Naturally 'Caves of Androzani' has got an awesomely high reputation as being one of the, if not THE, best story of the Eighties, rivalled perhaps only by the likes of 'The Curse of Fenric' or 'The Greatest Show In The Galaxy' or, in my opinion but not everybody else's, 'Remembrance of the Daleks' (It's good fun if nothing else isn't it). So when, a few months ago, I purchase 'The Caves of Androzani' on DVD I was expecting to be blown away by this 'awesome story', and the fact that it was the only regeneration story currently on DVD from the programme's 26-year-run, I was itching to view.
What I got was a perfectly sound story, and I certainly can see why its reputation is so high, but it was still an anti-climax.
I suppose if I delve deep into the characterisation of Holmes, and the detailed society and culture of Androzani Major/Minor I can indeed agree that it scores top marks on that level. I will first present my annoyances with the story. These are minor glitches overall and they are beside the notorious television remotes of Morgus and the unconvincing Magma creature (and somehow Graham Harper thought that it was terrifying, and even asked Peter Davison at the end of Episode 2 on the DVD commentary if he and Nicola thought it terrifying too!). But there are other things - mostly the fact that it is so much more of an 'adult' programme rather than a 'children/family' programme because there is very little action till up to the final episode and I found that, although I enjoyed it, my younger cousins tended to switch off a lot when watching it. Another thing is the incidental score - which IS effective in some places, but in others it can be very tedious. And I have to say that the mercenaries chasing the Doctor at the start of Episode 4 are terrible shots, and Cralper looks ridiculous as he runs stiffly with his tiny gun held at his waist, firing randomly.
But lets move on to the much better things - and these are (apart from what I mentioned at the start) Davison's performance. The acting is excellent throughout - and I do agree that the performace of Davison at the end of Episode 3 is exceptionally good and hits the exact amount of anger and desperation without going outside of the Fifth Doctor's character, which I found was not the case when I recently watched 'The Visitation' where a lot of the Doctor's actions and manner of talking were not unlike Colin Baker's performance. It wasn't until I read Paul Clarke's review of this story that it suddenly hit home that the caves are actually sets and not really caves - I honestly never realised they were studio sets - obviously deep down I knew they were because of the picture quality, but I hadn't though about it till now. So excellent cave sets are evident - however Morgus' office is terribly bland, but the 'hologram' effects of Morgus talking to Chellak or Stotz are exceptional for the series.
The main thing I love about Caves is the ending. Harper's direction coupled with Davison's performance is immense as he trudges on towards the TARDIS carrying Peri in his arms as is his performance in the TARDIS in what is a spectacular regeneration scene as you all will agree - but they do cheat slightly by flooding the camera with light effects so that they just switch clips from Davison to Baker in between but this doesn't detract.
Overall then - Caves is a perfectly good story, and in comparison to 'The Three Doctors' which I'm watching now it excels miles. It's just that the heaps of praise was raising expectations a little too high.
I shouldn't care about these people. They're loathsome. The only one who's not complete slime is Chellak and he's the least interesting character, a sheep among wolves. He's not really a bad guy underneath, but he gets pushed around by everyone else, he's happy to execute the Doctor and Peri for no good reason and basically he's a loser. Everyone else is slime and you're looking forward to their deaths, hopefully in humiliating and painful ways.
The Caves of Androzani arguably shouldn't work. On first broadcast, when I saw it as a child, for me to an extent it didn't. It's bleak and unpleasant, like bathing in used engine oil. It certainly shouldn't have been taken as any kind of template. This is the kind of story that works in the hands of Peter Davison, Robert Holmes and Graeme Harper, but in the hands of Steve Cole or Trevor Baxendale makes you want to plant bombs in bookshops. Nevertheless in 1984 it worked like crazy. As so often 'twas Robert Holmes, the grand old man of Doctor Who, who could break the rules. His characters aren't just bastards. They're unbelievable screaming motherfuckers. Holmes hit a roll, a momentum with which he created a cast any one of whom could on their own have been the "unmatched throughout the series" highlight of another story. Sharaz Jek = work of genius. Stotz = has me backing away from the television. Morgus = makes the above look like Disney heroines. "Have the lift maintenance engineer shot." It's profoundly satisfying to see him get what he deserves, from Krau Timmin and then from Jek. I'm not sure what that glowing special effect did to him in episode four, but I'm happy to assume that it wasn't nice.
