Serial Title: The Claws of Axos
Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Companions: Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)
An alien spacecraft appears, heading for Earth, and blowhard government official Chinn (why do they give all these pompous idiots the authority to take control of UNIT? Do you think they'd just let "Senator Sturmwell from Nebraska" (picking a state at random, here, so no offense intended, Nebraskites!) just take control of the US Military? Isn't that what you have trained, experienced military commanders for?) steps in and orders it shot out of the sky.
The attack fails and the spacecraft lands- and devours a homeless man, grabbing him with a giant claw and sucking him inside the spacecraft. It causes all sorts of freak weather activities as well. Off to a promising start in Earth/Alien relations, the Brigadier, the Doctor, Jo, and American agent Bill Filer, dispatched to coordinate with UNIT on the worldwide manhunt for the at-large Master (whom the Doctor continues to insist has left Earth now that he has a dematerialization circuit handy, but on whom the Earth is taking no chances), unaware of the spacecraft's hobo-appetite, head out to meet the alien spacecraft firsthand.
Inside, they are met by the Axons, gold-skinned, faux-beautiful humanoids that have come to offer humanity a gift: Axonite, a miracle substance that can replicate and duplicate any material (including replicating food and power, ending all material needs). The material is taken to the nearby Nuton power plant for testing as Chinn starts getting delusions of Earth-revolutionizing grandeur.
Meanwhile, Bill Filer arrives separately from the group and is captured and held next to the Axon's other prisoner... the Master, captured soon after leaving Earth, who has led them back to this world as an easily-conquerable prize in return for his freedom (not yet granted). Filer has fulfilled his mission to find the Master, but is hardly in any position to do anything about it.
However, the Doctor suspects foul play, getting on Chinn's bad side, and insisting that he be allowed to join the team examining Axonite. Chinn, suspecting that UNIT and the Doctor will interfere in his becoming a global hero, retaliates by having the Doctor and UNIT placed... UNDER MILITARY ARREST...?!?!?! (SERIOUSLY, WHERE DOES HE GET THE AUTHORITY TO DO THIS?!??! I Did they elect a king of the entire planet, and this is his cousin or something?!?!) The Doctor, allowed to continue the examination under 'house arrest,' runs samples through an enormous 'light accelerator' machine.
The Axons create a false Bill Filer and send him to assassinate the Doctor, leading to a colossal battle around the light accelerator- but the real Bill Filer escapes and arrives just in time to destroy his duplicate by hurling them into the accelerator. The Axons are revealed to be horrific spaghetti-pile creatures, part of a collective intelligence, with the golden-beauties as false avatars... and, their evil plot revealed, they attack en masse, bulletproof, and armed with grappling claw-tipped tentacles that can explode a man simply by touching him. With UNIT under arrest, the standard military attempts to deal with them... and is slaughtered.
The Doctor and Jo are captured- the Axons know that the Doctor is a Time Lord, and want the secret of time travel (having captured the Master's TARDIS). They claim that they can restore the Doctor's knowledge of TARDIS operations, blocked by the Time Lords. Meanwhile, the Master escapes, and heads straight for the Doctor's TARDIS, intending to flee... but in the process of trying to make it operational, he is captured by the Brigadier! The Master bargains for his freedom in return for helping to defeat the Axons. He and the Brigadier make an excellent team, turning the power of the reactor and light accelerator, captured by the Axons to draw power form, back upon the Axon ship before they can activate the Axonite, a Trojan Horse that will envelop and devour the Earth.
The Doctor then offers his own deal to the Axons, double-crossing the Master: to link the power of his own TARDIS with the Master's captured unit and to give the Axons the power of time travel. However, he instead uses the power of the linked TARDISes to generate a time loop, trapping the Axons inside- because of their linked, interconnected nature, every bit of the Axons, including their foot-soldier avatars and the Axonite molecules throughout the world, is pulled in. The Doctor uses his TARDIS to escape the loop as it closes up, as the again-betrayed Master (seriously, for two serials in a row, he's been the honorable one that is double-crossed by a treacherous, lying, dishonorable Doctor!) escapes to his own TARDIS and likewise flees.
