Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Axos of Evil. Doctor Who Story 056: The Claws of Axos


Before Greeks bearing gifts is the old saying.  What then when it is aliens who come and present offerings? The Claws of Axos does away with the ugly alien (mostly) by presenting a group of beautiful golden beings.  It doesn't do away with The Master, but at least here, despite having escaped The Doctor and UNIT's clutches, his presence does at least have a note of logic to it (which sadly would not always be the case in future Master stories). 

A strange vessel is headed to Earth.  The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) has to convince Minister Chinn (Peter Bathurst) that it might not be hostile, the idea of firing first and asking questions later so angering him.  The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) is caught in between: fearing that the ship is hostile but knowing the Doctor's got a pretty good track record on these sort of things.  The ship proves its worth when rockets Chinn orders fired fail, putting the Earth in danger.

The ship lands near a power plant, and while the landing and 'crew' don't appear to pose any real threat, a hobo that had been taken into the ship prior to UNIT and Chinn's arrival might disprove that idea.  Inside, however, we get strange goings-on: the American UNIT delegate Filer (Paul Grist), who has a mutual affection for the Doctor's Companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning), goes into the ship but is spared, being examined to have high intelligence that could serve useful.  When UNIT, the Doctor, and Chinn go in, the ship finds that the Doctor is alien too.

We also get another surprise.  Being held aboard the ship is none other than The Master (Roger Delgado).  This, however, is not know at the onset. 

The Axons offer UNIT a gift in exchange for taking some of Earth's energy supply to fly off: Axonite, a 'thinking molecule' that can reproduce anything.  It could end world hunger by increasing the size of animals among other things.  Chinn, always seeking a UK advantage, wants exclusive rights but the Axons want it spread worldwide.  The Doctor, however, is not convinced that this is all purely benevolent.

His theories and suspicions are proven correct.  While the other scientists are thrilled with Axonite, he finds that the ship, the beings within it, and the Axonite itself is all part of one giant entity.  When he tested the Axonite to see if it would do wonders, he accidentally triggered Axos' plan: to spread itself over the whole world and drain the life force of everything (and everyone) on Earth.  For Axos to succeed it needed 72 hours to spread everywhere, but the Doctor's test brought a controlled released over that part of England.

Meanwhile, the Master (who traded his services in exchange for his life), attempts a long game: he will get his revenge on the Doctor while also dump Axos and make his escape in the Doctor's TARDIS (given that Axos is holding his for insurance against such duplicity).  However, the Master is caught trying to use the power plants energy to power the TARDIS (oddly, I think the Doctor was planning this to get out of his forced exile) but he holds one ace up his sleeve: he is the only one who can stop the explosion Axos is going to unleash in the power plant, but it does mean destroying Axos itself, where the Doctor has been taken prisoner.  The Master gives the Brigadier a choice: save the Doctor and Jo or save the world?

The Doctor and Jo do manage to escape, and the Doctor learns that Axos wants to use his knowledge of time travel to now go and devour through space AND time.  It is here that the Doctor appears to join forces with The Master, telling him they could escape Earth together.  The Master helps him make the repairs to the TARDIS, and they materialize inside Axos.  Here, the Doctor tells them he will join both TARDI but instead traps Axos in a time loop.  The Master escapes to his own TARDIS in the chaos, and while the Doctor manages to free himself from the time loop he finds that his escape is short-lived: the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS to always return to 20th Century Earth to his great frustration.

"It seems I'm some type of galactic yo-yo," the Doctor retorts to a clearly-pleased Jo and Brig.

I can't say that The Claws of Axos is my favorite Third Doctor story so far, but I can say that despite some obvious limitations it is lifted by some of Pertwee's best moments as the Third Doctor.

A big problem was both the sets and the effects.  In regards to the former they made me think of all things, an Ed Wood movie.  When I saw the Doctor struggle against the actual claws of Axos I could only think of poor Bela Lugosi trying so hard (and failing so spectacularly) to convince anyone that the monster in Bride of the Monster was real.  Just as Lugosi clearly was moving the tentacles himself, so anyone caught in 'the claws of Axos' appeared to be operating them (or that there were people flailing their arms to attempt to simulate movement).  Even what was suppose to be offices looked a little fake, and the actual Axos itself, while a good try, looked like a set.

The special effects similarly have not worn well.  The opening shot of the ship sailing towards Earth looks so rubbish and the actual aliens when unmasked looked like spaghetti come to life.  It is clear also when Axonite grows a frog that it is just an image being expanded or shrunk based on the plot's necessity. 

