If golden aliens arrive bearing gifts and offer a deal that seems too good to refuse, read the small print carefully (what you might call `the Axos clause'!) ... their price is very high - your life, your species and your world ... 4*+1* (Amazon have bundled together reviews of all versions of `The Claws of Axos'; this reviews the 2013 Special Edition and the new Special Features.)
If you're new to this era of `Doctor Who', it might be better to start with one of the true classics from this season like `The Dæmons' or `The Mind of Evil'. But if you enjoy the Jon Pertwee / UNIT years as I do, then reach out a tentacle for this Special Edition with new extras (which I've reviewed at the end) and improved picture quality. The middle two episodes benefit from new colour processing and look very good indeed. Episodes 1 and 4 look great, remastered from the original colour materials, and the soundtrack is also excellent with Dudley Simpson's futuristic score.
`Axos' lands on the bleak shingle landscape of the south coast, right next to the `Nuton Power Complex'. But what is it? A ship, a living thing or (judging by the amazing interior) a groovy alien commune left over from the 1960s? UNIT go to investigate, but by the time they arrive something very unpleasant has already happened to the eccentric local tramp `Pigbin Josh', a great name and a fun performance by Derek Ware. Exactly how unpleasant was partly cut from the story, but the special features include the cut material which is an impressive special effect in a story that's full of them.
The alien presence brings with it some hastily-scripted "Freak weather conditions" to explain the random weather that covered four days of location filming - fog, ice, snow, rain and sunshine! On the special features, the cast and crew explain at enjoyably comical length just how difficult filming was because of this, but the results are excellent. Director Michael Ferguson makes the same fine use of landscape as on `The Ambassadors of Death'; the weather, wild coast, lonely roads and the nuclear power station at Dungeness provide a splendid backdrop for the action. The studio sets for the interior of Axos are very inventive and so is the camera work that makes the 60s' weirdness of Axos come alive.
The Axons (very well lead by Bernard Holley in the best guest performance, he's also the voice of Axos) offer a deal - some energy and a chance to rest in exchange for miraculous energy-transmuting Axonite. Human greed does the rest; the gift is too good to refuse but the Doctor has his suspicions and starts to analyse the Axonite in the light accelerator lab at the power complex. It's not giving much away to say that before long Axons and Axonite start to run amok; in close-up they are impressive, a mass of nerve tendrils and muscle and as the camera draws back they're still good as lumbering monsters with a great line in explosive tentacles. UNIT (and the always excellent HAVOC stuntmen) are soon fighting to save the world, again, but only the Doctor can really save us, using the science of the Time Lords - though he can't do it alone.
*** SPOILER Paragraph! ***
While the Axons want to take energy from the planet, the story is given terrific energy by Roger Delgado, popping up again as the Master did in every show this season. It's a superb performance right at the centre of events, well written and essential to the plot. The Master may be (as usual) at least partly to blame for the situation, but he also offers the way out - the Doctor has a brilliant plan but can't make it work because of his exile; the TARDIS is grounded and the Time Lords have blocked some of his knowledge. But if the two of them work together ... The ending is clever and we even get to see Jon Pertwee's Doctor fly the TARDIS (just about) for the first time. There's part of a very good sub-plot here, about the Doctor wanting to use the powers of Axonite and the nuclear power complex for his own ends, to get the TARDIS working again - just how far is he prepared to go to regain his freedom? The novelisation has this in detail but in the final screen version much of it was cut, which is unfortunate because it was a great idea. As it is, some of the ideas surrounding the ending come too suddenly to make their full impact.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
The characterisation and subtle relationships between the Doctor, Jo and the UNIT regulars aren't really brought out, especially in comparison with the immediately preceding story, `The Mind of Evil'. The Brigadier, Captain Yates and Sgt. Benton have their action moments and all the regular actors give their usual reliable performances, but Katy Manning in particular isn't given much to do as Jo Grant except get frightened, captured and rescued - all nicely done but a contrast with Jo's more active role in her previous stories.
I felt one problem was the inclusion of UNIT agent Bill Filer from Washington. Paul Grist plays him well as an intelligent action man - but wasn't that the point of Richard Franklin as Captain Yates, introduced just two stories earlier? Filer's role could have been replaced with Yates throughout, giving more prominence to the regulars; one of his subplots especially would have had far more impact if the character had been a familiar face. `Mr. Chinn from the Ministry' is yet one more pompous bureaucrat at a time the show seemed full of them. I suppose that was meant to be a satirical comment on 1970s Britain, but I thought the character was annoying (which is partly deliberate) and slowed the story down.
