The Axis of Insanity, by Simon Furman
The Doctor is called to a dead-end dimension that acts as the graveyard of past Timelord mistakes and discovers that something is loose in this particular circle of hell. As locked-away timestreams dissolve into each other and crush the Axis, he and Peri and Erimem must battle an insane shape-shifting jester to prevent the primary timeline being infected with absolute chaos….
After Nekromanteia, almost anything would be a five-star story. Sadly, this still isn’t one – but not for want of trying. This is high-end, batshit-crazy concept stuff, which feels very much like the old TV series, and the contrast between that and the Doctor’s understated panic gives the story a convincingly apocalyptic feel. The notion of failed timelines being isolated and controlled from a central point (thus the Axis) is rather good, and the notion behind that – that even Timelords make mistakes, and that this is what happens when they do – gives the Doctor another emotional dimension. So for much of the first episode he is embarrassed by the need to explain the Axis to Peri and Erimem – and in the final episode you can hear the anger in his voice as he explains to Jarra To exactly why her timeline has to be snuffed out.
As good as it is, I can’t help but feel that it might have been even better as a 7th Doctor story (the master manipulator of time, y’see) or even as an 8th Doctor tale (high gothic doooooom!). The whole thing feels like a Dante-esque visit into the circles of Hell, particualrly with the collapsing dimensions and the lava fields. And there are still some niggles… While Erimem gets a more rounded storyline, with a bit of development and a chance to doubt the Doctor’s motives for having her aboard the Tardis, Peri seems to do nothing more than wave her hands in the air and react to things. And the Jester – like I say, great concept, but almost too manic and scripted to feel a wholly natural performance. Nevertheless, this is a far better story than those preceding it. Hurrah!