THE CLAWS OF AXOS
Starring Jon Pertwee & Katy Manning
Oct 22 (UK)
Nov 7 (Aus & NZ)
Nov 13 (North America)
I know, I know, you’ve bought the VHS, you’ve got the DVD, you’ve read the Target novelisation and was even tempted to download it on iTunes to watch on yer iPhone on that drunken night home from town… No? Just me then. So, let’s cut to the chase you say, is it worth re-buying this? I mean, really? Come on… Okay okay, hold yer horses a bit…
Let’s quickly do the math, the sum of the parts. Axos as most of us already know (and, for those that don’t, it’s worth repeating) is a gem of classic Pewee Drew. UNIT? Check. The Master? Check. Weird alt incidental music? Check. Jo Grant in a silly unfeasibly short skirt (in spite of the clearly wintery weather)? Check… And can I add a ‘ding dong’ into the mix… Oh come on, its a 1970’s show, you have to allow me one of those!
Its a really solid bit of Who from that time, and yes, I’m biased because this is where my personal journey of Doctor Who began. In fact Axos even aired during my third birthday… Okay, granted my actual memories of that time really boiled down to those Sea Devil claws on the side of the dingy, gel guards on the UNIT lawn, giant maggots and even bigger flies, pushed off by The Doctor’s trusty cape… And so, if I’m totally honest my love of the show was in its infancy and flourished with the arrival of that plucky reporter and the first sighting of the Phil Mitchell look-a-likey monster who fell on that Castle in the middle-ages. [How old is this guy??? – Ed.]
But I digress, let’s get back to the story in question… What immediately struck me is how so many staples of the modern show are present in here (all dodgy American and rural accents aside). Doppleganging-shape shifting shenanigans, Aliens who aren’t what they claim to be, a duplicitous double-crossing Master and all with very real human concerns, conflict and stories at its core. I heartily recommend it to anyone who has yet to explore this rather tense, action-packed modern paced affair, with its innovative visuals and bags of suspense. Okay, the half-empty edge to all my positivity is that it’s still very much a show of its time and even though it had some truly iconic and original ideas, the fact it has endured and been so good that it’s been emulated many times since, may loose some of that in translation and may well seem a bit too familiar to modern viewers.
But hey, that be damned… Special mention here has to go to the magnificent job the Restoration Team have done with the episodes. This is why you need to buy this! Visually it is a magnificent step-up and whilst still flawed, this is surely the very best version of this story we are ever likely to get. Knowing that ropey VHS of years gone by and the subsequent DVD, this release is positively leaps ahead of both.
As always, the info subtitles are both entertaining, informative and gives Axos another reason to re-watch. Everything is there, from dates, names, titles, to precise production backgrounds and more detail on Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s first scripting duties and mentoring by Terrance Dicks. Its also reassuring to learn that nothing has changed since my days as an Assistant Director in continuing drama. Tiny budgets and tight schedules meant that even back then a lot of creativity the use and re-use of extras was a must.
Okay, let’s move on to the other core reason to tempt those who already have a previous version to re-buy? The extras, what’s new? What’s good?
Axon Stations – Making The Claws of Axos This new “making-of” is a rather nice and affectionate look back on the production which is led by Director Michael Ferguson and contains a wonderful series of memories and anecdotes from the lovely Katy Manning (who is her usual frank, eccentric and ever so slightly saucy self). There is clearly a lot of fond memories from the shoot and a great deal of warmth to the story, in spite of the problems and extreme weather conditions they faced on location. Bernard Hollie talks of his unorthodox golden god appearance and even Pigbin Josh (stunt man Derek Ware) gets an oo-arr in on proceedings.
But centre stage is Terrance Dicks, who recounts, along with Bob Baker, the unique talents of Bob and his late writing partner Dave Martin. The story of how they met and the original hilarious pitches originally given to the show do highlight their rather unique vision for stories, which is nicely described as ‘a good acid trip on LSD’. Whilst the loss of Barry Letts deprives us of some of his wonderful insight, this is a really good addition to the set. It certainly feels a lot different to many of the other making of’s in other previous releases. There is warmth, frankness and more mature and polished direction here.
