The Claws of Axos

Special Edition:
Region 1

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 57, starring Jon Pertwee)
  • written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
  • directed by Michael Ferguson
  • produced by Barry Letts
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each, all colour
Story: When an organic spacecraft approaches Earth bearing gifts, U.N.I.T. and world governments are kept guessing as to the aliens' intentions: friendly or hostile? Only the Doctor seems to be noticing the right clues, and asking the right questions. But American agent Bill Filer's search for the Master does not go entirely in vain, and that opens up yet another kettle of fish....

A smorgasbord of cutting-edge 1971 television special effects and eye-candy, now beautifully restored on DVD.

Original 2005 DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actors Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Richard Franklin (Capt. Mike Yates), and producer Barry Letts.
  • Interview with director Michael Ferguson (15 min.).
  • "Reverse Standards Conversion" special in-depth restoration featurette (10 min.) [not advertised on the Special Edition]
  • "Now and Then" Location featurette (6 min.)
  • Raw studio footage featuring bloopers, deleted and extended scenes in full colour and top quality (27 min.) [this version also included in Special Edition]
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles for main feature
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles for raw footage [also included in Special Edition]
  • Photo Gallery sound effects montage (11 min.)

2012 Special Edition DVD extras add:

  • NTSC colour & PAL BW film recombination restoration on episodes 2 & 3.
  • "Axon Stations!" making-of featurette (26 min.), with Manning, Ferguson, co-writer Bob Baker, script editor Terrance Dicks,
    Paul Grist (Bill Filer), Bernard Holley (Axon Man & Voice of Axos), and Derek Ware (Pigbin Josh & Havoc stunt leader).
  • extended (full length) raw studio footage reel (73 min.)
  • "Living with Levene" featurette (35 min.), with John Levene (Sgt. Benton).

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

This adventure commits many obvious cinematic no-no's and may drop to the bottom of many a film-savvy fan-reviewer's list, but in some strange way it is the one story of season eight that appeals to my personal tastes the most. The high quantity of video trickery and special effects being pioneered and attempted on this production provide lots of eye-candy, giving it a "repeat viewing potential" similar to a Star Wars film.

The story's fast pace is at times only superficial, particularly in the beginning. The editing is fast; we cut back and forth between scenes fairly quickly. But since we often don't get any meat in these short scenes, the plot still advances fairly slowly. Dialogue is not great at times, and characters are fairly archetypal and thin.

But in its own fumble about way, there actually are some new scientific concepts getting explored in this story, not just demonstrated for the kiddies, but explored. Hallelujah, true sci-fi at last! The adventure also feels to be the most Who-ish of the season, making up for earlier shortcomings with a well-constructed climactic conclusion, and redefining forever the way the TARDIS should be used and portrayed in a story. The Bristol Boys, also known as writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, have come home to roost! Let's party.

At first, introductions seem to work. The Axos spacecraft gets its due, followed by the Brigadier being confronted by an official named Chinn who digs deep into the mystery of exactly Who the Doctor is. Excellent!

But, before Chinn can draw out any answers to inform the uninformed in the audience, before the all-knowing fan can get a good humorous scene, we starting cutting all over the place, flipping through more characters than we need to see at this stage uttering inane remarks in the middle of their own private conversations. Jo Grant, Bill Filer, Mike Yates, and Sgt. Benton are all thrown in on top of the Doctor's defining scene before Jon Pertwee has had a fair go at making himself known, and relevant references to the Master and the search for him are lost in amongst irrelevant references to Errol Flynn - dialogue like this depends on a person being familiar with other specific cultural works, and always detract from a story's ability to be appreciated independently. Even if one is going to get away with references to characters not in the story, the time for it is not at the very beginning when the audience is only just starting to get a grasp of the characters who actually are in the story at hand!

In this respect, the UFO story beats affect the UNIT group way too early. Chinn's investigation is rankling enough to sustain itself for a good ten minutes, while an exploration of the Doctor's background, a better introduction of Bill Filer and his motives, and a brief description of the Master's infamy, could all be given their due. As it stands, this story flips back and forth between all these things indiscriminately like a child with a short attention span, depending on an audience that knows all that previous stories have dished out, and failing to do proper justice to any of it. There's a fair share of poor quality "techno-babble" in the opening as well, and it's pretty much a waste of screen time, particularly as so many of the basics aren't getting covered properly. The DVD releases reveal that there actually was footage shot to take care of some of the points I raised above, most notably introducing Bill Filer and Jo Grant, and much of this footage deserved to be in the final version more than the "techno-babble" moments, but even then, something's still missing to make the story's beginning come together properly. The seaside tramp actually gets a much better introduction than a stand-by sacrificial extra deserves, and although this also gives us the setting for Axos' landing area, the quantity of screen time is not justified, nor is it a display of character that makes any particular sense or humour.