However, credit should be given where it's due, and Michael Ferguson's direction did manage to do great things with the story and the budget limitations.  Certain montages are creepy in their psychedelic weirdness, and when the hobo's body melted, what we saw was quite effective overall.  Ferguson also brought great performances out of everyone. 

Pertwee's performance in The Claws of Axos is I think the best so far of his tenure.  Pertwee was so convincing in Episodes Three and Four that I was never sure if he was playing a long game himself to deceive the Master and Axos (even if it meant misleading Jo and UNIT) or if he really did want to take advantage of the situation to try and escape his exile.  Pertwee managed to make us believe that he would work with the Master, that he might want to leave UNIT, and that maybe he was doing it all to save Earth. 

Manning also shows that Jo was fiercely loyal to the Doctor, and while the subplot of Filer and Grant maybe wasn't as explored as it might have been, both Manning and Grist communicated that they were interested in each other.  Comic relief of sorts was provided by Bathurst, who as Chinn (I imagine a pun on his weight and his double chin) clearly made the minister a total idiot.

Here is where Bob Baker and Dave Martin's screenplay allows for great subtle humor to show up.  In Episode Two Chinn communicates with his superior.  "Minister, will you scramble or shall I, sir?" he says.  The voice on the other line says, "Just your report, Chinn.  I'm sure that will be quite garbled enough."  Chinn does not get the meaning behind the message.  As we go through The Claws of Axos, we see he (and government officials in general) are shown as dunderheads. 

Delgado is equally brilliant as the Master, that mixture of menace and charm working to full effect.  In some ways, his naivete of joining forces with the Doctor and believing that perhaps they could escape is almost sweet.  However, when he threatened the Brigadier to either save the world or save the Doctor, there is a coldness to him that says it might be logical, but it wouldn't pain him to see his nemesis killed.     

We also see Courtney's Brigadier to hold his own, his frustration with bureaucratic blundering clear, and also his hesitancy to allow the Master to try to destroy Axos with the Doctor and Jo within.  The Brigadier genuinely struggles with this, albeit briefly, but for a man who blew up the Silurians without batting an eye this moment is an evolution for him.  He's not the singularly military mind at all, but one who is weighing the costs of his decisions.  I'd say that the Doctor too is taking some notes from the Brig, for he suspects something sinister in something that appears so benign.

The Claws of Axos suffers from some weak-looking sets and effects, but it moves fast and has great performances.  I think that if it had been a six-part story, it would have been disastrous. However, at four it works well, has witty moments, and have a few twists and turns that make it if not as good as it could have been, certainly a story worth clutching.   

The very best of enemies


Next Story: Colony in Space

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Worst Doctor Who of All Time. OF ALL TIME!


When the revived Doctor Who came in 2005, I was like so many NuWhovians are today.  EVERY episode was BRILLIANT, every story was EPIC, everything was THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME.  OMG Rose Tyler is the GREATEST COMPANION OF ALL TIME!!  OMG Christopher Eccleston is the GREATEST DOCTOR OF ALL TIME!  OMG David Tennant is the GREATEST DOCTOR OF ALL TIME!!  OMG! Lady Cassandra is BACK! OMG!!! Sarah Jane Smith is BACK!!  WOW...The Doctor met Madame De Pompadour!!!


Then came Love & Monsters, and I was violently awakened from my Doctor Who slumber.  For me, Love & Monsters marked a demarcation line.  After this episode, I became more cynical, more ambivalent, more suspicious, towards this sci-fi program.  I realized that I could no longer give Doctor Who a free pass just because I was a fan.  Love & Monsters is more than appallingly bad.  Love & Monsters is a flat-out insult to Doctor Who fans, and ever since I have looked on NuWho with a jaundiced eye.

I had not seen Love & Monsters since it premiered, and looking back at it the memory of Love & Monsters is actually worse than the episode itself.  That doesn't mean Love & Monsters will ever be reevaluated: it is still a simply inexcusably bad episode.  However, it is not as horrifying the second time round as it is the first time.  Still, Love & Monsters will never an episode which a non-Who watching person should ever see as their first Doctor Who story. 

