Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by Michael Ferguson
I’ve come to the conclusion that much of the appreciation of the Master comes from Roger Delgado’s performance in the role, rather than the character itself. I say this because the writers never seem to pin down the Master’s motivations from story to story. Sure, he constantly says he wants to kill the Doctor or destroy Earth, but he never explains why. More to the point, his actions don’t quite match his stated intentions.
This story is another case in point, the third appearance of the character and the third attempt to use an alien species as a proxy for his own apparent design. He effectively wants to use the Axons as a tool for the destruction of humanity and the Doctor, but when Axos betrays him, he ultimately works with the Doctor and UNIT to end the threat. Not unlike “Terror of the Autons” or “The Mind of Evil”, in terms of the Master and his role in the story.
The real difference with “The Claws of Axos” is the overall quality of the production and its long-term consequences. First things first: even taking into account the legendary “Doctor Who” budget constraints, this serial has serious issues. The editing and pacing is terrible. Notice I’m not talking about the special effects, the acting, etc. I’m talking about how randomly the episodes seem to be slapped together, sometimes lurching from scene to scene without any pretense of transition.
It feels like the editors had to cut this down from a five or six episode serial into four episodes, so they drastically hacked and slashed to the bare essentials. Yet even from that perspective, there’s a lot about the story that doesn’t add up. Never mind the Master and his vague motivations; the ultimate goal of Axos changes from eating Earth to gaining the capability of time travel!
In that respect, it’s very much like “The Mind of Evil”, which had similar story problems. Yet there are elements that could have worked much better. The overall concept of Axos itself, an organic vessel that can create “avatars” from its own substance, is a time-honored science fiction idea. The tension between UNIT and the British government, which itself was more concerned with political self-preservation, harkens back to the seventh season.
But the story also has its drawbacks. Instead of letting the audience wonder about the nature of Axos, the beginning of the story reveals their sinister side right away. Even accounting for the characters not knowing the truth, it seems unbelievable that so many important people would simply walk into an alien vessel.
From a character perspective, I love the evolution of the Doctor so far this season. His annoyance over his exile in the seventh season was palpable, but this season, it’s gone into overdrive. He snaps at everyone, his arrogance is off the charts, and he’s all but unlikeable. It’s also completely in keeping with his situation, of course! So when he appears to betray UNIT when the opportunity to repair his TARDIS comes along, it’s not entirely out of bounds to wonder if it’s genuine.
I’d wager at least part of it is, though his cold dismissal of Jo and the Brigadier is perhaps played up for the Master’s benefit. After all, when it came down to the analysis of the axonite, he was obviously curious to see if it could help him repair the TARDIS and rescue him from his plight. Gauging the true intentions of Axos seemed to be a secondary concern, even if he suspected there was something more to the “gift”.
Other than looking rather fetching in that shirt skirt and suede calf-high boots, Jo didn’t bring much to the table. This is the problem with the character so far: because she has no built-in background, and she is therefore the sounding board/exposition aid for the Doctor, there’s not much for her to do when they are separated. I can only hope that the writers give her more of a personality as her tenure continues. (Otherwise, it could be a long trek through seasons 8-10!)
The long-term consequence of this story, however, is that the Doctor is getting that much closer to the restoration of the TARDIS and a return to roaming space and time. It’s been a fairly steady progression since the exile began, but I also wonder if the pace of his restoration is a function of the writers straining against the constraints of the format. The first three serials of the eighth season have all been very similar, after all. I suspect, however, that “The Colony in Space” will shake things up a bit!
Final Rating: 4/10