Later on, two more scientist characters join our group, and they too are crammed upon us, making their debuts in a tiny set and with even tinier camera angles. We are meant to notice each person while someone else talks about him, and when this flips by in a series of quick close-ups, it aids an aura that we're missing something important somewhere.

Despite this shaky beginning, the story gradually improves and develops from inanity to excellence. If the regulars and human guest stars are meant to be passed by quickly as known quantities, the Axons are definitely unknown quantities and get their due introductions as they are investigated - in dialogue and in demonstration. The Axon spacecraft is nicely weird and filmed well as our explorers make their way into it and through it, and the first contact scenes with the Axons are some of the best in the story.

Refreshingly, the Master's motivations are the clearest yet on the series, and the script gives him plenty of screen time to make it so. By this time (his third appearance in "Doctor Who"), there is enough history between the Master and the Earth for him to want revenge on it as well as on the Doctor, but these are only bonus goals of secondary importance to him. His main ambition is to regain his previous freedom, nicely symbolized by having him come out of tendril "chains" for his intro, and ultimately requiring access to his TARDIS, or someone else's..... This time the Master is simply in trouble and going to dastardly lengths to get out of it. Good job. He flips loyalties between the Axons, the Brigadier, and the Doctor at several points throughout the story, and it is perfectly believable because it clearly is the secondary goals that he doesn't care too much about that get sacrificed, while his main ambition remains constant. Another unique element is the fact that the Master and the Brigadier get to square off face to face for a good portion of episodes three and four, something I don't think any other story comes close to delivering.

Dudley Simpson's musical score is typical of the season and remains interesting - most of the nicest "Master" tracks developed throughout the last two stories make a return, and a few new pieces are actually worthy of becoming memorable, such as a fast pace "action" track played over scenes of the Axon spacecraft's descent being tracked by Earth people (repeated as the Brigadier escapes custody at the end of episode two) and, on the lighter side of things, the music for the seaside tramp. Included on the recent "70's Era" BBC Radiophonic Workshop CD, the track entitled "The Axons Approach" is not a particularly great one - but it does get used twice in the story during action scenes in episodes three and four. I suppose we're lucky that that much of the original recordings of the score has still survived.

Jon Pertwee is in fine form playing the Doctor in this one, and our hero can be perfectly proud of his role. While his entrance may be lacking in dialogue and screen time, he is himself at his best all the way through. Faced with the unknown, he assumes the best of the Axons and argues for a peaceful, diplomatic approach. When their story shows a few holes, he alone becomes skeptical and immune to the greed that his fellow explorers fall victim to. His scientific investigations in episode two reveal critical character elements of the Axons, moving the plot firmly to its next stage. Episode three has him playing prisoner throughout, but this is used wisely to confront the new villains of the piece, to exchange and debate more scientific concepts, and to dig deeper into the villains' character, motivations, and ever-increasing ambitions. Jo has little to do here apart from getting aged - not a bad idea, but not particularly impressive either.

Finally armed with the complete truth in the final episode, the Doctor uses his charm and diplomatic skill to pull off a few bluffs, and his technical skills and inventiveness to perform the final climactic heroic acts all on his own. Extremely satisfying.

Music by Dudley Simpson, sound by Brian Hodgson
"The Master's Theme",
"The Axons Approach",
"Brain Centre Atmosphere", and
"TARDIS Lands" (THE definitive version)
are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Volume 2

More info & buying options

"The Master's Theme",
"The Axons Approach",
"Hypnosis Music", and
"Copy machine tickover" are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who by Murray Gold
Silva Screen SILCD1224

More info & buying options

All of the above tracks, plus
"Axos Cell Interior Atmosphere" can be found on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
The 50th Anniversary Collection
11-disc version (2014)

More info

It should be noted that this is the first story of the colour & Jon Pertwee eras to feature the TARDIS interior.... better late than never I suppose. Its introduction in episode three lacks the clarity it should have - the scene of the Master entering the police box could easily have been directly juxtaposed with the scene of him discovering the mess in the console room to demonstrate things properly, but rather idiotically something completely unrelated gets dropped in between these. There is enough movement into and out of the TARDIS to get the right idea across later on though, with a particularly good example at the beginning of episode four.

Also, the good old police box starts wheezing and groaning and popping in and out all over the place in the final episode, thanks to the Master's repairs. "Short hops" are practically born here in this story, a practice shunned earlier in the series to add credence to the Doctor's lack of control over the machine and keep his Earthly companions on their never-ending odysseys. Thankfully the change of rules and series' goals has opened up a wonderful new Pandora's Box of possibilities. And even when standing completely still, the TARDIS has plenty to do in the lab in episode three, wired up into a power battle with the Axon spacecraft. Nice stuff; great imagination. Many similar ideas have popped up in Doctor Who since, but you saw it here first.

