Thursday, 24 May 2018
Inspirations - The Claws of Axos
The first story to be written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and the last to be directed by Michael Ferguson, who has been involved with the programme since the very first Dalek story. Just to remind, it was Ferguson's hand that tapped Carole Ann Ford on the shoulder, and waved a sink plunger at Jacqueline Hill in the first episode then, dressed in a joke shop claw, later emerged from under Alydon's cloak.
The Claws of Axos has one of the least likely starting points for any Doctor Who story - a biographical comedy drama about a soldier who would later become a famous TV chef.
Dave Martin once worked in advertising. In 1968 he began a writing collaboration with Bob Baker, who was an animator. He was working in a shop at the time, and used to sell Martin his tobacco.
One of their efforts was that comedy drama based on the exploits of a friend of their's - Keith Floyd. Floyd had joined the army in 1963, leaving three years later as he found he could never fit in. One of his schemes was to try to get the NAAFI to produce gourmet cooking. He set up a restaurant in Bristol, the area where Baker and Martin lived, and this is how they came to know him and hear about his exploits. (Baker and Martin would later be nicknamed "The Bristol Boys").
The script they produced about Floyd was sent to the BBC, where it was passed around various producers. It eventually found its way onto the desk of Barry Letts, who asked Terrance Dicks to take a look at it. Whilst nothing remotely to do with science fiction, Dicks saw some merit in the work and the Bristol Boys were invited up to London to meet Letts and Dicks. After a boozy lunch, they were invited to submit a script for Doctor Who.
One of the initial inspirations for what became The Claws of Axos was Martin's previous life in advertising. Aliens would arrive on Earth and offer a fabulous gift in exchange for refuge. The aliens would appear to be a perfect family unit - like the ones favoured by advertisers. Mum, dad and two kids, preferably one boy and one girl. Martin described them as a "Coca Cola" family. This sort of ideal family was the one used by many advertising campaigns in the UK and in the USA, especially from the 1950's onwards thanks to the rising growth and popularity of commercial television.
Michael Ferguson would take this image and translate them into a literal golden family.
The aliens, of course, would prove to be all surface, and beneath lay monstrous beings with evil intent. The gift they were offering - anything you desired - would be a Trojan Horse, a means of destroying the planet (allowing us to have Homer as another inspiration).
The initial story title was "The Gift", and they later toyed with "The Friendly Invasion".
The first draft caused Dicks considerable headaches. The alien spaceship would be shaped like a skull, and would land in the middle of Hyde Park. The aliens' true nature would be akin to vegetable people - like giant carrots. The writers thought that the BBC could achieve almost anything with special effects, and Dicks had to coach them closely to make the script more workable. He continually reminded them that this was the BBC, not MGM. The story also began life as a six-parter, before being trimmed down to four.
After a misjudged opening scene, where the reveal of the monsters is spoiled for the audience, the story proper begins with a sequence very reminiscent of the opening to Spearhead from Space. A couple of UNIT officers are tracking something approaching the Earth. We then find the Brigadier hosting a party of civil servants, led by the blundering Chinn (first name Horatio, according to the Target novelisation). Doctor Who fans knew more about the civil service than most children in the 1970's, as the programme featured them frequently throughout the Third Doctor's era. They were generally seen as pompous, opinionated, stubborn, and hawk-like in their attitudes, proving an obstacle to the Doctor's plans and making situations worse when they claimed to be capable of fixing things.
Chinn wants to blow up the UFO straight away, which naturally appalls and infuriates the Doctor. As it happens, he was right to do so - it's the Doctor who will have been proved wrong.
The spaceship, which we will later hear identifies itself as Axos, uses time travel to avoid Chinn's missiles, and lands just outside a nuclear power station on the south coast.
The power station setting was inspired by the one which the writers could see when they looked out their windows - Oldbury Nuclear Power Station by the River Severn in Gloucestershire. This would be the location for another power station-set story - The Hand of Fear - also written by the Bristol Boys. Had the original London-set draft been used, it would have been Battersea Power Station which would have come under attack by the Axons.
To complicate matters, Axos hasn't travelled here alone. The Master had been devised as a Professor Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes. For those who knew the Great Detective from the Basil Rathbone movies, Moriarty was a recurring villain, appearing in three of the films. (Each time he is played by a different actor - George Zucco, Lionel Atwill and Henry Daniell. Confusingly, all three appear in other films in the series, but in other roles). Anyone who has actually read the stories will know that Moriarty only features in a single short story - The Final Problem. (When Granada came to adapt this story for the Jeremy Brett series, they lifted a plot from City of Death to pad it out).
Letts and Dicks had decided to feature the Master in every story of the 8th Season - which they later admitted was a mistake. The Master here is a captive of Axos. He has promised it time travel in return for it destroying the Earth, and thus killing the Doctor. After he has been freed, he determines to steal the Doctor's TARDIS in order to flee the doomed planet, as his own craft is held by Axos. We see it in its natural form - a tall white box. He is captured by UNIT and forced to work with them to stop Axos draining the power station's output - energy needed to achieve time travel capability. In Terror of the Autons, his decision to help fight against the alien invader he has brought to Earth in the first place came as an unsatisfying volte-face. This time his motives are more sound - he was a prisoner of Axos, and doesn't want to be trapped on a planet about to be destroyed. He will later join forces with the good guys again, when he and the Doctor collaborate to get the TARDIS operational - for the same motives.
They say that playing villains is much more satisfying than playing heroes, and this is certainly evident here. The Master definitely begins to mellow as a character from this story onwards, having a lot more fun.
This is the first time we have seen the TARDIS interior since Episode 10 of The War Games.
As well as Chinn and his fellow inspectors, UNIT has been visited by someone else on the day Axos decides to arrive. He's Bill Filer - from the "American Office". There has been some debate about who exactly Bill works for. One theory is that he is CIA, whilst the other is that he comes from the Washington branch of UNIT. His lack of military rank implies the former. If CIA, then UNIT obviously shares some highly confidential material with certain foreign agencies, whilst the Brigadier clearly hasn't told his own government about the Doctor. Presumably the reports Bill has seen have been heavily redacted, to obscure any mention of the Doctor.
Up until the last minute, this story went by another name. As it was being recorded, as you can see from film trims of the studio clock, the story went by the title "The Vampire from Space". This ties in with the idea of Axonite - the miracle substance being offered as a gift. When activated, it will consume all energy. The title was changed towards the end of production. The new title came from a piece of the Doctor's dialogue, where he states "the claws of Axos are already deeply embedded in the Earth's carcass...".
One other inspiration that must be mentioned is a 1966 episode of Lost In Space - "The Golden Man". In this, a handsome man (golden) arrives on the planet and meets the Jupiter 2 crew. He is at war with a frog-headed creature. It's a don't-be-fooled-by-appearances story. Dr Smith sides with the Golden Man as he is friendly and good looking, whilst the frog man is ugly and aggressive. However, the Golden Man is really a hideous monster underneath.
Before we go, a word about Pigbin Josh. Now that the Doctor is exiled to Earth, we will be seeing a number of rather stereotyped regional characters. It's one of the criticisms of this era. Country dwellers in particular are landed with "Mummerset" accents and are portrayed as ever so slightly thick. People from the same tiny village can have far-ranging accents, depending upon what the actor learned at drama school. We'll have more of this when we get to The Time Monster and The Green Death.
Next time: it's another outer space western. The Doctor gets to travel to an alien planet for the first time in ages - but guess who's also there?