In a season containing two stories often described as classic (Terror of the Autons and The Daemons), one story only slightly less well regarded (The Mind of Evil) and one story generally regarded as a turkey (Colony in Space), The Claws of Axos seems generally forgotten. This is shame, since it is a neat little script and showcases the staple ingredients of the Pertwee era rather well.
The great strength of The Claws of Axos is Axos itself. The means by which Axos attempts to invade Earth is novel for the era, the Axons instigating apparently peaceful contact and using a Trojan Horse in the form of axonite in order to gain a foothold on Earth. Visually, Axos works surprisingly well, benefiting from being what could have been a CSO nightmare; the gaudy appearance of the inside of Axos however enhances its alien nature. In terms of the story, Axos is extremely powerful, and the Axons make for impressive monsters. Apart from the mercifully brief attack of the duvet at the end of episode two, the Axon monsters are highly effective, not only proving to be almost indestructible, but also packing considerable punch, as demonstrated when one of them shoots out a tentacle at a UNIT soldier, who explodes in a ball of flame. The Master is vital to the depiction of Axoss power; whereas he was attempting to use both the Nestenes and the Mind Parasite for his own ends and only later realized that he had underestimated them, he is clearly extremely wary of Axos from the start, to the extent that he is prepared to abandon his own TARDIS and steal the Doctors in order to escape. Considering that he compares it to a second hand gas stove, this nicely emphasizes his desperation. Special mention must go to Bernard Holley for his impressive performance as the impassive but sinister Axon Man and the voice of Axos.
As in The Mind of Evil, the Doctors relationship with the Master proves a highlight. As in the previous story, the Master seems to rather relish working with the Doctor, whereas the Doctor himself just seems pissed off by the need to do so. Roger Delgado is on his usual fine form, ruthless one moment and charming the next. His brief stint as UNITs emergency scientific advisor is rather interesting, and is revisited to even greater effect in David McIntees The Face of the Enemy. Pertwee himself is also excellent here, and his performance in episode four is especially worthy of note. Increasingly foul tempered due to his exile, the Doctor is most convincing when he apparently abandons his friends, and his callous dismissal of Jo especially (presumably done to convince the Master of his sincerity) is all too believable. I also like the fact that he is so desperate to regain his freedom that he really does try and escape once he has defeated Axos.
The UNIT regulars and Jo are well used here, even Yates who is happily relegated to an action role with Benton. Despite the seemingly missing CSO background during the land rover battle, the action sequences are, well, action packed, and work very well. Katy Manning succeeds in looking suitably devastated when the Doctor leaves with the Master, but Jos increasingly touching faith in her mentor nonetheless remains, as she suddenly realizes that he might return to the power station just as the light reactor is about to explode.
The guest cast, or to be more accurate, the supporting characters, are rather more variable. Peter Bathurst is a fine actor, but Chinn is such a ridiculous stereotype that even he struggles with the pompous character. Paul Grists Filer is rather likeable, although his hair has to be seen to be believed, and during the scene in which Filer moans about Axos whilst semi-conscious in hospital, Grist delivers a truly terrible performance. Donald Hewletts dignified Hardiman is rather better, as is David Saviles Winser, although the latters cry of Oh, you stupid quack! is horribly OTT. And Pigbin Josh is best not mentioned. No, really.
My only real criticism of The Claws of Axos is that the threat of Axos is made clear too early. The Doctors suspicions as the Axon leader explains the properties of Axonite, followed by Jos meeting with an Axon monster at the end of episode one, would have been sufficient, but unfortunately we also get Pigbin Joshs death (look, he really wasnt necessary at all, OK?) and a brief glimpse of the Axon monsters as Axos first approaches Earth. I also have doubts about the explosion in episode four, which doesnt seem to be anywhere near as serious as an explosion at a nuclear power station should have been, and the Doctors explanation of the time loop, which is pure technobabble. Nevertheless, The Claws of Axos is an enjoyable story, and considering the wealth of behind-the-scenes footage available, it is crying out for a DVD release.
