanks to a previously unseen (presumably Second Doctor) intervention by the Doctor is an intriguing one outside of this context, but along with the neo-Nazis and the conclusion, where the Nemesis weapon is both of Gallifreyan design and used to destroy the Cyber fleet just feels repetitive.  Clarke set out to reveal that the Doctor is, in fact, God, however, this idea seems to get largely lost through the narrative, only returning in the concluding moments when Lady Peinforte reveals that she knows the truth.  Ultimately it feels as though Clarke and the production team took a handful of ideas, threw them at the wall and went from there.

Silver Nemesis De Flores and the Cybermen

Nowhere can this be best exhibited by the celebrity casting of Dolores Gray as the American tourist – I still don’t really understand why she was there – and the whole fake Queen debacle, which just feels ridiculous.  I felt that it harkened back to McCoy’s first season which was incredibly uneven and McCoy delivers a performance to match when he struggles to place where he knows the Queen from.  Surely, once the production team knew that they would be unable to get Prince Edward or any royal involvement, it would have been pretty easy to completely write out this bit.  Dolores Gray doesn’t really look like she knows why she is being asked to be in this story and the scenes in her limo are quite painful to watch.  The cameo by Courtney Pine and the members of his quartet works the best of all of them and the opening scenes with the Doctor and Ace enjoying a break from traveling are probably amongst the best in the story which is largely bereft from good directing.  The exceptions to this are the first appearance of the Cybermen and I quite liked the Cybermen chasing Ace in Part 3 through the factory.  Ultimately though, the story feels as though it has delusions of grandeur of being a better and more important story than it ultimately is, and that is certainly the impression I got of how the writer considers this story.

Normally in Doctor Who stories that have fallen flat for me, I am able to at least find solace in the performances of the Doctor and companion, however, the Seventh Doctor and Ace largely fall flat for me here.  I gather that this may have been due to lack of rehearsal time for this story and general exhaustion on the part of McCoy and Aldred, however, it does really stand out for me here.  There are some moments between the pair that do work – I particularly like the scene with Ace and the Doctor passing the bow around the Cybermen in the castle basement and Ace admitting to the Doctor that she is scared of the Cybermen are all nice moments that can get lost in this disaster.

Verdict: Silver Nemesis feels like rehash of things that worked better in this season’s opening story, and is not helped by having too many villains, uninspiring direction and flat performances from the two leads. 1/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Anton Diffring (De Flores), Metin Yehal (Karl), Fiona Walker (Lady Peinforte), Gerard Murphy (Richard Maynarde), Leslie French (Mathematician), Martyn Read (Security Guard), Dolores Gray (Mrs Remington), Courtney Pine (As Himself), David Banks (Cyber-Leader), Mark Hardy (Cyber Lieutenant), Brian Orrell (Cyberman), Chris Chering and Symond Lawes (Skinheads), Courtney Pine, Adrian Reid, Ernest Mothle & Frank Tontoh (Jazz Quartet)

Writer: Kevin Clarke

Director: Chris Clough

Parts: 3

Behind the Scenes

  • The official 25th Anniversary story – the first not to feature multiple Doctors and the first to be broadcast in parts since The Three Doctors.
  • The final appearance of the Cybermen until their cameo in Dalek and return in The Rise of the Cybermen.  This ultimately means that this is the final appearance of David Banks as the Cyber Leader.
  • Producer John Nathan-Turner approached Prince Edward to appear in this story, but the Royal Family politely declined.  The use of Windsor Castle was also requested, which was also refused as permission was only ever granted to documentary crews.  Arundel Castle was used as a substitute.
  • Writer Kevin Clarke had seen little Doctor Who and met John Nathan-Turner with no story idea.  His improvised storyline involved the reveal that the Doctor was essentially God, which did not end up being realised.  John Nathan-Turner later requested the addition of the Cybermen.
  • Cameos are made by Nicholas Courtney, Peter Moffatt and Kevin Clarke, amongst others.

Cast Notes

  • Fiona Walker had previously appeared in The Keys of Marinus.
  • Leslie French had previously turned down the role of the Doctor in 1963.
  • Anton Diffring took the role so that he could attend Wimbledon, travelling from his home in France.  It would be his last role before his death in 1989.

Best Moment

It is really difficult to pick a best moment here.  I am going to go for the chase scene in Part 3, as it actually woke me up towards the end of this story.

Best Quote

You fool.  Without the bow, the statue’s power is nothing.

We will shortly obtain the bow.

