Released April 2004
‘The Axis of Insanity’ is an interesting but also strange release for Big Finish, a more traditional tale than many of the recent releases have boasted despite initially seeming more eccentric and unconventional, but also one that fails to fully deliver on its inherently intriguing premise and clever ideas. Written by Simon Furman of Transformers fame, there’s clearly a lot of love for the programme and the character of the Doctor himself, but the unfortunate reliance on clichés and technobabble hinders the end result.
Without resorting to said extreme technobabble, the plot revolves around the Axis which has the purpose of maintaining the timelines and preventing contamination of the main one with what occurs in truncated alternate ones. The villain of the piece, the Jester, is voiced very well by Garrick Hagon, but even this potentially interesting character quickly devolves into a cliché as he declares that the lunatics have taken over the asylum after showing a wacky fantasy world filled with dragons and clowns. The Jester is, unsurprisingly, a lover of games, the choice of doors he then presents the Doctor leading either to Peri or to the TARDIS.
The story becomes a bit more exciting after the jester is revealed to be the scientist Jarra To, played well by Liza Ross, although her motivations are still quite ill-defined. Having failed to find the TARDIS of the previous Time Lord she trapped because of its functioning chameleon circuit, she strives to use the Doctor and his TARDIS to help in her quest to bring science and fantasy together. Admittedly, the fact that Erimem finds the previous TARDIS rather easily undermines some of the pain Jarrat To claims to have been through, but it is interesting that her madness is a result of her work being incomplete and her boredom due to always knowing what is going to happen.
Despite some rather banal plot points and a villain that’s not fully recognised, ‘The Axis of Insanity’ does still have a number of strong points, first and foremost with its characterisation of both Peri and Erimem. There’s a truly deep friendship developing between these two while they maintain their own individual sense of self and morality, encapsulated perfectly in one moment as Peri movingly teaches Erimem to read while in another they disagree about letting the heroic Tog into the TARDIS even with his life at stake. Peri, in particular, is being done a great service by these Big Finish scripts as they are slowly developing her into a more proactive and assertive character to distance her from the more argumentative character she became on screen. As Peter Davison puts in a solid performance as a false version of his Doctor during the fantasies of this story, Erimem’s wits and short length of time with the Doctor are put to good use as she slowly realizes that the Doctor is unusually quiet and fools the impostor into revealing himself by claiming she wants to return home to Chicago.
There are also some clever concepts and visuals that tie nicely into the overall Time Lord mythology on display. It’s no secret that the Time Lords shown on television are often quite haughty and pretentious or eccentric and unconventional, and ‘The Axis of Insanity’ puts forward the idea that these character traits are because of the overwhelming weight their responsibility to maintaining history and the timelines necessitates. The TARDIS graveyard first mentioned in ‘Omega’ makes an appearance as well, a nice nod to inter-story continuity within the Big Finish range.
All of the cast perform admirably throughout this release, and the interesting concepts and settings- especially that of the Axis itself- create an absorbing sense of wonder. However, the weak characterisation of the non-core members and the plot riddled with uninspired platitudes and jargon unfortunately keep ‘The Axis of Insanity’ from reaching its full potential.