I’m really enjoying the amount of “showrunning” effort going into the series since Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks have been running things. Season 8 has started to forge a distinct aesthetic that’s giving it the same sense of cohesion as Seasons 14 and 18. It’s also introducing some ongoing character threads that go beyond “the Master is the villain in every story”. This episode picks up on the Doctor’s eagerness to steal the Master’s dematerialisation circuit in Terror of the Autons, and his annoyance at being stuck on Earth with the Brigadier while the Master goes into space and time at the end of The Mind of Evil. The Doctor is suspicious of Axos – but he’s also excited that it might be the key to getting his own TARDIS working again.
Strangely, though, Pertwee isn’t quite on top form this week, playing a couple of lines against David Savile as if they’re funny punchlines (which they aren’t): ‘Nothing, my dear Holmes!’ and ‘I told you so!’ I can’t imagine either Hartnell or Troughton making such a meal of them. Winser’s own line, ‘You stupid quack!’, is much more amusing. Fortunately, they’re only minor lapses and he’s on much safer ground making sense, with absolutely dazzling conviction, of a fairly baffling cliffhanger. As he, Jo and Filer are menaced by some bubble bath and a man in a sack, he declares ‘Yes, of course: Axons; that ship, Axonite, it’s all the same thing. Don’t you see we’re dealing with one single living creature?’
While Axos continues to be a pleasingly tactile threat, Chinn continues to be entirely contemptible. He gets a dressing down from his minister, who obviously holds him in low esteem, then uses the minister’s threats (‘It’s your head on the block, not mine!’) against the Doctor. He also smugly declares, ‘Britain has the world rights to Axonite’ and summons the British Army to arrest UNIT. For all that Terrance Dicks is sometimes painted as an old Tory, he’s as cynical about British jingoism as Robert Holmes.
While Chinn and Axos are quite enough to be dealing with, new Doctor Who writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin slightly over-egg the script with unnecessary diversions. Filer gets duplicated by Axos, but the duplicate is dispatched almost immediately without achieving much purpose. Axonite is both a ‘thinking molecule’ and a ‘copying molecule’ depending on whatever the writers need at any given moment. Winser is experimenting into time travel, which seems like an over complication. However, Delgado remains utterly compelling (and gets a brilliant action scene clinging to the roof of a lorry as it goes through a tunnel), even if so far he’s a bit extraneous to the plot.
Next episode: The Claws of Axos – Episode Three