From tbe Doctor? Don’t delude yourself.  He’s no common adversary.  Do you think he will simply walk in here and hand it over?

Good afternoon.

Doctor.

Yes, here we are.  I’m sorry we couldn’t have been here earlier, but we got held up on the way.

De Flores, Cyber Leader and The Doctor

Previous Seventh Doctor story review: The Happiness Patrol

Silver Nemesis Windsor

Planet of Evil

Planet of Evil - Forest

You and I are scientists, Professor.  We buy our privilege to experiment at the cost of total responsibility.

The Doctor

Synopsis

Picking up a distress call from the edge of the known universe, the Doctor and Sarah Jane find themselves on Zeta Minor, where a geological team have been nearly wiped out.

Review

Planet of Evil is a story that arguably suffers from being flanked by better known and iconic serials in Series 13 and I was certainly pleasantly surprised on watching it.  Whilst it certainly wears its influences on its sleeves, it benefits from some amazing set design by Roger Murray-Leach and direction by David Maloney, along with strong performances from Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen and most of the guest cast.

Planet of Evil - Doctor and Sarah, TARDIS

The story is perhaps most clearly influenced by The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, with both the titular planet and Sorenson from the third part onwards having multiple personalities.  It also takes ideas from Forbidden Planet, the team from Monestra coming to investigate a missing team and the design of the id creature.  The story itself is relatively simple but it is quite compelling and certainly kept me gripped for its run time, and even has a decent cliffhanger at the end of Part 3 (albeit with a naff resolution) that sees the Doctor and Sarah seemingly being ejected out into space.  Writer Louis Marks brought the anti-matter element into the story and it is interesting to note how different this use of it is to The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity.  It is also enormously to the story’s benefit that it doesn’t feel tedious when the ship is unable to leave Zeta Minor and the crew are refusing to listen to the Doctor and Sarah.  Something that did really stand out to me is that the story goes to the effort to show that the Monestrans have funeral traditions in a brief scene in Part 3, which really makes them feel more fleshed out than a simple humanoid race.   The conclusion is underwhelming, however, and I understand that it was a late change to have Sorenson survive the story at the request of Philip Hinchcliffe.  Regardless of whether the character survived the events of the story or not, it doesn’t change the fact that he was ultimately a tragic character.

We’re stationary.  Suspended in space.

It’s crazy.  The thrusters are at full power.

The answer’s really very simple.  You’ve come to the end of your piece of elastic.

Vishinsky, Salamar and The Doctor

The story benefits from high production values, especially with the design of the forest of Zeta Minor designed by Roger Murray-Leach.  The sinister and foreboding design makes the planet feel like a character in itself and the extensive work that doubtlessly went into the planning and making of the forest cannot be understated.  It certainly looks as real a world now as it would have done at the time of broadcast and made me for one feel as though it went on beyond the limits of the set.  The direction certainly helps the eerieness of the forest – there is so little distinction between day and night on this planet that means that there is almost a constant sense of uneasiness whenever the characters are on the planet.  Additionally, the spacecraft sets are quite effectively used and the effects used to make Sorenson’s eyes glow and the id creature are really rather effective.

Planet of Evil - Sorensen

The performances of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are exemplary here, and it is easy to see why they are regarded by many as the quintessential Doctor and companion pairing.  There is no Harry Sullivan shaped hole in this story which is to the story’s credit – as much as I like Harry, there would not have been enough for him to do here.  The Doctor is suitably incredulous and full of wide-eyed wonder throughout and he feels completely comfortable in this role.  Sladen, on the other hand, is sold rather short by the story, reduced a simple role as a messenger for the Doctor for large parts of the story, but equally, she has come to grips with Sarah.  Sladen’s reduced role is potentially worse because she is also the only female character in the production.  Amongst the guest cast, Sorenson and Vishinsky stand out as positives, with Frederick Jaeger convincingly capturing the emotional trauma of the experiences his character has been through on Zeta Minor.  Ewen Solon is likable as Vishinsky and performs admirably against a variable Prentis Hancock who seems to be largely wooden for most of the story and potentially a better performance would have increased my interest in their power struggle.

Verdict:  A solid if unspectacular story, Planet of Evil benefits from some amazing production design and solid performances.  7/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ewen Solon (Vishinsky), Frederick Jaeger (Sorenson), Prentis Hancock (Salamar), Michael Wisher (Morelli), Graham Weston (De Haan), Louis Mahoney (Ponti), Terence Brook (Braun), Tony McEwan (Baldwin), Haydn Wood (O’Hara) & Melvyn Bedford (Reig).