I could talk about these people for hours. Best of all, they're all completely different. It's no identikit parade of faceless macho mannequins, but a rich mix of villains that in that department outdoes just about any other work of fiction I can think of. Stotz is fascinating even before we see horrors like his terrifying scene with Krelper and the pill. He's a genuinely clever psychopath.
Then of course there's Jek. I discussed the others first to get them out of the way, since here there's so much to say. I'll be here a while. Everyone knows that Christopher Gable went in to read for another part, but on seeing the script fell in love with Sharaz Jek and went to Graeme Harper to ask for him instead. Forget the script for a moment. I've already discussed how astonishing it is that Robert Holmes pulled off what he did here, but I'm about to address the nuts and bolts of TV production. For Graeme Harper, the most script's terrifying line must have been: "You think bullets could stop me now?" That's the acid test. A bad actor or half-hearted direction could have sunk it like a stone and basically killed the whole story, which had all been building up to that confrontation. Why don't Morgus and Stotz just blast down Jek on the spot? Think about it. The guy should be Swiss cheese. In any other story, we'd be rolling our eyes and hooting at the TV... but the televised production doesn't even let you blink. You believe Jek! One truly feels that mere bullets wouldn't do the job. Admittedly the script has already made it clear that he's extremely hard to kill, but by that point our guts are screaming that this man is practically superhuman.
A further point of interest is that Sharaz Jek is an operatic character in a grittily realistic production. In a perverse way John Normington plays up Morgus by playing him down, with that psychotically tight self-control, but the world of Androzani is a million miles away from the plastic BBC corridors of much eighties Doctor Who. It has bullets, not laser beams. Its tough guys feel like tough guys, not ballet dancers and RADA graduates. Nevertheless amidst all this is a richly theatrical creation, using language as flamboyant as anything Holmes ever wrote. "You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes." I'd kill to hear a Hollywood action hero say that. You can roll it around your tongue like wine, but furthermore it characterises Jek. It's horror as poetry, with luscious descriptions of grossness. When Jek says he wants Morgus's head, that's no metaphor. "Congealed in its own evil blood." "The flesh boiled, hanging from the bone." Jek's obsessed with physicality. He's besotted with Peri's beauty, mentally shattered by his own deformity and speaking a language of blood. It's perfect that he ended up being played by a professional dancer.
Eventually of course Jek becomes the only sympathetic character! He's acting from pure motives rather than greed. Love, or at least his twisted version, and hatred. They're beautiful in their clarity and he's dominated by them. He's like a terrifying child.
Then there's his best line. "I am mad."
I can't believe I'm reviewing a Davison story and I haven't talked about Peter Davison yet. This is one of those rare stories which you couldn't quite do with any other Doctor. The 5th Doctor, especially in Season 21, was the last good man in a bleak universe, which ultimately ended with him giving his life to become Colin Baker. Seasons 21 and 22 are twin epitomes of grossness, but in opposite ways. Colin Baker's era had a flamboyance, a larger than life quality that at its best gave us the likes of Vengeance on Varos. A Davison story on the other hand was always more human and real, as was exemplified in this final farewell. He's a hero in the fullest sense. For the Doctor as a character, I think this remains his finest hour in all his lives since 1963.
The Colin Baker era's stabs at tragedy (Lytton, Oscar Botcherby) were always fumbling and awkward. In contrast there's something uncomfortable about Resurrection of the Daleks and Caves of Androzani that few eras ever attained. Plus of course this story shows Davison's dark sense of humour, letting him stand up to the psychos with deliciously dry sarcasm that's flippant but always purposeful. Watch his first scene with Chellak. That line where he asks for a chair. He's deliberately testing the general. Then in the detention cell in episode one he's asking all the right questions, having already basically worked out the truth about both Salateen and Morgus. This is my 5th Doctor, the one who had Turlough pegged almost from the beginning but never said a word.
His finest moment in this finest moment is of course part three's cliffhanger. Obviously it ends with Davison's toe-tingling "not going to let you stop me now" speech, but personally I love the whole scene all the way from "Ah, Stotzy, have you had a good rest?" and "Sorry, seems to be locked".
