The Claws of Axos ****

The Master brings the parasitic Axons to Earth in this garish but fun adventure

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
The Claws of Axos ****

Season 8 – Story 57

"All things must die, Doctor: mankind, this planet. Axonite merely hastens the process" - Axon man

Storyline
Unit investigates when an organic spaceship crash-lands in England close to the Nuton Power Station. The craft's occupants are golden-skinned humanoids who offer mankind Axonite, a substance with the apparent potential to end food shortages. In return they need to repair their ship, Axos, but it transpires that the aliens, the ship and the Axonite are all one entity, which intends to suck the energy from Earth and its inhabitants. The Axons are also in league with the Master, who modifies the Doctor's Tardis to escape Earth and leave the planet to its fate…

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 13 March 1971
Episode 2 - Saturday 20 March 1971
Episode 3 - Saturday 27 March 1971
Episode 4 - Saturday 3 April 1971

Production
Location filming: January 1971 at Dungeness Road, Dengemarsh Road and Dungeness Nuclear Power Station in Dungeness, Kent; St Martin's Plain Camp, Shorncliffe, Kent.
Studio recording: January 1971 in TC3 and February 1971 in TC4

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
The Master - Roger Delgado
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
Sergeant Benton - John Levene
Chinn - Peter Bathurst
Bill Filer - Paul Grist
Corporal Bell - Fernanda Marlowe
Sir George Hardiman - Donald Hewlett
Winser - David Savile
Axon man - Bernard Holley
Radar operators - Michael Walker, David G March
The Minister - Kenneth Benda
Captain Harker - Tim Pigott-Smith
Pigbin Josh - Derek Ware
Technician - Royston Farrell
Axon woman - Patricia Gordino
Axon boy - John Hicks
Axon girl - Debbie Lee London

Crew
Writers - Bob Baker, Dave Martin
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Kenneth Sharp
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer - Barry Letts
Director - Michael Ferguson

RT Review by Mark Braxton
If there's a story that bottles the essence of the third Doctor on Earth, it's this one. All present and correct are: deadly serious threat from outer space with England on the frontline, monsters in abundance, hijacking of huge complex, soldiers throwing themselves about with lusty abandon, and Master raising an amused eyebrow at the chaos. The Claws of Axos marks the beginning of what would be a fruitful, eight-year collaboration between Doctor Who and "Bristol Boys" Bob Baker and Dave Martin. The pair's presence is still felt today via the creation of K•9.

There's no hanging around in this morality tale: an axis of evil, the Master's association and government interference are all revealed in the opening episode, and from there it's action all the way.

In production terms, too, it's a triumph. The casting is (with one exception) apt and the locations well chosen (anyone who's ever been to Dungeness in Kent will know just how eerie and unearthly it is - the frosty, misty conditions that made filming so difficult actually enhance the atmosphere).

Also the creature is dazzlingly realised in all its manifestations, from the haughty poise and Grecian curls of the human-like version through the bloated grub to what my friend and I as children christened the string bogey monster, with its thrashing tentacles. Even the fringe benefits of the traditionally detested CSO are in evidence here, transforming the interior of Axos into a colourful, psychedelic nightmare.

Director Michael Ferguson has a ball with the family Unit, filling the screen with energetic set pieces featuring an exploding Land Rover, people jumping onto moving lorries, pitched battles and guns and ammo aplenty. And the carnage caused by the harpoon-like electrified tendrils of the spaghetti Axons is a stunning effect, unlike anything seen before or since.

Despite the glut of exciting action, the axle that keeps the whole enterprise turning is the rivalry and camaraderie of the two Time Lords. Roger Delgado, sporting his best look in clean-lined Nehru suit, is winningly mischievous. I especially love his reaction to being challenged about his idea to absorb a power station's entire output in a police box, and his annoyance with the Doctor's Tardis ("You may as well try to fly a second-hand gas stove").

The Doctor's apparent duplicity makes for a nicely tense conclusion, too. You couldn't imagine today's Doctor telling the same lie "for the thousandth time" or slapping his hysterical companion sharply round the face, but anyway…

There are other lapses of judgement and quality, but nothing to capsize the endeavour. Apart from the overenthusiastic tomfoolery of stunt man (not actor) Derek Ware as Pigbin Josh the tramp, there's the putrid weebling of Dudley Simpson's incidental music. I'm a fan of Deadly's pared-back scores with proper instruments, but his electronic experiments are largely awful.

It's axiomatic among fans that early Pertwee is good, crisp, action-driven fare. But this four-parter had style and swagger, too.

- - -

What Katy did next…
“Director Mike Ferguson was really pushing the envelope to get the special effects and we actors hardly got a second glance. I think that’s very clear in that. There’s no relationship dialogue in there. It’s all just plonk, plonk, plonk. 

“As for those great big Axon blob things that looked like something a dog gobbed up, and really should have buried… I remember Jon and I laughing a lot on that. I’ve never had my boobs pinched so many times than by those poor men who were trying to work those claws [through the wall of Axos].” 
(Talking to RT, April 2012)

Radio Times archive material

RT billings

RT also printed a profile of guest actor Bernard Holley.

[Available on BBC DVD]

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