Friday, October 17, 2014

The Claws of Axos - "I suppose you can take the normal precautions against nuclear blast, like, er, sticky tape on the windows and that sort of thing."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Claws of Axos - Details

Season 8, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #57) | Previous - Next | Index

Image via Greyhound One
The Axons are as shiny as Marc Bolan in concert. It may be dead of winter but Jo Grant looks like she's ready to be a dancer on Top of the Pops. The early 1970s are glam and Doctor Who is right there with it. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

As a rule, that's probably for the best. However, when "Into the Dalek" got trippy as the fantastic voyagers entered the Dalek's eye stalk, I realized how much I missed these blasts of weird. If the Axons are just guys from a regular spaceship, with nothing more than generic space alien suits and wigs, this story would be OK, but it wouldn't be very memorable. It wouldn't have been terrible, about the same as any other story where the Master's in league with some alien menace out to suck the Earth dry. By going full glam though, this one becomes a spectacle on par with "The Web Planet." That's not a bad thing once and again. All trippy or glam week in and week out, then the spectacle becomes tedious.

Dr. Sandifer takes some heat for his criticism of the Letts era; but, even if you love this era, as I do, he'd be required reading in the syllabus I'd make for Doctor Who Studies 301. His analysis of Pertwee's portrayal of the Doctor in the context of his era's action hero / glam spectacle dichotomy is just one the many lenses he brings to bear that help his readers see Who with new perspective.

But enough about that, I'm setting my sights a little lower and merely want to address whether this holds up and is worth re-watching, or watching the first time if you're exploring the classic series. Had it not got all glammed up, I'd probably recommend making it a lower priority, but I give it the edge over "The Daemons" & "Colony in Space" for entertainment value among its Season 8 peers. I'm having trouble getting hold of a copy of "The Mind of Evil" to watch, so can't position it relative to that story, yet, but I think this one and "Terror of the Autons" are the S8 stories I'd spotlight.

Ratings aren't something I normally pay much attention to, unless they should ever take a nosedive in a way that fuels speculation the series might be on the verge of cancellation or hiatus but every so often they catch one's eye and the timing of my re-watch of this story right after watching "The Hungry Earth" is such an instance. "Axos" peaked with 8 million viewers when it aired it's second episode in March, 1971. The Eleventh Doctor's take on a Pertwee-era story took down about 6 million viewers (but 4.5M in the overnights) in May, 2010. Now, granted, those are BBC1-only numbers ... still, it speaks to how much things have changed. If Doctor Who is an event now, and I reckon it's safe to say it's one of the most recognized TV shows in world, how crazy is it that the 8M of roughly 56M population were watching the Master and the Axons try to suck the life out of the Earth, but as few as 4.5M of 63M were watching when Silurians made their re-appearance? As big as Who is now, imagine if it had the same place in the culture it had back in the day!  Of course, there was a lot less competition for the national (televisual) attention, but is it any wonder the show's cult took such firm root?

(Watching the extras on "The Revenge of the Cybermen" DVD, I'm reminded how difficult it was back when I first becoming a fan to see Who at all -- although for a while there it was possible to watch six out of the seven days of the week between CT and MA Public TV airings of Pertwee and Tom Baker era stories. Still, no Hartnell or Troughton to be had even when VCRs did finally start making their way into our homes. What was on was it. Miss it and you had to wait for them to cycle through all the extant episodes and start again. Kids today don't know how easy they have it. Sigh. So it appears I'm now one of those old fellers shaking his head at the coddled youth. Straight talk: I *feel* as much a fan -- that same anticipation for new, unseen story -- as I did when my favorite xmas present was the Tom Baker scarf my ol' granny knitted for me around the time the first Peter Davison episodes debuted here in the U.S.! Tempus fugit.)

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