Production Code: GGG
1 - 13/03/1971 17:15
2 - 20/03/1971 17:15
3 - 27/03/1971 17:15
4 - 03/04/1971 17:15
An approaching alien spaceship is detected on monitoring equipment at UNIT HQ, where the Brigadier is entertaining two visitors - Chinn, a civil servant making a security inspection, and Bill Filer, an American agent sent to discuss the threat of the Master. The ship lands in England and the UNIT team, joined by Hardiman and Winser from the nearby Nuton power station, meet its occupants: beautiful golden-skinned humanoids called Axons.
The Axons claim that their ship, Axos, is damaged and that they need time in which to repair it. In return, they offer Axonite, a substance that can cause animals to grow to enormous sizes and thus end food shortages. The Doctor is suspicious, and rightly so: Axos, Axonite and the Axons - whose true appearance is hideous - are all part of a single parasitic entity brought to Earth by the Master to feed on the planet's energy.
The Doctor manages to materialise his TARDIS, with the Master on board, at the centre of Axos. He offers to link the two ships together to make one giant time machine, on condition that Axos in return helps him to take revenge on the Time Lords for exiling him to Earth. This is merely a trick, however, and Axos is locked in a time loop from which it can never escape.
The Doctor returns to Earth in the TARDIS, where he reluctantly admits to the Brigadier that the Master may also have escaped.
The Doctor, the Brigadier, Chinn, Hardiman and Winser are all being 'entertained' by the Axons. Jo is meanwhile searching elsewhere in Axos for Bill Filer, whose voice she has heard. She screams as from the wall behind her emerges a horrific monster.
In the lab at the Nuton complex, the Doctor tells Jo and Filer that Axos, the Axons and Axonite are all part of the same creature. Suddenly tentacled Axon monsters arrive and advance on the Doctor and his friends.
The Master, in return for his freedom, is helping UNIT to deal with a potentially catastrophic build-up in power being channeled from Nuton's nuclear reactor to Axos. He plans first to store the power in the Doctor's TARDIS and then to boost it into Axos all in one go.
The Brigadier is concerned that this could cause the deaths of the Doctor and Jo, who are held prisoner in Axos. The Master however presents a stark choice: either they destroy Axos, or Axos destroys the world. The Brigadier gives the go-ahead and the Master puts his plan into action. In Axos, the Doctor and Jo are buffeted about as they try to escape.
The Doctor realises that the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS so that it will always return to Earth. It seems that he is some kind of galactic yo-yo.
Quatermass and the Pit.
The Iliad (Axons/Greeks bearing gifts).
Fantastic Voyage (Axon designs).
Lost in Space ('The Golden Man').
Invaders from Mars.
George Pal's War of the Worlds.
Axos : "Data confirms space/time travel possible using additional power from complex. You see, Doctor, we can call upon the additional power of the complex whenever we need it."
The Doctor : "How? You can't just walk in there and take it!"
Axos : "On the contrary, Doctor. We can."
The Doctor : "The claws of Axos are already deeply embedded in the Earth's carcass."
The Master : [On the Doctor's TARDIS] "Overweight, underpowered museum piece... Might as well try to fly a second hand gas stove."
Pigbin Josh : "Furge thangering muck witchellers rock throbblin' this time o' day Ur bin oughta gone put thickery blarmdasted zones about, gordangun, diddenum? Havver froggin' law onnum, shouldnum? Eh? Eh? Arn I?"
Pigbin Josh : "Oh ar? Oh ar? Aargh!"
The Doctor : "It seems that I'm some kind of galactic yo yo."
Chinn is an MoD official, currently in charge of a security check at UNIT (the Brigadier says that the Doctor is his personal responsibility). It is never stated who Bill Filer ('from Washington HQ') works for [presumably UNIT or possibly the US CIA (a front organization for the Gallifreyan CIA?)].
Axos' arrival causes freak weather conditions. The organic ship has a variable mass and limited time technology (assuming it to be an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Chinn orders warheads launched against it: Axos promptly time jumps). The Axons state their home planet is light years away 'on the far side of the galaxy' and was crippled by solar flare activity. But the Doctor quickly discovers that they are lying and that Axos is a cosmic parasite, sucking planets of their energy.
