Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos on DVD

Otherwise Known As: The One With Pigbin Josh.

 

 

The Claws of Axos on DVD

The Claws of Axos is a turning point, the end of the line for Pete Bryant and Derrick Sherwin's contemporary paranormal thriller format for Doctor Who. After this, rather than being the point of the series, the 'exile' format became another of the programme's options, along with space fiction, fantasy and real/quasi-historical settings with a sci fi twist.

 

The impatient pace of Bob Baker and Dave Martin's debut script suggests that the Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks team were keen to get past their predecessors' apparent artistic restrictions. But Claws' Season 7 collision with Letts and Dicks' lighter take on the series – specifically, the importance of the Time Lords in the universe – creates an enjoyable comic strip hybrid of the previous year's latent theme, that empire building bureaucrats are every bit as dangerous as alien incursions.

 

Watching the Doctor & co enter the psychedelic spaghetti junction of Axos, shown to great effect on this remastered DVD, you're reminded what a find Bob and Dave were for Doctor Who. For a pair who originally fancied themselves as sitcom writers, their imaginations were a vibrant mash up of Michael Morcock, HP Lovecraft and Marvel Comics: a 1,000 year mutant life cycle that turned Ça persecuted tribal people into gods, a fallen Time Lord angel trapped in a black hole draining the life energy of his own civilisation, a genger-bending alien made from stone... the honourable list goes on. And to cap it all, one half of their partnership gave us Wallace & Gromit.

 

Shown here in wonderful 625-line video colour, Axos is the most extreme, nightmarish, far-out alien entity that the Doctor had yet come across. William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton never encountered anything as strange as this scavenging galactic con artist, with the exception of The Web Planet, which was a similar go-for-broke attempt at realising an alien environment. Tentacled monsters bleeding from living walls, the constantly changing multiple angles of Bernard Holley's blank eyed head and the sinister murmuring of the control voice were arguably the most disturbing things yet conjured up by Doctor Who.

 

Colour is the key to The Claws of Axos. The six preceding colour stories had also been designed to work in monochrome – wisely, as a large percentage of the British Isles still had black and white TV sets – but Claws could only exist in colour, it's organic psychedelia designed to contrast with the grey brutalism of the Nuton complex and the grey, out of season Kent coast.

 

In a story as literally colourful as this, it's almost superfluous appraising the performances of the cast. It's notable, though, that the rough edges of have yet to be knocked off the Brigadier's character: he has no qualms about threatening Chinn and company with a revolver so they'll surrender Axonite into the care of the United Nations. Winser (David Savile) is almost as scientifically arrogant as the Doctor, but his reaction to seeing a load of soap suds bubbling away in his Particle Accelerator is rather odd – he calls the Doctor a "quack" – unless he really thinks he's caught UNIT's Scientific Adviser doing some crafty washing with too much Fairy Snow.

 

The story really belongs to the two renegade Time Lords, and is notably the first time that Jon Pertwee's Doctor and Roger Delgado's Master spend a significant amount of screen time alone in each other's company. The Master is in full-on supervillain mode here, even down to wearing the same Nehru-style suit as Dr No (albeit in a darker hue). He jumps on to trucks, shoots and hypnotises UNIT squaddies and smoothly betrays his allies the moment he's cornered. Three stories in, the Master is still some way from the charming black sheep of the Pertwee family of Seasons 9 and 10, by which time the BBC had stopped letting him kill people.

 

Pertwee is a bad tempered delight, clearly pissed off at being stuck on Earth with people like Chinn (Peter Bathurst) and a lot more critical of his favourite species than he used to be. From there, it's a short step to accepting that even after saving the Earth in this time zone on at least five occasions, he's still prepared to abandon it to Axos's appetite if it means the trade off is the return of his freedom in time and space. Mind you, this seven year-old wasn't fooled for a minute.

 

The flaws are few and you know what they are: Pigbin Josh, leaving ONE UNIT SOLDIER to guard the first UFO to land in England, and the Doctor, Jo and Bill Filer (Paul Grist) being chased by an extra in an orange Axonite blanket in what looks for all the world like a game of Here-We-Go-Round-The-Particle-Accelerator. These minor gaffes aside, it's a real shame that director Michael Ferguson never worked on Doctor Who again as he was a truly original visual stylist. Watch The Claws of Axos and see just how good he was for the series.

 

Extras:

As exemplary as we've come to expect – an informative, fun commentary and thorough making-of are both present and correct.

 

The stand out here, though, is Living with Levene. The featurette is a grown up piece of documentrary work as it challenges the popualr perception of John Levene as a born-again, motivational speaking loose cannon, last seen hitting fandom's headlines with his comments about Nicholas Courtney's passing.

 

What's clear from Toby Hadoke and Chris Chapman's charming and touching film is that although Levene is clearly a very eccentric bloke, his outlook on life is humane and positive. Having a bully for a father, an abusive relationship from which he's clearly never recovered, gave him the drive to make something of his life.

 

After some time in the USA, Levene has now relocated back to England to look after his ailing mother. It's delightful to watch Toby gradually warm to the Sergeant Benton actor throughout his weekend stay, at the same time inviting the viewing audience to reappraise this obviously odd but upbeat man. Toby's smile at the end, as he's reconciled the UNIT hero of his childhood with the man he's just got to know, says it all in the nicest possible way.

 

With the end of the Doctor Who range now in sight, it's been another great year for the DVDs. When the classic releases finish next year, we really will have the all but complete catalogue of one of British television's seminal programmes available to watch when, and where, we want. Great days indeed.

 

Rob Fairclough

 

Check out the trailer here.

 

 

 

Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos on DVD
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