Doctor Who S08E57 – The Claws of Axos

For long and boring reasons, I watched Claws of Axos next instead of Inferno. And I’ll be honest, it was a struggle.

I came into this little project knowing that I’m not going to see 21st Century production values on 1960s televsion, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  Claws of Axos, however, has aged badly.

Where to start.  I think a fundemental problem is that, whilst broadcast quality had come on leaps and bounds since William Hartnell’s days, everything else hadn’t.  Grainy black and white footage hides a multitude of sins which are painfully apparent in glorious technicolour, and I can’t shake the feeling that the production team were still mentally in B&W.

On top of this, the feel of the show is very much of its time.  We’ve got late 60s / early 70s zoomy imagery and trippy visual ‘effects’ which at best look bloody awful and at worst mean that you can’t actually see what’s going on (though this might not actually be a bad thing at times).  Similarly, the score is 1970 “futuristic,” all 8-bit computer game synths and horror movie “it’s behind you” strings.

But of course, we should look beyond this.  It’s not why we’re here and we expected it to be ropey in places.  What’s important is how the story and characterisation stacks up.  And, well, it doesn’t.

Some of the ingredients are there. Pertwee’s Doctor seems to be an interesting take on the role, but he never quite gets going and isn’t on screen enough for me to really form an opinion one way or another.  We’ve got arch-villain The Master who I was really looking forward to seeing in action; he looks the part certainly, a proper Victorian mustache-twirling nutcase fresh out of a Hammer movie, but sadly the performance just isn’t there.  He spends most of his time being captured by various factions when he should be out there tying companions to railway lines and practicing his cackle.  Far from being the universe’s master villan, he’s about as evil as Ready Brek.

We’ve also got the fondly regarded Brigadier present and correct.  In what seems to be a recurring theme here now though is, I just wanted him to be better, though to be fair I don’t think one show is enough to see his range.  I can see why the character is popular but the performance felt stilted, like he’s standing around not knowing what to do with himself until he has to deliver his lines, at which point he sparks into life, does his bit with aplomb, then goes back into being scenery until he hits the next direction in the script.  I feel I’m doing him a disservice here though, and I’ll reserve judgement for now because I don’t actually think it’s his fault, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Companions, well, this is 1971, so a tick was put in the box marked “pretty blonde in a short skirt, continually requires rescuing, screams a lot.”  Add a pompous ass with a fondness for cake who’s in charge of Being Aggressively British at people, and that’s about your lot.

Pardon?  Oh, if I must.  There’s also the Axos.  Stereotypical ‘bad FX’ monster of the week, they initially show up as benevolent life-size Oscar awards, but… can you guess the twist?  Yes, they’re really all tentacles and gloop intent of sucking all the life out of the planet in a contrived manner.  Or, they would be, if they hadn’t been built by High School class 4B out of sticky-backed plastic (for speed) and bits of old carpet.

All of this would be forgivable with a good plot.  But this is where it all falls down, it’s simply badly scripted.  This is why we can’t lay the blame on the shoulders of Roger Delgado, Jo Grant et al; they’re doing the best with what they’ve got.  It’s slow, clunky, and feels like they’re making it up as they go along.  Which, I can’t help but think, is a real shame.  It could have been good; it *should* have been good.

And with that in mind, next up is The Three Doctors.

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