Writer: Louis Marks

Director: David Maloney

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The jungle was a set designed by Roger Murray-Leach.  It was so impressive that the BBC used it as an example of fine set design for a long time after production concluded.
  • The first appearance of a new TARDIS console, and additionally, the first appearance of the TARDIS interior since Death to the Daleks.
  • This is the first story commissioned by Phillip Hinchcliffe – every previous story had been commissioned by his predecessors, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.  The story was conceived as a mash-up between Forbidden Planet and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
  • The ship’s main cabin set would be reused in Robots of Death.

Cast Notes

  • The final appearance of Michael Wisher in Doctor Who.  Despite being the original actor to portray Davros, regular theatre commitments would mean that he would be unable to reprise the role.
  • Prentis Hancock previously appeared in Spearhead from Space and Planet of the Daleks and would go on to reappear in The Ribos Operation.
  • Frederick Jaeger and Ewen Solon were in The Savages.
  • Louis Mahoney was in Frontier in Space and would go on to be in Blink.
  • Graham Western previously appeared in The War Games.

Best Moment

Sarah’s walk through the forest is very atmospheric and creepy as she goes to look for the Doctor in Part Two.

Honourable Mentions

The closing shot of the TARDIS spinning away into space at the end of Part 4 is beautiful.

Best Quote

Here on Zeta Minor is the boundary between existence as you know it and the other universe which you just don’t understand.  From the beginning of time it has existed side by side with the known universe.  Each is the antithesis of the other.  You call it “nothing”, a word to cover ignorance.  And centuries ago scientists invented another word for it.  “Antimatter”, they called it.  And you, by coming here, have crossed the boundary into that other universe to plunder it.  Dangerous…

The Doctor

Planet of Evil - ID creature

Amy’s Choice

Amy's Choice

So here’s your challenge: two worlds.  Here in the time machine.  And there in the village that time forgot.  One is real, the other’s…fake.  And to just make it more interesting, you’re going to face a deadly danger, but only one of the dangers is real.  Tweet tweet, time to sleep.  Oh.  Or are you waking up?

The Dream Lord

Synopsis

Five years after Amy and Rory stopped travelling with the Doctor, they are living in Upper Leadworth.  Amy is pregnant, Rory is a doctor and everything seems idyllic.  Until the Doctor shows up by accident, leading to Amy to question whether she is really living in Leadworth with Rory or whether they are actually still travelling in the TARDIS with the Doctor.

Review

Amy’s Choice is, in my opinion, one of the highest points of one of the strongest series of Doctor Who.  It has some great performances by the three leads and the villain of the week and plays around with the idea of shared dreams quite nicely.  It also ties into the fairytale style feeling of this series, with the Doctor feeling like Peter Pan trying to tempt Amy away from his perceptions of domesticity and the associated mundanity.  It is surely no accident that Amy left Leadworth at the end of The Eleventh Hour in her nightie, an obvious parallel with Wendy Darling in J.M Barrie’s novel.  This story also largely removes the Doctor-Companion romantic angle that had been prevalent since the show’s revival – especially with early companions Rose and Martha.

Look around you.  Examine everything.  Look for all the details that don’t ring true.

Okay, well, we’re in a spaceship that’s bigger on the inside than the outside. 

With a bowtie-wearing idiot.

So maybe “what rings true” isn’t so simple. 

Valid point.

The Doctor, Rory Williams and Amy Pond

This is the first and, to date, only story written by Simon Nye, best known for being the creative force behind the sitcom Men Behaving Badly, but anyone afraid of a sitcom episode will surely have had their fears allayed within the opening minutes.  This story opens with an intriguing premise and has two of the leads utterly convinced that one of the scenarios is reality.  Nye’s script crackles with some great dialogue delivered with supreme gusto by the cast, highlighted especially well when the Doctor and Rory are bickering about which of the realities is real.  There is quite a lot of bickering in this story, but all of it seems believable, especially between Amy and Rory.  The dream in Upper Leadworth shows a reality in which Rory has got exactly what he wants, even if Amy isn’t convinced by settling down early.   In many ways, this is an important story for them. The conclusion of the episode shows that, if there’s a universe where Rory stops existing, Amy doesn’t want to be a part of it.  This sows the seeds of what is to come in this series and also links forward in time to their eventual departure from the TARDIS.  Amy does make her choice and that choice is Rory.  With other Doctors, this might have been mocked or been subject to angst and jealousy, but the Eleventh Doctor seems genuinely pleased that Amy has made this choice – after all, that’s what he wanted to happen after that scene at the end of Flesh and Stone.

