Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros get their claws into this Jon Pertwee special edition release...
Doctor Who was riding high during the eighth season. The decision to make the series more Earth-bound had proven to be a very popular move. The decision to bring in a more loveable (read: thicker) companion was also something that paid off with viewers. Season eight had seen the introduction of The Master (Roger Delgado) and he would feature in every story in that season; he had failed to conquer Earth with the help of the Autons and had seen the Keller Machine fail to do the business - now, it was the turn of the Axons to finally help The Master achieve his ultimate goal...
A mysterious alien spacecraft is heading towards Earth and it's arrival not only has the interest of The Doctor (John Pertwee), but also that of scheming civil servant, Mr Chinn (Peter Bathurst). The inhabitants of vessel, the Axons, want to give the world Axonite, a substance with properties that could put an end to world hunger - and whilst Chinn is consumed with the potential of personal glory and greed, The Doctor thinks that there is something more sinister afoot...
Penned by The Bristol Boys (Bob Baker and Dave Martin), The Claws of Axos is a story that starts out with a great premise and also has a number of intriguing supporting characters, but struggles to deliver on what is promised in the first episode. The first ten minutes are really exciting, with a set-up that has much location filming and presents a great look at how the British government might react to a first contact situation with extraterrestrial life; the build-up during the opening is fabulous and, what with all manner of trucks, outriders and UNIT vehicles, etc (having gloriously OTT - if somewhat unplanned by the bean-counters on the staff - production values in the same manner as Ambassadors of Death) and this alone prevents the story from falling into one of the more mediocre Pertwee stories. What helps to sell the idea of an alien ship landing on Earth is the impressive full-sized, partial prop of Axon craft; though it's not the whole of it, which in the story is embedded deep into the ground, enough of the back-end of it was constructed to sell the illusion and really adds that certain something to the story, and the model shots seen at the start of episode one are pretty nice, with the ship having an organic quality to it that makes it look as though some sort of respiration is taking place. With all of the pretty exteriors of the ship seen early on, it's a shame that the story gets bogged down in the garish interiors of the Axon's spaceship.
Speaking of the interiors of the ship, it is understandable that it should have a formless, organic design - much in keeping with the Axons themselves - but the colours employed look so damn ugly (burnt orange seems to be the main hue employed), that it radiates an oppressive feel that almost brings about nausea. We certainly appreciate that the seventies were The Decade That Taste Forgot, and we remember that orange was a predominant colour during that bleak period, but someone at the Beeb should have spotted that this wasn't going to look good on the screen. Even Omega's similarly-designed, acne-inspired lair in The Three Doctors wasn't as harsh on the bile duct as the interiors of the Axon ship.
The story is similar - in some respects - to the classic Twilight Zone episode, To Serve Man, in which some seemingly benign extraterrestrials land on Earth, with promises that will supposedly be of benefit to the human race, but this turns out to be false and their real motives are eventually uncovered and they are far from benign. Though the Axons don't plan to have the human race for dinner, the premise of Axonite being of benefit to mankind and them blatantly lying about it has The Twilight Zone's story resonating in the background. Oh, and Pertwee's gets to do a rather nice Soylent Green-like moment when he makes a pivotal discovery about Axonite...
Things pick up when The Master really begins to wreak havoc (no pun intended) and convinces that the only way to save the human race is to destroy the Axon ship, which conveniently has Jo and The Doctor inside. The scenes that show an apparent alliance between The Doctor and his arch-nemesis, The Master are wonderful to watch, as Pertwee really seems to be upping the level of his performance to try and match Delgado and he's certainly none-the-worse for doing so. The scenes set in the TARDIS have a degree of significance in this story, as it was the first time that the interiors had been seen in colour, despite having the console seen earlier during Pertwee's tenure. Speaking of the TARDIS, this is the story where The Master curses everyone's favourite time and space vessel by saying he might as well "try to fly a second-hand gas stove" - priceless.
We make no secret of our love of Roger Delgado - he was the original Master and by far the best; there was a dry wit about him that sets him apart from the subsequent incarnations. Delgado was a wonderful actor who wryly (not to mention VERY subtly) raised an eyebrow to the audience, but stopped far short of camping things up. His Master's menace was genuine, but his actions were delivered with a devilish charm, much like a razor-blade concealed in a marshmallow. This story contains one of The Master's most amusing lines - when faced with the prospect of a meltdown at the nuclear power plant where much of the action takes place, The Master flippantly offers the suggestion of "putting sticky-tape on the windows", which is a direct reference to the infamous Protect and Survive campaign that was mounted by the British Government during that period.
