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The Claws Of Axos
A mysterious spacecraft arrives on Earth, bearing beautiful, golden-skinned aliens who introduce themselves as Axons. They bring with them a fantastic substance called Axonite, which can affect the structure of matter. The Axons offer to provide the world with Axonite as a solution to world hunger and myriad other problems. The Doctor is suspicious, but his protests are overruled by a greedy ministry man named Chinn, who places UNIT under arrest. Meanwhile, Jo goes in search of US agent Bill Filer, who has become imprisoned within the spacecraft -- where his cellmate is none other than the Master.
Having begun collaborating in 1968, Bob Baker and Dave Martin developed a sitcom pilot about an army recruit entitled A Man's Life. It wound up on the desk of Doctor Who script editor Terrance Dicks, who was impressed by the writing. During 1969, Dicks met with Baker and Martin, accompanied by assistant script editor Trevor Ray and producers Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin. The duo was subsequently asked to submit an idea for Doctor Who. The storyline they conceived was a seven-part adventure for Patrick Troughton's then-current Second Doctor, entitled “The Gift”. It was scaled back to six episodes and modified for Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor by the time the script for its first installment was commissioned in December.
However, when Episode One was finally submitted on April 6th, 1970, it was met with disapproval from Barry Letts, who had now succeeded Bryant and Sherwin as producer of Doctor Who. The script was immediately rejected but, after discussing matters with Dicks the same day, Baker and Martin received a commission for a heavily revised version of the storyline, now called “The Friendly Invasion”. This time around, the pair sought to emphasise the idea of aliens appearing to be philanthropic while secretly scheming to destroy the Earth. When the breakdown for “The Friendly Invasion” was submitted in May, the production team still found it to be a jumble of various ideas. Thereafter, Dicks worked closely with the writers to help them maintain a clearer focus.
Over the summer, Baker and Martin were asked to insert the Master into “The Friendly Invasion”. The evil Time Lord had been developed by Letts and Dicks as the Doctor's new archfoe, and was being included in every serial of Doctor Who's eighth season. The directive frustrated Baker, who did not feel that the Master fit well in the established narrative. Around this time, the adventure's title became “The Axons”; this was the name of the story's aliens, and was inspired by the term for the nerve fibre along which neurological impulses are carried. The adventure's length was pared back to four episodes.
The script for Episode One was commissioned on September 11th; it reverted to the title “Gift” at this stage, but was soon “The Axons” again. It was now expected that the serial would be made and aired third in Season Eight. The character of Pigbin Josh was inspired by a man who frequented the pub where Baker and Martin often ate lunch. Dicks suggested that the interior of Axos should appear organic rather than man-made, and that the space parasite could drain the life out of the surrounding countryside. The use of Axonite was originally to have been demonstrated using a rat, instead of a toad. The script for Episode Two was commissioned on October 18th, followed by the remaining installments on the 29th.
By mid-December, the title had changed again to “The Vampire From Space”, which had been proposed by Dicks as far back as October. The new name was felt to be more in keeping with the style established for Doctor Who in recent years, although Letts was concerned that it might harbour lurid connotations of the sort associated with Hammer Films and its horror output. Michael Ferguson was assigned as director, having most recently worked on The Ambassadors Of Death a year earlier; this would be his fourth and final Doctor Who serial. It was decided that Corporal Bell of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) -- originated by actress Fernanda Marlowe in the previous serial, The Mind Of Evil -- would replace a scripted “UNIT R/T Man”. Although value was seen in presenting another recurring female character besides Jo Grant within the ranks of UNIT, this would be the last Doctor Who appearance for both Marlowe and Bell.
Ferguson scheduled a special recording session on December 22nd to explore various ways of approaching some of the effects sequences in “The Vampire From Space”. It took place at BBC Television Centre Studio 7 in White City, London. All of the location work for the serial took place in Kent, beginning with roadside scenes on January 4th, 1971 at Dengemarsh Road in Lydd. More such sequences, as well as those set outside the Axos “Spacedome” (as it was referred to in the scripts), were recorded on the 5th and 6th along nearby Dungeness Road. Further road material, most notably the fight pitting Yates and Benton against the Axons, was filmed on January 7th at St Martin's Plain Camp in Folkestone. The 8th took cast and crew to the Dungeness ‘A’ Nuclear Power Station in Dungeness, which served as the Nuton Complex.
Frustratingly, the weather proved highly variable throughout the five-day shoot, ranging from snow at the start of the week, through fog, and finally to sunshine on the last day. Ferguson asked Dicks for dialogue to explain the inconsistency; as such, Corporal Bell would now note that the arrival of Axos had prompted “freak weather conditions”. Unhappy with the situation, Letts became determined to avoid lengthy midwinter location shoots in the future. Indeed, it had been necessary to apply make-up to Katy Manning to hide her chilled pallor, and she had nearly suffered frostbite through her thin boots.
As usual, “The Vampire From Space” was made in two-day fortnightly studio blocks, on Fridays and Saturdays. However, unlike the season's earlier directors -- Letts and Timothy Combe -- Ferguson decided against reserving one day of each session for effects-heavy scenes. Instead, he arranged his schedule for the first block -- January 22nd and 23rd, in BBC Television Centre Studio 3 -- according to the required sets. Both days were devoted to Episodes One and Two, but whereas the Friday was spent on material in UNIT HQ and the Mobile HQ, the Saturday dealt with scenes inside Axos and at the Nuton Complex. Complicated effects work meant that time ran out on the latter material, and the close of Episode Two was delayed to the second studio session.
During rehearsals for the concluding installments, designer Kenneth Sharp debuted a new TARDIS console. The original from 1963 had become badly battered over its seven years of service, and had been subject to various modifications. It was also tinted a light green to show up better as white on monochrome videotape -- a fact which worked against it, now that Doctor Who was being broadcast in colour. Meanwhile, the discomfort over the use of the term “vampire” led the serial's title to undergo one final evolution, becoming The Claws Of Axos.
In a departure from the first studio block, the second session -- on February 5th and 6th in TC4 -- was effectively divided by episode rather than by setting. The Friday saw the completion of the remaining Episode Two material, followed by Episode Three and various inserts. Episode Four was then recorded on the Saturday. February 6th also saw the re-recording of the opening credit sequences for the first two parts, necessitated by the late change of title. During post-production, Head of Serials Ronnie Marsh ordered an edit to the Episode One scene in which Pigbin Josh's body decomposed. On location, a wax dummy had been made to implode, but Marsh felt that this was too horrific; instead, a whiteout effect was added to the picture.
For the first three episodes of The Claws Of Axos, Doctor Who led into a news update and then The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was the same schedule employed for the latter part of The Mind Of Evil. However, with the American sitcom having completed its short initial run on BBC1, Episode Four's broadcast on April 3rd was instead followed by a Mickey Mouse cartoon short, then the news and weather, and finally the 1958 Joel McCrea western Fort Massacre.
|Updated 5th August 2020|
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