Oh, and that jerk Chinn...? No repercussions. He escapes the Axon attack, and is last seen alive and well with no repercussions for his absurdly heavy-handed, idiotic tactics. Talk about a flippin' loose thread...!
The Doctor returns to Earth, though not out of any loyalty to UNIT or Jo... instead, his TARDIS has been reprogrammed to rematerialize on Earth whenever it dematerializes. Even though, with the Master's help, the ship is functional again, the Doctor still lacks the knowledge to pilot it, and even if he could, it is irrevocably tethered to Earth- like, as the Doctor puts it, "a galactic yo-yo."
The Claws of Axos (also known as the far more generic ‘The Vampire From Space,’ which the first two episodes were produced as, animated titles and all, before they changed it; other candidates included ‘Doctor Who and the Gift’ and ‘The Friendly Invasion’) starts off with a blithering barrage of irritating illogic, and quickly (and unexpectedly) transforms into one of the best Third Doctor serials yet!
The beginning unquestionably starts off on the wrong foot- the alien spacecraft incoming, and UNIT ascertains a firing solution, which the (anti-military) Doctor (seriously, I wanted to punch his smug face in again for the first couple of episodes- thank goodness the likability meter was cranked again in the second half!) snipes at. "Just a precaution, Doctor," notes the Brig, reasonably. "Shoot first, ask questions later, eh, Brigadier?" asks the Doctor testily. Uhhhh... no. That is the exact OPPOSITE of what a precaution is, and exactly 180 from what the Brigadier just said!!! The Doctor's again just being hostile to prudence for no good reason, and demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of what a precaution is! To which Chinn responds by... immediately firing missiles at the as-yet-unidentified craft! Demonstrating that HE doesn't understand what a precaution is, either- proving the Doctor right by way of clumsy writing, despite having just given the Brig a line entirely contradicting this course of action! In fact, the whole first episode and part of the second is like this- characters behaving illogically, acting as if the last scene they were in or the last line given to them never happened, and generally doing things for no GOOD reason, only because plot contrivance told them to. It's all very ham-fisted and quite obnoxious.
As per my quandary in the last serial, the Master returns- in quite an unexpected way- captured on his way off Earth. At the end, he departs again in a working TARDIS. In addition, the Doctor's dematerialization circuit is repaired, only for him to discover a new problem; his TARDIS is programmed to re-route to Earth. Still, now it is fully functional again, and potentially capable of travel across the globe. Both of these are extremely surprising developments- the expected status quo is being kept up (Doctor stuck on Earth, Master as recurring villain)- but without stagnating the story. The situations for both of them are continuing to develop, along paths that bring them back to the expected place through natural and well-thought-out plots instead of Gilligan's Island-style contrivances to keep everything from developing and resetting at the end of each episode. This is a good sign for the series- the writers are putting some effort into things! Still, is that it? The entire reason why things are so good...? Despite the detractions? I mean, everyone was acting pretty obnoxious at the beginning- All right, let's run down the characters, and see whether they helped or hindered.
Chinn... hindered. A lot. Here was General Carrington, Mark II- only this time, instead of an obsessed madman in charge, it's a greedy fool with bureaucratic power. Was there anything more satisfying than seeing his home office strip him of it, and offer his resignation for him to sign? Or when the soldiers turned on him? That the Brigadier didn't arrest HIM is a testament to his patience. This character was obnoxious, though more of a comic foil than a true antagonist. Again, once he was sidelined, the story got much better.
Bill Filer... helped. A great deal. He served more or less as the protagonist, taking some heroic actions, having a great (well-staged and well-realized) double-fight, and generally acting heroic- I was glad for his survival at the end, and wouldn't mind seeing him again.