We have said this before, but Jon Pertwee was always at his best when going nose-to-nose with authority figures (the more arrogant and blustery they are, the better), and Claws of Axos features one such character whom the Third Doctor is really able to sink his teeth into; Peter Bathurst's Chinn is magnificent, but then so is the rest of him. Chinn's motivations are easy to understand on the surface, but when you examine them a little more closely, there are others that certainly signify a more noble (yet paradoxically, more selfish) reason to be heading negotiations for the Axonite substance. Chinn represents the sort of governmental establishment figure who is interested in trying to re-establish the British Empire as a major world power (at a time when it was well and truly on the slide) by getting exclusive distribution rights to Axonite, but is even more interested in making a name for himself and possibly getting a knighthood for services to industry. Chinn is not the sort of civil servant seen in many Pertwee stories, as he is a the sort of devious bastard who is perfectly prepared to sacrifice almost anything for glory, and doesn't care who he tramples on to get it. Bathurst's performance really makes Chinn a character to root against, but stopping short of any sort of pantomime villainy and it's a credit to the actor that he didn't venture into the realms of being over the top in his portrayal of the opportunistic pen-pusher. It is most amusing to see that the first meeting between The Doctor and Chinn begins with our favourite Time Lord making a grand entrance and sending Chinn - who just happens to be standing in front of the doors - flying across the room and it's almost as though Time Lords are equipped with a sixth sense that can detect a bureaucratic windbag at ten paces and the insincerely apologetic reaction from Pertwee is priceless.
Along with Pater Bathurst's Chinn is his opposite number in the US, Bill Filer (Paul Grist), who is more sympathetic than the single-minded Chinn and is concerned about the potential threat to the planet. Grist makes Filer a likeable character (even if his American accent is decidedly dodgy) and his character helps to broaden the Axon menace out to a more global scale. Grist certainly throws everything he has into a climactic fight between himself and his Axon doppelganger, with fairly dynamic editing and clever (not to mention convincing) use of doubles to really sell the illusion of Filer effectively fighting himself.
Even though Roger Delgado's Master had been seen in every single story this season and his appearance near the end of episode one should not really have come as much of a surprise, his reveal in story was done in a remarkably slipshod fashion and certainly falls into the category of "bungled", as there is no suspense or build-up yo his sudden appearance within the confines of the Axon ship, he just seems to appear and then it cuts to another scene. What the viewer is presented with as a cliff-hanger for the end of the first episode is Jo running into one of the "alien" Axons (orange in colour, with no discernable face and a mass of tendrils everywhere), but it would have worked out better if the reveal of The Master had been the cliff-hanger, with a little burst of his theme before going into the credits - this might have worked out better than the rather abrupt climax they went with. Whilst we're on the subject of The Master's bit of leitmotif, early on in episode one, The Doctor's nemesis is mentioned and his theme is used very subtly, almost as though it is giving a slight hint that he might return.
The Claws of Axos features all of the UNIT family and it probably provides the quintessential look at them in action, as The Brig gets to be his usual blustery self (but always with a wry twinkle in his eye), Captain Yates is as dashing as always, Benton is ever the faithful Sergeant and Jo gets herself into trouble even after The Doctor tells her to stay put. It should be pointed out that Katy Manning's short skirt allows for the almost obligatory peek of her undercrackers - they are colour-coordinated to match the rest of her ensemble, for those who are interested in that sort of thing.
You really must hand it to the production team for coming up with a plausible explanation for the massively differing weather conditions (including fairly heavy snowfall) that occurred during the location filming down in Kent, brushing it off with by hastily saying that "freak weather conditions" were being caused by the arrival of the Axon ship - it's so simple, it's ingenious! It damn-near works, too! Over a decade later, the Doctor Who production team made the best of unforeseen snow during location filming in Revelation of the Daleks and it also added much to the feel of the story. Special mention must be made to Havoc kingpin Derek Ware, who plays the unfortunate (and equally unfortunately named) Pigbin Josh, the poor local derelict who is the first to feel the wrath of not only the awesome power of the Axons, but also the "freak weather conditions" experienced on location, which included him having to cycle into a freezing ditch set in a snow-covered landscape - now THAT'S dedication to art.
Sometimes, the use of stock footage in Doctor Who can really stick out like a sore thumb, but there are time when it is employed sparingly and it serves to enhance the drama (not to mention the production values) on the screen and The Claws of Axos features one such use of library material, coming when Chinn gives the order to blow the Axon ship up using missiles and three bits of stock footage are seen on monitors that all give weight to the situation our characters find themselves in. The employment of library footage can be a VERY tricky thing to pull off, but they do it very well here.
