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24 October 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 297: The Claws of Axos, Episode Two

Dear diary,

We're very much in a period of change for Doctor Who in the last season of the 1960s, and the first few of the 1970s. We've seen departures from several key production personnel from the programme - David Whitaker made his last contribution with Season Seven, while Timothy Coombe bowed out under the last story - and watched the arrival of several other key movers and shakers to the programme's history - Barry Lett's joined with The Enemy of the World, while both Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes made their debuts with Season Six.

The Claws of Axos is a story that acts as a change in both directions. We get the first story to be written by 'The Bristol Boys', Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who'll be turning up a few times throughout this decade, and provide some pretty important stories to the show. At the same time, this tale is the last to be directed by Michael Ferguson, who'd been with us as a director on several occasions over the last few years.

It's lovely, watching through the series in order, how much you notice each individual styles. You can tell when they've got Camfield in the director's chair because everything is so well polished and done. David Maloney has a trademark style, too, that works very well with whimsical shots. Ferguson has several of his own little signatures, and several of them turn up in these episodes.

You've got the shot of a high-tech institution made to look huge with clever use of CSO (he did the same in The Ambassadors of Death), The return of the foam machine (the last time it makes an appearance in the programme, I believe), and even the return of some ma-hoo-sive sideburns on Bill Filer (both those last two, or three if you're giving that facial hair room to breathe, were in The Seeds of Death).

Something we do get today would perhaps be more at home coming from David Maloney, though. The shots of Bill Filer being replicated by Axos are some of the most bizarre, triply things that we've seen in Doctor Who. They're certainly reminiscent of the Kroton's ship, but whereas that occasion seemed to make the most of the monochrome look by giving us brightly-lit characters against a dark background, this scene positively delights in using every colour on the spectrum. I'd argue that this one scene justified the higher cost of a colour TV licence for the whole year.

Elsewhere, I'm still enjoying the story. It's nice to see the Doctor so suspicious of the Axons (or, I suppose, just 'Axos', now), and it's a good follow-on from Doctor Who and the Silurians. Here, he's berated Chinn and the Brigadier for being so ready to destroy the ship and the creatures, but he doesn't trust them. He even pretends to be on their side just to keep them sweet, while later confirming to Jo that he knows they're lying. I've never really payed all that much attention to the design of the golden Axons, but it actually looks pretty good. We get another 'face melting' shot today in the form of one of these creatures being absorbed back into the ship, and it really does work well.

When the first images were released of the Heavenly Host from Voyage of the Damned, Doctor Who fandom had pretty much made up their mind that it would see the return of Axos - how could it not? That design clearly takes some inspiration from here. I'm also quite fond of the 'spaghetti Axons' (as I insist on calling them in my notes). Today, I've dug out the Axon figure from the cupboard to sit by the computer with the Master (he's been hanging around the keyboard since I started this season), but having actually started watching the story properly now, I'm a bit disappointed that it's not the same design as these spaghetti monsters. I assume that they toy version of the creature is what Professor Winser is now turning into, but I think I'd rather the version covered in tentacles…

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