Told primarily through the video recording of Elton (Marc Warren), we hear of Elton's fascination with The Doctor (Tennant), whom he has crossed paths with on many occasions.  He was there when the Autons attacked, when the Slitheen arrived, and when the Sycorax threatened the world. He also has an earlier encounter with Tenth, but more on that later.  Online, he manages to contact Ursula Blake (Shirley Henderson) who is also a believer in The Doctor ("Doctor What?", Elton asks, showing that Steven Moffat didn't write this episode).  Soon Elton and Ursula meet other believers: the quiet Mr. Skinner (Simon Greenall), the chatty Bliss (Kathryn Drysdale) and the endearing Bridget (Moya Brady).  They begin at first to try to find the mystery of The Doctor, but soon LINDA (London Investigating N Detective Agency) starts becoming a bit of a social club and soon all but forget looking for The Doctor.  They bring snacks, Bridget shares about how she comes to London to find her drug-addicted daughter, Mr. Skinner begins reading from his unfinished novel, and soon they all form a garage band of sorts (Elton, despite his name, is a big Electric Light Orchestra fan).

The fun and games (not to mention their rendition of Don't Bring Me Down) comes to a brutal halt with the arrival of Mr. Kennedy (Peter Kay).  This mysterious figure, all draped in black and who cannot touch or be touched due to a skin condition he says, tells them he will bring them back to their mission.  They soon begin to do hard work, following every lead that comes their way.  Among those is the beginning of Love & Monsters: Elton's encounter with the Doctor and his Companion.  After a quick investigation, we find this Companion has a name, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and her mother, Jackie (Camille Coduri).  The ever-tarty Jackie takes a shine to Elton, even going so far as to attempt to seduce him and getting him through subterfuge to get his shirt off.  As Elton contemplates a romp, Jackie calls it off after receiving a call from Rose, which puts her out of a romantic mood.  Elton by now has decided to give up these espionage ways and start a platonic friendship with Jackie, but she finds a photo of Rose and the TARDIS in his jacket, and promptly throws him out.

By this time LINDA has been reduced to three members.  Bliss and Bridget have disappeared and the others don't really question or follow-up on their friends.  Elton, backed up by Ursula, tell Kennedy to get lost and begin to leave.  Kennedy manages to hold Mr. Skinner back, saying he has news on Bridget (with whom Skinner has fallen in love).  However, we find he disappears when Ursula and Elton return almost immediately to get her phone.  Here, we discover that Mr. Kennedy is really a monster, literally.  He is an Abzorbaloff, a monster who absorbs other creatures.  He has absorbed the other members of LINDA, and managed to absorb Ursula due to his touch.  The Abzorbaloff goes after Elton, but he is saved by the Doctor and Rose, who have tracked him down so Rose can give Elton a right dressing down for having upset Jackie.  The Abzorbaloff threatens Elton, but Ursula, Mr. Skinner, Bridget, and Bliss (all of whom are still within the Abzorbaloff) pull together to pull him apart.  Still, it is too late for them save Ursula, who through the Doctor's 'magic wand' (Elton's words, not mine), is able to restore her somewhat.

As for Elton's first memory of the Doctor, it seems that the Doctor had chased down some creature to Elton's home, but was too late to save Elton's mother.  Still, Elton quotes Steven King, "Salvation and damnation are the same thing," and at least Elton and Ursula are together.  They even have a bit of a love life...or as much of a love life a man can have with a woman who is basically a large piece of cement.

Talk about giving head...

Insert Where?

Doctor Who has had some real clunkers in its fabled history. Starting from the First Doctor story The Web Planet right on through the Second Doctor story The Dominators or The Fifth Doctor's Time-Flight and the Sixth Doctor's Timelash,  it would be fair to say that every Doctor has had at least one bad story (though Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor has more than his fair share).  However, I have seen the Doctor Who episode so atrocious, so hideous, so repulsive, that it killed the series for me. 

How HORRIBLE was Love & Monsters?  It was so bad...HOW BAD WAS IT?...It was so bad I refused to watch the succeeding episode Fear Her because the trailer came out at the end of it, and I wanted NOTHING to do with anything connected with Love & Monsters

How HORRIBLE was Love & Monsters?  It was so bad...HOW BAD WAS IT?...that after stumbling through Doomsday Parts 1 & 2 (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday) I flat-out REFUSED to watch Doctor Who.

That's correct.  I QUIT watching Doctor Who.  It wasn't until The Waters of Mars that I returned, and that was only because I knew David Tennant was leaving the series.  I missed the Master, all of Martha Jones and Donna Noble, and the 'meta-crisis' Doctor, all because I was so utterly disgusted by Love & Monsters that I could no longer give my time to something so flat-out hideous.

It isn't even the oral sex thing that damns Love & Monsters (though frankly that doesn't help).  It as if Davies wanted to deliberately insult Doctor Who fans, not just with this story, but with the whole LINDA concept.  The members all seem to be rather lonely, a group of misfits who find little outside their fixation on The Doctor to fill their lives.  Even the things they do have seem rather sad (did Davies think Bridget looking for her drug-addicted daughter shouldn't have a resolution).  All I could think of was that poor Bridget's daughter was out there, homeless, high, with little hope of ever recovering and no chance of they ever reuniting.  Is it me, or am I the only one who finds that cruel?  Putting these people and have them come to grisly ends is so, so wrong. 