The designs of the humanoid Axons are frustrating - they have wonderful blank, gold faces, which are augmented by having prosthetics over the eyes of the actors, but this impressive piece of make-up design is torpedoed somewhat by having them wear orange and white unitards, which wrinkle and do not match the colour scheme used for the heads - it is a great pity that the unitards couldn't have been spray-painted gold to compliment the elaborate work on their heads. The fine work on the heads of the Axons is complimented by the voices they are given, mainly by actor Bernard Holley, who plays the lead Axon and also provides the voice of the Axon ship, giving a slow, deliberate delivery that makes the ship sound like it is whacked-out on tranquillisers. The mutant form of the Axons are more satisfying overall, and do a good job of lumbering along and killing almost anyone who gets in their way, which is the primary purpose of virtually every non-speaking Doctor Who monster, and their shooting tendrils gave them a unique edge that probably lingered long in the memory of any young viewer who was sufficiently brave enough to raise his head over the parapet that was the sofa.
The original videotapes of episodes two and three of The Claws of Axos were wiped by the BBC during the infamous purging of the archives in the seventies.
The Claws of Axos was originally released on DVD in 2005, utilising the Reverse Standards Conversion. The results were impressive for the time, allowing the middle episodes to be seen in a manner that more closely resembled the original broadcast. Time has moved on, and more sophisticated restoration methods have become available. The Claws of Axos has been RE-remastered for this Special Edition DVD and the question you are doubtless asking is "how does it look?"
The answer is pretty damn good, all things considered; episodes one and four look lovely, with the videotape sections being pristine, and even the film sequences have a vibrancy that we hadn't seen previously, with more discernable film grain (which is now a good thing, kids!) present during the location filming, along with surprisingly vibrant colour. The contrast between the scattered items seen on the ground and the white of the snow brought about by the (ahem) freak weather conditions in episode one is most pleasing.
Episodes two and three were wiped by the BBC and the Restoration Team has done their best to restore them to their former glory using methods that were have improved notably since the original DVD restoration. Sequences that were preserved on the studio recording tape have been dropped into the correct places in these episodes and although the difference is discernable between these and the rest of the material, it is not glaringly so.
Nothing to complain about here - everything sounds fine and the dialogue is perfectly clean and clear, even falling into the category of "crisp" now and again.
Audio Commentary: OK, this appeared on the original release, but it can truly be called one of the most entertaining of them to ever grace a Doctor Who DVD, with Barry Letts, Katy Manning and Richard Franklin sharing their memories, thoughts and laughter over just about everything, and the chemistry between them is spectacular. No cow is sacred enough not to have its throat slit, but they still have still plenty of affection for times past, and the whole thing is an absolute blast.
One thing which the Doctor Who faithful will probably be rather thrown by is how Letts had lots of energy at the time of recording this commentary, a stark contrast to the later material which he recorded for the DVD releases, where he was clearly frail and very much ill. His presence and assured command of facts remind you just how tight a ship he was reputed to run when he was in charge of the show, and is perfectly OK with revealing mistakes they made along the way, the might of The Master being a good example, “Ah yes, in this first season, we used The Master’s ability to hypnotise people quite a lot", Letts recalls, “…but in a way, it’s not a very good device, because it gave him too much power, you know, so it was rather dropped later.”
Franklin proves himself very much able to induce groans with some of his wisecracks, especially when he remarks how one particular character is threatened with his resignation should his efforts result in failure, “He took it on the Chinn…” quips the actor, to sounds of pained cries from Letts and Manning. When the Axons show up, certain fashion choices made for them brings out the joker in both Franklin and Manning, the latter noting that “…wearing stretch-lycra is never good.” With [presumably] a wry smile on his lips, the man from UNIT sticks up for the alien designs by pointing out how: “…I like the zips [going] up the back of the golden people.” Oh, and he also manages to squeeze in a plug for his novella The Killing Stone - available now from all used booksellers.