Filters: Television Third Doctor Series 8
I recently had the pleasure of seeing The Claws Of Axos for the first time, and on first viewings it struck me as one of the best of the Earth-based Doctor Who stories of the 1970s. Repeated viewings only enhanced my enjoyment, with its fast-moving scenes and direction, the well-realised visualisation of the Axon entity in its many shapes and forms, and the central concept of Axos itself plus the central character of the third Doctor, far more abrasive than the avuncular presence of seasons nine to eleven.
The Axons are a nice twist on the alien races already encountered in the series. We have already seen. By Axos it has been the norm for an alien race coming in peace to be automatically viewed as hostile by the naturally distrustful Earth powers, in The Silurians, and it is quite interesting seeing their suspicions to be confirmed; and I particularly liked the twist on the contrast between pretty/friendly vs ugly/horrible aliens to be one and the same. Stealth invasion and body horror are not an original concept in Doctor Who, or sci-fi and horror in general, but always manages to be unsettling and disturbing, tapping into certain fears in the human subconsciousness, whether it is Quatermass, Alien or Rabid!
I found the Axons one of the most distinctive aliens in the series. In their humanoid guise, their androgynous appearance is quite appropriate for a race that is revealed to be a genderless consciousness, and their true nature as hideous blobs a grotesque contrast to their superficial form. Their amorphous mass of unformed organic blobs and tendrils gives them the impression of having been grown from their spaceship (which essentially they are) the combination of the organic and the technological is always different to the more predictable sci fi norm of silver robots, and the Axons are clearly an inspiration for the Zygons and their spaceship.
Body horror centred on concepts such as loss of individuality and human appearance, viscera, and hideous Freudian growths and appendages is another element successfully realised in Terror Of The Zygons, which also featured shapeshifing aliens that could create duplicates of humans. The Axon creatures were obviously popular with the design department as they were reused, with a colour change, for that other body-horror shocker The Seeds Of Doom. Another nice touch to the Axons is Bernard Holleys wonderful voice, which gives Axos a casually menacing and powerful aura for more sinister and subtle than the vocal histrionics of a Morbius or Omega!
What about the story? Obviously, it shares quite a few elements with Spearhead From Space, Terror Of The Autons, The Mind Of Evil and Inferno a collective entity hoping to spread itself around the world by stealth, the Master collaborating with said alien entity for his own purposes, the infighting of the British Government providing as much threat towards Earths safety as the alien menace they are supposedly defending the planet from, and a highly pressurised industrial power complex. This might account for why people either love or hate this story for me, any story influenced by the above stories (some of Pertwees best) cant be bad, and these and other elements make it the quintessential third Doctor Earth invasion story. But, to those more immune to the charms of this format, the word quintessential can be replaced by the word average. There is an element of truth that watched alongside the stories that precede it The Claws Of Axos might give the viewer a sense of déjà vu, but viewed in isolation it is an exciting story, and mercifully isnt dragged out to six episodes!
Another factor that may seem less if watched as part of Season Seven as a whole is the presence of the Master in his third story in a row. Personally, if the Master had only appeared in Terror Of The Autons, The Mind Of Evil and The Claws Of Axos, Roger Delgados reputation as one of the series finest humanoid villains could have been assured. It is a nice twist to see him double-crossed by his collaborators before we first meet him, and this does not diminish his villainy, as he is seen to have absolutely no principles or allegiances. Unlike the Ainley incarnation, Delgados Master has so many other qualities that being just a baddie he shares a scary amount of qualities with the Doctor, such as his charm, intelligence and air of sophistication, which is what makes their apparent collaboration towards the end all the more effective. The Master was introduced to provide not just a contrast to the Doctor, but also to suggest that they are two sides of the same coin in a story where our hero is still a selfish, abrasive, arrogant alien genius, it makes you wonder just how far apart these two Time Lords are, and what would have happened if the Doctor had not chosen the path of goodness. Its a shame that the series never fully explored the implications of their bizarrely competitive relationship, and that the next attempt to introduce a similar flipside to the Doctors conscience the Valeyard was just one of many interesting ideas lost in a story arc that became a game of Chinese whispers!
