Another One Bites the Dust…
Season 8 of Doctor Who was notable for several reasons – it introduced the final pieces in the UNIT family with Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) making their debuts, and also saw the debut of one of Doctor Who’s most iconic adversaries in The Master (Roger Delgado).
The Master notably appears in every story and though Delgado is always on top form, it was wise to use the character more sparingly in Seasons 9 and 10.
Season 8 ran from 2nd January to 19th June 1971, and continues the earthbound formula established in Season 7 – though the overall tone is less bleak and we even see the Doctor finally visit another planet for the first time since Season 6.
Terror of the Autons
After the Autons terrorised the unsuspecting public in Spearhead from Space the previous year,Robert Holmes returned to pen this sequel, which also has the difficult task of introducing the new characters mentioned before in Jo Grant, Captain Mike Yates, and The Doctor’s Moriarty in the form of The Master.
Terror is also notable for its numerous plastic related deaths, featuring inflatable chairs, plastic daffodils and an evil troll doll of sorts. There’s also the imagery of a policeman’s face being peeled off to reveal the Auton underneath, which no doubt caused some controversy at the time.
The story here is tightly told (even if the ending is a tad convenient) and features some great action pieces and stunt work from the HAVOC team. It also ties in nicely to Spearhead and features plenty of mind manipulating by the Master, who is menacingly played by the suave Delgado. The chemistry between Pertwee and Manning is also strong from the outset, establishing a firm fan-favourite companion.
This was also the story chosen to receive new CGI effects and they’re very impressive and sympathetic to the original broadcast. Overall, this is a strong start to the season and is another great Robert Holmes script.
The Mind of Evil
The Mind of Evil weaves the storylines of a diabolical device known as The Keller Machine being used to rehabilitate convicts and The Master plotting to steal a UNIT warhead and start WWIII by dismantling a peace conference between the UK and China.
The prison setting offers something different for the season, and isn’t a location we tended to see in Doctor Who. We also get some great direction by Timothy Combe, who had worked on …The Silurians in Season 7. His direction here does the espionage plot justice and there are some solid action scenes as UNIT storm Stangmoor Prison.
The production values for the serial are also notable – the production were allowed to borrow an actual missile as opposed to having to use a model, which helps to make some sequences feel more authentic. The on-location filming at Dover Castle as a stand-in for Stangmoor Prison also lends to the proceedings and the guest cast are on fine form throughout.
The Mind of Evil is one of my favourites of the season, as it’s themes of political sabotage and prison setting help it stand out as a break from the familiar aliens-invading-earth formula.
The Claws of Axos
Claws’ premise sees an alien spaceship land on earth containing beings known as the Axons. As the military roll in to check out the situation the Axons introduce themselves and propose a trade – in return for much needed energy they will provide humanity with a substance known as Axonite, a molecule that can supposedly replicate substances. Of course, there are sinister plans afoot and The Master is also revealed to be caught up in the scheme.
The Axons make for quite the iconic-looking villain with their gold visages and tentacle-laden true forms. Their spaceship, which is actually one large organism, is also fairly well-realised, with its orange walls and eerie appendages.
The Master’s role in this story also breaks away from the norm slightly, as he ends up assisting The Doctor and UNIT to defeat the Axons, who had captured him and he in turn used his knowledge of Earth to bargain his survival.
I also have to give props to how the production covered for the varying weather conditions of the on-location shooting (they had snow one day and none the other) by explaining it away as “freak weather” in the area, and the psychedelic Axon effects also hold up.
I think The Claws of Axos is a solid story, though it is arguably the weakest offering in a strong season. I have a nostalgic fondness for it though as it was one of the earliest Pertwee stories I owned as a child.
Colony in Space
After two years of being earth-bound, Doctor Who finally saw a story which took place on another planet as the Doctor and Jo are sent to the far-off planet of Uxarieus on a mission for the Time Lords.
There, a nefarious plot threatens a colony of humans who are struggling to survive, all whilst tensions bubble between the colonists and the natives of Uxarieus, stoked by the antagonistic IMC (Intergalactic Mining Company) who are keen to rid the planet of colonists.
Colony is also notable for having the Tardis interior being featured, having been absent (console notwithstanding) since 1969. Of course, The Master also reappears, here acting as a judicator whilst also hunting for an ancient doomsday weapon created by the natives.
Colony is perhaps the Season 8 story that I was least familiar with, having only watched it once back in 2011 when the DVD was released. Upon a fresh rewatch however, I quite enjoyed the story, there are some ambitious combat sequences, solid directing by Michael Briant and an engaging narrative from writer Malcolm Hulke.
If anything lets the story down slightly the IMC robot with its swinging arms isn’t the best realised prop but overall Colony a very solid storyline that I’m glad I had the chance to reassess.
A story that Pertwee considered a favourite, The Dæmons is set in the sleepy village of Devil’s End, wherein an archaeological dig is taking place at the Devil’s Hump, much to the chagrin of local Mrs. Hawthorne (Damaris Hayman) who insists it will lead to a great evil being awakened.
Her predictions may well come true, as The Master is masquerading as a vicar and attempting to resurrect the force of evil known as Azal (Stephen Thorne) through cultish means. Thorne gives a great and looming performance with a signature booming voice.
The story is considered to be a bonafide Who classic, and it’s hard to argue with the cast on fine form, an inventive script from “Guy Leopold” (actually Robert Sloman and Barry Letts) and some very iconic quotes “Chap with the wings there…five rounds rapid!”.
The ending is perhaps a weaker element as the power of Jo willing to sacrifice herself for the Doctor essentially defeats Azal, yet it’s saved by a great exchange between Yates and the Brigadier.
It is also presented in the release via an omnibus format, which trims the runtime down to 90 minutes for those who wish to view an alternative version. The Dæmons is one of the best stories in the Pertwee era, and closes out a very strong season.
Best Story: The Dæmons
Worst Story: The Claws of Axos (still a solid story with some great effects.)
Must see: The Mind of Evil, Colony in Space
Check out the second part of the review, which features a rundown of the packaging, special features and audio/visual details as well as a final review score.
By HW Reynolds
Images Courtesy of BBC