Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos: Special Edition
As before with “revisited” Special Editions, I'll link back to the review on this site of the original DVD release from 2005 (which this time was by me) and will go on to describe the new disc and its extras.
Review by Gary Couzens
2 Entertain's special edition of The Claws of Axos comes on two dual-layered discs, the first encoded for Regions 2 and 4, the second for Region 2 only. Both discs have optional audio-descriptive menus.
The four episodes of this serial are transferred to DVD in the original ratio of 4:3. Like almost all 70s Who, it was recorded on video in the studio with location footage shot on 16mm film. Much has been said, not least by myself, about the junking of episodes of many TV series, of which Doctor Who was no exception. Of Jon Pertwee's first two seasons (the show's seventh and eighth), only four episodes survive on their original two-inch PAL quad master videotapes: Episode One of The Ambassadors of Death, Episode Four of The Daemons and Episodes One and Four of the present story. Apart from the 16mm-only Spearhead from Space, everything else was wiped. Black and white 16mm telerecordings were made for sales to foreign countries which were not yet broadcasting in colour. In addition, copies that had been converted from 625-line PAL to 525-line NTSC, for use in the USA and Canada. Many of these NTSC tapes have been returned to the BBC, and without them we would have no colour copies of many Pertwee episodes. That is the form on which Episodes Two and Three of The Claws of Axos survive. The earlier DVD release of this serial was the first to introduce Reverse Standards Conversion (RSC) which converted the NTSC tapes back to PAL. The results are certainly softer than the native PAL of the first and last episodes, but it's as good as we're likely to get, given the circumstances. Screengrabs follow, first from Episode One, the second from Episode Two.
The soundtrack is the original mono, cleaned up and restored. Subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing for the episodes and all the extras except the commentary. Also on the disc are the ever-invaluable information subtitles, which are this time the work of Martin Wiggins.
Continuing on the first disc, the commentary is reused from the 2005 release. It features the late Barry Letts, Katy Manning and Richard Franklin. There’s clearly a rapport between the three, though Letts and Manning speak the most, the latter not lapsing too often into the little-girlisms that become an annoyance on some of her other commentaries.
“Deleted and Extended scenes” (27:00) is also reused from the previous DVD and is derived from the tape of the studio recording session for what is still called on the opening titles The Vampire from Space Episode One. We see retakes due to fluffed lines, Pertwee asking a crewmember to stop “dancing about” and distracting him, and the only existing behind-the-scenes footage of Roger Delgado. Information subtitles, this time provided by Richard Bignell, are an optional extra.
Finally on Disc One is an Easter Egg. Click left from “Audio Options” and you will find “Reverse Standards |Conversion: The Axon Legacy” (10:11), which was a non-Egg extra on the 2005 DVD.
Presented by Jack Pizzey, it talks about the need for TV standards conversion – originally prompted by the BBC’s need to show NTSC-originated colour coverage of the 1968 Mexico Olympics – and talks to the developers of RSC, comparing RSC’d clips of The Claws of Axos to the previous NTSC-colour-signal-plus-b/w-film-recording process used for the earlier VHS release. It’s interesting, though deliberately non-technical, if rather spoiled by an unfunny joke at the end.
On to Disc Two, and the main new item is “Axon Stations!” (26:41). This is a making-of documentary which like many others is a solid runthrough of the story from inception to completion. It begins earlier than that, with Bob Baker talking about how he first met the late Dave Martin, who was a regular customer at the corner shop in Bristol that Baker ran at the time. They wrote a script based on the army experiences of their friend the late Keith Floyd (later a celebrity TV chef) and sent it to the BBC. It found its way onto the desk of Who script editor Terrance Dicks, who saw their potential, met them and commissioned them to write the story, which eventually became The Vampire from Space, retitled at short notice to The Claws of Axos. The location footage in Dungeness was shot in early January and Katy Manning, dressed in a miniskirt, particularly felt the cold. The changeable weather conditions caused the script to be rewritten. Interviewees include Bob Baker, Terrance Dicks, Michael Ferguson, Katy Manning and Bernard Holley (who played the lead Axon Man) and Paul Grist (Bill Filer).
“Now and Then” (6:36), narrated by Katy Manning, looks at the locations in and around Dungeness, now and at the time of the story’s making. “Directing Who” (14:42) is a brief featurette where Michael Ferguson talks about his experiences of directing Claws of Axos. He was one of the more stylish Who directors, but his interview is a little dry.
“Studio Recording” (72:48) is the complete version of the unedited tape of what was then The Vampire from Space Episode One, from which deleted and extended scenes were extracted on disc one. It is without the information subtitles but does still have hard-of-hearing ones. Having both items in the same DVD package does seem a little redundant, though it's undeniably fascinating as a document of how BBC studio drama was once made.
“Living with Levene” (35:11) is a new item. John Levene began his Who career as a Cyberman and a Yeti but has his little bit of immortality as Sergeant Benton. Toby Hadoke spends a weekend with him in his home in Salisbury, where Levene relocated to after years in the USA to look after his mother. We do meet her, and she must be a lot older than she seems, given that her son was born in 1941. Hadoke is open that Levene seems to be putting on a show for his and our benefit, but he does dig a little deeper and ends up liking him.
The disc is completed by a self-navigating stills gallery (10:57), Radio Times listings for the serial's original broadcast in PDF format, back in the days when they lnoted “Colour” next to the programme title. These cuttings also include a brief interview with Bernard Holley. Finally, there is a Coming Soon trailer for The Legacy Box (2:15) which will contain the material from the uncompleted serial Shada and the documentary Thirty Years in the TARDIS.
So there it is. By 2005, the Who DVD range was well under way. And Claws of Axos was hardly a shabby release back then. The major new items here are the making-of- documentary, the complete studio recording tape and the John Levene documentary. So you pays your money and you makes your choice.