Living With Levene I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this extra, I was concerned of the potential tone and content and questioned what it could genuinely provide… How wrong could I be? It’s a very professionally put together piece, easily feeling on a par with something akin to Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends than merely some throwaway trinket for fans (which is always the danger with DVD extras).
John comes across as complex character, ever the showman and always finding the gag in his tales. His larger than life persona, comes complete with a random Stratocaster in his kitchen, photographs from his time on the show littered through the house and a copy of his own Benton costume in his wardrobe and no, I’m not kidding. At first he seems a little too self-aware, bemoaning his gift of being able to ‘see sad people’ and proceeds to engage and accost any elderly strangers in the street to wish them well and throw in an explanation of how he used to be famous in Doctor Who.
But credit to Toby Hadoke, who is very genuine and gracious presenter and any fears of it degenerating into a slightly superficial piece are short-lived. Toby allows the interviews to breathe which makes it feel very naturalistic. He gives John the space to relax and in turn it provides an opportunity to get under the skin and reveal a little more of the man behind Benton. They go on long-walks to childhood haunts, enjoy a ‘Benton Breakfast’ with John’s Mother and even a do a round of golf to boot. Whoda thought the self-confessed non-sporto Hadoke is a natural golfer (well sort of).
John’s candour about the UNIT dynamic may seem a little shocking with the brandishing of Nick Courtney as ‘humourless’ and citing Tom Baker as the reason for it’s demise (there is even talk of a proper UNIT spin-off series). But in spite of any eccentricity, there is no agenda or edge in these tales and John is both extremely honest and frank, even when revealing his own impoverished upbringing and a childhood blighted by illness.
In the end, not only has a genuine respect and connection been made between both John and Toby, but we also get a glimpse of the shy, more fragile John behind the mask. For me, this engaging ‘extra’ was worth of the cost of re-purchasing these discs alone and I only hope Toby gets more opportunity to present other pieces like it.
Extended Scenes offer a chance to get the same behind the scenes studio out takes and filming. Whilst included in the original discs, here it is presented in its entirety. Always entertaining, and another rare glimpse of classic Who being filmed (with the same multi-camera set-up which is still used on programmes like EastEnders to this day).
The Audio Commentary features the late great Barry Letts, along with the delightful companion of the good Doctor and the near-love interest and all round activist, come Buddhist, Captain Mike Yates (or, Katy and Richard as they are more properly known). It’s the same included from the previous release, but having not heard it before it’s a lovely and delightful addition to the disc and a nice way to watch. All are on good form, clearly enjoying the re-watch of the serial and are having a lot of fun. It’s a nice chance to hear the main three closest to the story and that of the Pertwee era. It’s very informative, enjoyable and full of anecdotes.
Finally, as with the previous release, we have the Reverse Standard Conversion Easter Egg and the Richard Bignell Then and Now both alongside the original piece on Director Michael Ferguson and of course the usual PDF materials, Coming Soon trailer (for Shada-aaaa), Programme Subtitles, Subtitle Production Notes and Photo Gallery.
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John Levene. Forever known in this household as "the guy who dissed Nick Courtney". You seriously don't think there's an 'edge' to what he says? The man has 'jealous harpy' writ right through him. And Toby Hadoke gets no marks for laughing at that unfunny 'joke' Levene tells to prove that he's a really really funny chap with a sense of humour.
I watched it and wasn’t amused. Nick Courtney was a lovely unassuming man who was very people based. He never pretended to be a star he was happy being an actor who liked interacting with the people who paid to watch him. I met him at Longleat and he was great. John Leven is a failed want to be star who I imagine will hardley get two lines in the tabloids when he passes! As for poor little disadvantaged John well let’s just say if you need to hang out your excuses you are not worth listening to!