Axonite is 'the chameleon of elements. It is a thinking molecule. It uses the energy it absorbs not only to copy but to recreate and restructure any given substance.'
Lethbridge Stewart, Yates and Benton are arrested by the regular army (again).
Nuton Power Complex and surrounding area (Nuton supplies nuclear power to all of Southern England), [c. November 1970].
The interior of the TARDIS is seen for the first time since The War Games.
Distinguished actor Tim Piggot-Smith makes an early television appearance as Captain Harker. He would later appear as Marco, friend to Duke Giuliano, in the season fourteen story The Masque of Mandragora.
Z Cars actor Bernard Holley appears as the golden lycra-clad Axon Man and the uncredited voice of Axos.
Winser's particle light accelerator cyclotron is a primitive electromagnetic tachyon field. The Doctor traps Axos in a time loop but escapes it himself by 'simply boosting the circuits and breaking free'.
As the Brigadier and his men leave the room where they've been held captive in episode two the wall shakes.
In episode four, after the TARDIS dematerialises from the Nuton lab, it is still there during the UNIT gun battle.
There's a very unconvincing blue cloth hanging behind Benton and Yates' jeep when attacked by Axons, and then behind Filer's car. Perhaps a CSO backing with no CSO?
UNIT mobile HQ is a BBC Outside Broadcast van.
Why is a replica of Filer made?
The Nuton complex powers half the UK, but explodes without loss of life (Characters return to it only seconds after it has blown up).
Jo wears purple suede boots and a purple mini skirt. (Her knickers - also purple - are briefly seen. Cor.)
Cast & Crew
The Doctor - Jon Pertwee
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - Nicholas Courtney
Captain Mike Yates - Richard Franklin
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
Sergeant Benton - John Levene
1st Radar Operator - Michael Walker
2nd Radar Operator - David G March
Axon Boy - John Hicks
Axon Girl - Debbie Lee London
Axon Man - Bernard Holley
Axon Woman - Patricia Gordino
Captain Harker - Tim Piggott-Smith
Chinn - Peter Bathurst
Corporal Bell - Fernanda Marlowe
Filer - Paul Grist
Hardiman - Donald Hewlett
Pigbin Josh - Derek Ware
Technician - Royston Farrell
The Master - Roger Delgado
The Minister - Kenneth Benda
Winser - David Savile
Director - Michael Ferguson
Action/Stunts - HAVOC stunt group
Assistant Floor Manager - Roselyn Parker
Costumes - Barbara Lane
Designer - Kenneth Sharp
Film Cameraman - A A Englander
Film Editor - Bob Rymer
Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
Make-Up - Jan Harrison
Make-Up - Rhian Davies
Producer - Barry Letts
Production Assistant - Marion McDougall
Script Editor - Terrance Dicks
Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson
Studio Lighting - Ralph Walton
Studio Sound - Dave Kitchen
Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire
Visual Effects - John Horton
Writer - Bob Baker
Writer - Dave Martin
Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide
Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion
The Claws of Axos is a story that manages to combine an effective alien menace with some excellent location work to present a seamless tale of invasion by stealth. The scripts by Bob Baker and Dave Martin are original and ambitious and the production manages, for the most part, to achieve their vision.
'It still amazes me that The Claws of Axos was Bob Baker and Dave Martin's first televised script,' wrote Simon Lydiard in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988. 'It was so good. Perhaps the fact that it took a year to write, and numerous rewrites, accounts for it being so well-polished and intelligent... The dichotomy between the beautiful, golden-skinned Axons and the malevolent orange, tentacled monsters they become is most effective. The slow-motion shots of the tentacled Axons running are almost nightmarish, and when first transmitted seemed quite frightening to me...
'Despite the obvious merits of this story, there is still one rather irritating flaw. If the Axons held the Master captive originally, why did they need to torture the Doctor to gain the secret of time travel?'
The story opens in much the same way as Spearhead from Space and, as spotted by Martin J Wiggins in Oracle Volume 3 Number 2, dated November 1979, there are other elements that seem less than original: 'The details of [the Master's] appearance were repetitive. As in Terror of the Autons, he brings [a] hungry horde of horrors down to Earth, becomes their slave (an irony, considering what he calls himself), his plan backfires on [him] and he ends up a temporary ally of the Doctor in cleaning up the mess.'