Fashion turns up again during the numerous things mentioned in this entertaining round-table discussion, coming in the question of just why the slightly dodgy UNIT badges on the hats were allowed to continue for as long as they did? Letts earnestly replies: “I don’t know - don’t ask me! I should have stopped it, shouldn’t I? They look ridiculous.” Direct from planet Manning comes her agreement with the whole badge issue, expressed in with the awkward phrasing of: “…they’re the one thing that don’t quite hang real.” It’s almost as though Jo Grant was viciously attacked by a Metavore…
With the oh-so changeable conditions around the coastal parts of Kent, there is no surprise that the perils of filming in Dungeoness in January are discussed with amusing and revealing points made. It seems that the UNIT guys and anybody else wearing trousers weren‘t too bad, but Jo Grant being a woman of the time meant real hardship for Manning, where the hot drinks dispensed to the cast and crew just weren‘t enough to cope with a miniskirt in near-Arctic climes, “I had fashion and freezing kneecaps” she quips, happy to be in the confines of a warm recording booth. Brought up around very the area in question, we are accustomed to such dramatic changes in the weather - these damned thespians, they just can‘t take a bit of a chill, can they?
It really doesn’t come as a surprise that Manning is the star of the show, able to effortlessly roll out amusing things, be they intentional or otherwise and keep everyone in a cheerful state of mind, “Roger wasn’t keen of doing stunts,” she says of The Master himself, “…and don’t put him near a boat, but he looked very good on top of a truck.” Sagely advise from a woman cheerfully describing the Axons as: “…a bit like a walking omelette.“ Indeed, one of the funniest moments comes when a sequence involving a ganglion turns up, with Franklin and Manning drawing a blank as to what the thing in question was. Letts spills that beans that a ganglion was a collection of nerves, and the thespians are duly - or is it dully - illuminated. “We needed Jo there to ask ‘what’s that?’”, chuckles the former assistant.
At one point, they all gang up on Star Trek, saying the American show came [years] later and “was not a good look” when it came to the aesthetics, but we have to point out that the first pilot of Gene Roddenberry's show was made only the year after Doctor Who started, it was shot on film with superb cinematography. Let’s keep things in perspective here, as most of the pre-Frieberger Star Trek monsters weren’t just placeholders for the imagination of their viewers, as was often the case with the monochromatic stories, but at the core of any decent science fiction is the writing, and both shows came with highs and lows.
This commentary is an oldie, but a goodie. As is increasingly the case with Doctor Who DVDs, there are voices from the past brought out on releases new, and it’s important these people are still able to share their memories with us fans, so we have no problem with the memories of a very articulate guy like Barry Letts being unleashed again for those who didn’t experience them first time around. Franklin is amusing and informative, and as for Katie Manning - Jesus, that woman needs three tranquillisers just to get her back to “hysterical”. Recommended to all!
Production Subtitles: Wars are not won by bullets alone, as the application of knowledge through intelligence is often the deciding factor in any conflict. The battle to know all there is about something might take the average individual years to win, with many setbacks and at the cost of God knows how many friendships, but there are those who know that you get the very best people you have to do all the groundwork for you, allowing us to reap the benefits of their actions and claim victory. When the balloon goes up over knowing all about The Claws of Axos, you will find herein the only intel you will ever need.
We all know what it looks like, but the track informs us that the Eye of Axos prop “caused the crew much ribald merriment over the connotations of its shape“, and it takes a special skill to use a one-eyed monster as a segue into a potted history of seventies strikes caused by co-opting jobs between departments, in this case the electricians were deeply unhappy that the effects people were allowed to switch on the very things they themselves created., effectively taking their work away from them. For further reference, see Carry On at Your Convenience and the tap-fitter/waste-fitter sequence. There - the legitimate merging of Doctor Who and the Carry On series, and not a single mention of Peter Butterworth!
There were substantial changes made during the conception and gestation of The Claws of Axos, the titles being one of the more minor alterations. All of them are to be found here, and you’ll be surprised at just how pertinent the overhauls were. Not just stopping at re-writes, you also get notations about which scenes were originally marked to be dropped from the final production, but survived being cut due to their importance to the story, the primary one being Chinn’s televisual conversation with the Minister. Another comes in the form of something rather crucial to the philosophy of The Doctor, which makes it a very curious deletion from the finished story, where he announces that “…the world must be allowed to develop at its own pace” coming across as a very primal directive from the Time Lord.
Among the achingly interesting titbits which just keep on coming, we find how Jo Grant’s trés-chic outfits were off-the-peg numbers from Biba, that a secretary at the BBC got the worked form erroneous dictation notes and circulated a memo which saw the show called “The Clause of Axos” by the bigwigs - bloody lawyer mentality! We’ve often said that the velocity of a bullet will cut through any red tape. To anyone thinking that the “blobby” Axon suits were cheap, this exhaustive track begs to differ, as a matter of fact, they were very expensive, and all because of the need to make them from flame-retardant chamois-leather-based as opposed to the more combustible foam rubber. This has more titbits than a crappy seventies/eighties gentlemen's magazine!
