Monday, September 22, 2008

Vamp or Not? The Claws of Axos


A friend of mine, Vannevar, suggested a couple of Doctor Who adventures, from the Jon Pertwee era of the show, that might be of genre interest – to the point of a ‘Vamp or Not?’ More than that, he lent me the DVDs.

We have looked at Dr Who before and there is a rich vampiric strain going through the show. In State of Decay we saw giant planet sucking vampires who created humanoid vampire minions. In Curse of Fenric we saw more traditional vampires that reacted to objects of faith and could be staked. We have honourably mentioned Smith and Jones from the more contemporary Who and even had a ‘Vamp or Not?’ in the form of the Stones of Blood.

inferno - not vamp at allVannevar did warn me that the connection was tenuous in these episodes I found that whilst the story of Inferno was good it didn’t warrant a ‘Vamp or Not?’ really. The Claws of Axos, on the other hand, did.

This was aired in 1971 and directed by Michael Ferguson and, we should note, that probably for budgetary reasons the Doctor was stranded on Earth by the Time Lord High Council. He worked with UNIT (which was around long before the concept of Torchwood) and his companion at this point was Jo Grant (Katy Manning). Regular at this point in the series was UNIT commander, the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney).

front of the shipOut in space a rather large something is being tracked by UNIT. At first they believe it to be a comet but then it changes course and heads straight for Earth. When we get to see it I was struck by the front of the ship and how it looked leech like. This impression was even stronger when we got to see more of the ship. It certainly was organic.

a formless AxonWe got to see, on board, vine like creatures. Meanwhile the ship entered Earth’s atmosphere and headed straight for Britain. Britain launched ICBMs but it seemed to vanish. The missiles had to be self destructed. It crashed near Britain’s main power station and buried most of itself below ground. Before UNIT and the army got there a derelict was drawn into the ship by a long tentacle.

a golden axonThe derelict is scanned and deemed harmless but also useless, the order is given to “absorb, process and eject”. Bill Filer (Paul Grist), a US agent, arrives and is drawn onto the ship as well; the aliens keep him alive. When UNIT and the Doctor arrive they board the ship with MoD representative Chinn (Peter Bathurst) and are greeted by golden creatures who offer them axonite – an intelligent element that could solve world hunger – in return for nutrition for the organic ship.

disintergratingOutside the soldiers find the derelict but he disintegrates to the touch – he is not the only one to suffer this fate either. Unbeknown to the Doctor, his nemesis the Master (Roger Delago) is a prisoner on the ship. So what is going on?

Jon Pertwee as the DoctorThe formless Axons and the golden ones are one and the same. In fact ship, crew and axonite are all parts of the same organic whole. The axonite is being distributed around the world so that the axos can feed. In its own words the “Earth will be sucked dry.” It absorbs all energy and nutrient substance from an entire planet.

In many respects this is similar to the giant bat like vampires from State of Decay. It is able to make replicas of people and form its crew members to communicate with the humans and access areas remotely. In this respect there was no need to create humanoid vampires, as in the later story, but it shows a level of shapeshifting.

a galactic leechThe fact that it can suck the life from a person (it can make them age rapidly and reverse the process it seems) and such a victim disintegrates is reminiscent of the genre also. This is an intelligent vampire on a planetary level, a galactic leech that relies on its host to distribute the elements necessary for its own feeding. Certainly not an undead vampire but of genre interest and on the fringes of vampirism for those who are not traditional in their interpretation of the genre. Incidentally, the ship wasn’t like that in lifeforce but was (very) vaguely reminiscent of it for some reason, probably due to the very organic design.

The imdb page for the first episode is here.

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