The Master... was at his best here. He had some great sequences- his bridge-jump stunt sequence, his mulling over the TARDIS repairs, his taking a Doctor-like role in the first confrontation between the Master and the Brig, his working with UNIT and the Doctor, his disbelief that the Doctor would actually betray his friends- he had a lot to do, and carried much of the middle of the story on his own. The real surprise came when he actually fed the power to overload the Axons as promised- he had taken every previous opportunity to try and weasel his way into escape, it was the one bit of honesty that proved shocking! Again, with the Axons as the true villains, the master becomes more of a foil and a grudging ally- a role in which he does quite well.
The Brigadier... was likewise not the powerhouse of the last serial... but he is no-nonsense in his dealings, not over-reactive militarily, and you have to cheer when he gets the upper hand over that git, Chinn. And with both Chinn and the Master, he forgoes any kind of grudge, acting honestly, honorably, and practically to resolve the crises at hand. Again, a very positive portrayal.
And, the Doctor... oh, Doctor. So irritating in the beginning; why must you always begrudge the military prudent precautions against potential threats, especially those that turn out to be right every time? It was about the scene in the particle accelerator, facing off against that obnoxious and grating scientist, that I came to a realization about this Doctor- he is a jerk to everyone he comes in contact to, abrasive and rude. We like him when he is being a jerk to people we don't like (like Stahlman in Inferno), and get annoyed with him when he's a jerk to people we do (like the Brigadier, of late). Either way, he never stops being a jerk... he just re-directs it to targets we approve of sometimes. Well, the first half of the serial did him no favors, but the second half- starting with his escape with Jo (and use of number recitation to keep her conscious and rational), to his apparent-betrayal, and last-minute heroics, re-earned the good graces that he had in series 7. Overall, the second half fares much better for him than the first, and he ends the serial more likable than unlikeable... please, Doctor- keep up the trend!
Alright, More good than bad- and most of the bad centered in the first half. That could certainly account for things... but aren't we forgetting the two stars of the show?
A humanoid-Axon's head appears, slowly rotating left as it talks, then fading seamlessly to a straight-on gaze which slowly rotates to the right... then back to the center, rotating left, and so on... all done in one take with no rotation of the head, change in tone, or break in continuity- it is all one continuous take (probably accomplished with dual cameras)- it most definitely ISN'T the actor reciting part of the line, then going back to the middle and trying to mimic his own performance- it's one seamless, unbroken take that is marvelously alien and astoundingly creative; I have seen something this innovative and unique, yet simple and effective, since... well, since Matt Smith and new Doctor Who, actually. It's crackling full of Doctor Who brilliance- a little moment of conversation on a view screen that cold have easily been just a head talking, and no one would have thought twice about it- but instead, this little extra touch, just to make things more ALIEN, calls attention (in a good way) to the truly unfathomable weirdness of this species, to great effect. Everything involved with the Axons is brilliantly realized and tremendously creative; this is a totally alien culture and technology branch, and ti shows... and it WORKS. I cannot give high enough kudos to this effort- I haven't been this impressed with innovation in film-making technique and overall method to set a mood in Doctor Who (or anywhere else!) since The Mind Robber! And the effects (which we'll get to shortly) only add to the effect! (Ironically, the legacy of this serial, brand new as of 2011, goes completely WITHOUT any visual components- The Feast of Axos, a sixth-Doctor (why does he get all the legacy stories, seriously?!? Jamie, Zoe, Axons…) audio drama which features Bernard Holley reprising his role as the voice of the Axons.)