While a sense of humour is always expertly interwoven into the fabric of Doctor Who trivia tracks, it’s not just the getting of laughs which endears them to the devoted. There is a real sense of charm and affability which really comes through, doubtlessly born of the passion for and familiarity of the material they are working with, making the end result a unique experience. A perfect example is when The Master uses the scanner inside the TARDIS, explaining how the traditional use of a TV monitor had been recently abandoned in favour of experimenting with CSO (blue-screen) and doing it as an optical effect. Just after the broadcast image appears on one of the roundels in the Console Room, the accompanying track puts a cheery “It worked!” on the screen, reflecting the affection for the series whilst stubbornly refusing to be merely a dry set of facts.
The gathering of data can be an arduous one, and collating it conform to its ultimate purpose can almost damage the mind, but if you are doing it about something you love, then there is a passion which gets transferred into the final product purely through osmosis, and this is certainly the case with yet another cracking fact-track from the guys we can trust. The name of Martin Wiggins belongs in the company of those ingenious souls at Bletchley Park, where knowledge was pooled to achieve greatness. Reassuringly through and just as entertaining.
Deleted and Extended Scenes: Coming complete with a clapperboard reading “The Vampire From Space”, these come courtesy of the original recording tape stored in the BBC Archives, and things are very cool from the outset when we get the original credits reading “The Vampire from Space”. There is obvious repetition with the studio recording footage found on the second disc, but material this good has to be seen a couple of times to get the most out of it. The crown jewel is certainly the “Bonus” Info Text you can access, with the same indispensable qualities as those found on the main feature, putting everything into perfect context, as well as increasing your knowledge on the subject. It’s a beautifully researched and many-splendoured thing, and nothing else would put things into perspective better, even if Assistant Floor Manager Roselyn Parker came free with the disc.
Axon Stations!: The serial The Claws of Axos certainly has an army of fans behind it, and those looking for a revealing look at the show from those on the front line of such changeable conditions couldn’t do any better than another uniformly excellent documentary from Dan Hall and the rest of the guys. You want get the skinny from that cast? How about the evolution of the story from those sitting at the typewriters? It’s all here, so man you posts as the world of the Axons is laid bare, tentacles and all!
Bob Baker is on hand to explain the rather wacky origins of his and Bob Dave Martin‘s original treatment, which - given the times - must have come to them during a particularly fevered acid-trip. “The first outline we sent to Terrence [Dicks] was called The Gift,” recalls the debutant Who scribe, “…which entailed landing a giant skull in Hyde Park, which, of course, was rejected immediately because it was one of those ridiculous things that we didn’t know they couldn’t do that sort of thing”. This was all intended by The Bristol Boys as: “…a bit of a change from the sort of horrible monsters that come out the sea or out the sky”. Dicks himself almost relishes the opportunity to put things into context, and eager to demonstrate just how much hard work their writing could be for a script-editor, sifting out the decent material. “I think the end of it was a space-ship crashing on Earth with the pilot mutating into a giant carrot,” he almost winces, “…and that was one of the more sensible ideas, as it were.”
If you have ever wondered just how a creature like Pigbin Josh could ever exist in anything even approaching real life, then Baker reveals how the character was based on a real person he and Dave Martin ran into during their time spent in a local pub (this is script-writer talk for “a brainstorming session") and didn‘t alter anything too much - well, it was the west-country. Derek Ware cleans his hands over his performance by revealing that he adopted a “Mummerfordshire” accent, which was “…just absolute nonsense, but somehow when it appeared on screen, the kids loved it.” Sure enough, a generation of kids used it to extract the urine out of a good percentage of the populous in playground across most of the country! Give it a few tries and you’ll blend in like a local at the Bridgewater Carnival…
It’s a common thing that actors have kids who just can’t seem to grasp the concept of having both their real parent and the other one on the TV, but Paul Grist encapsulates the uncertainty and hilarity of the situation perfectly. “My son… was five at the time.” The suave actor recalls, “…I was sitting next to him and the shots came up where I was fighting myself, and he got very worried about that. He looked at me twice on the screen, and then he looked at me sitting next to him and then he got very serious…and he got up and he walked across the room - keeping his eyes on me - until he got to the television set, and looked behind the television set quickly and looked back at me. He couldn’t understand how I could be there and there… he was very, very, very upset about that!”