Even his relationship with Peri is interesting. She's just as sarcastic, whiny and unenthusiastic as she would be in Season 22, but Davison lets it all roll off him. He's so much more tolerant than in his early days with Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. In fairness he didn't choose any of them; they're miscellaneous orphans who stowed away or got dumped on him, and it's already the end of Castrovalva before he's in a position to do anything about it. (Note that he spends the entirety of Season Nineteen trying to get rid of Tegan, albeit at her request, and he's not exactly reluctant to lose her when they finally reach Heathrow in Time-Flight.) Peri on the other hand was offered her place on the TARDIS.
Plus of course she has the right idea. Androzani really is horrible. Anyone with a brain would want to get away. The Doctor is the hero, but she's the ordinary girl trapped in a nightmare. She's terrified by Sharaz Jek, to the point where she jumps at the Doctor's hand hitting her shoulder.
The regeneration is different too. Everyone knows about the fan theory about the episode three cliffhanger, with the Doctor feeling woozy just when Harper reused the regeneration special effect. He pulls himself together and we get on with the scene. However there's a further regeneration foreshadowing when the Doctor goes down for the milk of the Queen Bat and hears voices, a multiple echo of Sharaz Jek saying, "She's dying, Doctor." Eventually the old faces parade works surprisingly well, trumping the similar idea at the end of Logopolis by bringing the actors into the studio to record new lines. We'd never seen a regeneration like this before, a slow poisoning in which the Doctor basically spends four episodes dying by degrees. Even he says, "It feels different this time."
Continuity menks might surmise that Androzani's backstory is similar to that of Robots of Death. "Where are you from, Earth?" "As they used to say on Earth, every cloud has a strontium lining." There's also the fact that Jek's androids get confused by the Doctor's alien physiology, making it look like a fairly human-centric universe.
Oh, and Morgus's asides to camera. What the hell? As soon as your attention's been drawn to them, they're unbelievable. I love them.
I like the plot. It's hardly an original observation, but I'll say it again... The Caves of Androzani is an SF historical. There aren't any diabolical menaces or plans to destroy the universe, but simply the passion and violence of the characters. We don't need aliens. Everyone's quite enough of a threat to each other. Okay, there's the Magma Beast, but it's little more than a lava flow on legs. There's nothing intelligent or consciously antagonistic about it. Meanwhile for once the Doctor isn't trying to beat the bad guy or save the world, but simply wants to get back to the TARDIS.
I'd always vaguely approved of Robert Holmes, but rewatching all these old stories has heightened my appreciation of him. He's a storyteller, a wit and a wordsmith, but moreover time after time he does things with Doctor Who that no one before or since has thought to do. The Caves of Androzani is unique. It's spiky, uncomfortable and I didn't particularly enjoy it when I was eleven, but it's a breathtaking achievement.
My conscience is clear... but the Presidium will find my actions treasonable.
What is there to say about The Caves of Androzani that hasn't already been said at least a dozen times before? It's great, it's brilliant, it's dark, it's gritty, it managed to give Peter Davison cold feet about leaving Doctor Who and arguably was a factor behind his decision to go back for the Big Finish audios...
But I honestly don't look at Caves and think Doctor Who. I look at Caves and see a crossover between Doctor Who and Blake's 7. Of course, there was another one - The Sun Makers, also by Robert Holmes, but also made before the first episode of Blake's 7 was filmed, let alone screened.
Like Blake's 7, Caves shows a universe full of utter bastards with nice lines in wit who as likely to insult you as shoot you in the back. Androzani Minor could be any planet in B7, a barren quarry with caves filled with trigger-happy troopers, native monsters and amusing-looking androids. The army is fighting a small band of rebels lead by 'an evil renegade', and Sharaz Jek does kind of resemble a mixture of Roj Blake and Kerr Avon - a sinister bloke in black leather who obsesses about a woman he hardly knows and is fighting a wide-scale war against his society more out of revenge than ideology. Morgus resembles Servalan in many ways (bar, obviously, gender and fashion sense): a high-placed official in a plush office, already with great power over their world and prepared to kill and murder their way until they are more powerful than the President. And like Servalan, Morgus is deposed and left on the run trying to locate the key to restoring their position - in the former, it's the spaceship Liberator, in the latter, it's a stock of pure Spectrox. And like Blake's 7, the story ends with most of the guest cast dead and no interest in what will happen to society following this adventure. Androzani Major may flourish or collapse, and the regulars have no interest in it, either way.
