Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 298: The Claws of Axos, Episode Three
It feels like the reappearance of the TARDIS console room should be a bigger deal than it is. We’ve not seen it since the end of The War Games, which was well over a month ago for me, and on original broadcast it would have been mere weeks away from two whole years. When it turns up again, it should make a massive impact, a feeling of homecoming. As it is, I’m left just sort of thinking ‘oh. There’s the TARDIS…’
It’s a hangover from being so familiar with the programme as a whole. I’m so used to seeing different versions of this same console room throughout the original twenty-six years that it doesn’t feel odd to be back here again. We’ve got a new TARDIS console on show, too, which makes the decision to keep it in a shade of pale green even more baffling. I can understand them not painting the prop for its few appearances in Season Seven (why bother? It’s a needless expense), but when you’re building one from scratch…
I’m pleased to see that they’ve dressed it up a bit to suggest that the Doctor really is working in there – it would have looked terribly off if it were simply the same as we’d always seen it. The one downside is just how cramped it all looks. When we got the first view inside the ship in An Unearthly Child, the sheer size of it really worked in its favour. It felt impressive to see this huge futuristic space tucked inside this battered old police box. Here, we've got the doors, a single wall (boasting an unusual CSO scanner screen in one of the roundels), and the console.
I also have to wonder… how would this have felt on first transmission? As I've said, the audience won't have seen inside the TARDIS for two years by this point, and yet it's simply treated as being 'matter of fact' that this is what's inside the ship, as if we're supposed to know it. There would have been children watching The Claws of Axos who couldn't remember back as far as the funny little Second Doctor, so this must have been a bit of an anti-climax.
For all I've grumbled over the last few days about having the Master turning up so frequently this year (there's only been a single episode in which he doesn't make an appearance), I'm really enjoying him today. With the Doctor trapped aboard Axos, the Master is filling his role admirably, and it helps to further highlight all the similarities between the two characters.
I don't think that much of his dialogue while helping UNIT would be out of place coming from the mouth of the Third Doctor (indeed, while I knew of the line 'You could take the usual precautions…sticky tape on the windows, that sort of thing', I'd always thought it was a line spoken by the Doctor), and his entire attitude towards events isn't all that far removed from our hero, either. The way he ponders over the TARDIS console working out if he can get it going again isn't a million miles away from what the Doctor was doing back in Doctor Who and the Silurians, or Inferno.
That's not to say that the Doctor doesn't get to shine a bit today. I'm really enjoying all the effects that we're being given in the Axos ship - although I've got a sneaking suspicion that I shouldn't like them. It still feels a bit like Michael Ferguson is melting a box of crayons over the camera lens, but it really works. Most impressive is the way that the Doctor and Jo communicate with one of the golden Axons - and the shot alters slightly on the screen as the head spins from side to side. I believe the effect was a achieved by fading between a few different shots of Bernard Holley* as the Axon, and it's an interesting new take on 'video conferencing', which has become a bit commonplace in the series (even Chinn is at it today…)
The spaghetti Axons get a chance to stand out a bit, too. Seeing the creature roam around the power complex is perhaps the first time since Spearhead From Space that I've really understood Jon Pertwee's oft-repeated comments about 'Yeti on the loo', but it looks so brilliant to see this odd creature against such an industrial backdrop. It's helped by the way it attacks (tendrils shooting out and blowing up their prey), and even though I can see exactly how they've achieved the effect, my mind sort of overlooks it and makes it work just right. An eight year old would love that moment. Heck, somewhere in my mind, eight year old me is loving it!
*Another name to add to my 'The cast from The Tomb of the Cybermen turning up in the Pertwee era' list. If we don't get one in Season Nine it won't matter too much - Season Eight has been a buy-one-get-one-free…