You can always count on Manning to deliver laughs be they her own or from anyone listening in, but the combination of her crush on Bernard Holley and the strange nature of his costume make for chuckles ol’ Katie can’t resist - “They had to work out what they were going to do with his bits and pieces, and you know, the little dangly things that chaps have to tuck away when wearing leotards,“ the Mad Lady of Doctor Who theorises, ”…I have a feeling he did what drag-queens did. I think he tucked it all between his legs and hoped for the best, which is why he had that slightly wacky walk.”. Manning’s initial exposure to the entrance of the Axon ship an experience which would have made Germane Greer bristle with empowerment: “I took one look at the spaceship that opened, looking like part of a female anatomy…” Manning manages before bursting in into a fit of laughter, “I don’t know how else to describe it…”
Axon baddies Bernard Holley is in praise of director Michael Ferguson, unsurprising when a man is kitted out in a golden leotard with ping-pong eyeballs puts his faith in someone and it all comes out OK in the end. “He just seemed to have a flair for being imaginative and cutting these things together,” he marvels, “…him and the editor, cutting these things together, so I still look at that and say ‘My God, how did we do that?’” Speaking of the director, with so many of those put in charge of the show either dismissive or downright embarrassed by their association to it, you‘ll find his final assessment of The Claws of Axos as heartening as we did. “Of all the Doctor Whos I’ve done,” Ferguson reminisces, “…and indeed all the ones I’ve seen, I think it’s probably the most…’light-hearted’ completely wrong. People die, people being thrown about all over the place… it’s a fun kind of programme, it’s got an energy about it. It’s got a kind of sensible silliness about it.” If you ever needed the perfect encapsulation of why so many people still have great affection for the original run of the show, then we present this statement for your consideration. This is a warmly affectionate look at a much-loved story, and it’s another triumph for the guys who seem to be able to turn these things out in their sleep. We recommend it heartily, but it would be a damned sad day with we honestly couldn’t.
Now and Then: It’s another in the occasional series which looks at how locations used for Doctor Who have changed over the years, but this one is a very different kettle of fish to the other ones. Katy Manning is your virtual tour-guide for this examination of relevant landscapes, but this time, there is no anchor to host it, with the former assistant narrating all appearing onscreen from the safety (and warmth) of a recording booth. It’s the most primal example of contrasting between the times, as the original production map leads us through footage from the show matched perfectly dissolved to newly-filmed shots of key areas, making it without question that the locations are exactly the same ones. The shots of shingle-covered beaches are nothing out of the ordinary to us, as it is the norm around our way, but such things combine to make Dungeness “…One of the strangest places in the country,” but we wouldn’t hold such things against Ms Manning. This will make Axon fans everywhere squeak with delight, and more of these things should be dangled like cheese in front of loyal collectors. Excellent.
Studio Recording: Presented here (in what we presume is its entirety) is the footage from studio, which contains unused takes, minor fluffs and/or other unsatisfactory elements. Clocking in at a fairly hefty 74 minutes, this gives a rare insight into the process of recording drama at the BBC, with numerous stop/starts due to technical problems and the quiet voice of Marion McDougall, who can be heard telling everyone to either go again or to go straight on.
Numerous pieces of interest come via voices over a black screen, when various key actors are heard discussing things with Production Assistant Marion McDougall, who really seems to have been the lynchpin for the shoot. One such instance finds Pertwee realising that he was wearing a pair of gloves on the previous shot, but finding himself without them.
At one point, Pertwee skates perilously close to pulling a full-on Christian Bale, where he breaks off during a take to complain about crewmembers invading his eye-line and “dancing about”. Sure, he didn’t let the F-words fly or make it too personal, but these wacky actors, eh? It’s a pity that they never utilised the potential to create a story from that incident, as we’re sure that everyone would have tuned in to watch Doctor Who and the Personal Space Invaders.
What is most illuminating about this collection of unedited footage is that it shows the difference between multiple camera filming and the more cinematic single camera method of filming that is predominantly used in drama these days. The multiple camera technique is now largely confined to life shows and soap operas, but it requires actors to be able to learn their lines and sometimes play out entire scenes without breaking. Single camera largely does away with this, arguably making it easier on actors who have an inability to remember dialogue. Hitting marks and being aware of camera positions are also things to take into consideration during multiple camera filming, as there are a couple of moments in this footage where scenes featuring flawless performances are halted due to an actor being in slightly the wrong place and not being seen properly on camera. By this time, things had improved significantly since the sixties (where episodes were recorded "as-live"), but there was still a tremendous amount of pressure from both cast and crew to get things right immediately. Technical gaffes are also seen here in abundance, with unexpected camera movements during scenes and various other mechanical fluffs very much in evidence.