Last but not least, the production team finally arrives at the sound effect for the TARDIS landing that has served the show ever since and become almost as famous as the theme tune. The original sound is reversed, the first (now final) wheeze is lopped off with a good thud, and no extra echo effects wash in to ruin things. Too bad it took eight years to figure it out, but better late than never! The next challenge seems to have been figuring out how to cue it into the story - the first attempt during rematerialization in the lab had to have a nasty restart, but the following landing on location filming gets everything perfect. Top marks.

This is director Michael Ferguson's fourth and final Doctor Who story, and on the whole it ranks as an average outing for him - mostly solid material with a few innovative new tricks all other directors will copy from now on, and a few "faux pas" for others to avoid. "The War Machines" (story no. 27) is still his best, and "The Ambassadors of Death" (story no. 53) ranks second ahead of "Claws of Axos". "The Seeds of Death" (story no. 48) easily falls to the bottom of the pile, no questions asked. Like all of his stories, "Claws of Axos" betrays a transitional style where suspense ought to be, this time most notably at the end during the evacuation of the Nuton power complex. We get lots of footage of people moving from A to B without anything happening along the way, while the music is relied upon to supply the mood. Others might easily have used less footage here, and given Benton and Yates or some other characters a bit more screen time for close-ups, reaction shots, etc., to let a mood linger on their scenes a little longer and make them appear as more rounded characters.

Conversions, Extra Features, and the Special Edition

I'm not sure what this story has done to deserve a special edition DVD now on top of its regular release. It's probably more a case of the Restoration Team wanting to feel finished by using its latest, more thorough method of restoring episodes two and three, now that they can afford it. Sure, the original didn't have a dedicated making-of featurette, but you could kind of get the same content and effect by watching the location featurette first, followed by the director's interview, then the studio footage and various commentaries, finally topping the experience off with the "Reverse Standards Conversion" featurette. Contrary to one reviewer on Amazon, I found this last featurette quite fascinating and of interest even to any non-Doctor Who viewer who has ever wondered exactly what the differences between North American and European television signals were, what the challenges were in converting between them, and what ingenious technologies were used to convert between them before computers became commonplace. I understand this featurette is hidden on the Special Edition version as a DVD Easter Egg, since it no longer applies directly to the restoration carried out on this version.

Of course, one thing that this featurette fails to take into account after bemoaning the loss of quality that episodes two and three suffer after being converted from PAL to NTSC and back to PAL from the tapes returned to the BBC from TVOntario, is that the finished restored episodes, no matter how good the restoration work is, are then converted from PAL to NTSC again for its latest North American release. Which makes me wonder if OUR final North American version wouldn't be best arrived at by sampling the TVOntario tapes directly and skipping two redundant conversion passes? Food for thought. Personally, I'm not sure I'd notice the difference after getting caught up in story as I usually do; the original release seemed fine enough to me, and I'm not sure additional restoration work on the Special Edition will even register after the signal is processed back to NTSC for the North American release. I really enjoy this Doctor Who story, and its original DVD release, but I won't be in any hurry to double-dip on the Special Edition. In fact, the special features on the original may just turn out to be the more concise, non-repetitive, and more enjoyable ones. Then again, adding the perspectives of Bernard Holley, Paul Grist, and one of my favourite writers Bob Baker makes the new documentary tempting, and Terrance Dicks' presence is always a treat....

All in all, season eight has produced yet another story that is difficult to rank as a whole. The final episode is bar-none my favourite half-hour of the entire season, but the beginning of the story is far too clumsy to hold a candle to what most of the rest of season eight has to offer. My opinion remains split.

     Final Line:  "It seems that I'm some kind of a galactic Yo-yo!"

     Rating:  Classic!  Fans everywhere remember this one, especially
                        as it so expertly describes the latter half
                        of the Doctor's exile on Earth.

International Titles:

Deutsch: (Die Klauen von Axos)

Magyar: "Axos karmai"

Français: (Les griffes d'Axos) ou (Les pinces d'Axos)

Русский: "Когти аксонов"

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video:
Original 2005 release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for North America:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC in the U.S.
PAL for the U.K.

Special Edition 2012 re-release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.

Additional DVD extras include:

  • NTSC colour & PAL BW film recombination restoration on parts 2 & 3.
  • "Axon Stations!" making-of featurette (26 min.),
    with Katy Manning (Jo Grant), director Michael Ferguson,
    co-writer Bob Baker, script editor Terrance Dicks,
    Paul Grist (Bill Filer), Bernard Holley (Axon Man & Voice of Axos),
    and Derek Ware (Pigbin Josh & Havoc stunt leader).
  • extended (full length) raw studio footage reel (73 min.)
  • "Living with [John] Levene" (Sgt. Benton) featurette (35 min.)

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Colony in Space"

Sci-Fi Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Jon Pertwee Era Episode Guide Catalogue