As I said before, the Doctor is wonderfully abrasive here, his opening scene in which he bangs the door against Chinn reminiscent of his arch treatment of Professor Stahlman in Inferno; another hangover from Inferno is when the discovery of Axonite provides the Doctor with an opportunity to get his TARDIS fully functioning again. The thing that appealed to me about the Doctors exile was that he was initially unwilling to be stuck on this third rate planet dealing with petty officials like Chinn, and despite his heroism always had one eye on a chance of escape, even if it meant leaving the Brig to deal with the latest threat to Earths safety. OK, this might make him seem callous and unlikeable, but I like these reminders that the Doctor is not a superhero or a saint, and has his own sense of self-preservation!
It is said that the once-influential UNIT became trivialised in Season Eight. The way I see it, The Claws Of Axos is one of the last times we see UNIT presented as a credible face of international relations, fleshed out with the addition of radar operatives and intelligence officers such as the briefly used Corporal Bell, who makes her second and last appearance in this story. Another criticism is that, far from being an independent body, they became indistinguishable from the regular army and in the pocket of the Government here we have UNIT opposed, and at times, usurped by both the idiotic civil servant Chinn and the Army.
All these elements of this story the Doctors less than squeaky clean personality, mankinds greed and pettiness being as much a threat to the planet as invading aliens, UNITs status in Earth affairs make me think that this story would probably be more at home in Season Seven. This is probably the only major flaw I can find in making this story something less than it could have been. In giving us an alien whose presence seems to pose a very real threat to the survival of the world, taking place on a national power source, it seems like the production team were going for a revival of the qualities that made Inferno such a stonkingly intense story, yet Barry Letts who conceived Season Eight as a deliberate move away from high drama to family-friendly thrills and spills got cold feet at the last minute and threw in some stereotyped characters. Bill Filer is amusing in the way that fake Americans in Doctor Who always are (The Tomb Of The Cybermen, Terror Of The Zygons) and a maverick element is always essential to balance things out between the Doctors impetuousness and UNITs establishment attitudes, but he seems like a more one-dimensional version of Infernos everybloke Greg Sutton. As for Chinn While the scenes of him conversing with his Edward Heath soundalike boss, who clearly trusts him as far as he could throw him, are amusing; the fact that the Government would choose such an obviously ineffectual individual to handle matters of international security does undermine any realism the story might be going for. Similarly, the story is let down by one of those Scooby Doo-style endings that dog even the most faultless story (The Leisure Hive comes to mind!) the Doctor and the UNIT gang stand around in the wreck of a power station that provides energy for the whole of southern England, but these endings are what gives the show its charm: a nice cosy ending with everyone best mates again and Earth (or at least England!) returned to its homely, familiar self. These stories were made to be family teatime viewing, so I try not to carp too much about the endings. Its easy to forget what it was like to have Doctor Who as part of our weekly routine every year we all knew trouble would be around the corner again in seven days, as long as we tuned in the same Who-time, the same Who-channel!
One criticism I find it harder to be forgiving of is the TARDIS scene with the Master. Its great to see the Doctor back in his console room again, and temporarily back in time and space, so its a pity all we get is a tight shot of two walls and a door that refuses to shut properly!
The most famous blunder is the blue CSO backgrounds in Filers car and on the UNIT jeep. Given that even the most flawless of productions feature at least one effects flaw, it seems silly that these instances get singled out time and time again! Its more than compensation enough that we get plenty of memorable images in The Claws Of Axos: the impressive-looking spaceship embedded in the surrounding of the English countryside in the middle of a freak snowstorm, the incongruous sight of the Axon creature striding across a metal and glass flyover in the Nuton complex, the spaceships root dragging a hapless tramp through its petal-shaped opening, the hideous sight of an Axon mans face ballooning as it starts its transformation, the Axon mans head spinning around Exorcist-style on the video screen, and the Freudian eyeball at the heart of the ship. There is a nice matte-style CSO long shot of the reactor which gives a great sense of scale. Even the fight between Filer and his Axon clone is well choreographed and cut-together, ending with a spectular double flip by a stuntman!
