REVIEW: The Feast of Axos

In 1971 (or thereabouts), an alien spacecraft called Axos landed in southeast England. The aliens on board presented humanity with an offer: they would provide us with a remarkable substance called Axonite in return for some much needed energy to refuel their ship. It was all a trap, though, as the Axons were merely attempting to consume Earth’s energies and using Axonite as the catalyst to do so. Thankfully, the exiled Third Doctor was able to stick them into a time loop and thereby thwarted their plans. So Axos has remained there: a dried-up husk, trapped in a time loop and floating high above the Earth. That is, until billionaire Campbell Irons sees it as a chance to solve the world’s energy problems at a profit, just as the Sixth Doctor, traveling with Evelyn Smythe and Thomas Brewster, returns to face the Axons once more. From that point begins The Feast of Axos, the February 2011 main range Doctor Who release from Big Finish.

Feast is blessed with one of the most intriguing TARDIS crews Big Finish has had in some time. Plus, it starts with Colin Baker not only playing the Sixth Doctor but also a second role in the form of an Axon duplicate of the Doctor. The result is particularly unnerving at times, such as the scenes leading up to the story’s finale. Baker also shares fine chemistry with his two companions, Maggie Stables aka Evelyn Smythe and John Pickard as Thomas Brewster, as well. This is, perhaps, not a surprise in the case of Stables’ Evelyn since she has been a longtime Sixth Doctor companion, but it is in the case of Pickard’s Brewster, who had only previously appeared in the Fifth Doctor audios. Even better is the fact that the script gives them all something to do which can be a problem with multiple companions. In a way, the companions steal the show from the Doctor, whether it be the antagonism between the Doctor and Brewster throughout, or Evelyn’s highly emotional cliffhanger at the end of part three.

The single element that ties Feast to its television predecessor The Claws of Axos is the presence of actor Bernard Holley. Holley was the lead Axon as well as the voice of Axos in the original, and he reprises those roles here. He honestly sounds like a day hasn’t passed in forty years, and his performance is just as unsettling here as it was in the original, especially in the cliffhangers for parts one and two. It also helps that the story makes strong use of many of the original sound effects used in Claws, which go a long way to bringing a stronger sense of authenticity to the story as a proper sequel. The result is that the Axons, who were by their very nature a visual monster, have a strong audio presence as well, and Holley is superb in this respect.

Story-wise Feast could easily have been another alien invasion story, or simply a remake of the original 1971 story, but it is far from that. In fact, Mike Maddox’s script turns the entire notion on its head. Axos isn’t invading Earth, Earth is invading Axos. A space mission has been financed by billionaire Campbell Irons with the intention of docking and penetrating Axos, with the goal of making it a deal: a strip of planet Earth every so often, in return for solving the energy problems of a world whose resources are becoming scarcer. The upshot is a wonderful combination of past, present and future: references to the space defence station from The Android Invasion and the British Rocket Group of the Quatermass serials; the space tourism business that is beginning to take shape in our present; and the potentially bleak future referenced in The Waters of Mars. Add on some fantastic cliffhangers, intriguing time paradox elements and a decidedly grim feel to the entire story and the result is a strong all-around narrative.

The Feast of Axos, as a Doctor Who adventure story, works well. This is thanks to a well-used TARDIS crew, the return of a classic monster/villain and a script that inverts the original story to which it is a sequel. The outcome is a satisfying mixing of past and present in one place.

Review by Matthew Kresal, Whotopia Staff Writer

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