Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 299: The Claws of Axos, Episode Four
Those of you who have been following The 50 Year Diary for a while now will no doubt have noticed how often I state my surprise at actually liking the Third Doctor. I've made no secret in the past of the fact that he's always been my least favourite incarnation, and I think it's fair to say that these five seasons were the point of the marathon that I was seriously worried about.
And yet, I'm repeatedly given cause to really like this incarnation! All the things I've thought of as bad traits are still there (I don't know if he's more dismissive to Jo than the previous Doctors were to their companions, or it's just the way that Pertwee does it, but he does seem to like sidelining other people), but there's so many layers to the character that I'm finding myself drawn to.
In today's episode, when he suddenly appears to turn rogue and form an alliance with the Master, there was a moment that I really believed it. He's tried to take off in the middle of an adventure before, leaving UNIT in the lurch, so when he suggests to the Master than he's rather leave Earth to its fate and get off the planet with him, I was genuinely interested in seeing this side of the character come back. He goes on to a lovely speech about not wishing to spent the rest of his life 'as a heap of dust on a second rate planet to a third rate star,' and it really does feel like he'd take off in a heartbeat.
It didn't take long for me to twig that he was really just using the Master, and it's simply because he's started to turn the Master's own arguments against him. 'We're both Time Lords,' he reminds him - the exact same plea that the Master used in The Mind of Evil when he needed help. If this were the modern series, with a show runner's guiding hand steering events, you could almost believe that this was seeded in, but I think it's more just luck than anything. It's the perfect example of the marathon working its magic again, because this moment carries so much more weight having seen everything from the start of the Doctor's exile to here.
When he's actually making his goodbyes and heading into the TARDIS - really playing up the moment to convince the Master that he's being quite serious - it's Pertwee at his finest. For an actor so famed at the time for his comedic roles, he really does excel when given scenes of anger or contempt. I especially love the way that he ends by saying goodbye to Jo, adding 'I shall miss you!'
It's good to finally see this version of the Doctor inside the TARDIS, here, although it has the unfortunate effect of making the already cramped set look even smaller when there's two people in there! Oddly, beyond the interior doors is the printed roundel backdrop that had become so familiar throughout the 1960s, giving the odd effect that the Doctor has added a hallway (it's especially jarring when the Master enters the police box and immediately arrives through these doors - it would look seamless if they'd had a shot of the power complex beyond the doors. With all the CSO work being slipped into the series these days, I'm surprised they didn't use it here!)
As the first story of the 1970s to really feature the TARDIS, it's fitting that it plays such a vital role in the resolution of the tale. I vaguely knew that Axos ended up trapped in a time loop, so it was fun watching the plan come together, and seeing the Doctor slowly manipulate people - the Master, mainly - into position for the plan to work. Axos has escaped the time loop a few times in alternate media, though the only one I've experienced was the DWM comic strip from a few years ago, featuring the Eleventh Doctor and Amy. It's certainly one of my favourite strips from recent years.
It's telling that the strip didn't feel the need to radically redesign the Axons, either. They use the near-infinite budget of the medium to make the creature more impressive (at one point, a large Japanese skyscraper becomes a giant axon), but it's still very much the same design. There are moments of today's episode where they really do look fantastic - usually when being shot in close up attacking the UNIT jeep. Unfortunately, when we cut to a wider shot they don't look quite as menacing. At one point, one of them has mounted the bonnet, and his legs wave up and down as the car drives on. Not their finest moment…
On the whole, I've been really impressed by The Claws of Axos. Having only ever had it on as background noise in the past, I'd assumed that there wasn't enough here to keep me interested, but I've been pleasantly surprised, and it's given me the boost of enthusiasm that I needed to pick up the middle of the season…