OK, its Season Seven Lite, but given that that most refreshing of seasons in Whos history only gave us four stories, a slight return to its style is always welcome. Mixed with the Pop Art design of Season Eight, and the welcome (if under-used) presence of new regulars Jo Grant and Captain Yates, and the Master at his martini-dry best, to me The Claws Of Axos is a distillation of everything I love about the Pertwee era and never less than watchable.
Filters: Television Third Doctor Series 8
People seem to want to like The Claws of Axos, and others have shown that there are things *to* like about it. The organic, parasitic spaceship with its satellite crew is a good idea, one that I would say is better realized here than in Terror of the Zygons. The exchange in which the Axon leader hesitates on the word ship is particularly nice in communicating the idea that these are not typical sci-fi aliens (i.e., humans with scales, extra eyes, etc.). The Axons look good in all their incarnations, and the way in which they transform is horrifying and quite wonderful.
But ultimately the story remains a minor one at best, and even considered as such, is less than the sum of its good parts. For starters, the plot is needlessly complicated this is one of those stories that seems straightforward enough, but if you stop for a moment and think, youll realize you have no real idea whats going on. As is the case with many of the Pertwee stories, there really is no need for the Master to be in it at all; the character is included for one reason only - to give the Doctor access to a working TARDIS, so he can create the time loop at the end. And, speaking of which, Axoss desire to achieve time travel is itself another pure contrivance, designed simply to allow the Doctor to use a TARDIS as a silver bullet to eliminate them. Why else have them try to do anything more than suck the earth dry? (Isnt that frightening enough?) I suppose Baker/Martin and the production team wanted to come up something a little different than a typical blow everything up Who finale, but it all seems a bit awkwardly assembled to me.
And there are blatant stupidities besides. Not only does showing the Axon monsters in the prologue spoil the suspense, it also has the unfortunate side effect of making the Doctor look stupid, since he tells Chinn not to assume that Axos is hostile after we already know that it *is*. And while the Doctor or Jo might be curious (and reckless) enough to climb inside the Axos pod at the first opportunity, I find it hard to believe that such a huge party, including the head of UNIT, important Ministry of Defense officials, and Nuton Power Complex administrators, would just traipse blindly into this completely unknown alien organism.
As for the actors, Peter Bathurst throws himself into the part of Chinn, but the character is still pretty tedious such a broadly drawn caricature of an old-fashioned England for the English conservative that even lefties will find it hard to enjoy. (Although Chinn should quickly be pointed out to critics of the new series who claim that liberal sympathies first came to Doctor Who with Russell T. Davies.) The other actors are better in particular, it might have been nice to see Filer reappear in some other UNIT stories but they sort of disappear in the messiness
Lets see, what have I forgotten? Well, theres Pigbin Josh, of course alas, poor Pigbin! Theres not really much to say about him; the very *idea* of him is in poor taste, needless to say. But I have to admit, I crack up every time his rustic musical theme plays, and his death is so unnecessary that . . . well, you just cant help feeling sorry for the cracked old stereotype, can you?
Filters: Television Third Doctor Series 8
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.
The Claws of Axos
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by Michael Ferguson
Broadcast on BBC1: 13 Mar - 3 Apr 1971
DVD release: 22 October 2012 (UK)
Broadcast almost a year after this month's earlier release, The Ambassadors of Death, The Claws of Axos already represents how many view the Pertwee era, that of the cosy ensemble dealing with the invading "enemy of the week". But is this really a typical 'generic' story of the time or something a little more special?
There's plenty to fit what might one consider the "build a Pertwee story" template. The "UNIT Family" has come together at this point, with both Mike Yates and Jo Grant introduced this year to join the already established Brigadier and Benton; and of course their world nemesis (for this year at any rate) is also firmly recognised in the form of the The Master.
Another thing that is 'settled' by now is that the Doctor isn't about to sell his beloved humans down the river during the story. Even though it seems several times during the course of Axos that he is more interested in his own escape from Earth, ultimately of course we know this isn't the case and it isn't particularly convincing during the story, either. Perhaps the cosiness dispels any potential drama to be made from these scenes, but of course it is needed in the narrative to convince the Master and the Axons of his duplicity if not the audience.
