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23 October 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 296: The Claws of Axos, Episode One

Dear diary,

Back in the days before I had a formal structure to my Doctor Who viewing, I used to quite often use the DVDs as ‘background noise’. I’d be pottering around the flat, with the story simply playing out in the corner somewhere. Not paying attention to it, but knowing it was there all the same. I can’t tell you many of the stories I’ve ‘watched’ in this way, but I know that The Claws of Axos was one of them. As with many of the Pertwee DVDs, I’d had it sat on the shelf for a while, and never watched it. One afternoon, I decided that enough was enough, and it was time to actually make an effort with the Third Doctor.

Of course, it simply became more of the ‘background noise’, and I don’t think anything highlights this fact more than the way it ended. By the time the story finished, I was in the bath. My flat at the time had a bathroom just off the living room, so I was able to keep half an eye on the telly while I was in the bath (though I was probably reading a book, meaning that I wasn’t paying any notice to the Doctor and Jo running around on the screen). After a while, I became aware that the story was looping. It’d gone back to the menu screen, and I couldn’t figure it out – I’d always assumed that The Claws of Axos was a six-parter for some reason. Suddenly discovering that it was much shorter seemed to make it more bearable, so I resolved to sit down and watch it properly.

Here we are, three years or so on, and I’m finally doing that. It can’t have been that much of an epiphany, because I’ve never bothered to make the time for it before. It means that this is the second of the Pertwee-era special edition DVDs that I’m watching having never really seen it before (though it’s not quite as bad as with Inferno, where I don’t think I’d ever watched a second of the disk): I’m basically their ideal audience – buy twice, watch once!

Know what, though? This episode was great! Right from the off, I found myself making an enormous amount of notes – things that I wanted to bring up here. Key among them comes right at the start – the Brigadier covering for the Doctor’s lack of records. I spoke a lot yesterday about the way that the pair don’t love each other, but have a kind of mutual respect, and this scene perfectly sums it up. The Brigadier confirms that the Doctor is his responsibility, and it’s a lovely moment.

In fact, all of those early scenes with UNIT at their HQ are fab – we get to see the Third Doctor’s rage again, which showed itself so well during Season Seven. There’s even a tiresome government official standing in his way – It’s almost like we’re watching a Season Seven story. With that comes a familiar feeling – that wishing that we could see this story spruced up for a HD release. I know it couldn’t happen (even if the film sequences could be rescanned for Blu ray, I’d imagine the fact it’s needed a special edition means that there’s some issues with the quality), but I’d love to see the UNIT convoy converging on the Axon ship in better quality.

This is the first time that I’ve really noticed it, but UNIT is actually quite well manned. Back during The Invasion, I made a comment that the series didn’t always have UNIT as such a large organisation, but actually there’s a fair few of them! I wonder if I was thinking more specifically of the ‘inner circle’ of UNIT, made up of the Brig, Benton, and Mike (with Corporal Bell thrown in for good measure, since this is her second story in a row)? Either way, it look quite impressive when the military units approach the ship, and I’m glad that I’d been misremembering the size of the Taskforce.

Mind you, anything rolling up to the location would look better than our chap on a bike. ‘Pigbin Josh’ has become something of a joke within fandom, an a term applied to several characters who crop up in this era, from Spearhead in Space to The Three Doctors and beyond. I’ve always known the joke of the character, but never realised just how close to the truth it was! We effectively follow his journey through the first half of the episode, as he occasionally mumbles in a thick accent. I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying, but it sounds an awful lot like ‘ooh arr’. The discovery of his body is strangely affecting, though and accompanied by a fantastic shot as his head ‘caves in’ on itself. The fade to white and cut away to Mike seems to imply that the rest of the image is too horrific to watch. Very well handled indeed.

Not quite such a good effect is the enlargement (and subsequent shrinking) of the frog. There’s lots of examples of CSO cropping up in these 25 minutes, and some is handled better than others – the shots inside the Axon ship are pretty well handled on the whole, even if they do occasionally leave some fringing around the edges. When it comes to the frog, though, it would appear that a side effect of using Axonite to grow your crops is that large chunks of the target simply vanish altogether!

I think the only thing that was a real disappointment today was the arrival of the Master. I said yesterday that I was looking forward to his return, but I thought they might give us a week off. The Mind of Evil doesn’t introduce him into the events until the second episode, and I thought the same might have been true of this story. It feels like after the very obvious goodbye scene for the character in the last episode, suddenly having him pop up again here is a bit naff. At least we find him in a position of weakness, captured in the Axon ship, which gives us a slightly different dynamic on the character. For all his ‘clever’ plots and schemes, mind, he does often find himself in need of the Doctor’s assistance…

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