Added to that, of course, is an unflagging pace. (Which is ironically only an after-effect of the over-budget preceding Mind of Evil; its expense caused the original seven-episode serial- already whittled down to 6 by the producers who were starting to realize that 7 parts was too long- to be whittled down to 4, the action relocated from the originally-planned later-Doctor Who cliché of Battersea power station, and overall tightened up). The plot keeps along at a fair clip in this shorter, 4-part serial... and it takes numerous twists and turns; first an alien-visitor story in which it is UNIT vs. Chinn, the foolish bureaucrat- then, just as that is getting resolved, we discover that the aliens aren't what they seem, and the Master is involved, having sold out Earth... and our characters are prevented from finding out about it, as Chinn takes over and unlawfully imprisons our heroes- now, it's a race to escape and a tense journey of exploration, to see if they can discover the plans of the Axons before it's too late, with a 72-hour ticking clock... then, a brief plot about doubles and the Doctor's abduction segues us into a marvelously clever Master and UNIT vs. the Axon invasion- a standard army-vs-aliens plot enlivened by fantastic effects and an uneasy alliance- then, the Doctor escapes (and you have to love that moment where he strides in the door just as the Master reaches it, foiling the latter's escape; it was a bit of a cheer-out-loud, "I am that man!" moment)... and it becomes an apparent conspiracy, the Doctor and the Master working together to escape a doomed Earth- you know that each is playing the other, but you don't know HOW- (between this and the Mind-of-Evil-climax exchange betrayal, the two can never have any trust between them; or, I'd suspect, work together ever again!)- and then, it becomes a traditional, and much-appreciated, Doctor Who ending- the Doctor in the TARDIS, pulling a last minute trick to defeat the bad guys and escape... with a fine little comedy ending in which the Doctor finds he can't explain the concept of a time loop to the Brig, and that he's stuck on Earth due to TARDIS programming (another great moment that, like his entrance above, probably should've gone into the Doctor's paragraph as examples of some of his positive moments). It goes all over the place, offering us so many different KINDS of stories within its short run- so much variety and fun, it never fails to keep interest.
All in all, Claws of Axos blew me away with its great story, excellent pace, amazing effects, aura of excitement, and incredibly creative Axon effects. It's a winner for sure, and exactly the kind of serial that the Third Doctor needed to inject the sense of adventure back into the show.
The fight in the particle accelerator. The Doctor and Jo’s recitation-escape through the disorienting vessel. The Axon on the catwalk.
I want to subtract some points for the obnoxious opening and annoying Doctor characterization in the first half... but I can't. I honestly can't justify taking a single point off for this serial, and though the opening isn't perfect, the overall serial more than makes up for it's flaws. 5 out of 5 Tumbling Autons- the second perfect score, and the first true classic on the level of Marinus and Mind Robber, for the Third Doctor's era.
With its high-tech accelerator, international manhunt for the Master, and general high technology throughout, I think I'm going to have to give this one a near-future-80s vote by a narrow margin.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Doctor: Jon Pertwee
Companions: Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)
The Doctor takes a jaunty trip to a maximum security prison, and decides that it would be a wise idea to bring a naïve young girl along with him. In Stangmoor Prison, the Doctor and Jo are attending a demonstration of the Keller Machine, a miracle device that removes ‘evil impulses’ from the criminal brain, curing them. The test subject in the demonstration, Barnham, is nearly fried, rendered comatose when the machine overloads, and the Doctor’s skepticism (and the audience's) seems to be well justified.
In the mean time, UNIT is handling security at the First World Peace Conference- and doing a bang-up job of it, as the Chinese delegation is complaining first that sensitive documents have been stolen (well, maybe you shouldn't have brought top secret documents to a foreign gathering of rival nations…) and then that one of their delegates is dead. Things are looking better for the Keller Machine’s FDA approval than they are for world peace.
Concurrent to this, Mike Yates is leading a bomb disposal team in dismantling and destroying the Thunderbolt, a deadly nerve gas missile seized from terrorists. One can only hope that all of the competent UNIT staff were assigned here instead of the peace conference, because otherwise, judging from their overall success rates so far…
When Mike Yates comes to fetch the Doctor for assistance at the conference, the Doctor decides the best approach is to leave the young woman that accompanied him at a maximum security prison by herself and return to the conference, leaving Jo with the agitated prisoners on the verge of revolt and the certified fear-killing machine.