But it is B7 with its small good humor ripped away. While Stotz and Krelper's bitching recalls the repartee between Avon and Vila, Stotz has no real camaraderie with Krelper, evidence by the loud and uncomfortable scene where he beats Krelper up, holds him over a cliff, slashes at his face with a knife and throws a cyanide capsule down his throat. The rebels in Blake's 7 were at least attempting to fight something more corrupt and evil than they were - on Androzani Minor, everyone is ironically on the same side, but still determined to wipe each other out. Morgus runs the army, Morgus runs Stotz and the gun runners, and Sharaz Jek is thus dependent on his hated enemy who has masterminded this entire war in order for him to stay rich and profitable.
Of course, it's around this point we say The Caves of Androzani is the fifth Doctor's finest hour. Well, it's true, isn't it? I believe Davison's Doctor has quite a few good hours, but this still beats out in quality. For the first episode or so, it's as though Davison is playing the fourth Doctor. You can easily imagine Tom Baker casually wandering through the caves, baiting Chellak, and all the while doing that wonderful expression of his grin collapsing into a grimace as he realizes what a horrible place this is. But the desperation the Doctor develops upon learning he is dead meat is definitely playing to Davison's strengths. The third episode cliffhanger with the Doctor simultaneously threatened by a bullet to the head, a fatal crash-landing and Spectrox Toxaemia is justly famous for its tension. But when seen in context, after the rest of the fifth Doctor's era, and the cliffhanger gets even better.
When I reviewed Planet of Fire I noticed that the new, tougher fifth Doctor has developed a 'I don't have time for this' attitude when it comes to his companions, enemies and the universe in general. Caves takes this and cranks this up to eleven. While the end of the first episode has the Doctor as usual trying to understand this situation and work out what's going on, by the end of the second he has no time for the politics of the Androzani twins. When he sees Morgus and realizes who is really in control of this 'pathetic local war', he loses all interest. He doesn't care, he's got Peri to worry about and he's not going to let juggling the big picture and the little picture lose him his friend.
It can't be argued the Doctor has not been that successful with his companions. Although Adric sacrificed himself nobly trying to save a world of people he'd never met (for a species he regularly found annoying), he ultimately died for nothing and the Doctor couldn't save him. When Nyssa left the Doctor, it wasn't because she had found a place she wanted to live and enjoy herself, it was because she was faced with a problem so big the Doctor wasn't prepared to hang around in fix so she refused to go with him. The Doctor could easily feel proud of Nyssa's compassion and bravery, it's not the happy ending she deserved and the Doctor obviously felt he should provide. Turlough seems to decide to quit the TARDIS the moment the Doctor snaps at him that he's had enough of the Trion's secrecy, and was prepared to face arrest, exile, maybe even execution rather continuing traveling with the Time Lord. Kamelion was killed by the Doctor himself, fatally wounding the android and then crushing the poor thing. And Tegan, of course, ran out on the Doctor when she saw him pick up a gun and prepare to commit cold-blooded murder - and ironically changed her mind at the last moment, even though she never found out the Doctor didn't kill Davros. Even in the comic strips, the Doctor was unlucky with friends. Sir Justin in The Tides of Time sacrifices himself for something, but the Doctor shouldn't have let it get that far. In The Moderator, Gus Goodman was killed defending the Doctor, and died with the miserable realization he'd never get home - all because the Doctor was sarky to a giant cane toad.