This studio recording also offers a rare and fascinating look at a sequence near the start of episode one (the scene where Chinn is sent flying by The Doctor as he makes his entrance) that was shot one way, and then hastily re-filmed using an entirely different set-up; the scene is much more dynamic in the re-take, but we'll let you see which one they ultimately decided to use...
Speaking of episode one, around 45 minutes of the 74 minute running time is taken up with material from the first part of The Claws of Axos, with much emphasis on the scenes at UNIT HQ. The recording of the scene where Chinn tries to shoot down the incoming Axon ship is shown in such detail that one might employ the phrase Anatomy of a Scene to it, as it shows you numerous takes, the occasional technical (and actorly) fluff, along with the filming of insert shots and the leaders on the location material.
The best is saved for last, when you get a rare glimpse of Roger Delgado readying himself for a take; he brushes down his suit, flexes his eyebrows and that icy-cold stare just seems to flick on with minimal effort. You also get to see the filming of the videotape insert (there's a switch!) during the film sequence of The Master hijacking a truck and you hear him deliver his signature "I am The Master and you will obey ME!" line a couple of times.
Taking in all of the studio recordings in one sitting is not advisable, but if you were to break it down into two or three chunks, then it provides a fascinating look into a manner of television making that has largely been consigned to the history books. To describe something as “indispensable” in this day and age cam come across as awfully pretentious, but we are going to go out on a limb with this one and call it just that. If you have any possible interest in the making of Doctor Who, then this is a complete a look at the processes are you are likely to find.
Directing Who: This is another of the special features ported over from the original release of The Claws of Axos. This 15 minute featurette has director Michael Ferguson reminiscing about his experiences directing this particular story and his fond recollections are nicely punctuated by clips, both from the story itself and from the studio recording tape. Ferguson's Doctor Who stories seemed to centre on the whole "base under attack", with Claws of Axos being the third and final story he directed for Doctor Who (his previous ones were Patrick Troughton's The Seeds of Death and Pertwee's Ambassadors of Death). Ferguson comes across as an intelligent, likeable chap and he is more than happy to talk in detail about his work on this story, and lavishes praise on the people he worked with, praising the crew on how enthusiastic they were because Doctor Who allowed them to push their creativity and technical know-how to the limit. Ferguson also praises the late Barry Letts and welcomed his handling of producing duties that were filtered through his previous career as an actor (Ferguson certainly shared Letts' enthusiasm for using innovative methods for special effects, particularly the use of Colour Separation Overlay). Ferguson takes time to praise the skills of Roger Delgado and this cements the generally held opinion that he was a damn fine actor and a lovely human being to boot - he also praises Pertwee's commitment to the show and gives the G-force sequence from Ambassadors of Death as an example of this. Michael Ferguson's work on Doctor Who may have only amounted to three stories, but all three of them were enjoyable romps that were crisply shot and inventive in their direction; this featurette is a pleasing way to spend quarter of an hour of anyone's time.
Living With Levene: Toby Hadoke is your loquacious host for this insight into one of the most enigmatic and downright eccentric cast members in Doctor Who history. John Levene was several monsters in the show, but he will be best remembered as the loyal and tenacious Sergeant Benton.
The intrepid Hadoke travels to Salisbury to meet up with the actor, where he has relocated after living in America for decades to look after his mother. Seeing Sergeant Benton opening the front door of a modest terraced house in Wiltshire is somewhat surreal, but Hadoke is welcomed in and shown around the Levene residence. Showing that he is a frustrated stand-up comedian, Levene proceeds to rattles off a series of jokes that are even more obvious than any given story in season eight of Doctor Who having The Master as the bad guy. Hadoke punctures this would-be comedian’s patter by questioning the validity of one of his cracks about how poor he was. In the early part of this documentary, Hadoke manages to do his best Louis Theroux impression by giving the subject enough rope to hang themselves and only prodding them sometimes for information that either makes them. At one point, the former Sergeant Benton pulls out an exact replica of his later UNIT costume out of his wardrobe and Hadoke appears impressed, but a little worried at the same time. Levene is certainly open about his childhood experiences, especially when speaking about the relationship with his father. Levene seems to be a fairly genuine person when it comes to dealing with elderly people and he gives cheery “hellos” to a bunch of old grannies with mixed success and proceeds to tell them that he played Benton in Doctor Who for ten years; when Hadoke asks him if he likes telling people about his role in Doctor Who, he replies very earnestly “fucking right I do!”
