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The Axos Clause (Review of the 2013 Special Edition)
on 23 October 2014
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.
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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.