While some of my peers were reading the Sweet Valley High or R.L. Stine’s novels, I spent my teenage years reading Stephen King and Target adaptations of classic Doctor Who stories. One of the most prolific authors of the Who range was former script-editor Terrance Dicks. If you take a step back and look at the sheer volume of novels published by Dicks during this era, it’s staggering — to the point that I had an image of poor Terrance chained to a desk, fed only bread and water and forced to hammer out adaptation after adaptation on his typewriter.
Visiting some of Dicks’ output again thanks to BBC Audio has only underlined again just what Dicks was able to do for an entire generation of Doctor Who fans — keep the series alive and fresh in our imaginations when we couldn’t see all the stories we wanted to again, much less collect them to sit our shelves. The fact that these novels are still readable and enjoyable today is a testament to just how good Dicks was.
“The Claws of Axos” comes from an era when Dicks wasn’t given as much time to adapt serials as he had in the bookends of his Doctor Who adapting career. “Claws” is pretty much a straight-forward adaptation of the original script with some nifty descriptions and one or two embellishments thrown in for good measure (for example, at the end when the serial ends with the Doctor’s chagrin at being “a galactic yo-yo,” Dicks allows the action to continue onward with everyone saying their farewells and the Doctor rushing out to ensure the UNIT guys don’t jostle the TARDIS).
And while the TV version of “Axos” is hampered by the budget of the time, there are no such restrictions for the printed page. Dicks allows the readers to see a larger view of the world under attack from Axos, including a sparkling moment when the trap of Axonite is sprung all across the globe. The Axons are a bit more threatening on the printed page and their alliance with the Master makes a bit more sense. Even the Doctor’s apparent betrayal of his friends in the fourth episode is given a bigger element of mystery and questioning if the Doctor is just playing along or if he really intends to throw Earth to the Axons and escape.
Even some of the battles between the Axons and UNIT seem bigger than they could or would on a television budget of the time.
It’s one of the reasons I think that the story was so fondly loved by fans before it his VHS in the 90’s. It was one of those stories that the televised version just couldn’t quite live up to the picture that Dicks painted on our minds eye.
The structure of the original script by Bob Baker and Dave Martin also helps in adapting it for print. The Bristol Boys (as they were known) structured their stories to have a big revelation or turning point come every five or so minutes, building up to the cliffhanger each 25 or so minutes. These build-ups create some nice chapter breaks for Dicks and help make “Axos” a real page turner. And yet, there are still some faults to the story — both on screen and on the printed page.
One of the biggest is that the audience knows Axos is up to no good from the early stages of episode two, but it takes UNIT and company a long time to catch up to the fact. Dicks tries to make this work a bit better on the printed page by playing up the Doctor’s overriding desire to escape his exile on Earth using the Axonite. He also wisely has Jo become a bit suspicious his motivations earlier in the story so she’s not nearly as blind-sided by his decision to join forces with the Master late in novel (or episode four on screens).
And yet for all of this, I can’t necessarily say that “Axos” is one of my favorite stories or adaptations of that era.
But it still made for a nice little piece of mind bubble-gum while I was pounding out miles on the jogging trail this year. Richard Franklin’s reading of the story is well done. Franklin attempts to get into the character of some of the regulars from the era with varying degrees of success. He creates an entirely different voice and tone for Axos and the Axons that works well here. At times, Axos gets a bit too excited in its reaction to events, but for the most part Franklin does a solid job with the material.
As with many of the Target novels, “The Claws of Axos” left me wanting to dust off my DVD copy of the original story and visit it again. I may just have to do that…