Ultimately, Big Finish's decision to put a whole season between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani is uncomfortable to put it mildly. Caves is clearly set a very short time after Planet and why not? Robert Holmes was hardly writing the scripts with the proviso in twenty years time missing audio adventures were being recorded. Also, just putting Erimem in there ruins the feel. Unless she also leaves the Doctor on bad terms, it shoots the whole point of Caves through the head. The Doctor HAS to save Peri because he has spectacularly failed to save any other companion. But if Erimem does suffer this fate, it makes the Doctor and Peri suspiciously cheerful at the start of this story. Damned either way, really, but the audios definitely remove the poignancy of the Doctor dying saving the life of someone he's only known for a few days.The Caves of Androzani also manages what Resurrection of the Daleks failed at - that is, it puts the Doctor on the sidelines of action but still makes him vital to the plot. This is one hell of a difficult trick, so there's no shame in failing at it. Shame in stupidly trying it again and again, though.
The Doctor manages to meet every character bar Timmin, and has a domino effect on those around him. If he didn't visit Androzani Minor, Stotz wouldn't have lost his consignment of arms, Sharaz Jek would never have seen Peri, Salateen wouldn't have been able to escape and thus the whole balance of power would have remained the same. Yet while the Doctor's mere presence (and that of Peri) causes the whole adventure to happen, no one's interested in him in anything other than target practice - they just have different reasons for doing so. Morgus wants the Doctor dead because he's probably a spy; Chellak wants the Doctor dead first because he's ordered and then because he thinks he's a traitor; Sharaz Jek wants the Doctor dead because he's annoying and irritating; Stotz wants the Doctor dead because he might be a scapegoat and the gun runner is something of a sadist; Krelper wants the Doctor dead because he likes killing people and the Doctor's survived so far; Salateen even goes so far as to defend the Doctor, but it's more because he's honest rather than he cares for the Time Lord's safety; even the Magma Beast wants the Doctor dead, but just because he's hungry. Tellingly, the Doctor barely glances at these characters when he passes their corpses.
On top of that, the Doctor's fate is continually being sealed by those around him, and ironically they seal their own fate as well. Chellak admits he believes that the Doctor and Peri are innocent, but can't be bothered to try and save their lives - and thus this leads to him being the last survivor of his army, drowned in boiling mud. Salateen abandons the Doctor but keeps Peri prisoner as insurance to help him - and ends up being the first shot dead by the androids. If Sharaz Jek had put his foot down and kept the Doctor on Androzani Minor, he would have discovered Peri's condition sooner and been in a better position to save her. Morgus' casual decision to order the time travelers shot is what ultimately leads to him facing Sharaz Jek face to face and paying the price. Every character is cruel, rude and callous - only Jek has any redeeming quality: he wants to keep Peri alive and safe, and although he's causing mass panic and confusion on Major, he'd happily hand over his Spectrox and save them as long as Morgus was dead. But he's still not a nice guy and he suffers the same fate as the others.
Only three characters survive this story - Peri, Timmin and the Doctor (and technically the Doctor doesn't), and this highlights the cold justice in this story. In this world, if you're nasty, you pay the price. The Doctor, like his third self, gets caught up in this through his own curiosity and by putting Peri in danger is ultimately doomed. But the Doctor gets a second chance because he plans to make amends, to save Peri's life whatever the cost. Peri never hurts or want to hurt anyone in the story, even trying to help Jek. Timmin is seemingly the exception, as she seizes control of Morgus' empire without a shot being fired and effectively wins. However, we know that the mud burst has wiped out all the supply of Spectrox and most likely the bats as well, so Timmin has just taken over a planet of people about to die of old age catching up. And how long before Timmin finds others conspiring to overthrow her? Timmin's nastiness is subtle and cunning, and the karma she's facing will be just as insidious.
Peri manages very well in this story, though like the Doctor, she's more a catalyst for change than a player in the story. Her relationship with the Doctor in part one is relaxed and friendly, and it's as though being around Peri allows the Doctor to assume a more 'Doctorish', absent-minded, curious quality, as if it's a fresh start. The situations they face show Peri to be a real person - she's slightly clumsy, scared of being arrested by people with guns and being lusted after disfigured self-proclaimed maniacs. Peri is able to cope with the events in her first story because they are easily compared to her old life - being unintentionally kidnapped by the Doctor and Turlough can be dealt with because she was planning to abscond with two strange men already; facing down the Master (and Kamelion) is easy because she has dealt with annoying arrogant men for most of her life; and travelling to Sarn is just Lanzarote with fewer cafes. But here she's been captured by soldiers, threatened with death by firing squad, feeling very ill and sick. If she has anything to compare it to, it's... being captured by soldiers, threatened with death by firing squad and feeling very ill and sick. She jumped into the TARDIS because she liked the Doctor and wanted to travel, but she didn't sign on for this and she's scared. Fair enough. But seeing the Doctor dying in front of her cracks her resolve which kept her going throughout the adventure. She doesn't sob because she wants to go home or is scared of being trapped in the TARDIS, it's because her friend is dying! Peri is reassuringly human, even if it's becoming clear she's not the perfect time traveling companion.
