Monday, 28 January 2013

Story 57 - The Claws of Axos

In which UNIT is being inspected by an obnoxious civil servant named Chinn. He is not happy about the lack of documentation regarding the Doctor. American Bill Filer has arrived to learn more about the Master. To really make the Brigadier's day, there is a UFO alert. Chinn tries to shoot it down, but it seems to vanish before the missiles can hit it and it appears on the south coast, close to the Nuton Power Complex, which supplies energy for much of the country. The arrival of the craft, which has an organic appearance, causes freak weather conditions in the area. A tramp named Pigbin Josh is dragged into the craft. Deemed of no intelligence, his body is discarded - totally drained of energy. Filer races down to Nuton before the rest of UNIT and is also captured - but deemed worth holding further. He finds himself held captive along with the person he came to England to learn more about - the Master.

A message is received from the craft - a call for assistance. It identifies itself as Axos. The Doctor leads a group into the ship - comprising the Brigadier, Chinn and two of the Nuton personnel - chief scientist Winser and the director, Hardiman. A family of Axons appear - beautiful golden beings. They clam their planet was destroyed by solar flare activity and ask for time to re-energise their organic vessel. In return they offer a substance called Axonite, which can manipulate matter and energy. Chinn wants this for Britain and, resenting UNIT interference, he invokes special powers and has the regular army take charge. Jo had sneaked onto the ship after the others. She is sure she hears Bill Filer, and then sees a horrible tentacled creature detach itself from a wall. The Axon leader dismisses this as an hallucination caused by their power source. The Doctor agrees to work with Winser to examine an Axonite sample. It is not in the interests of the Axons for Axonite to be retained by the UK. They want global distribution and release the Master so he can assist with this - retaining his TARDIS so he will co-operate. The Master, however, hopes to steal the Doctor's ship. The Axonite is activated and kills Winser. Filer is duplicated and his copy sent to retrieve the substance. The real Filer escapes and his duplicate is destroyed.

The Doctor and Jo are captured. They learn that Axos is a parasitical gestalt creature, which has come to drain the Earth of all energy when Axonite is activated globally. It captured the Master and he brought it here to destroy the planet - and the Doctor. Axos wants the secret of time travel, in order to increase its feeding range throughout history. The Doctor's knowledge of time travel equations has been blocked by the Time Lords as part of his exile, but Axos can break through this. It will need the entire output of the Nuton reactor to achieve time travel capability, so one of the Axons reverts to its natural tentacled form and enters the station. The Master has brought the TARDIS to the complex and is trying to repair it when he is captured. He is compelled by the Brigadier to help. He tries to destroy Axos by channelling all the power into it at once. This disrupts Axos long enough for the Doctor and Jo to escape. Axos then channels the power back into the complex. Hardiman is killed. The Doctor joins forces with the Master - appearing to be about to escape and leave Earth to its fate. He travels only as far as Axos. He offers the creature time travel - but tricks it into entering a time-loop. The Master escapes. The Nuton labs are destroyed, but the Doctor is able to free himself from the time-loop and return to Earth.

This four part adventure was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was broadcast between 13th March and 3rd April, 1971.
The writers were known as "the Bristol Boys", and they had submitted a comedy drama script to the BBC, based on the army exploits of their friend Keith Floyd (who would soon find fame as a TV chef). The script somehow found its way to Terrance Dicks, who felt it showed merit and so the boys were invited in and offered the chance to write a Doctor Who script. Dicks had to constantly rein in the writers' imaginations due to budget limitations - so there was no giant skull-shaped spaceship landing in the middle of Hyde Park for instance, as Dicks relates on the DVD commentary.
The story was first going to be called The Gift, referring to the Axonite, The Friendly Invasion and later The Vampire From Space - but this was thought to give the game away too soon about the Axons.
Filming took place in early January on the bleak Dungeness coastline of Kent. The shoot was plagued by a mix of weather, including dense fog and snow, with sudden thaws. As such, a line had to be inserted about the freak weather conditions in the area - meaning that Fernanda Marlowe got a little bit of extra work as Corporal Bell, after having appeared in The Mind of Evil.

The Axons, and Axos, are a great idea in principal and are very well realised. They have always been one of my own personal favourite monsters. There are different designs - the lumpy one and the one that looks like an inside out person for instance. They are quite horrifying for younger viewers. The initially friendly golden beings are quite effectively done, with the addition of globular (ping pong ball) eyes. The chief Axon male, and the voice of Axos, is Bernard Holley, who had appeared in The Tomb of the Cybermen. The psychedelic Axos interiors are achieved using a mix of models, sets and lighting effects.
Other guest artists include Peter Bathurst (The Power of the Daleks) as the pompous Little-Englander Chinn; Donald Hewlett as Hardiman; David Saville (The War Games and The Five Doctors) as Winser, and Canadian actor Paul Grist as Bill Filer. In a very early television role, as Captain Harker, is Tim Piggot-Smith, who will get a more substantial role in The Masque of Mandragora.
Roger Delgado makes his third consecutive appearance as the Master. He is intrinsic to the plot, however, and not just a bolt-on. He's the reason for Axos visiting the Earth in the first place and is instrumental in helping it in its plans, as well as helping the Doctor defeat the menace. His joining forces with his enemy in this instance is plot driven. He wants to save his own neck and is not suddenly switching sides as he did in his first appearance.
Episode endings are:

  1. Jo screams as she sees a hideous tentacled creature emerge from a wall in the ship...
  2. The Doctor has worked out what connects Axos and Axonite and explains to Jo and Filer. Tentacled Axon creatures burst in and advance towards them.
  3. The Master is channelling all of Nuton's power back into Axos - intent on destroying it. It will also destroy the Doctor and Jo who are still on the ship...
  4. The Doctor had thought he might have managed to escape his exile - but the TARDIS will always bring him back to Earth.

Overall, not a bad little story. Very good monsters and some great stuff from Roger Delgado. My one big gripe has always been the far too early reveal of the monsters - within the first couple of minutes. How much better would it have been to hold them back to the first episode cliff-hanger?
Things you might like to know:
  • We get to see the TARDIS interior for the first time since The War Games in 1969 - and it is therefore the first time we see it in colour.
  • We also get to see what appears to be the Master's undisguised TARDIS - a white cabinet.
  • Who does Bill Filer work for? It's never stated. Is he from the US branch of UNIT, or is he from one of the other security agencies?
  • Whilst we got a repainted Axon costume as a Krynoid in The Seeds of Doom, the Axons themselves have never returned to the programme - though they have been referenced in the new series by the Master and the Doctor. 2012 did see a sudden flurry of Axos activity with appearances in both the DWM comic strip and a BF audio.
  • We get a good look at HAVOC man Nick Hobbs in this. He's the UNIT driver hypnotised by the Master. Hobbs would go on to play Aggedor (both times) and is one of the few people from the classic series to make it into the new one (he's Mr. Nainby in Amy's Choice).

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