Rather than recalling a plot that (most) readers are more than familiar with, I'll just focus on a couple of bits that stuck in my mind when watching the story again. First up there's the 'staple' pompous official who refuses to understand the seriousness of anything in the form of Chinn. I say 'staple', but I can only actually think of one other off the top of my head - Walker in The Sea Devils. In fact Chinn is really the unsung hero of the story in many respects, consistently doing the right thing for the wrong reasons - he wants to blow up the ship before it arrives on Earth, and then wants to keep Axonite for Britain when the Axons really want it spread globally. He'd see himself as the hero, at any rate! It's quite easy to imagine him as a regular liaison for the Brigadier, too - the two certainly seem familiar at the start of the story, even if the former isn't aware of the Doctor (oh, it's the return of the "Top Secret" documentation!), and as he says later, "the perpetual interference of the UNIT people", inferring other interaction. Thinking about it, it's a shame Peter Bathurst didn't reprise his role for The Sea Devils!
Roger Delgado lights up the plot whenever he appears, and I can see why the production team (and Pertwee?) got worried about his becoming a more popular character than the Doctor himself. He also gets the best line of the story with the counter-measures to nuclear explosions summarised in the form of "sticky tape on windows"!
Pigbin Josh - need I say more (grin)? For a character that could easily be dismissed as padding, Derek Ware manages to pull off a charm to the character which genuinely makes one feel sorry for his demise - it's a shame his full 'disintegration' was cut to avoid too much nastiness (but it is on the deleted scenes to watch).
The Axons are well-realised, in both their humanoid golden forms and their tentacular counterparts - though the 'crawling carpet' during the episode two cliffhanger needs to be overlooked ... the use of Axonite to entice their 'prey' to do the work of seeding the planet for them is also a good ploy, though the time limit for distribution feels too artificial, simply to push the plot along.
It's always good to see familiar effects in play, like 'melting' doors (the wonders of polystyrene) and bubbly organic fluids (foam ahoy!). I also like the physical explosive effects used for body strikes that was also a staple of this time, something the resident stunt-men performed in abundance in this story as Axon tendrils flay about.
However, there's one thing that is a crying shame, and that's a potential regular who sadly was not to be ... Corporal Bell is an unsung heroine both here and in the preceding The Mind of Evil, and it would have been nice to see her pop up many more times during the UNIT era - but at least she gets the immortal line about freak weather conditions over the south-east!
As an aside, one thing niggling me for years was the way in which the Doctor insists that the Master has left Earth; he's very adamant about it here, whereas in the proceeding Colony in Space the initial exchange between him and the Brigadier is much lighter - it almost feels as if Colony should have been broadcast first, continuity-wise (the way in which Jo reacts to the TARDIS also infers this). I asked Terrance Dicks about this, but he wasn't able to recall whether there had been any intention to do this (as became quite common in later seasons) or if it had simply been a scripting issue he had overlooked during production. In any case, they are still in the 'traditional' order on my shelf!
In conclusion, I might have said more in support of the 'generic' nature of the story rather than being something special, but in fact I think it is one of the story's/series's greatest strengths and makes it all something special. There's really nothing wrong with having a 'familiarity' that the audience can identify with and almost take for granted, thus being able to pay more attention to the 'new' plot devices of the story - and that is hardly unique to Pertwee stories but a concept running throughout the show's lifetime over forty-nine years.
This story also has the 'honour' of containing my earliest memory of Doctor Who, which I recall as being a moment when a girl turns round and screams at something coming out of a wall; this turns out to be the cliffhanger to episode one (who says cliffhangers are no longer required?!?!). Whether or not that proved too scary is now long forgotten, though my next memory is The Green Death so maybe the Doctor's adventures were initially a bit too much for this toddler!