Ultimately, Caves is a story that should be a one-off. It throws the Doctor into the deep end specifically to make him sink, because it's ludicrous for him to swim. Caves wouldn't work if the Doctor survived the end, and if he kept trying to resolve the Spectrox war, it would be a completely different story - and not half as bleak and lethal as the one we see. Yes, Caves is brilliant but that's precisely because it's a story that can only be told once. Like Genesis of the Daleks - it'd be the height of stupidity to tell an identical story when the original did it so well. Yet, the production team decided to pop back to this dark, B7 universe where life is cheap, happy endings rare and nice people surviving are even rarer.
Like the Doctor's involvement, Caves had something of a chain reaction on Doctor Who itself. The following season was one long attempt to repeat Caves' atmosphere and success - a nice aim, but flawed from the outset. Apart from anything else, finding subterranean settings full of bastards and villains drooling over Peri got old very quickly. Caves ended the fifth Doctor's era and it's a sad but true fact that Doctor Who was on shaky ground ever since. From 1985 onwards it was on a precipice of cancellation, and it ultimately fell despite getting its act together at the last moment - quite like the Doctor here.
Another thing I noticed that Holmes was also responsible for The Brain of Morbius, in which we are shown the Doctor is in his twelfth body by the time he's Tom Baker, and The Deadly Assassin where we learn Time Lords only get thirteen bodies. It's hard not to see some significance in the dying Doctor's wondering if he will regenerate - as it is implied he's on his last life, and might explain why he's about to go through his most difficult regeneration so far. In any case, the idea that the Doctor goes through all he has to in Caves even though he knows he's really going to die this time, just makes him more of a hero.The Caves of Androzani is damn-near perfect.
But you knew that already, didn't you?
I've been going through a semi-orderly survey of Doctor Who stories – not perhaps the exhaustive chronological crawl that some other fans here have done, but rather a selective hunt and peck, targeting stories generally regarded as classics, as well as few I remember vividly from my childhood. In some cases, I've certainly been delighted to find stories worthier than I expected ('Death to the Daleks,' 'The Leisure Hive,' e.g.), but in others I've been disappointed by some that didn't, in my estimation, live up to their stellar reputations ('City of Death' and 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' were two particularly sad surprises, I thought).
So I wasn't sure what I would make of 'The Caves of Androzani,' a story about which I remembered little from my own first experience with it as a teenager. The story seems to be universally loved by fanboys, and yet it is also is a 'hard-edged' war story script-edited by Eric Saward, whose vision for the series is not one I always appreciate. Add to this the fact that the venerable 'Discontinuity Guide' calls it 'overrated,' and I was a little bit nervous. Then again, I've found Robert Holmes's reputation as the grand old man of Doctor Who scripts to be largely justified, and even when his stories are disappointing in some ways (as I found 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' to be), they usually provide some redeeming elements of characterization or humor.
And indeed, as I got into the first episode of 'The Caves of Androzani,' I found it to play like Holmes's homage to the Saward years. In fact, you could say the plot 'out-Sawards' Saward in its grittiness and its focus on militarism (there not much sci-fi or philosophy at work here). But it doesn't take long to see how Holmes's gift for dramatization is raising this story above superficially similar Saward efforts like 'Resurrection of the Daleks' and 'Earthshock.' The plot is economical, yet satisfyingly knotty, with a lot of social and political commentary lining its edges, and the characters, while perhaps simple, are overall as beautifully drawn as we might hope.
