For every Time Lord who has ever meddled in history, a divergent timeline has been created, for every divergent timeline is then tied off and anchored to the Axis, a transdimensional dumping ground for the timelines (and their occupants) that have been “corrected” out of existence. But if the Axis breaks down, all hell will break loose in time and space. The Axis and its Overseer have a special, if not necessarily cozy, relationship with the Time Lords in general, and with that race’s most prolific meddler in particular. But when the TARDIS brings the Doctor, Peri and Erimem to the Axis in response to a distress call, they find the Overseer on the brink of death…and a sinister Jester is now in charge, trying to break down the barriers between the isolated timelines, and then trying to unleash them into the primary timeline of the universe. The Doctor tries to reason with the Jester, but discovers that the being that now holds the fate of multiple universes in his hands is quite mad.
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Caroline Morris (Erimem), Roy North (The Overseer), Garrick Hagon (The Jester), Liza Ross (Jarra To), Marc Danbury (Tog), Stephen Mansfield (Bird Trader), Daniel Hogarth (Carnival Barker)
Timeline: after Nekromanteia and before The Roof Of The World
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A step into some pretty wild science-fantasy even for Doctor Who, The Axis Of Insanity pits the Doctor and company against an idea that sounds really cool – someone’s about to bust through the cap of the dumping ground for all of the timelines left over by the meddlings of the Doctor and other time travelers. That’s a fascinating idea, and its potential is barely even scratched by the time we reach the end of part four. It’s a plot device that recalls Zagreus‘ Divergent Universe (where the Doctor’s eighth incarnation is still stuck, story-wise, as of this writing), and that’s something else that occurred to me immediately upon first listen: these two stories could have somehow been tied together, for who’s to say that one of the timelines disposed of at the Axis isn’t the universe in which the Doctor’s own future self is trapped? (Really, I’m not pining for a McGann/Davison team-up here, but that thought did occur to me.
Instead of taking the myriad possibilities of that idea out for a drive, though, much of the first three episodes concentrate on the Jester (played with remarkable versatility by Garrick Hagon, whose last Doctor Who guest shot was as Ky in the 1972 Pertwee-era story The Mutants, but these days sports a kind of science fiction immortality as Biggs from the original Star Wars. As tormentor of, well, really, whoever he wants to be a tormentor of, Hagon is energetic, unnerving, and completely creepy – it’s a performance that’s hard to forget, and a performance without which Axis would’ve sunk under its own untapped conceptual weight. The sad news is that the Jester is also a shapeshifter of sorts, and whenever it changes shape, it assumes the voice of someone else – and try as they might, none of the performers behind the Jester’s other voices (including, sadly, the regular cast members that it impersonates) are anywhere near Hagon’s level. It’s hard to really say exactly how much he added to this story, but let’s just say it’s a lot.
The characterization of some of the regulars made me wonder, at times, if they were shapeshifters all along. In the space of mere minutes toward the end of part one, the Doctor exclaims “Good Lord!” and “Damn you, what have you done?” I have somewhat complex reasons for objecting to the former; I don’t have anything against the mention of God on principle – for example, I pick no bones whatsoever with Peri saying “My God!” later in this same story – but it’s out of character for the Doctor. This same mistake was made with Jon Pertwee’s lamentable last radio performance in the role (The Ghosts Of N-Space), and here’s the basis of my complaint: the Doctor’s most consistent portrayal is not only apolitical, but agnostic as well. Now, by the time we hit the New Adventures, apparently Gallifrey is pan-theist, but the Doctor is not one to go around invoking the Lord’s name, in vain or otherwise. Nor is he one to utter profanities, another oddity which cropped up in the aforementioned Pertwee project. Maybe I’m picking nits here, but for some reason every time these things crop up in audio or in a book, they bug me. As for Peri and Erimem, there’s some charming character work with Peri trying to teach Erimem to read English, which even factors into the story later, but it sounds as if both actresses have been told to play their characters younger than usual, with a higher pitch to their voices. It sounds very odd, and if indeed it’s a directorial decision, it’s an odd one.
Interesting, and perhaps maddening for spawning all sorts of ideas and possible story spinoffs in the listener’s mind without exploring them, The Axis Of Insanity is worth the price of admission, despite its quirks, for Garrick Hagon’s performance alone. It’s enough to make me wonder if the Jester might not return for a rematch…