Fans of Doctor Who are used to the versatile nature of the show. If there’s one thing Doctor Who has always been good at, it’s mixing and matching different formulae to create something that works. Oh, that’s not to say they are always successes, but the show allows for a great deal of diversity. Comedy, horror, fantasy, drama and Sci-fi all blend in the world of our favorite Time Lord. It allows for a series that can blend almost anywhere.
I remember watching the “Terminus” season of The Walking Dead and having a thought about Doctor Who. How would the Doctor deal in that world? My idea put Capaldi’s Doctor there and I wondered how he would react. It’s fun to ponder what the Doctor would do in various situations within the universes of other series. It’s not something I think about often but sometimes the ideas come unbidden. And I know I’m not alone; we saw the Doctor on the Enterprise in a delightful fan publication. When I started The Axis of Insanity I could not help but see this as a crossover between two characters. This was the Doctor Vs. The Joker. I may not have loved the story; in fact, I’d be hard pressed to say much about it, but the interaction between a madman and the Doctor was still tremendously enjoyable. I’d even say that was what carried the episode. The actual story was sort of forgettable.
Why didn’t I love the episode? I think it was down to the Axis itself. It was very … average. It has an elevator with a button marked “basement”. This could have been an office complex down the road, not some wonderland where all realities met and somehow could be explored. The place was supposed to be a concept, not a building. And when looked at conceptually it felt like shorthand for “a place where all genre series can meet up and get together”. That’s fine; that’s actually a really cool concept, but then don’t have offices full of common place items. Considering this is the Doctor vs. a Batman villain, I shouldn’t be surprised to hear another Batman cliché happening right before my ears. The story opens with Peri teaching Erimem how to read from Alice in Wonderland. Oh how unexpected that they then find themselves in Wonderland. This is like the time Batman needed the “Bat-Shark Repellent spray” and coincidentally had some on the helicopter they were flying! There are plenty of references to Alice in Wonderland throughout the story, along with a bit of Grimm’s Fairy tales, but I still felt the Joker (called The Jester in this story) was “straight out of Arkham”. His episode one cliffhanger might as well be proof too: “The lunatics have taken over the Asylum!” I could hear Mark Hamill saying the line, even. It works wonderfully having such a warped villain and would have made for an incredible visual, but you need a story to go with it!
Now, having said that the story is a bit weak, I do have to say that it was no fault of the cast. In fact the character development is excellent. Erimem’s inability to read comes back to haunt her later in the episode. She, by the way, is a character we needed on TV; or if not her, the writers should at least learn from what works and give us a companion from another time. Nicola Bryant’s Peri is every bit as cool as she should have been on TV but failed because she was cast to appeal to the male audience. While I can’t argue that she succeeded, she’s so much more than just a pretty face as her audio persona has proven admirably. Davison is always fun to listen to as well, but I do wonder how many times he hyperventilated on set. He always seems to be on the brink of passing out! Surely that’s got to take a lot out of an actor.
Continuity-wise, coming off the 8th Doctor mini-series, I was surprised by the Doctor’s comment that he could sense the TARDIS. I felt like that contradicted part of what we’ve just listened to in the Divergent universe. On the other hand, a TARDIS graveyard is encountered and that was very much out of the modern era of Doctor Who long before the modern era existed. Did it work? I can’t say for sure, but it was an interesting thing to encounter. I leave that to each individual listener!
Overall, this is still a fun episode and the cast and villain do give us a good run for our 2 hours, but I would not put this as the Doctor’s finest audio. Sadly, not enough time has gone by since The Natural History of Fear for me. That was superb. This was a good story, I just wasn’t as mad about this one as I was the last. But sometimes it’s ok to be just a little mad… ML
Your first paragraph really resonates. Especially when it leads to the Doctor vs. the Joker which, as fond as I am of potential crossovers, is healthy for the imagination. How about the Master forming an alliance with the Joker? That would be awesome.
Big Finish always proves, whether or not the story is particularly memorable, how a Doctor’s era is more adventurously enticing than the TV series allowed. Certainly with a most intriguing title, like The Axis Of Insanity, which given the continuing dramas of insanity in the sci-fi universe can make us all naturally wonder what could ever be new enough.
It’s good to have Garrick Hagon back as the Jester, with his contributions as Ky in The Mutants and Abraham in A Town Called Mercy. It was originally his role in A Talent For Murder, with Laurence Olivier and Angela Lansbury, where I first took notice of him. I later realized that he was Biggs for Star Wars IV: A New Hope.
Thanks, ML, for your thoughtful review. It’s great to be learning more about Big Finish adventures on the Junkyard again.
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