A Pretty Good Trip

Review of The Claws of Axos: SE (#57)
DVD Release Date: 13 Nov 12
Original Air Date: 13 Mar - 03 Apr 1971
Doctor/Companion: Three, Josephine "Jo" Grant
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning
Preceding Story: The Mind of Evil (Three, Jo)
Succeeding Story: Colony in Space (Three, Jo)

My reaction to this story has always been pretty much full-on Pigbin Josh: "Ooh arr?" Seriously - this one's just a bit weird. Psychedelic, even.

To a certain extent, that's on purpose. It was, after all, made in 1971, and the whole drug-tripping scene was still a Thing (or so I understand). The director and editor had a grand old time messing with the effects to make it all visually striking. And the design is incredibly creative, especially when it comes to the ship, which is both amazingly organic looking and, externally, a bit... anatomical (as Katy Manning (Jo) points out in one of the extras).

The story itself has the usual ups and downs. The basic premise is quite cool, with the alien visitors who may or may not be out to get us all, and a substance that can manipulate energy and thus solve huge problems like world hunger. But the inclusion of the Master feels utterly spurious, even if it does lead to some lovely Delgado moments (his Master is perfectly smarmy) and interesting Doctor/Master dynamics.

Oddly, I think the insults are one of my favorite parts of the whole show. For example, when Mr. Chinn, the government official nominally in charge of the whole operation, phones in to report to the Minister, he asks, "Will you scramble, or shall I, sir?" The reply is a terse, "Just your report, Chinn. I'm sure that will be quite garbled enough." Makes me laugh every time.

I also love the way the Master gets all irritated with the mechanical mess inside the Doctor's TARDIS. He grumps so gloriously at the wires strewn everywhere, tsk'ing derisively. Even when he's finally managed almost to get it back in working order, he feels the need to hurl abuse at it, calling the old girl an "overweight, underpowered, old museum piece!" Poor thing. It's not her fault the Time Lord she stole turned into a bit of a dud.

Speaking of that, even though it was meant in jest, Three is always "a bit of a dud" when it comes to his treatment of women. I realize that's partly because Pertwee was such an utter "chap," a somewhat typically chauvinistic man of his time, but I hate how he so consistently shoots Jo down. All game and ready to face anything, she pops up to accompany the men to explore this alien ship, and he "not this time"s her. Worse, she takes it without a peep of complaint! Granted, later - after being told again that she needs to stay in the van - she does go out to follow someone, and thus gets pulled into the action, but it's not because she seems to believe she has the right to be there regardless of her gender. That has always grated on me about Jo, despite my eventual fondness for her.

At the end, we've got a bit of a twist that we've seen (or will see) in other Three stories to greater or lesser effect, but it still feels like it would have been a shock to the audience at the time. Not only does the Doctor team up with the Master (as these two do quite often), but he does so with the express purpose of leaving Jo and UNIT behind for good, without a backwards look. That, for me, is just about the most difficult thing to swallow about Three. And I can't simply dismiss it, because it comes back too often. After all, he keeps trying like "some kind of galactic yo-yo!" Oh well. He regains his freedom eventually, and doesn't abandon them immediately. At least I can hang onto that.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Axon Stations!
Along with other usual suspects for a "making of," this piece talks about how "the Bristol Boys" (writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin) got involved with the franchise, the vagaries of Bernard Holley's "Mr. Axon" costume and makeup, and various participants' reactions to the end product, looking back on it now.

Now and Then
Narrated by Katy Manning for the 2005 "plain ol' edition" DVD release, this extra shows how the location sites looked in 2005 compared to 1971, when the episodes were shot.
Living with Levene
This one had me concerned. After the recent brouhaha over at Wife in Space, I didn't think I wanted to see anything about the "real" John Levene. I adore Sgt. Benton, and didn't want to think about the man who played him being a bit of a jerk.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by what Toby Hadoke discovered during his weekend with Levene. Although he comes across as alternately humble and self-centered here, I think I can see now that the behavior that gets him classified as a "nutter" ("I was called eccentric in America. I like that. Because what is eccentricity? It's a little bit of a personality bump." Unless you're an American, in which case "eccentric" is a polite way of calling someone a nutter...) comes from a deep feeling of being "other" and wanting to belong, held over from childhood. And honestly, how many Who fans can truly say they've got none of that?

While the non-humanoid Axons ended up pretty high up there on the Silliness Scale, the effects overall are quite respectable, especially for something that's now forty-plus years old. And frankly, I think it improves with repeated watching. In other words, I might actually choose it to watch again some time now, instead of leaving it on the shelf to gather dust until my next marathon - which is more than can be said for some.



Whilst this is a cracking debut story for the Bristol boys, I think the budget their ideas needed and the actual budget differed considerably.

Also on the downside, and don't ask me why as I do not know, but I find Pigbin Josh unbelieveably offensive.

I was also a bit unsure about the actor playing Filer, does he stick out like a sore thumb to Americans viewing this?

However, it has some excellent ideas, although I wonder if at the time anyone really thought the Doctor was doing a runner with the Master? A good solid start for Baker and Martin

By Wholahoop (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Maybe no one believed the Doctor would really run off with the Master. To me, it looks fairly convincing, especially considering Three's general attitude, and his disgust at being a "galactic yo-yo." I think he fully intended to bail, but was thwarted.

As for Filer - yes, his accent is definitely a caricature. :)

By mrfranklin

Now I have a reason to watch this. I just got it last week! I will watch it fairly soon - hopefully before Christmas - and then can read your review in full and appreciate it. :-) I'm getting an Amazon GC from my husband, and I'll be able to get some of these classics you discuss!

I did order "Planet of the Giants" a few days ago, because I want to read your review of it! I've been getting a few pre-holiday gifts for myself like this. (guilty feelings):-)

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I look forward to hearing what you thought. :) (And a few gifts for yourself isn't entirely out of order. *wink*)

By mrfranklin
PaulGreaves's picture

...but wasn't the actor playing Filer actually an American? I realise that Americans react to fake/exaggerated accents the same way that Brits do when hearing Americans 'do' our accent - but if the actor is a native of the accent they're doing, is that so bad? Unless of course, you suspect they're being asked to do a generic American tone.

While we're on the subject of stereotypes I love the line in the BBCs Star Cops (written and filmed in the mid-80s when the Cold War was still relevant) when Commander Griffin of the US Space Station Ronald Reagan tells our hero Nathan Spring that the US government has refused to allocate any Americans to the International Space Police Force: "They are quote 'Not in favour of international policing' unquote". To which Nathan's reply is a raised eyebrow followed by the line "Hm. Well, they were at the beginning. Until they realised that 'international' didn't just mean Americans abroad."

Well, it makes me laugh :)

By PaulGreaves --



mrfranklin's picture

Well, according to imdb, he's Welsh. I was willing to believe that I'd overreacted (it's happened before), but either way, the accent he uses is quite exaggerated. :) It's over-the-top stereotypical, so it felt unlikely that it was his natural accent - then again, stereotypes originate somewhere!

By mrfranklin
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