At the conference the multi-lingual Doctor charms the Chinese delegates, while their security minister incapacitates Yates with her mental powers and turns into a dragon. She makes a move to assassinate the American delegate, but is thwarted… and a telepathic amplifier, both controlling her, and allowing her to project illusions relayed by the Keller Machine, clue the Doctor in to the culprit behind this dastardly scheme… ‘Professor Keller of Switzerland’ is none other than the Master, who is hiding nearby, observing the conference! In fact, he’s already overheard the UNIT plans to dispose of the Thunderbolt missile…
The Doctor is chained to the Keller Machine for execution-by-fear, as the Master gloats about his plans to steal the Thunderbolt missile with the aid of the armed prisoners, and destroy the peace conference with it, plunging the world into a state of war! For some reason! Unfortunately for the Master, the Keller Machine has been growing in power- and when activated, nearly destroys the entire prison. (The Doctor is menaced by visions of his enemies, including the Daleks, the Cybermen (one of only two appearances in a Pertwee serial, and never actually in person with this Doctor) and… the Zarbi…? Well, the Web Planet was horrifyingly bad, but… are the ‘Zaarrrrrr-beeeeee!’ really one of the Doctor’s greatest fears? …While the Master is menaced by visions of an all-powerful, indifferent, mocking Doctor that is clearly his superior.)
The Master barely manages to shut the machine off and revives the Doctor from the brink of death (something that, come Pertwee’s last season, will become rather a theme for him… this is the beginning of a trend!), enlisting his help (something that, in this season, has already become something of a theme for the Master, biting off more than he can chew and requiring the Doctor to bail him out of it).
The machine is blockaded in a lecture hall, to be starved by lack of victims. It overcomes this limitation by developing a teleportation ability (necessity is the mother of spontaneously developing superpowers, as they say) and attacks the Doctor and Jo as the Master departs with his Convict Army, taking the missile convoy with ease. A defeated Mike Yates pursues the Master to a nearby airbase, but is captured before he can report the stolen missile’s location.
The Doctor manages to escape the machine, which is drawn to the greater evil of the convicts. The Master and the Doctor construct a machine to subdue it, but with its growing power, it will not be contained for long.
Meanwhile, the Brigadier makes a raid on the prison, sneaking in with soldiers disguised as a repair crew while a second team tunnels from underground. The raid is a spectacular success, with the Brigadier himself stepping in to save the Doctor from an inmate with a gun and murderous intent at the last minute. The Doctor responds by chastising him as a fool and revealing that the missile is not at the prison. (This was the moment, I think, when I decided I didn't like Pertwee… the ungrateful git.) The Master has escaped and goes to ready the missile… but so has Yates, who calls in and informs the Brigadier of the missile’s location.
The Keller Machine overcomes the Time Lord-inspired jammer and attacks Jo and the Doctor again… but the arrival of Barnham, the childlike victim of the demonstration, shuts it down. The Doctor realizes that the complete lack of evil impulse in Barnham counteracts the machine, neutralizing it- and that with this control, they can use what is revealed to be an alien organism within the machine, the true power of the supposed ‘Keller Machine,’ against the Master.
The Doctor makes a deal with the Master via phone- in exchange for the Thunderbolt missile, he will return the Master's de-materialization circuit, absconded with during the end of the Auton business. The Master agrees, but this is a ruse- while the Doctor brings the circuit, he also brings the Keller Machine organism and Barnham. When he and Barnham step back from the ‘trade,’ away from the Master and the Machine, the Keller Machine reactivates, attacking the Master. However, the innocent, good-hearted Barnham charges in to help the Master- his presence deactivates the Machine, and the Master repays his kindness by running Barnham down with his escape van, killing the ex-con, and escaping with his de-materialization circuit. UNIT detonates the Thunderbird missile, ending its threat and taking out the Keller Machine and the organism within in the blast.
Though war has been averted and the prison riot halted, the Master has escaped, regained TARDIS functionality (which the Doctor is still denied), and a good man has been killed. It seems, as the Master calls the Doctor to gloat before leaving to resume roaming the cosmos, that the bad guys have truly won this round.