However, please don't be put off from encountering `The Claws of Axos', because there's much to enjoy in the story and the Special Features.
This Special Edition gets four golden blobs of Axonite for the story, but do keep them dormant ... too late, they've spawned a fifth blob for me to award to the very enjoyable Special Features! 4*+1*
DVD Special Features (some new features for the Special Edition are on Disk 2):
On Disk 1:
The commentary is entertaining, with Katy Manning, Richard Franklin and producer Barry Letts, but not always very illuminating on the details. For example, nobody remembered they had (impressively) filmed in the actual nuclear power station. They were probably too cold on location to remember anything else!
`Deleted and Extended Scenes' (27 minutes) - the edited first studio recording with the UNIT HQ scenes and some location film inserts, very interesting with optional production subtitles, a couple of short, extra scenes and cut special effects and to see some of the actors' craft. The highlight is at the end in a short sequence of Roger Delgado at work, transforming himself into the Master in literally the blink of an eye.
An Easter Egg, found from the `Special Features' submenu. (10 minutes) This is interesting, describing the origins of the Reverse Standards Conversion process used to return parts of the story from NTSC to PAL colour for the original release.
On Disk 2:
`Axon Stations' (27 minutes) - the new, excellent and often very funny `making of' feature, with Michael Ferguson, Paul Grist, Bernard Holley, Derek Ware, co-author Bob Baker and script editor Terrance Dicks. Best of all are Katy Manning's wonderfully hilarious comments and memories of a happy (if sometimes freezing) story.
`Living with Levene' (35 minutes) - Toby Hadoke spends a weekend in Salisbury chatting with John Levene, his mum and an old friend, plays some golf and enjoys breakfast cooked by `Sgt. Benton'.
`Now and Then' (7 minutes) - narrated by Katy Manning, comparing the locations from 1971 to 2005, even the wonderfully named `Dengemarsh Sewer' where Pigbin Josh dives in on his bike! Watch to the finish for some good pictures of the original location filming.
`Directing Who' (15 minutes) - memories of directing `The Claws of Axos' from Michael Ferguson.
`Studio Recording' (73 minutes) - the complete, unedited recording of the first studio session.
`Photo Gallery' (11 minutes) - a large photo gallery including very good pictures of the cast and crew taken on location (they do look cold!), also some pictures from the commentary recording.
on 6 March 2003
I will have my critics, but I just can't get enough of this Doctor Who adventure!
Ok, so it is flawed, but that does not stop this story being enjoyable. I find the overall visual aspect of the adventure to one of the best on offer.
The alien spacecraft 'Axos' was not built, but grown! It is an organic entity, and the scenes inside the spacecraft are particularly well realised.
The use of the very 70's C.S.O. (Colour Separation Overlay) 'blue screen' effects work well to define the experience of being inside a living, thinking, alien. This combined with the voice of 'Axos' create an at times almost 'hypnotic' effect. The whole experience is probably like a bad psychedelic trip!
So my advice is to plug in your sound system! The sound has a real part to play when you 'feel' the inside of 'Axos'.
For these reasons I think that this story is unique. Most people forget that there are far worse stories from the John Pertwee 3rd Doctor era. There are in fact worse stories from the other Doctor Who eras than this!
OK so, some of the acting is not very good, played for the most part as if it were straight out of a comic-book. The script ain't up to much either, but there is much fun still to be had!
If you want sci-fi - you've got it! Organic aliens interfacing with computers!
I think that if you liked stories like the Tom Baker 4th Doctor adventure 'Warriors' Gate', then you will probably like this story for the same visual reasons.
If you enjoy the earlier Jon Pertwee 3rd Doctor adventures, then you should give this one a try.
The 'Claws' of Axos are certainly dug into me!
on 23 September 2010
I vaguely remember "Claws Of Axos" from its original screening and recall enjoying it. I enjoyed it again on DVD. Very much. In this outing Pertwee is at his magisterial best; his characterisation of The Doctor - always more acerbic and abrasive than Troughton, hs predecessor, and Baker, his successor - is particularly well drawn. Constantly chafing against the military and against bureaucracy, The Doctor has plenty of both to get on his wick in this outing.
Bureaucracy takes the form of Chinn, a civil service mandarin, whose greed and unquestioning nationalism almost bring the world to destruction. A different kind of greed - for scientific prestige - inspires others who welcome a gift of "axonite" from extraterrestrial visitors.
In support, Nicholas Courteney turns in a polished performance as the Brigadier and Roger Delgado reminds us why he remains, for a generation, the Master of choice. Katy Manning still can't act, but her skirts are pleasingly short.