The DVDOne of the selling points of this new special edition is the way in which the story has been remastered and image quality improved since the story's original release in 2005. Episode three was presented on the big screen at the Recon event in September, but I didn't think the improvements were very evident when blown up to cinematic size. Watching in a normal television environment does reveal a crisper, deeper image to before, however, and the improvement in quality is clearly evident.
With the release of a special edition the main interest is going to be in what has been added since the original release. No new commentary here, but there is a fresh set of production notes by Martin Wiggins to accompany the episodes, wherein the usual factoids encompass items such as the seemingly rife acts of theft in studios rearing its head again during episode one, how wall throbbers almost led to industrial action, the 'death' of The Vampire from Space, THE VERY WONDERFUL MICHAEL FERGUSON, and also highlighting the first use of framing CSO to being scale to a scene (perhaps best realised for the sandminer control deck in The Robots of Death!).
The second DVD presents us with the new documentary, Axon Stations!, which delves into the making of the story. As one might expect there is quite a bit of detail, including how the story might have featured giant skulls and giant carrots, and on how we narrowly missed out on Pigbin Josh - The Series! The only minor irritation I had with the feature was a 'squelching' sound as captions came up, but fortunately it wasn't that often.
The other major addition is a feature in which DVD presenter Toby Hadoke gets to spend a weekend with the larger-than-life John Levene. Though at times it looked like Toby was a trapped rabbit in need of an escape route, it is actually an entertaining romp (Levene seeming to take on some of Tom Baker's more eccentric moments in interviews), with reflections from the actor's friends and even his mother - though town-folk seemed a bit bewildered by the star in their midst! But does John make a good cooked breakfast - watch and decide for yourselves ...
Disc 1 has the previous edition's out-takes and deleted scenes, and on disc two this is expanded from the original 26m58s to a whopping 1h12m48s! Unlike the former, this doesn't have accompanying production notes so you'd have to have watched the shorter one first to understand the context of some of the re-takes, etc.
Former release material includes the Now and Then featurette (which though having been made several years ago still reflects the locations which have changed little since that or indeed the story itself was recorded!), and the Michael Feguson interview 'Directing Doctor Who' (I'd forgotten he'd pushed for the rehearse-record approach to production that is so often associated with the modern series).
Sadly, however, the feature on Reverse Standards Conversion has been dropped, which is understandable considering the technique has been superceded for the special edition, but means that you'd still need to retain the original release for that - and of course means that the mention of the aptly-named Peter Axon was also lost! (Update: it's still there, but as an Easter Egg now!)
Next TimeIt's back to a time of BBC strife and the story that became a legacy as the incomplete Shada becomes the Fourth Doctor's penultimate non-SE DVD release ... The Legacy Box is due out on 7th January next year.
Filters: Third Doctor Blu-ray/DVD Series 8 B008KZVNKS
Written By: Terrance Dicks
Read By: Richard Franklin
Released By: BBC Audio - JUNE 2nd 2016
4 CDS - APPROX TIME: 3 hours 40 minutes
Planet Earth in the late 20th Century is about to have some mysterious and unique visitors that rely on purely organic technology. Britain is the nation that welcome the Axons: beautiful, golden beings from another world that has since ceased to exist.
Horatio Chinn - a Ministry of Defence official - is absolutely hell-bent on making sure that Britain does not lose a chance to have exclusive rights to the Axonite product 'offered' by the aliens. Despite being a rather foolish and gullible person, he proves to be a handful for UNIT - headed up by the assured Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
A man known only as 'the Doctor' is rather more cautious about what the Axons are actually bringing to the bargaining table, but he himself is determined to do a scientific study on Axonite to fully understand its potential attributes. He is able to get some initial assistance from Professor Winser, as they do various tests on this substance at the Nuton Power Complex. But Winser gradually perceives the Doctor as a pretentious chancer, and not a credible scientist, as first assumed.
Before long, matters take a decided turn for the worse. The Axons are in reality looking to exploit Earth for its many rich minerals and energy components, and wish to implement their 'nutrition cycle'. They are not in fact a race of aliens, but a collective gestalt. They have had limited time travel powers up to now, but sense a chance to truly master the fourth dimension. Once the Doctor and his dedicated companion Jo Grant are captured, they fully act to seize upon this opportunity.