When the subject inevitably turns to his time on Doctor Who, Levene makes a few surprising comments, particularly the one that inferred that Nicholas Courtney was not the most loved member in the UNIT family because he was always in the pub during lunch breaks (the tactless “that’s what happens when you drink as much as that” remark that Levene allegedly made about a week after Courtney died last year didn’t do much to endear himself to his detractors); Levene predictably praises Jon Pertwee, along with Patrick Troughton, and equally as predictably trashes Tom Baker and reveals that Barry Letts apparently said that they were VERY close to getting a spin-off UNIT series produced, but this could merely have been Mr Letts saying something to make Levene feel better about himself.
Levene finally gets serious during the evening when Hadoke and his host have a drink and he talks about his time in America and how the prospect of international stardom petered out fairly quickly; Levene recounts a very poignant tale about how he got into recording talking books for the blind. During breakfast the next morning, Levene’s mother confirms much of what he said about his childhood and sheds some further light on what drove him to seek life in the spotlight. Things open up on the golf course, where one of Levene’s more off-colour jokes manages to broadside the professional stand-up man (and stand-up gent, from all accounts); golfing novice Hadoke manages to surprise the former UNIT man by driving successfully on the first attempt, despite the fact that Mr H is clearly more out of his comfort zone that Jimmy Savile in a geriatric home.
When the end of his time with him is near, Mr Hadoke tries to figure him out one last time, successfully getting Levene to open up and he actually summarises himself in a manner that Hadoke seems to agree with. Levene ultimately seems happy with how his life it now, dropping rather unsubtle hints that he would like to appear in New-Who, and mentions the rumour that has apparently flying around about fans wanting Benton back in the series. Some would argue that the biggest fan of Levene was the source of this particular rumour, though…
Ultimately, Living With Levene is a fascinating 35 minute look at the many faces of an actor who worked his way up from being an uncredited extra to being part of the UNIT family - he may be somewhat odd, but Hadoke, using a mixture of natural charm and dogged tenacity manages to strip away some of the genial barriers that Levene puts up. On a final note, a dear friend of ours has a brother who is an actor - he was at a big autograph convention in London earlier this year and got chatting to John Levene and let’s just say that it wasn’t a happy meeting - we won’t reveal which popular television our friend’s brother was regular in, as we want to spare his Blushes To Blushes…
Photo Gallery: This is always good stuff, not only for the bounty of rare material on display, but invaluable for getting a much better look at photos we’ve all seen within the pages of Doctor Who Monthly over the years. There is much to enjoy, Another good example of how the sets and costumes (particularly Holley’s outfit) look so much better when they are photographed on decent film rather than 625-line PAL tape or 16mm. You name it, it’s here: monsters, Axons, sets, locations, deeply cool shots of Pertwee sparring with Delgado and the Bouffant’s One stepping out of the TARDIS. There’s black & white and colour to be found, and it’s all so damned enticing. It even ends with shots of the gang goofing around in the booth whilst recording the audio commentary, and it’s something which would be nice if they had more of. Repeat our mantra: Look, love, screen-capture, wallpaper.
Coming Soon: Oh, yes! This is the big one! For the first time on DVD comes Shada, the unfinished Tom Baker-starring, Douglas Adams-scripted supposed-to-be-the-last-of-the-six-parters masterpiece that never was! This is The Legacy Box-Set and alongside what is left of Shada, you have an in-depth documentary and also the fabulous documentary, More Than 30 Years in the Tardis! The trailer is so wonderfully cool and shows Barking Baker in fine form! Could this be the ultimate way of kicking off the golden anniversary year?!? Could we run out of exclamation marks for this trailer description!?! Yes, it's entirely possible!!!
PDF Material: Deeply, deeply cool, this lot! Aside from the always entertaining listings of the show from the Radio Times, you also get the clipping of an interview with Bernard Holley from the time, talking about the show and other facets to the ‘biz. Next to the first episode listing is a couple of nicely-composed action pictures of Pertwee and Manning, which all adds to just how perfect this little lot is. The humble PDF materials are easily overlooked, but they're always a treat for those willing to look for them.
Before watching this story again for the purposes of reviewing, we had written off The Claws of Axos as being yet another one of "those dreary Pertwee stories"; but this newly-restored release allows those who were not able to view the story when originally transmitted to see it with fresh eyes and we were surprised by how engaging it is.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 22nd October 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Axon Stations!, Directing Who, Studio Recording, Deleted & Extended Scenes, Now Then Now Then, Living With Levene, Production Subtitles, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Ferguson
Cast: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Roger Delgado, Peter Bathurst
Length: 98 minutes
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