Direction is good and the pacing keeps one glued to the seat. "Monster" costumes are, well, Dr Who monster costumes; but they are some of the better ones and they eschew bubble-wrap. The script contains some good ideas - especially that of the Axons, their "ship" and axonite all being part of the same organism.
I would quite happily give this 5 stars if the bonus material was a bit better. The short documentary explaining the conversion of recordings from PAL to NSTC and back was interesting, but rather fell between the two stools of technical language and layman's terms.
Altogether, though, well worth having.
on 6 June 2009
Simply one of the best examples of early UK colour TV.
I love 'Axos'. One of the highlights of the Pertwee era.
If you are a fan of experimental electronic effects and wonky electronic music this is a must for you. Yes, to the contemporary viewer the effects may look a bit ropey but think how old this programme is - its 38 years old! How exciting it must have been to have all the new technology of the era and to really let loose and be creative.
One of the best ways to watch this type of story is to sit back and think "how would I feel if something like this really happened?" In that frame of mind, the Axon spaceship coming into land is quite terrifying!
Oh, and The Master is in this one - and that makes it even better!
"You will obey me!"
on 21 August 2006
This is a very good 4 part adventure from Jon Pertwee's second season as Doctor Who. In it, a group of seemingly peaceful, gold skinned, and humanlike aliens come with a substance in order to benefit earth. However, beneath the surface lies something much more sinister. Furthermore, at the centre of it all is the Doctor's arch-enemy the Master.
This is another of the adventures set during the third Doctor's exile to earth. It contains all the usual elements of this era - UNIT, Jo Grant, aliens invading, and the Excellent Roger Delgado as the Master.
In addition the DVD contains some interesting extras, including some behind the scenes footage and a look back at the location filming. It may be queried as to why this story was released before others. Personally, I think that Terror of the Autons, the Sea Devils and Frontier in Space are better Master stories. However, there's no denying that if your a fan of the old series of Doctor Who, this is very enjoyable viewing.
on 5 March 2013
I quite often see complaints about these 'Special Editions', people saying the BBC are just ripping everyone off etc.
'The Claws of Axos - Special Edition' puts these complaints to shame. It's a wonderful collection of things - the episodes themselves look really quite amazing, and I doubt any improvement could be made on the picture quality as it is now. In addition to this, the new special features included are really rather excellent - thorough, thought through and brilliantly produced. My highlight was 'Living with Levene' - another Toby Hadoke one. These really are very good ('Looking For Peter' on The Sensorites DVD was one of the best DVD features I've ever seen on ANY dvd).
As well as that, Claws is a very fun, very entertaining story, with everything any big Pertwee fan could ask for.
I physically cannot fault this DVD. Bravo.
Originally issued in 2005 on DVD, Claws of Axos is now reissued as a Special Edition boasting improved picture quality and additional special features.
Story-wise Claws is pretty average. There are some plus points, the UNIT family and The Master are present and correct and there's a decent supporting cast - a young Tim Piggott-Smith, David Saville and Donald Hewlett, amongst others.
With the good, you have to take the bad, and it doesn't get much worse than comedy yokel Pigbin Josh ("Ooh, Arr!"). Newcomers to the story might for one terrible moment think that he sticks around for all four episodes, helping the Doctor defeat Axos with his local insight and his wide command of the English language. Thankfully he becomes a wizened husk pretty quickly, a mercy killing if ever there was one.
The picture quality is, in parts, better than the 2005 DVD, but that alone wouldn't be enough to make me buy the story again. But there are two new special features which make this an essential purchase.
The first is the oldest surviving Doctor Who studio recording, running to 72 minutes. An edited 25 minute version was included on the original Claws DVD, but the complete recording gives you a greater insight into exactly how an episode of Doctor Who was made back in the early 1970's. True, there are times when nothing much happens, but it's wonderful to have it in its entirety.
The second is Living with Levene, hosted by the ever reliable Toby Hadoke. It's fair to say that John Levene has garnered a certain reputation over the last few decades, probably due to his cabaret appearances at Doctor Who conventions and his somewhat idiosyncratic contributions to some of the DVD audio commentaries. Levene has some opinions which I wasn't expecting, particularly in relation to some of his Doctor Who co-stars. Does Living with Levene present us with the real John Levene? I don't know, but it's one of the most interesting documentaries out of the hundreds produced in the Doctor Who DVD range.
So, in summary, these two new features help to bump Claws of Axos from a three star to a four star, and make this special edition a worthwhile buy.
on 20 May 2008
Views on the special edition are included at the bottom of the original review. An odd story, not by any means bad, but then not exactly great either. very much a Unit family story as they all go off together to investigate an Alien ship. The team are all working well together, camaraderie evident.