Meanwhile the Doctor's old enemy the Master is at large. He is to blame for the Axons visiting Earth in the first place, having been captured by them and divulged how to get to the small blue-green world. Yet ironically he may turn out to prove as vital an ally to the Brigadier as the Doctor, if in a decidedly more ruthless manner.
The long-well-known saying "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts", is potentially going to be made into harsh reality. Unless the mercurial Doctor and his allies can once again prove that there is no 'I' in 'Team', and that 'The Whole' is greater than the 'Sum Of Its Parts'.
Claws is a story I can never call a classic, but remains a bit of a personal favourite. I remember back in 1992, when my father passed me a brand new VHS tape with a near manic smile, almost as if all his hard work that day had paid off for it. The cover illustration really was indicative of the psychedelic and unique four part story contained on the tape. At the time, the rediscovery of The Tomb Of the Cybermen was far more significant than an expected release of yet another colour Jon Pertwee story. But I was not yet a dyed-in-the-wool Who fan, and I could simply appreciate the two stories in different ways for what they brought to the table.
In all honesty, since the early Nineties, many of the TV story's flaws become more magnified with each passing decade. DVD is even more ruthless in exposing certain weaknesses, owing to the modest production values the BBC allocated to this Saturday teatime series. The acting was pretty weak as well when it came to the human guest cast. However, the Axons were well done, with the Axon Man, and 'voice of Axos' being malicious antagonists, that still retained a degree of substance and identifiable personality traits.
Also Jo Grant ended up with the 'short straw', in terms of spoken lines and was rather surplus to requirements. This is something of a glaring omission in a story dominated by male speaking roles. I can however excuse original authors Bob Baker and Dave Martin for this flaw, as their original story stretched to nearly double the length.
Once script editor Terrance Dicks was able to harness their ideas and reach consensus, he was able to establish a future role for the 'Bristol Boys', and many more stories from then would later materialise. Still, it can be argued that Baker and Martin's first collaborative effort was the most memorable and distinctive of all, once any gimmicks and milestones are removed from the 'product description'.
In book/audio form the ambitious parameters of the story are markedly better served. The listener's ambition can paper over any of the cracks that the original production displays, and there is some fine use of suspense as scenes play out in a more sustained manner. The TV version is rather fast-paced compared to most of its other Season Eight peers, with Terror of the Autons coming closest to being anywhere near as frenetic. The manner Dicks chooses to generate atmosphere and anticipation is rather more effective, and some chilling concepts fully resonate.
There also is better elaboration for various parties' motives, most notably Chinn, Filer, and even the Brigadier when he is forced to agree with difficult choices. Whilst some characters remain ciphers that just advance the plot - such as the generic Captain Harker who suddenly 'overrules' the Brigadier - it feels rather less of a problem in this version.
Richard Franklin is certainly a better audio narrator than a screen actor, and he never loses his gravitas - managing to relay just how high the stakes are here. His interpretations of the Brigadier and Benton do stand out as very different from the originals. But this is commendable, as it would have been far easier for Franklin to do an auto-pilot mimicry of the efforts of Nicholas Courtney and John Levene from the Seventies.
Music and sound effects continue to be a strength of the BBC audio production team. The haunting Axos theme that recurs through all four discs of this release is very nicely done. The Dudley Simpson score of the original story had its moments, but could be intrusive. By having intermittent music - as per usual for this type of audiobook - the drama and intensity is much better managed.
However I cannot unreservedly praise this book/audio reading. Dicks somehow never resolves a certain plot hole: quite how the Master could be 'absorbed' by Axos, but avoid divulging time travel theory as part of his 'freedom'. Also, some of the comedy that plays out between Chinn and his superior is decidedly unamusing. And when comparing this audio release to its most relevant competition, Death To The Daleks, I must stress that Franklin is inferior in vocal range to Jon Culshaw.
Ultimately this is an audio experience to enjoy for the vast bulk of its running time, and another success from BBC Audio. It is worth employing sufficient power to track this one down, and absorb its many delights.
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