Though I could hardly know it at the time, this serial is more or less the prototype for all of the Pertwee clichés: The Doctor being a jerk to UNIT but then needing their ‘thuggish firearms’ to be his rescue at the end, The Doctor appearing dead and being revived miraculously at the last minute (this iteration is without the optional ‘Weeping Companion’ attachment), the Master grabbing hold of the ultimately powerful alien creature, then finding it far too powerful for him to control… it’s all here, laying the pattern for everything to come.
The Mind of Evil (or The Pandora Machine, as it was almost known… which sounds a lot more like an original Star Trek or Trek Animated title) is... not exactly what I'd call slow-paced (it certainly moves along at a brisker clip than Ambassadors of Death), but it does take its time in developing- as six-parters are wont to do- perhaps a little too much time to properly build the suspense it's trying to. The last third, however, is practically a different story- far better paced, and more attention-grabbing; it rescues the overall product.
This six-part throwback is also entirely in Black and White, the original color prints having been destroyed along with all of the lost Hartnell and Troughton classics. (Note from Andrew, 2013: They just put a color version out on DVD). The change in pigmentation helps this to feel a little more classic, and helps one to realize that the film and production values may not have changed so much for the Pertwee era as they originally appeared to- the addition of color just made it seem that way. Viewed in monochrome, they still look fairly similar to Troughton's era.
Still, the overall story does build the mystery (a little bit- though it's pretty obvious from the start) and the developing plot nicely. And the action-packed finale, with the creature assaulting people in the halls, the UNIT invasion (featuring some more impressive sharp-shooting by the Brigadier), and the end confrontation, is a fun and exciting ride.
The Master returns here- I suspected I'd soon stop noting that in these serials, as I suspected it would be a common occurrence- and then, the elegantly set-up co-exile, courtesy of the stolen de-materialization circuit, leaving the master as a permanent nemesis for the Doctor, was suddenly broken at the end almost as an afterthought! I was quite surprised and dismayed- we shall see how this turns out. The Master does return here, though, with a great entrance. His involvement in the story is a bit more suspect, though- I'd considered, and rejected, the Master as the secret identity of the machine's 'inventor'- as the warden references it as being installed a year ago (perhaps I misunderstood and it was 'last year?')- surely it hasn't been THAT long since Terror of the Autons? A year-long time-skip between serials is somewhat abrupt...!
The Master's nightmare is cleverly and effectively shown to be an all-powerful Doctor, hovering above him in absolute triumph... a nightmare cleverly fulfilled in the New Series' Third finale, Last of the Time Lords. He is oddly subservient, obedient, and friendly with the Doctor towards the end, while they are working to contain the creature- it felt a bit off. However, he is smugly confident in the final confrontation, as befits him well.
I feel sorry for poor, child-like Barnum, who was simply trying to do his best- defending the Doctor in an almost zombie-like manner after he and Jo were hauled inside (and the poignant moment where the Doctor paralyzes him with his Venusian karate to prevent him being hurt by the villains), overcoming his fear to help with the device, and in the end, allowing the Master to escape and getting killed all because he instinctively went to help whoever was in need. Just like the last serial, a poor dupe with a good heart caught up in the Master’s machinations and dying because of it. Poor fellow… Barnham, to me, felt like a trial run (in retrospect) for Tommy in Planet of the Spiders. Same character type, but much better executed the second time with the benefit of experience- and seeing in Tommy what they were TRYING to do here gives the character a bit more poignancy, if only imagined.
(Meanwhile, his task-master, the harsh Dr. Summers is in fact Michael Sheard- Admiral Ozzel to Star Wars fans, and a well-known thespian of the time making a cameo).
One thing I didn't understand at all in this story was WHY in the world Jo continued to hang about the prison
The Doctor... well, it's no fault of Mind of Evil's, but this serial is really where I realized the Jon Pertwee just doesn't do it for me as the Doctor. It's not that I dislike him, he's a nice fellow, but as the Doctor, he doesn't have anything to 'look forward to,' as my wife noted- not Hartnell's gruff or giddy statements, not Troughton's manic comedy or elastic face- no quirk or routine to sit there saying "I can't wait for the part of the episode when he does his shtick," nor any real standard comedic moment- his humor is minimalist and fairly dry, and his character rather even and by-rote; he's not unpleasant, but thus far, he seems rather... bland. A bit dull. Not unlikeable, but, like Liz, not very able to stand out in the crowd. Perhaps that's why I find myself looking more forward to scenes with the Master than with him. It's unfortunate, but I think he's my least favorite Doctor to date. Plus, he’s a real jerk to anyone in the military, and I don’t like that. Not at all.
