“THE CLAWS OF AXOS” – Season 8, Serial 3, Story 57 – Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin; Directed by Michael Ferguson – The Third Doctor, Jo, and UNIT are on hand to investigate an alien threat, but some dickish British middle-man politician decides he’s in charge. Awesome. Because there’s nothing better than watching a politician and the Brigadier argue about who has the more powerful friend they can call to make the other guy go play in another sandbox. The Axonites show up and want to trick the world into taking some Axonite so they can steal all the energy on Earth. Because If They’d Just Wanted To Steal All The Turnips We Probably Woulda Just Given It To Them.
THE CLAWS OF AXOS is one of the most difficult serials to judge that I’ve ever come across because while it’s not an overly engaging serial by any stretch, but technically it does all the things you want a serial to do, with interesting characters, a good scenario, a nice twist, a real threat, multiple threats, and some good, classic bad guy action from the Master. The set of the alien ship looks like someone threw up all over a pile of lobster claws, but that’s not enough to sink a serial.
What’s not to like?
I think it’s a momentum thing with AXOS. The serial just never develops any push to it, as it always feels like a step-by-step, formulaic walk-through rehearsal than an actual final cut.
We get alien visitors showing up on Earth and wanting to spread their special element called Axonite across the globe in a plot to drain all of the energy from the planet to fuel their ship. I’m not even going to say how silly it is that the Axons called their special element Axonite, because obviously when humans spread out across the galaxy and try to drain an entire planet’s energy they’ll obviously call that element humanite, but these villains aren’t the swiftest batch of would-be genocidal conquerors to ever visit the Milky Way.
The villains are part of the problem – there’s too many of them and they’re too underdeveloped for a short serial. There’s the gold-bodied humanoids, menacing monsters, lobster claws that come out of the walls and floor, and a giant eyeball. The gold men turn into the menacing monsters, which makes sense, but then they toss in this twist that Axos is the ship itself and axonite is part of the ship and the humanoids are …
Yeah, I don’t know. They’re Axos, too? They’re the crew? I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter because the show just drops that info on you in one of those, “the Doctor is more brilliant than you because he figured out something you didn’t even think of” moments. Unfortunately, these moments don’t really play to Pertwee’s strengths; someone like David Tennant owns these moments with his slapping of the forehead and shouting, “Of course!” and looking all bug-eyed, which serves to make you feel even dumber and make him look even smarter, like you didn’t realize the obvious because you’re stupid but he didn’t realize it because he’s so brilliant. Pertwee’s moments are played more like, “Don’t you see, Jo? The dog ate the dog food. How silly of us to think otherwise. Now, where’s my peanut brittle and who wants to play pinochle?”
(Seriously, I just spent five minutes trying to figure out how to spell “pinochle” and it’s not even a good joke. What do you want? It’s over 100 degrees here today.)
AXOS manages to pull a bit of a changed direction storyline, a move that would be better in a six-part or eight-part serial than a four-part story. In a four-part story you want to stay focused, but here we get the appearance of the Axons and then suddenly the Master is just standing there, hanging out.
I don’t like to bash directors too much because there’s only so much you can do with a limited budget and sets, and while Michael Ferguson does a solid job through most of the serial, he completely futzes the appearance of the Master. Even as much as the goateed bugger is floating around Season 8, one would think his appearance in a lobster claw infested prison cell on board an alien ship should generate some kind of, “A-HA!” moment.
Nope. We see Bill Filer, an American who’s been sent to England to help UNIT out with the Master, trapped among the-
Wait. What? Read that again.
Bill Filer is an American agent sent to help UNIT capture the Master. Um … okay. Filer ends up trapped inside the lobster claw prison cell (he convinces you he can’t get free by always leaning into the lobster claws and holding them close to his body as he tries to get free) and we cut from him struggling to the Master standing against the wall to Filer struggling.
Are you supposed to go, “Wait, was that the Master?”
It’s completely ineffective and reeks of someone hitting the wrong button in the control room.
The Master has been captured by Axos and now he’s helping them destroy all life on Earth, and he’s kind of stuck between the manipulator role and the captive. When the Master manages to get out of the ship, the serial switches from being about the alien threat to being about the Master and Doctor but it doesn’t really work until the end because it just ends up feeling like the story has come off the tracks.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing the action inside the alien ship, which would at least give us a new setting to look at, they shaft half of the action, and most of the important action in the last two episodes, into just another science facility.
There’s some interesting character bits with the Doctor and Master trying to out think one another but it never really comes off because it’s not set up effectively. The more interesting personal feud in the serial is actually between the Master and the Brigadier. The Brig needs help and the Doctor isn’t around and so he has to negotiate with the Master, promising him his complete freedom in exchange for his help. It’s a really great moment and makes me think the show missed a really big opportunity in failing to see this through; it’s not that the Doctor is extraneous to this serial at all, but I’d much rather have seen him and Jo trapped inside Axos for four episodes while the Master and the Brigadier had to work together on the outside.
That might have been something. When the Brigadier calls out the Master and he indignantly replies, “I told you I’d help, Brigadier, not solve all of your problems,” it’s a devastatingly good line lost in a serial better known for silly sets, a monster that looks like it was made from a million pipe cleaners, and a shot of Jo’s underwear.