Aired 13 March – 3 April 1971
‘The Claws of Axos’ has strangely come under criticism in the decades since its broadcast for simply being the epitome of the Pertwee era. While it may not dare to do anything groundbreaking, the story told of aliens landing in Great Britain and offering to resolve all of mankind’s trouble with a mysterious technology that ends up being much too good to be true is still a very intriguing and well-paced one.
The strict Earth-based setting for the early Pertwee years does inherently limit the types of stories that can be told without forgetting the science fiction element, but the friendly alien invasion plot achieves everything it sets out to do while pushing the boundaries of practical and special effects of the programme with decidedly mixed results. The colour separation overlay technique has been increasingly employed through the early Pertwee stories, and that trend certainly continues here, giving an almost living comic book feel to the scenes aboard the Axon vessel but unfortunately not creating an overwhelming sense of verisimilitude. The actual Axons themselves come in two forms, the golden humanoid iterations used for negotiations much more visually effective than the trundling rubber-and-cloth tentacled versions that admittedly pack a surprisingly lethal punch. This is a story full of aspiration, but its realization on screen does feature certain aspects that unfortunately feed into the classic era’s reputation for poor effects.
However, the Axons themselves are an absolutely ingenious concept, the individuals formed from the intelligence and mass of a self-aware ship. The ship being a sort of cosmic parasite, sucking planets that it latches onto dry, is a fascinating extension of the foes’ story and is used to great effect as the Doctor struggles to have his warnings heeded as the true motives and aspirations behind the Axons’ apparent philanthropy and benevolence are slowly revealed. They also allow for an understated exploration of the internal battle between xenophobia and material greed for those in charge, a conflict that becomes increasingly important for Chin as events progress.
The Master makes another appearance in ‘The Claws of Axos’ as well, continuing his recurring trend in this series of stories, and Roger Delgado puts in another sterling performance that deftly combines menace with charm and offsets the sometimes pompous performances of the other guest castmembers. It goes without saying, of course, that Katy Manning and Nicholas Courtney offer great support as Jo Grant and the Brigadier, respectively, and this is interestingly the story that finally deals with the ramifications and conflict of UNIT- an international taskforce acting on behalf of the United Nations- being a militaristic presence on British sovereign soil and not always acting in accordance with British officials.
‘The Claws of Axos’ is wholly representative of the Pertwee era as a whole, perhaps playing it a bit safe but offering a well-paced and well-acted story overall. Looking past the effects that are simply a product of another time, the classic shrouded invasion premise, the Doctor doing his best to stand up to authority figures while voicing his concerns before taking action, a strong UNIT presence that feels the wrath of sovereign officials, and even another wonderful appearance from Roger Delgado’s misguided Master all come together to complete the checklist of Third Doctor necessities. Pertwee, Manning, and Courtney continue to impress, and the rather high-concept alien foes and resolution help to create a very memorable story by its conclusion.