On his merits in this episode, though... well, he still doesn’t fare so well. He’s at his most interesting in the action scenes against the machine (and I’d have liked to see the barrage of his former enemies in color!), but he’s rather bland and uninspired, and most of all… a grumpy ingrate. The Brigadier saves his life with a nick-of-time entrance and sharp-shooting victory, and the Doctor gives a grumpy “Can you, for once, show up BEFORE the last moment?” Okay, begrudging witty banter between friends, no problem… the Brigadier is surprised (with a great expression) to find out that the stolen missile isn’t there as he surmised- “Except for missing the Master and the missile, you’re doing quite well, Brigadier…” the Doctor dourly quips. The one whose life the Brig saved less than a minute before. And he continues like this for the rest of the serial- yelling at the Brigadier for not realizing that he has an alternate plan for the exchange for the Master (despite having given no indication whatsoever that he did, and not having had one until a minute or so before, given to him by Jo, no less…) He’s just kind of a jerk. Not very likable, not very funny- and unfortunately, no out-of-character writing ala ‘Doctor Who And The Silurains’ to blame it on this time. Which is a pity- I wanted to like him. I’m hoping he’ll find a better niche, because right now… he’s not doing so well. Still, kudos to his reactions to the various fear images, and for the continuity of the parallel Earth’s fiery demise from ‘Inferno’ being the source of his initial fire-based nightmare. (In addition, based on his performance in the first few serials, I genuinely believe that he’d have blamed a parking ticket for Bessie, a flat tire, or a bad economy on the Keller Machine, too.) Okay, it’s not all bad- he had a nice escape from the Master, at least…
It’s the Brigadier, along with Jo, that fare the best in this serial. The Brig here is competent, clever, cool, confident, no-nonsense, skilled, and funny. He deduces the lie in the Chinese Delegate’s story easily, (apparently, the entire Chinese delegate subplot was written to pad out the episodes, which were too short for a 6-parter, and designed to showcase the writer’s wife, Pik-Sen Lim, who is the dragon-woman in this serial) with no prompting, instigates a great raid on the prison with more of his signature sharp-shooting and 45-degree instant-turn-and-shoot maneuvers, saves the Doctor’s life with a last-minute shot- all standard Brigadier-type functions. Plus, he plays the delivery driver in the ‘Trojan Horse’ operation, struts around like a peacock proud of his cleverness, and has a great comic double-take and deflated little “oh…” when he discovers that his guess had been wrong, great little comedic touches and fun scenes all, with the Brig acting out of character (or, more accurately, pretending to be another character)… all very UNexpected, and a major treat! We also have great scenes just after Yates’ escape and when Benton is assigned to the prison where the Brigadier bonds with and shows concern for his men- wonderful, humanizing moments shared with our recurring-but-minor UNIT characters. His plans work out (minus finding the missile), he’s level-headed and helpful, and gets a chance to stretch his character muscles in a way that he hasn’t been able to since Inferno.
Speaking of which, Yates gets a great turn here, escaping with gusto, breaking out cleverly, demonstrating great fighting skills, and even verbally sparring with the Master- I LIKE this kid! Sergeant Benton, the one actually ON payroll, doesn’t have much to do- a brief, slightly-comedic (but not all that funny) segment, but really, a minor presence this time around.
Effects were a mixed bag. The device dispatched victims in the latter serials with a unique overexposed/static effect that I am curious as to the look of in color. There was a wavy transition- rather overused- that was fairly stock (though I am curious how it was accomplished non-digitally), a scene in which the machine was breaking out with a VERY odd skewing, point-of-view, dancing-cameraman movement, and a lot of superimpositions. All fairly stock stuff, nothing groundbreaking, save perhaps for the unique look of the static.