The obvious place to begin is with Sharaz Jek, who is both the ostensible villain of the piece and its main 'monster.' The script makes him both convincingly mad and suitably menacing when torturing the Doctor or drooling over Peri, but, like Li H'sen Chang and other Holmes creations before him, Jek is made complex enough that we can't help sympathizing with him, at least somewhat. He is perhaps not the best fleshed-out of Holmes characters overall – we don't get much sense of what he was like before his betrayal and injury, despite his mentioning that he was also a doctor once - and one could argue that his Phantom of the Opera/Quasimodo-like obsession with beauty is a bit of a cliché. On the other hand, this association does nicely hearken back to the interest in classic literary monsters Holmes explored so often in his work with Philip Hinchcliffe in the early Tom Baker years, and it's true that Jek's actions towards Peri seem as (oddly) protective as they do predatory, which helps to humanize the character. Plus, an aesthetic bent helps explain the character's striking costume and mask, with its bright blue false eye. And Christopher Gable's performance is remarkable, ultimately sealing the deal as far as Jek's place in the pantheon of DW villains is concerned. He handles the dialogue with a nice combination of elegance and threat, but it's in his *physical* acting that this former dancer truly excels. He makes Jek particularly pitiable when he shows him crawling under the table and covering his scarred face in shame after Peri has seen it. (Although one suspects in reality it would take more than facial burns to make a war-hardened soldier like Chellak scream like a woman. But I digress . . . .)
But the *real* villain of the piece, of course, is not Jek at all, but rather his old friend and rival Morgus, and this is where Holmes's satire really comes into play. If anything, Morgus is an even flatter character than Jek, but Holmes's clear concept of him makes him believably awful, and even quietly frightening. (Compare the character to the buffoonish, bellowing Henry van Statten in 'Dalek,' and you tell me which is the better realization of a Super Capitalist as Villain.) Holmes's treatment of the character is enormously cynical, and the way in which Morgus tries to hitch his rapacious business interests to political ideals ("Patriotism is our only viewpoint") resonates just as well in the era of Halliburton as it must have in the Reagan/Thatcher-dominated 1980s. And of course, like many contemporary giants of commerce, Morgus is ultimately shown to have his fingers in too many pies at once, and given this fact it's probably a mercy that he meets a quick end at the hands of his archenemy rather than facing the legal and political annihilation that would wait for him if he survived. John Normington gives a much more contained performance than Christopher Gable here, but it's no less effective. He is steely and unblinking in the role, and while the character's asides to the camera are a bit stagey and strange (is Morgus the narrator?), the actor plays them so well that they never become a joke.
And although the overall tone of the story is serious and dark, Holmes does find ways to slip in his trademark wit, however grimly. He does so in extremely subtle ways, tying the humor in to the subject matter to the point where it may not seem funny the first time (as when Peri jokes about her rash early on - "I don't expect we'll die of it within the next hour" - little realizing she actually *has* been infected with a lethal disease), but which improves with subsequent viewings. Morgus's conversations with the President provide some dry amusement too, with the politician cheerfully suggesting to the businessman that Jek's terms may have to be accepted (and Morgus's head sacrificed) if the situation is not resolved soon. And Episode Four in particular contains many darkly funny surprises, notably Stotz's smiling betrayal of his fellows (double-crosses like this are common in Doctor Who, but rarely do they feel so believable, or so shocking), and Krau Timmin's cool one of her master ("Are you sitting at my *desk*?" is a wonderful line, and John Normington delivers it with just the right combination of disbelief and dawning realization).