The Brigadier memorably squares up to a puffed up Civil Servant Chin who is making mischief out of the Doctor's lack of identity.
Chin's self serving treacherous character works and fulfils an important role in the story. The same cannot be said of CIA man Bill Filer, over the pond to hunt down the Master. A bad accent, pre-historic haircut and generally pointless presence, you'll be hoping the Axons keep him!
A well paced 4-parter with a definite plus in The Master's appearance. Delgado gets a great deal here playing the villain, a reluctant hero and then teaming up with the Doctor.
The location work is 1st rate particularly as much of it looks so damn cold. The fact that the weather changed a lot duruing filming is covered by a wonderfully cheeky line about "freak weather conditions"! The studio stuff is less effective, but still good.
The golden skinned Axons are a good idea particularly their degradation back to a tentacled monster and the hints of how their "culture" might work are intriguing.
Effects are hit and miss but it was made a long time ago.
Despite this being no early release, the extras are a poor haul!. A great commentary in which Katy Manning takes time to tell us that she is finally holding hands with love interest Richard Franklyn is the best one followed by a bit of in studio footage with optional info text.
Then we get a bizarre and dull little featurette about "Reverse Standards Conversion" where a picture has been changed back from US format or some such. Not riveting.
There is a directing Who featurette which is okay and a now & then look at locations which is less than memorable.
A middling story with Scrooge extras, 3/5 is the best I can do. For big fans only.
Now, on to the special edition. Alright I did buy it in a moment of weakness and fear that my HMV vouchers might not be honoured later. It has a nice sharp picture and some expanded and new features.
The production footage (boldly trumpeted in the packaging as the earliest known studio recording, hang on shouldn't that be the pilot episode as released as part of "The Beginning" boxset?)now contains the entire studio recording. It's more of the same.
Axon Stations is a good making of looking at Terrance Dicks' recruiting of the "Bristol Boys" Bob Baker and Dave Martin (this was their first story), giggles over surreal costumes and freezing weather on location. Very enjoyable.
The gem is "Living With Levene" where Toby "The Moderator" Hadoke spends a weekend in the company of John Levene who played Sgt Benton. For those who have not attended conventions etc. John Levene has a reputation amongst convention goers as being a bit odd. I remember a friend at a convention once warning me not to get talking to him!
To be fair John Levene is just a little eccentric e.g. he goes up to OAPs and tries to cheer them up. If the instances of this filmed here are representative then sometimes he brings a smile to them, sometimes not, but with no harm done either way.
Dr Who still means a great deal to him and he has kept up with the show, wishing Benton could now be a commander!
He loved his time on the show and in one of the more interesting moments blames Sir Tom Baker for UNIT's departure, despite the Moderator's insistance it was producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Looks like UNIT family Part 3 (due on the Zygon's release) is going to be interesting!Could be jelly babies at dawn if they're both in the commentary.
Levene comes across as someone it might take a little getting used to but who would be very likeable once you know him. Clearly with the strained relationship with his father and other details, there is a good autobiography waiting to be written.
The only downside is the voice over by Toby Hadoke where he's trying to be all Louis Theroux about Mr Levene's alleged oddness. Now it may be so that it has more impact when he later concludes that he has enjoyed meeting a childhood hero and thinks that he is not as weird as people think, but nonetheless it's very OTT. The way in which the voiceover informs us he's being taken up to John Levene's "bedroom" it's as if we are about to see a satanic ritual instead of them military uniform that Levene shows the Moderator!
The new features have much improved this release. We could even go to 4/5 for the special edition.
on 7 July 2013
"The Claws Of Axos" is an outrageously fun story from the pens of Bob Baker and Dave Martin, whom Terrance Dicks remembers as wildcards in the writing pack. This story has gone through various generations of restoration, each noteworthy in themselves. The BBC retained the original episodes one and four but the other two were wiped, and only returned from Canada as inferior NTSC tape copies.
Each release of this story has focussed chiefly on what can be done with the problematic middle episodes. Having been transferred from 625-line, 50 fields-per-second PAL into 525-line, 60 fields-per-second NTSC in the 1970's using the best analogue technology available at the BBC, the tapes were not in the best of health on their return. A few technology advances in the intervening years aside, reversing the standards conversion a second time, from NTSC back to PAL, was never going to result in a return to the quality of the original PAL tape. With special circuits maxed-out to reduce the effects as far as possible, another loss of quality was inevitable and in the case of "Axos" episodes two and three all sorts of artefacts especially in moving objects was plainly visible.
