Well, there I was all prepared to write a blog post about how this serial is a bit ‘meh’, and then an absolutely fantastic final episode comes along. That really is a great part four, with Pertwee’s Doctor getting some of his best scenes yet. I was genuinely unsure as to The Doctor’s motives at times; I was pretty sure that it was all partly a scheme to destroy Axos, but there was definitely a huge element of truth in the bits about wanting to fuck off away from UNIT as quickly as possible.
I’ve a feeling I’ll be saying it a lot over the next few seasons, but the Third Doctor and the First/Thirteenth Master are such a brilliant combination. They don’t even share that much screen time on this occasion, but The Master’s very existence has added a whole other dimension to The Doctor’s character – The Master has been established as what would happen if The Doctor had gone wrong, and as such he’s brought out that potential for conniving sneakiness that we haven’t seen since early Hartnell.
And this particular story brought us a new side of The Master – for the first time, he’s not completely in control of the situation, and he’s actually quite vulnerable and desperate at times. As such, he has to be extra resourceful and think on his feet. It’s a neat role reversal that the conclusion to the main plot has The Master fleeing because The Doctor’s gone too far for once. Prior to this, though, he’s properly evil, especially when forcing the Brigadier to choose between saving the earth or saving The Doctor and Jo.
But while the conflict between the two archenemies is as strong as ever, the main plot of this serial is a bit flimsy. The stakes are suitably high and the stuff on board Axos was often nice and trippy, but there wasn’t any real substance to it. I was never really sold on the concept that everything Axos-related was part of one huge organism, and I think the slightly shoddy look to the all-organic ship didn’t really help.
The oddest thing was the cast of characters involved. Benton and Yates barely featured other than an admittedly decent car chase towards the end, so it was an odd choice to introduce a (presumably) one-off character in Filer, who simply spent four episodes getting himself into trouble that could have easily been gotten in to by one of the regulars. Chinn was interesting – a more overtly comical character than we’re used to in this era, but he just became less relevant as the plot developed, and disappeared towards the end.
But still, it was bloody good to see the console room again. I hadn’t realised how much I missed the TARDIS, as both a “character” and a narrative device, until it became so prominent in this story’s conclusion. I am very much enjoying the UNIT era, especially with the added element of The Master’s regular appearances, but the TARDIS is such a huge part of everything that came before or since that it’s a bit weird without it.