But none of that matters because we got a HELICOPTER!!! Moving! In video! And, by a quirk of fate, in Black and White! Hooray for another surviving copter clip! In addition, the Dragon-suit was impressive, though odd, and while it felt a little surreal, it was nicely constructed- and it’s unexpected full-body appearance to the Doctor and Co. (whom you would expect to see through the illusion instead of sharing in it) adds to the shock value of the scene. Oh, and kudos on the ‘artful’ transition in Episode 4, fading from the Doctor’s face to the Master’s.
That said, the budget for this episode went so far over budget (partially due to the aforementioned copter sequence) that the director, Timothy Combe, was actually forbidden from consideration for directing any future Doctor Who work- he was, in essence, blacklisted for being too spendy. One place that said budget was NOT lavished on, however, was the music- which was, in a word, AWFUL. Not grating, like in the Silurians, but it sounded like a synthesizer on demo mode, and various bits- like the anthem played as UNIT storms the prison, are wildly inappropriate. Someday, perhaps we’ll find a Pertwee serial with a decent score…?
And lastly, as usual, the disassociated story notes that don’t fit anywhere else…
-In irony, this episode mocks the foolish scientists who claims that modern science has made capital punishment outdated. Though I’m certain the Doctor would agree with the sentiment, just not the Keller machine method, I find it a good illustration of the foolhardiness of this movement- a rare accidental conservative message in a science fiction show.
-The American ambassador had another strange accent, which sounded like a slightly-mellowed version of Milo Clancy from The Space Pirates- less pronounced, but from the same branch of slightly-texan-british-attempting-amercian. It’s been long enough that I must poke through the archives to remember if Peter Purves fell prey to this same odd hybrid accent in The Chase…
-The use of the prisoners making noise every time the device activated, even when they didn’t know it was being used, was a nice, creepy plot device that added to the eerie atmosphere and the strange, almost omnipresent-seeming power of the Keller Machine.
-Why, oh why, does the Doctor actually bring the real de-materialization circuit to a fake exchange, opening the door for the Master to somehow abscond with it? Why not a fake, or why not disable the circuit first…?
-We have a nice little comic roll in the form of Major Cosworth, who is so enthusiastic and prone to stating the obvious that one can tell that the Brig is slightly unnerved by him. It’s a very subtle humor, and very well-played; the kind of layering we’ve rarely received from performances in Doctor Who, and an excellent bit of comic business precisely BECAUSE it isn’t overplayed or oversold. Another nice subtle moment belongs to the Doctor (who does deserve some due)- being cast into his cell for the second time in Epsiode 5, one harkens back to the first incarceration, where he struggled, paused on the threshold, and was pistol-whipped into submission, clubbed on the back of the head. This second time around, as he enters willingly, the same guard raises his pistol to repeat the gesture- and the Doctor glares him into lowering his hand without incident. It’s a small moment, not lingered-on or emphasized, without a closeup or musical cue to highlight it- but it’s an excellent character moment and detail to watch for.
The Brigadier’s last-minute rescue!
Overall, Mind of Evil would have rated as an average, middling serial- but the fun and action-packed last two episodes bump it up to a final total of 3.75 out of 5 Tumbling Autons; not quite highly-recommended (save for that last third), but still highly enjoyable overall. The Doctor, however, had better find a way to become more likeable and more interesting whilst dodging the Claws of Axos; we can always hope that this serial was simply a Silurian-style bad-characterization story, and that all will be well next serial… this one is clearly a headliner for The Brig, Jo, and Yates, however- if they were all a bit lukewarm last serial, this is the one that really makes me like them! But the Master gone…? Just when I thought I had the direction for this ‘gentle reboot’ worked out, they pull the rug out from under me! Where will they go next…?
Everything about this episode screams ‘contemporary,’ with the only high-technology provided by the Master based on an alien life-form. Contemporary 1971, for sure.