On the whole, though, the story is highly imaginative and inventive; indeed, it is fairly brimming over with interesting ideas. One particularly notable aspect is the impression given that nothing is quite what it seems. Axos, apparently a benevolent alien, is really a hostile parasite; the Axons, although initially peaceful and beautiful, turn out to be hideous monsters; the Master, someone we know to be evil, ends up helping UNIT and the Doctor; Chinn, an obnoxious civil servant who tries to keep Axonite for Britain's use alone, turns out to have done exactly the right thing by preventing the parasite from spreading across the world; and finally the Doctor himself, well established as the series' hero, seems to abandon his friends to Axos by escaping in the TARDIS with the Master. All it needed was for Bill Filer to turn out to be a double agent working for Russia and the picture would have been complete.
The Axons are incredibly powerful creatures. Their abilities include draining energy from just about anything, as the tramp Pigbin Josh discovers to his cost, and transmuting matter to their own ends, as in the scene where they accelerate Jo's ageing process to force the Doctor to cooperate with them. Axos is, in effect, a gestalt being, each part of it able to communicate instantaneously with every other, and is a master of deception. Even the Master cannot get the better of it. There are few other alien races presented by Doctor Who that are as well thought-out, adaptable and interesting.
Technically, the Axon monsters and Axos itself are very well realised, as indeed is the entire story. Clever use of CSO and the frequent cross-mixing and fading of images give the scenes set in the interior of Axos an almost hallucinogenic quality. The model shots of it in space are superb and, along with the excellent location scenes of it buried in shingle, help to create the impression of a highly credible alien menace. The impact is added to by Dudley Simpson's incidental music and Brian Hodgson's special sound effects, which combine to provide a fitting aural accompaniment to the visual treats.
It should perhaps be acknowledged at this point that there are some fans, albeit in a minority, who greatly dislike the direction in which Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks steered Doctor Who in the early sevenites. Anthony Brown, for example, had some strong words to offer on this subject when he reviewed The Claws of Axos in DWB No. 100, dated April 1992: 'The Claws of Axos epitomises everything Barry Letts ever did wrong when he got control of Doctor Who. Though it's customary to refer to the Letts, UNIT and Pertwee eras as if they were one and the same, they weren't.
Throughout the seventh season, even after Barry Letts took over responsibility for the mechanics of production on Doctor Who (at which he excelled), the creative impetus behind the series remained that of Derrick Sherwin and Douglas Camfield [sic]. It wasn't until Terror of the Autons that Barry Letts put his stamp on the series, introducing a number of elements which turned the superb, adult science-fiction drama of the previous year back into a shallow 'family' adventure. The fascinating barbed relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier was converted into the sort of "I insult him, but I love him really" relationship which makes cliched cop shows so nauseating. UNIT, until now a vaguely menacing international taskforce, became a boys' drinking club and, in a prime example of Letts' parochialism, was brought back into the fold of the British Army.'
Brown went on to criticise Pertwee's 'lovable uncle persona' and the dropping of Liz Shaw - 'perhaps the most promising companion since Barbara' - in favour of the 'incompetent' Jo Grant: 'As a character, she was made bearable only by the cuteness of Katy Manning.' Brown's summation of The Claws of Axos was damning: 'The problem is simply that The Claws of Axos is the last of the transitional serials. In basic content and setting, it belongs to the seventh season, and that means that - when it's produced in the Letts style - it shows all the inadequacies of that style.'
This could be said to be a rather cynical view. In fact, particularly when viewed in context as a product of early seventies pop culture, The Claws of Axos stands up very well indeed. Such failings as it does possess are relatively inconsequential production and plotting glitches. The omission of a CSO background as Benton drives a land rover through rampaging Axon monsters, for example, makes the scene in question look very false, and the Doctor's casual appropriation of a nuclear reactor with which to run tests on Axonite seems somewhat unbelievable - especially as it has been said that the reactor supplies electricity to most of Southern England.
Whatever view one takes of it, The Claws of Axos encompasses all the Pertwee era's best-remembered elements - scary monsters, a near-contemporary Earth setting, UNIT, the Master, Jo and of course the third Doctor himself - and fairly typifies Barry Letts' time as producer.