"Axonite is, shall we say, the "Chameleon" of the elements. It is a thinking molecule. It uses the energy it absorbs, not only to copy but to recreate and restructure any given substance." "And yet you still ran out of fuel?"TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. A Special Edition is coming out later this fall. First aired Mar.13 1971.
IN THIS ONE... The Axons come to Earth to melt Pigbin Josh.
REVIEW: An all-too familiar prologue (essentially repeating that of Spearhead from Space) gives way to some experimental photography because, ah yes, Michael Ferguson is back in the director's chair. In The Claws of Axos, he's certainly at his most psychedelic, using strange organic overlays, filling the CSO screens with pulsing organs, and fading in and out of alien imagery, generally making the characters "trip out". The writing team of Baker & Martin's first Doctor Who script (they'll go on to create K9 in a few years), gives Ferguson plenty of opportunities too. They've imagined an organic ship and aliens that have both a beautiful, "golden statue" look and a monstrous, mass of tentacles one as well. If it all looks a bit rude like something out of a David Cronenberg film, it just adds to the sense of disturbia. I find the ship interior much grosser than Pigbin Josh's censored final moment (see Versions), though some of the elements aren't wet enough to feel at all real, like the eponymous "claws".
Pigbin Josh. This is his big episode, and the way Whovians talk, you'd think he was in more than one episode, but no, this is it. I'm sure he's some kind of regional stereotype in Britain, but on this side of the Atlantic, the bicycle-riding homeless man, scavenging through garbage tips, mumbling and growling, and whose attempt at communicating with the alien ship amounts to "Ooh-arr? Ooh-arr? Ooh-arr?", seems to come right out of a Monty Python sketch. He's completely ridiculous, and yet, we do feel for the hapless Hodor prototype. In part because of the his pretty musical theme, and in part because he's stuck doing all this in "freak weather conditions" (it's not the Axons, folks, it's just England). Even when I could the Axons, he's the most bizarre character introduced in this episode. He's not the only one of course. We also meet Bill Filer, a CIA man sent to catch the Master. He comes in a bit late, seeing as the Master's left Earth (but he'll be back before the episode ends), and has a dodgy American accent (the actor's actually Canadian), but it's nice to see UNIT liaising with other countries. It's a United Nations organization after all, so why not see some non-Brits working with the Brigadier's staff now and then? Less likable is Mr. Chinn, a pompous bureaucrat in the same mold as all those commodores and ambassadors on the original Star Trek who would absurdly try to take command of the Enterprise. Everyone is always a step ahead of him, and he panics whenever he has any real decision to make. I don't remember how the story ends at this point, but I'll be disappointed if nothing bad happens to him.
All these characters, plus sundry scientists who feel threatened by the Doctor's intellect, make it hard for the regulars to get important moments, but just seeing them work as a competent, confident, uhm, unit is often enough. Jo gets benched and the Brig immediately puts Yates in charge of keeping an eye on her, as if they've already decided she's not one to obey such orders (and indeed, she heads for the Axon ship sticking out of the ground - a pretty cool prop - as soon as Yates runs out the door of the new UNIT mobile HQ (from a plane in "The Invasion" to a bus here? looks like someone's being de-funded). The Doctor is the man who questions things, at first ready to talk with the aliens before UNIT starts shooting at them, then trying to catch those same aliens in a lie. Some things are too good to be true, like Axonite, the gift of limitless power and food (if you like frog legs anyway). Obviously, they're not what they seem.
VERSIONS: In place of a very strange white-out, a deleted scene (available on the DVD) would have shown Pigbin Josh's face deflating. Those deleted scenes also feature the story's original title, The Vampire From Space. Note that the original script called for the Axons to land in Hyde Park, with their ship shaped like a human skull. New Who would not have shied away from that stage direction.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An alien threat with a unique visual look (or two) presented with experimental flair, it's also an episode that features one of the worst blowhard bureaucrats in the show's history and the oddity that is Pigbin Josh. I don't know if I'm supposed to find the latter charming or insulting, so I'll let you decide.