Amy's Choice - Eknodines

The weakest part of the episode is undoubtedly the Eknodines, although this could be seen to be highlighting the weirdness of dreams.  There is something somehow amusing and sinister seeing old people inhabited by aliens shuffling after the cast, almost like a zombie movie.  Equally, the image of them tearing up items from Amy and Rory’s front garden in order to break into the house is darkly comic.  On the other hand, the star burning cold, whilst an impossibility, is a rather nicer idea and in the context of a science fiction show, possibly more plausible.  The reveal that both of these “realities” are dreams is really well executed.

The science is all wrong here.  Burning ice?

No, no, no.  Ice can burn.  Sofas can read. It’s a big universe.

Amy Pond and The Doctor

Amy's Choice - The Dream Lord

I’ll make no secret of the fact that I really like Toby Jones as an actor, and he is great here too.  Jones has the ability to raise the bar and plays off really nicely against Matt Smith.  Whilst Smith’s Doctor is almost immediately affable, the Dream Lord comes across immediately as sneering and evil and the scenes between the two are spiky and great.  I spoke earlier about the strength of the dialogue and Jones gets his fair share of decent lines.  He is particularly sinister in his scene with Amy alone in the TARDIS and the scene by the castle after the Eknodines reveal themselves.  The reveal that this is a manifestation of the darker sides of the Doctor is again something that isn’t surprising but works effectively.  As the story concludes, we are treated to a final glimpse of the Dream Lord, a reminder that, despite his external appearances, there is a lot of darkness in the Time Lord.

Verdict: Simon Nye gives us a good story, focusing on the companion’s decision making and Arthur Darvill’s performance is particularly strong.  9/10

Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Toby Jones (Dream Lord), Nick Hobbs (Mr Nainby), Joan Linder (Mrs Hamill) & Audrey Ardington (Mrs Poggitt)

Writer: Simon Nye

Director: Catherine Morshead

Behind the Scenes

  • The only story in the series not to allude to the Silence or the Cracks, and therefore the only story not to be referenced in the finale.  It does, however, link to some elements of the Series 6 arc.

Familiar Faces

  • Nick Hobbs previously appeared in The Curse of Peladon, The Monster of Peladon and The Claws of Axos, and operated the Wirrn prop in The Ark in Space.
  • Toby Jones would go on to portray Straxus in the Big Finish audio box set Dark Eyes.

Best Moment

The scene with the Doctor and the Dream Lord in the Butcher’s shop.

Best Quote

Ask me what happens if you die in reality.

What happens?

You die, stupid, that’s why it’s called reality.

The Dream Lord and Rory Williams

Amy's Choice - Ponchos

The Claws of Axos

Claws of Axos - Axons

Obviously the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS always to return to Earth.  It seems that I am some sort of intergalactic yo-yo!

The Third Doctor

Synopsis

A group of gold-skinned aliens arrive on Earth offering a seemingly magical element in return for fuel.  The Doctor sees through their seeming benevolence and uncovers their true nature, ultimately teaming up with his adversary the Master in efforts to take them down.

Review

It’ll be no secret to anybody who has read my other blogs about the Jon Pertwee era that it is one that I am immensely fond of.  I really enjoy the Third Doctor’s man of action, the UNIT Family (especially the Brigadier!) and Roger Delgado, however, that doesn’t stop me from seeing how formulaic things get.  The Claws of Axos is a solid, if unremarkable, story with a lot of familiar elements and I acknowledge that it is unfair to lay all the faults of Season 8 squarely at the door of this serial.

As mentioned above, all of the hallmarks of the Third Doctor’s era are here.  We have an interfering civil servant in the shape of Mr Chinn, played by Peter Bathurst, who gives a good performance as an utter jobsworth who seems to be equally despised by the Doctor, UNIT and the Ministry that he serves.  Chinn is shown to be the worst of humanity when he is presented with the Axonite, only wanting it to benefit Britain and being extremely reluctant even when instructed by the Minister to share it with the rest of the World.  There is somewhat of a see-saw of control in this story, as the Brigadier and Chinn are constantly vying to stay in control of the situation surrounding the seemingly distressed Axon craft, with the Brigadier, Benton and Yates arrested by the military at one point.  Whilst other civil servants have acted foolishly (see Geoffrey Palmer’s infected Masters in The Silurians) or acted antagonistically towards the Doctor and the Brigadier, Chinn seems completely callous.  When he wanders into the reactor room towards the serial’s conclusion, he is more concerned about the potential impact on his career than the fate of the Earth.

