TV Club: Doctor Who, The Claws Of Axos

“The Claws Of Axos” (season 8, episodes 11-14. Originally aired March 13-April 3, 1971)

Once you’ve watched enough Doctor Who to be able to recognize recurring scriptwriters, you start to get a feel for what you can expect from any given story that has their name on the credits. Robert Holmes was Doctor Who’s Alan Moore—a guy who knew the show’s conventions and formulas so well that he could tell a story that tore those conventions apart and reassembled them while still staying true to their spirit. Terry Nation was the series’ first major heavy hitter, and you could always rely on him for solidly paced action-adventure, but left to his own devices he also kept recycling the same ideas over and over again.

And then there’s the team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who debuted with the Third Doctor adventure “The Claws Of Axos.” Baker and Martin were mainstays of the show throughout the 1970s, with nine scripts to their credit solo or as a team, including the 10th-anniversary special “The Three Doctors” and “The Invisible Enemy,” which introduced the Doctor’s robot dog K9. They’re responsible for the equivalent of two full seasons of Doctor Who, and as such you have to count them as one of the series’ major creative forces. But the thing about them is that none of those nine stories is really good enough to be a true classic—none have the dazzling dialogue, tightly focused plots or audacious metatextuality that marks the best of Doctor Who. “The Claws Of Axos” certainly doesn’t break that mold—it’s just about the gold standard of adequacy for this era of Doctor Who. It’s certainly entertaining and far from terrible. There’s plenty of exciting action and stuntwork, a genuinely creepy alien monster in the Axons, and it works in season eight’s overarching villain—the Master—in a way that not only justifies his scheming presence but helps set up the most compelling twist in the story: The surprisingly believable idea that the Doctor is just as untrustworthy as the Master is, and is willing to sell out humanity for his own aims. But that doesn’t excuse its flaws, some of which stem from the limitations of the budget and the special effects but the worst of which are straight-up script problems, namely the badly mishandled subplot about Chinn, the petty-tyrant bureaucrat whose greed plays right into the Axons’ hands (and tumorous tentacles), and the near-total sidelining of the pretty sizable cast of regular co-stars in favor of a one-off side character. It’s not particularly bad, especially by Doctor Who standards, but if “City Of Death” is a home run and “The Twin Dilemma” is a foul tip that hits the batter in the face and breaks his nose, “The Claws Of Axos” is a base hit, solid and respectable but unexceptional.

Originally published May 27, 2012 on Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, “Destiny Of The Daleks”

“Destiny Of The Daleks” (season 17, episodes 1-4. Originally aired Sept. 1-22, 1979)

Just going by pedigree of the writers involved, “Destiny Of The Daleks” should be a lot better than it is. It marked the final Doctor Who script from Terry Nation, one of the series’ oldest and most reliable writers and the creator of the Daleks. The story also marked the debut—as script editor—of the inimitable Douglas Adams, who had written “The Pirate Planet” for season 16 the year before and was now taking over the big chair. And “Destiny Of The Daleks” was a huge success at the time, setting new viewership records for the series along with the following story, “City Of Death”—both helped a lot by a strike that had taken the BBC’s main competitor, ITV, out of action. But although there’s a lot to enjoy here, especially in the early episodes, in the end the story fizzles out. It’s dragged down chiefly by a revisionist take on the Daleks and their creator Davros that makes both less interesting and fails to build on the promise of their previous appearance in “Genesis Of The Daleks.” It’s sunk further by miring the pepperpots in a stalemate with a deadly dull army of alien robots, the Movellans, who look something like Milli Vanilli in white disco outfits.

Most of what works well here is loaded in the first half of the story, so let’s start there.

Originally published May 13, 2012 on Read the complete article.

Interview: Dylan Hicks

Dylan Hicks first made his name in the 1990s as a musician, writing a bushelful of witty, sharply observant songs on his albums Won, Poughkeepsie, and Alive With Pleasure. And although he’s reinvented himself as a fiction writer, the love of music still plays a key role in Hicks’ new debut novel, Boarded Windows. Moving between the 1970s and 1990s, Windows tells the story of an erudite but socially hapless record-store clerk and his conflicted relationship with Wade Salem, his con-artist father figure and one-time bass player for fictional country-music star Bolling Greene. Hicks hosts a launch party for Boarded Windows May 10 at the Loft Literary Center and a record-release show for a companion album, Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene, May 12 at Bryant-Lake Bowl. He talked to The A.V. Club about writing his novel, returning to songwriting, and crossing the line between truth and fiction.

Originally published May 9, 2012 on Read the complete article.

Interview: Saltee

On paper, the idea of combining cello, beatboxing, and guitar seems like an improbable mix, and maybe even a recipe for gimmicky disaster. And the members of Saltee know it: Terrell “Carnage” Woods, the trio’s breathtakingly inventive beatboxer, even jokes that “We should do a song called ‘Shouldn’t Work.’” But thanks to its formidable talent and improvisational skills, the group makes magic instead, weaving classical, hip-hop and Robert Fripp-style experimental rock with a dazzling musical alchemy. In advance of Saltee’s release show for its new four-song EP CrossPolyNation May 12 at the Cedar Cultural Center, Woods, cellist Jacqueline Ultan, and guitarist Mike Michel talked to The A.V. Club.

Originally published May 8, 2012 on Read the complete article.

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