First up we had the VHS video release, which was great to get our hands on, and as dedicated fans of the programme we forgave these technical imperfections, indeed at one time it seemed we would never get the chance to see them at all. Nevertheless, it was a slightly distracting experience compared to the clean episodes at either end. Ironically, a clean studio quadruplex recording of as-recorded scenes and film inserts from episodes one and two still existed but would never be made available to the Team at the time with a view to improving episode two. The risk of damaging the tape would have been considered as outweighing any potential benefits to sales at the time. Even if they were used, those pristine segments would jar badly against the rest of episode two. Use of this tape would wait until another series of technological advances had taken place.
When the first - and probably at that time the only - DVD release was planned, much had changed. The Restoration Team's track record with quality control and the time, care and attention each member involved invested into each project meant they were eventually allowed access to the best-quality base elements available to realise maximum success, something we viewers could easily appreciate with each advancing step in developing their techniques. Using computers increasingly upped the ante: James Insell (I believe it was) worked out a way of reverse engineering the original standard converted NTSC tapes in a way that would identify the frame and fields information contained within the 60 fields in one second of the Canadian tape. This would then be used to recover and re-build the correct picture structure, as it was in the original PAL configuration. Reverse Standards Conversion as it became known was born.
Done digitally also meant they would maintain as much picture quality as possible, removing the nasty motion artefacts (as present on the original analogue double-standards conversions) and, with judicious digital clean-up and boosting processes (which included using digital noise reduction circuits to the max) they provided the best result possible. The episodes looked pretty impressive, so much so that scenes from the previously-mentioned clean studio recording now available to the Team were re-inserted where possible. Despite some differences in sharpness, these did not look too much out-of-place up against the newly-restored scenes, a superb testament to the Team generally and their Reverse Standards Conversion Process. Viewing was a revelation back in 2005.
Seven years on and this "Special Edition" has improved "Axos's" middle episodes' picture quality again, mainly by tackling that sharpness issue. This was achieved by revisiting the earliest technique whereby the sharp monochrome film recording picture was combined with an NTSC colour tape, as on "The Daemons" VHS in 1993. A far cry now from those pioneering experimental days. Nowadays, the monochrome telerecordings film are scanned in high definition for maintain maximum picture quality before processing, and will later be down-scaled to standard-definition and cleaned-up for DVD. For "Axos" the colour sub-carrier (the chroma dot patters used in the Colour Recovery process, such as on "The Mind Of Evil") was removed to leave a cleaner luminance picture. This was then warped to match the correct dimensions of the reverse-standard-converted colour tapes, and VidFired to restore the original video-motion look. Both the scanned film and digitised Reverse Standard Converted NTSC tapes were combined to provide full colour episodes which were much sharper than before, needing less noise reduction. Dropping into episode two the studio-recorded scenes still in existence maintained maximum quality. Knowing the processes behind it, I can say the resultant images on episodes two and three are pretty stunning.
The geek in me applauds all this to provide what is currently the best possible viewing of this story. Despite this, and hard as I try to be forgiving to how the marketing of a favourite series of mine must be done, I surprisingly find myself in a slightly cynical position - while I applaud each and every advance in remastering and restoration techniques, there is a limit we fans of classic Who can be milked to fund the next stages of releases. With the obvious limitations of standard-definition, will this mean specially advanced processing for re-re-mastered Blu-Rays one wonders? The thought of replacing all these beloved DVD's with another potential round of upgrading is actually starting to bother me. Until I see the results, who knows. If this was the only DVD release of this story, 5 stars would be automatic. Because of what I feel, I can only afford this release four.
Am I stingy? I don't think so in this particular case. As it is a mere twenty years since that first VHS release of the re-colourised Pertwee Story "The Daemons", I wonder what technological advances in restoration techniques will bring us in twenty years' time...
on 12 May 2009
When the seemingly benign golden-skinned Axons arrive on Earth and offer the government an endless supply of the miraculous energy source 'Axonite', The Earth's authorities are taken-in. However, The Doctor, stranded on Earth and currently working as UNIT's scientific advisor, is suspicious, and his concerns are realised when his old enemy 'The Master' appears on the scene. Is The Master a free-agent or is he really being held prisoner by The Axons as he claims, and are the benevolent aliens really as genuine as they seem? The blobby monsters and organic Axon spaceship are definitely of their time, and the serial is a pretty generic early 70s Jon Pertwee effort.
This VHS version (story is now available on DVD) drops down to 3 stars because the picture quality is not quite up to scratch - I believe it has been rectified for the DVD version.