Ah, Mister Chinn.  Where have you been hiding yourself?  Canteen?

As it so happens, I’ve been doing your job!

Oh yes?

Trying to do something about the situation.

Which particular situation?

Axonite, Brigadier, Axonite.  Do you realise that Britain’s going to get the blame for all this? 

Britain or you, Mister Chinn?

Well, if you won’t get me the Ministry…where’s Hardiman?

Dead.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Chinn

Despite the story being quite formulaic, I do quite like the Axons.  There is certainly something about their gold faces and bug-like eyes which is rather unsettling and they are rather unique in the grand scheme of Doctor Who foes, seemingly being a benevolent force.  The costumes in both their humanoid and “raw” forms are quite effectively creepy and I like the idea of them being an embodiment of their ship.  Their plan is an allusion to the fuel crisis in the 1970s, with Axonite being gifted to the humans as a substitute fuel and a “chameleon element”.  When it is sold to humanity like that, it is perhaps not surprising that Chinn would take this attitude to hoard the supplies for Britain, and it is only with the intervention of the Master that Axos’s plan gets back on track.

Claws of Axos - Master

Speaking of the Master, Roger Delgado is great as usual.  He is able to easily manage scenes like hypnotising the UNIT truck driver and using a frankly ludicrous disguise to get past Benton with his usual charming and suave demeanour, and it is perhaps difficult to see any of his successors in the role managing to pull this off in the same way.  The one element that doesn’t really work is the presence of Bill Filer, an American agent sent to arrest the Master, not helped by an accent that could be described as shaky at best.  Despite this, I’m still not bored of the Master turning up every episode, and it is nice to see the Doctor and the Master finally working together to defeat Axos.  Considering how spiky the Third Doctor has been in his tenure to date, it is not surprising to see his abandonment of humanity once he has an inkling of a way off the planet and the scenes with the Master and the Doctor in the TARDIS are a joy.  It’s equally nice to see the Master almost acting as the scientific advisor to UNIT and the Master’s frustration that the Brigadier won’t simply let him leave his fantastic.

Claws of Axos - Brigadier, Master, Filer

If I had one major criticism, it would be that Katy Manning doesn’t really have very much to do here.  This might be in part why I am not keen on the character of Bill Filer, as his role could have been much better filled by Jo, especially the initial discovery of the Master.  I do like Jo as a companion, so it is a shame to see her reduced to a bit part here, especially as she is one of two women who appear in this story.

Verdict: Whilst the story is almost a paint by numbers Earth invasion story, there are moments that redeem it from becoming completely formulaic.  This is probably helped by decent performances from the regulars, especially Delgado. 6/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), Roger Delgado (The Master), Paul Grist (Filer), Peter Bathurst (Chinn), Fernanda Marlowe (Corporal Bell), Donald Hewlett (Hardiman), David Savile (Winser), Derek Ware (Pigbin Josh), Bernard Holley (Axon Man), Michael Walker (1st Radar Operator), David G Marsh (2nd Radar Operator), Patricia Gordino (Axon Woman), John Hicks (Axon Boy), Debbie Lee London (Axon Girl), Tim Piggott-Smith (Captain Harker), Kenneth Benda (Defence Minister) & Royston Farrell (Technician).

Writer: Bob Baker & Dave Martin

Director: Michael Ferguson

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The first contribution to the show by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.  Originally envisaged as a six or seven-part story, it was scaled back due to issues relating to the budget.
  • The first appearance of the TARDIS interior in Pertwee’s era, and the differences seen here – the corridor between the main doors and the console room and the monitor screen being contained in a roundel.  When the TARDIS interior reappeared later, both features were gone.
  • An overnight snowstorm during location filming necessitated the line regarding the ‘freak weather conditions’ caused by the arrival of Axos.
  • The third and final serial of the Pertwee era to use the Patrick Troughton variation of the theme.
  • Bernard Holley previously appeared in The Tomb of the Cybermen and would reprise his role in The Feast of Axos.  Peter Bathurst had previously appeared in The Power of the Daleks, John Hicks had previously appeared in The Dominators, and Tim Piggott-Smith would go on to appear in The Masque of Mandragora.

Best Moment

Seeing the Master and the Brigadier working together is quite enjoyable.

Best Quote

What else can we do?

Oh, nothing very much.  Oh, I suppose you can take the usual precautions against nuclear blast, like, er, sticky tape on the windows and that sort of thing.

Hardiman and the Master

Claws of Axos - Jo, Doctor, Filer