This is a post that is sure to cause controversy! At the end of my previous post I had averred that there was a pretender to the claim of “Worst Pertwee Story.” Now at this point certain stories may spring to mind (The Time Monster being a prime example), so to say that The Claws of Axos is ranked in the same league as Planet of the Spiders is to risk wrath from certain sections of fandom who regard the serial as a ‘classic.’
For my part, The Claws of Axos is the story that almost put me off the Pertwee era altogether. A fast-paced four parter, it is very much a product of the U.N.I.T. era – the Doctor and his human associates facing off the latest extraterrestrial threat – in this case ‘Axos’ – a gestalt being who feeds on the life matter of planets. The story is the perfect example of the problem put to Script Editor Terrance Dicks – that if you strand the Doctor on earth he is effectively limited to two types of stories: alien-invasion and mad-scientist (Dicks’ humorous and accurate reply was “F*** me, you’re right!”)
That problem elegantly frames the issue with The Claws of Axos. In Pertwee’s first season the limitation actually sparked some marvellous creativity – in The Silurians for example, it introduced the idea that instead of aliens invading from without, that the aliens had been on earth all along. By Season 8 the scriptwriters recognised the limitation was just that – restrictive! It comes as no surprise that they find as many legitimate ways as possible to get around the Doctor’s exile to earth as they can – a popular tactic being for the Timelords to implicitly or explicitly send the Doctor on a mission on their behalf.
Not so for this serial. In rather the same way that Red Dwarf in later series was lampooned for the “Monster of the Week” theme, you could ascribe the same problem to The Claws of Axos. You know that a monster will show up, that the government will get in the way, and that the Doctor will eventually save the day. When I got the DVD, I was struck by how uninspiring the whole story was – it’s perfectly respectable in terms of acting and production values (excluding one horrendously ill executed piece of blue screen featuring Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton fighting Axos on a Jeep), and the plot itself isn’t bad – it’s just underwhelming.
The producers also made a rather bad judgement call in signing Roger Delgado up for the entire season – and it really shows in this serial. Of all the Season 8 serials, this is the story where it is really most evident that the Master is not needed. Granted it does provide a reason for Axos to target earth, and give the wonderful scene of the Master and the Doctor appearing to contrive to escape the seemingly-doomed earth together. But it seems evident that the Master was crowbarred unnecessarily into the story.
While not atypical of the U.N.I.T. era, I am glad I did not judge the Pertwee era based on this serial. It undoubtedly made me rush less to purchase other serials I had been unfamiliar with (Colony in Space and The Mutants being the obvious examples) – but in contrast I very much enjoyed many of the other Pertwee serials, even if many of them were slowed paced 6 episode stories. So I’m not saying that The Claws of Axos is a bad story – I’m saying that it’s a bad Pertwee – which isn’t a bad pedigree to live up to!