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In Defence of The Claws of Axos

By Graham Howard

'I'm sorry Mr Chinn - I am personally responsible for the Doctor.' - The Brigadier

Unlike the reviewers of the recent BBC video release of The Claws of Axos, who have been extremely critical of the story, I confess I have always regarded The Claws of Axos as a reasonably good Pertwee/UNIT/Master tale. Since recording it in 1985 I've watched it a number of times and on each occasion I've found it to be an entertaining four episodes. I especially like its rather distinctive "visual style", which is backed up with some nice eerie sound effects and reasonably good incidental music.

'I saw this thing - it was shapeless, horrible.' - Jo Grant

The Claws of Axos is a 'monster story' in the true sense of the term, and I have to say, considering the relatively small budget and the fact that the episodes were produced over twenty years ago the Axon creatures with their long root-like protuberances (and their rather spectacular method of disposing of their enemies) look remarkably good. The interior of the Axon spacecraft also looks, for the most part very good, and it seemed to me that quite a bit of trouble was taken to convey the organic nature of the craft and its inhabitants. Yes, there are some less than convincing effects - the Axonite rolling around on the floor springs to mind - and the limited budget does show in places. But that is not new for Doctor Who and these didn't unduly disturb my enjoyment of the story.

'I offered to help you Brigadier, not solve all your problems.' - The Master

The Master makes another welcome appearance in this, his third story. He is, of course, is still seeking the destruction of the Earth, this time with help from Axos. Although the Master seems less central to the plot than his previous two stories Roger Delgado nevertheless gives an excellent performance. It is interesting to see at one point the Master grudgingly assisting UNIT, and then later, working alongside the Doctor. The Doctor's alliance with the Master in order to escape a doomed Earth is all the more believable when considering the Doctor's often stated frustration at being trapped on one planet and in one time (even in this story he considers using Axonite as a means of getting his TARDIS operational).

'I have a duty to my country.' - Chinn
'Not to the world?' - The Doctor

One character in the story I didn't care for was Chinn who seemed nothing but a poor caricature of bureaucratic ineptitude, and it was a little hard to believe he would be given "special powers" and be put in charge of the British response to an extraterrestrial contact.

'Well gentlemen. There's your enemy.' - The Doctor

There appears to be a few moralistic-type themes running through the story, which although not overtly referred to on screen, are fairly obvious on reflection. Most noticeably there is the theme that we should not judge by appearances (in that appearance does not necessarily indicate a good character - the 'wolf' may appear in 'sheep's clothing'). When the Axons are golden and humanoid in shape the authorities believe their intentions could be peaceful - but when they appear as grotesque monsters it is presumed they must have a hostile intent. It seems to have been accepted as axiomatic that hideous creatures could not be benevolent.

I acknowledge that some of the criticisms levelled at The Claws of Axos are valid. But in my view it is still an entertaining, if flawed story. And several of the criticisms are pretty weak. For example I think it is unfair for the DWB reviewer to talk of the story's "cavalier approach to scientific accuracy" - when as far as I'm aware Doctor Who has always taken a largely 'fictional' approach to science. Or of the Axons' apparent reluctance to kill regulars, as if this is something new in Doctor Who (or just about any other programme). Likewise, it seems unfair for the DWM reviewer to label the story as the "naff" story of the season when I thought Colony in Space is (rightly) considered far more deserving of this label. Anyway, whatever anyone else may think - I still like it!

This item appeared in TSV 29 (July 1992).

Index nodes: The Claws of Axos