The budgetary constraints placed upon the BBC during the early '70s resulted in an interesting chapter in the long saga of Doctor Who. Rather than building elaborate, alien-worlds for the Doctor to visit, the decision was made to place many of the stories on Earth. Consequently, the third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee from 1970-1974, spent a lot of time on Earth. The newly released, two-DVD The Claws of Axos: Special Edition is a fine example of this. The action takes place in England, but that by no means makes it any less exciting.
As the four-part serial opens, we are in what appears to be a military control room, and a UFO is picked up on the radar. When it lands we get a close-up, and it is a strange object indeed. The spaceship is actually alive, and I was reminded of the being from the "Galaxy's Child" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This thing is called "Axos," and unlike the future Star Trek creature, Axos is a very evil and devious being.
When the Doctor and some of the military personnel enter Axos, it is kind of like the interior of the TARDIS. Not in the way it looks, but in the fact that the inside is gigantic. When we see Axos from the outside, it looks kind of like an alien beached whale, but the inside is sort of a huge cave or something. The people inside are gold-painted aliens with interesting costumes. They claim to have run out of fuel and have landed on Earth for help.
They also have a very intriguing piece of technology called "Axonite." The qualities of it are displayed on a frog. When the device is activated, the frog grows to immense proportions. The process is reversible, and the power of such technology is immediately apparent to everyone.
Our first hint of trouble comes in the form of the man they call The Master (Roger Delgado), the character making his third appearance in the series. He looks every bit the "evil dude," straight out of central casting. As it turns out, he is a Time Lord, who has been captured by Axos. He is cooperating out of necessity, as Axos is holding him and his TARDIS hostage. As it turns out, Axos, Axonite, and the Axons are really all one. The "claws" of Axos refers to the ability of Axos to utilize pieces of itself to create people and objects.
Axonite is actually something of a Trojan Horse, which Axos refers to as "bait for human greed." When activated, the Axonite material actually sucks out all living energy. Not knowing the reality, and true to form, every government in the world is clamoring for Axonite.
When the Doctor realizes what is going on, he comes up with an ingenious plan to trick Axos by linking it to his TARDIS. When Axos discovers that the TARDIS is capable of traveling through time, as well as space, Axos immediately recognizes that with this technology, its "feeding" mission would be unlimited. The link is agreed to. The Doctor then sends Axos into a perpetual time loop, which results in every Axonite and "piece" of Axos disappearing from Earth, and presumably the universe, forever.
During the resulting confusion, The Master manages to escape in his own TARDIS. The Doctor thinks he is free to travel at will as well, but is shocked when he is returned to Earth. It seems the Time Lords have programmed his TARDIS to always come back to Earth. His comment upon this realization is classic, "I am a galactic yo-yo!" he exclaims in exasperation.
BBC Video has been releasing classic Doctor Who serials to DVD on a pretty regular basis lately, and each contains various bonus features. The Claws of Axos: Special Edition is virtual goldmine of extras. The four-part serial itself initially aired March 13 - April 3, 1971. The total running time of the serial is 97 minutes. But this really is a special edition, for there are over three hours of bonus materials included as well.
The first DVD contains the serial, and a 27-minute "Deleted and Extended Scenes" segment, as well as audio options. The second DVD features a treasure trove of interesting bonus materials. Key among these is the 73-minute "Studio Recording." This is really behind-the-scenes stuff, and sort of reminds me of the reconstruction extra that is part of the Planet of Giants release. This studio-recording segment is fascinating. It is the earliest surviving Doctor Who studio recording, and comes complete with studio chatter, recording breaks, and VT run-ups.
"Axon Stations!" is a 26-minute "making of" piece, with members of the cast and crew. "Now and Then" is only six minutes, but it is an interesting segment, as it explores the otherworldly Dungeness location that was used as the spot that Axos landed. "Directing Who" is a 14-minute interview with director Michael Ferguson, and "Living with Levene" is a 35-minute segment, featuring Tony Hadoke spending a weekend with actor John Levene (who played Sergeant Benson). It is an odd piece, but enjoyable nonetheless. PDF materials round out this exceptional bonus package.
I think I speak for a lot of Doctor Who fans in saying that I am grateful that the show survived the budgetary constraints of the BEEB in the early '70s. It could have just as easily been cancelled, which would have been a real shame. Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin should also be commended for coming up with an Earth-bound story which contains all the classic Doctor Who elements. The Claws of Axos is an excellent serial in my opinion, and this Special Edition really is special, with a great deal of intriguing bonus materials.