However, the story itself is idiotic and illogical on so many levels.  Who exactly is Elton relating this story to?  It looks like he is putting this video online, so we have to ask who exactly is his target audience?  Furthermore, why is he talking at all, and why does he interrupt his video with his dancing to Mr. Blue Sky...twice?  With Elton telling us about his encounter with the Doctor and Rose, the story starts off well, but as soon as we cut to Elton telling us the story, all the menace is lost.  Instead, we get treated to Doctor Who doing a Benny Hill skit with the Doctor, Rose, and a monster running around.  I really was waiting for Yakety Sax to start playing as they ran across the various doors.

I also question why Kennedy would so easily take power over LINDA.  No one objected to him bullying his way and taking the fun out of things, no off-sight meetings where they talk about how unhappy they are with him there, and no sense where any of them asks whatever happened to the missing members.  You'd think they would have each other's e-mails or phone numbers, but apparently they didn't.  We also get the rather horrifying sight of Jackie so nakedly trying to get at a man she barely knows (though in fairness, even though Warren and Coduri are the same age, he looks much younger, so at least it is no longer as sick as I originally thought when I thought he was somewhere between Rose and Jackie's age).  Throw in the flat-out insulting bit of Rose dressing down Elton when he's about to be devoured by the Abzarbaloff.  Is she stupid or just so whiny that she misses the point of all this?  Even the Abzorbaloff looked at her with a puzzled expression, as if he himself couldn't believe the Companion could be so daft.

Finally, the entire "Oh, I saw your Mommy get killed thing" is so appalling on so many levels.  How does Elton forget his mother getting killed, and why is the Tenth Doctor involved?  Was Rose with him in all this?  Given that Nine regenerated to Ten with Rose with him, and there hasn't been evidence she has left him for any period of time, where does Mrs. Pope's death fit within their adventures?  Come to think of it, Elton shouldn't be obsessed with the Doctor.  Elton should try to kill him.  The Doctor has been inadvertently responsible for his mother's death, his friends death, and his love interest's death.  Given all that, why does Elton LIKE the Doctor?

A big hurdle for Love & Monsters was that the monster was created by a nine-year-old boy.  William Grantham (no relation to Downton Abbey's Lord Grantham) won the Blue Peter "Design a Doctor Who Monster" Contest.  The obvious question is, "Why?"  How bad could the other entries have been if the winner turned out to be so horrendous?  It doesn't seem fair to beat up on a child, but the entire decision to hand over a major part of a Doctor Who story to a child seems like a daft decision.  It certainly opens up the production to charges that, "it's so easy even a child could do it", which in this case, a child did.  Grantham stated that he envisioned the Abzorbaloff to be the size of a double-decker bus.  I would have hoped it would have been envisioned to be...well, interesting.  The Abzorbaloff (I always wonder whether he should have had a Russian accent) has only the vaguest reason for being an antagonist, and a pretty weak one too. 

The performances were almost all bad.  I thought well of Warren, but apart from him everyone else was either awful (Kay) or slumming it (Tennant, Piper).  The comedy fell flat, the drama was overwrought, the horror was not, and in short Love & Monsters is an ugly mess all around in every manner. 

Love & Monsters was a deeply troubling and traumatizing episode, and not just for the 'love life' bit Elton threw in at the end.  Put it down to my hopelessly naïve nature, but the first thing I wondered when Elton said that was, "How could they have a love life?"  It took a while, and then I thought, "Eww...".  Russell T Davies may deny it all he wants, but the inclusion of an oral sex joke in a children/family show is the lowest point in Doctor Who history.

In the final analysis, the actual memory I have of Love & Monsters is uglier than the actual episode itself.  Time has healed the horrifying, traumatic experience I had with this episode.  I can look back at it without actually vomiting (as I did the first time, which was my exact reaction when I saw Hayden Christensen at the end of Return of the Jedi).  However, while the passing of the years has softened the actual viewing experience of Love & Monsters, the story itself remains a sad and sorry embarrassment to all concerned.  I would rather watch River Song in a ménage a trois with the Eleventh Doctor and Madame Vastra (which I figure many Whovians would LOVE to see) than watch Love & Monsters

I survived Love & Monsters, and thank God I NEVER have to watch it again... 

I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry...
Well, you should be!


Next Episode: Fear Her