3rd Doctor, Axos, Classic Doctor Who, Doctor Who, Jo Grant, Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Pigbin Josh, Roger Delgado, Season Eight, TARDIS, The Brigadier, The Claws of Axos, The Master, UNIT
The Claws of Axos
Review by Paul Bowler
As well as having to endure a security inspection at UNIT HQ by the pompous civil servant, Mr Chinn (Peter Bathurst), the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) is also visited by the American agent Bill Filer (Paul Grist) to discuss the threat posed by the Master (Roger Delgado) – but the meeting is soon thrown into chaos when an alien spacecraft is suddenly detected by the radar monitoring station. The spaceship lands next to the Nuton Power Complex, burying itself in the earth, where strange tendrils snake out and capture a tramp – Pigbin Josh (Derek Ware) – who stumbles onto the scene and gets dragged inside the living vessel for analyses.
The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) travel to the crash site with the UNIT team to investigate the spacecraft, they are joined by Hardiman (Donald Hewlett) and Winser (David Savile) from the power plant, and together they enter the alien ship where they meet the golden skinned crew – the Axons. The Axons leader (Bernard Holley) says that their ship, Axos, has been badly damaged by a solar flare and needs repairs. The Axons offer the world a substance called Axonite which humanity could used to make animals grow rapidly, demonstrating the effects on a small toad, before stating that Axonite could eradicate the worlds food shortages.
Ignoring the Doctor’s misgivings, Chinn soon begins to arrange for the world wide distribution of Axonite, unaware that the Master is a prisoner of Axos, and that Bill Filer has also been captured and duplicate by the Axons to help them capture the Doctor. The Axons true form, a horrific mass of shambling orange tentacles, is revealed when they attack the reactor at the power complex. Having been captured by Axos and forced into revealing the secrets of time travel to prevent Jo being aged to death, the Doctor joins forces with the Master and uses the TARDIS to snare Axos inside a time loop. The Master manages to escape and the Doctor returns to Earth, the TARDIS materialising in the ruins of the Nuton Power Complex, and sheepishly has to explain his actions to his friends – the Time Lords having programmed the TARDIS to always return to Earth to ensure the Doctor remains exiled.
The Claws of Axos (1971) is the first televised set of script by writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, although you’d never realizes it, with director Michael Ferguson and the production team doing an excellent job of realizing every aspect of this hugely ambitious story. Jon Pertwee is brilliant as the Doctor, his contempt for the pen pushing Mr Chinn quickly puts the civil servant in his place, and the Doctor isn’t easily fooled by the Axons offer either. He works closely with UNIT throughout much of this story, relying on the Brigadier to keep the situation under control while he attempts to study the sample of Axonite. Never one to follow orders, Jo Grant is the first to see the Axons true form, and after being captured with the Doctor she is tortured by Axos to make the Time Lord divulge his secrets. Katy Manning is brilliant as Jo, particularly when trying to escape the psychedelic interior of Axos with the Doctor as the organic ship convulses violently around them; and her unwavering faith in him – even when he apparently sides with the Master – is justified when the Doctor returns and reveals that it was all just a ploy to defeat Axos.
Stunt team HAVOC have a field day with The Claws of Axos. The scripts offer the opportunity for plenty of gun battles with the marauding Axons, with their explosive tendrils killing UNIT troops, as well an impressive showdown in the Nuton Power Complex. There is one fantastic scene where Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) and Sgt Benton’s (John Levine) jeep is attacked by Axons, who jump on the vehicle as Yates and Benton bail out – an explosive stunt by HAVOC ends with the jeep careering into a field as it bursts into flames.
The Axons themselves are a remarkable concept. We learn that these golden beings and their vessel are actually one and the same, originating from a planet on the far side of the galaxy, who travel the universe plundering the life force of other worlds to survive. Their ship is like a great parasite, feeding off other planets, with each part of Axos, including the golden humanoids and their ghastly depersonalised forms, and even the ocular nerve centre of the vessel are all conjoined by a bizarre kind of symbiosis with the chameleon element Axonite – a process by which these aliens can absorb and manipulate any form of energy they encounter. The Axons true appearance resembles a gnarled mass of orange roots, a stark contrast to their beautiful golden forms; these misshaped monstrosities are often filmed in slow motion – giving them a really threatening presence as they lumber around.
This story features some fantastic model shots as well as some great location work that really helps establish the exterior scenes outside Axos after the spaceship lands. When the location shooting experienced changeable weather conditions, a line about freak weather and snow surrounding the area where Axos landed had to be written into the story. These scenes also feature the hilarious antics of Pigbin Josh, a poor rambling old tramp who becomes Axos’ first victim, suffering a horrible death after being foolish enough to try and investigate the spacecraft. The voice of Axos is also provided by Bernard Holley, who plays the Axon leader, and he effortlessly conveys the ruthless nature of Axos as the omnipresent entity issues commands from its all seeing command centre.
Season Eight sees the UNIT family fully established, with Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks also introducing the renegade Time Lord the Master played by Roger Delgado. The Master would feature as the main villain in every story of Season Eight, often working behind the scenes, and manipulating others to do his bidding. However, in trying to forge an alliance with Axos the Master has unwittingly become a prisoner himself. Seizing his opportunity to escape, the Master uses his hypnotic abilities and clever disguises to break into the Nuton Power Complex so he can steal the Doctor’s TARDIS and leave Earth.
When the Doctor and Joe escape Axos they return to the Nuton Power Complex, where the Doctor decides to work with the Master to defeat Axos. This leads to some wonderful scenes as he Doctor and the Master struggle to get the TARDIS console in working order, this is the first time we have seen the TARDIS interior since The War Games (1969), and its great fun to see the sparkling banter between Pertwee and Delgado as they prepare to dematerialise. Naturally the Doctor saves the day by trapping Axos in a time loop, but he’s unable to prevent the Master from escaping again.
The Claws of Axos is an immensely exciting story, filled with terrific performances and good special effects; it includes all of the classic elements that made the third Doctor’s era so successful. With its memorable aliens, contemporary Earth setting, and some great action sequences, The Claws of Axos is one of the eighth season’s best stories.