So, 'The Caves of Androzani' is well plotted and characterized. But it's the *emotional* content, unusually, that really raises this story above the competition. As with many Holmes scripts, the stakes here are relatively small – Jek simply wants revenge against a single man, and Morgus simply wants to continue his brutal commercial efforts – but that just adds to the realism, and makes it seem all the more important for the Doctor and Peri to get out of there as fast as they can before they die. (After all, they have no universe to save this time.) And the tone of the story is so serious, and the subject of the Doctor's and Peri's illness treated so realistically (if subtly), that even two decades down the road, it does still feels like they're *really going to die* - it's *very* unusual for this show to give the impression of such danger, even in good stories. This makes the *Doctor's* stakes both large and small at the same time – he doesn't care about the war or who wins it, he just wants to get his friend medicine, fast, and he abandons his concern for anything else in his focus. The cliffhanger to Episode Three is so beautifully played, with the Doctor half-laughing (!) as he crashes the spaceship, but it's only one example of the sense of inescapable doom about this story – things seem to be genuinely unraveling in a way they rarely do in these stories. This feeling of grim inevitability is in fact enhanced by our knowledge that this is Peter Davison's final story, and especially for those of us who love the Fifth Doctor. As I said, I've been going through a sampling of Doctor Who stories more or less in order, and watching 'Caves' I realized that this was the first time in my survey that I honestly wasn't ready to move along to a new era. As for Davison's acting, his Doctor is at his most sarcastic here – he seems like he's asking for a punch in the face with his goading of Chellak in Episode One and Jek and 'Stotzie' through much of the rest of the story. But he is also vulnerable and humane, two of the best qualities of this Doctor, and, as others have pointed out, when he says "Adric?" just before regenerating, it's as if he's aware of his own failings in his final moments – an extremely moving thing, and perfectly in character for this fallible, sympathetic incarnation.
After all this, it almost seems like an afterthought to go into specifics about the production aesthetics, so I'll only mention one: while in its design, the story is a typical studio-bound Davison story (notably, we only see the crashing spaceship from the *inside*!), the exterior shots at the beginning are pretty amazing. The one of the Doctor and Peri walking away from the TARDIS with mountains in the distance is one of the most frankly beautiful I can recall seeing in this series, and so it's fitting that it should introduce such a memorable story.
What can I possibly say about 'The Caves of Androzani' that hasn't been said before? Very little, actually; it is a superb finale for Davison, and possibly my favourite story of the entire John Nathan-Turner era.
I've repeatedly declared that Robert Holmes is my favourite writer for the Doctor Who television series, and 'The Caves of Androzani' is another example of why. The characterisation is superb, even for the minor characters, and the attention to detail makes this story another example of why he was so good at portraying other societies and worlds. As in 'Carnival of Monsters' and 'The Ribos Operation', Holmes' skill at hinting at wider cultures is in evidence, with numerous references to the wider social background of Androzani Major. There are references to the planet's industry, with the copper mines controlled by the Sirius Conglomerate, and the planet's penal system. Several references make it clear that capital punishment is in use on Major (Morgus' order to Krau Timmin that the lift maintenance engineer be shot doesn't raise an eyebrow), and there is also a reference to a chawcaw picking, apparently a penalty for crimes not serious enough to warrant execution. There are also references to military customs, with death under the red cloth being a prime example. In addition, it is made clear that Androzani Major, despite the benefits that some of its people reap from Spectrox, is no utopia; businessman Morgus has considerable influence over the Presidium, in an effective demonstration of capitalism gone mad. His gift of Spectrox to the President is little more than a bribe to maintain his standing with the people who supposedly run the planet, and although the President clear doesn't like him it is implied that he often follows Morgus' suggestions. The use of labour camps as a solution to the problem of unemployment, with Morgus proposing that anyone who doesn't have a valid work permit could be shipped off for what is effectively a life of unpaid slavery, is disturbing; the President's acceptance of the suggestion is even more so, especially since he clearly realises that Morgus is exploiting the system for his own benefit. As the President points out, Morgus has been closing plants in the west, causing increased unemployment; by shipping the unemployed off to camps in the east, those citizens who he has sacked will be working for him again, but without being paid. Such corruption is clearly rife on Androzani Major, a world driven by greed and profit. And there is corruption too within the military; Morgus can effectively give orders to the military because of the power he wields behind the scenes, and in a lesser example Chellack feels unable to reveal that he ordered the execution of two androids because if he does so it will ruin his career. Had Jek really been using androids as gunrunners, the General's decision to keep quiet about it would have been criminal to say the least.
The plot of 'The Caves of Androzani' works superbly well, and although it is very similar to that of Holmes' previous (and rather poor) 'The Power of Kroll', it works far better. The reason for this is due largely to the characterisation. Even the relatively minor characters are well characterised; Krelper's attempts to rival Stotz's leadership are an example, and lead to two great character moments. One of these is their confrontation on the cliff top as Stotz humiliates Krelper, who is left pleading for his life, and the other is Stotz's casual murder of Krelper and his other surviving subordinate in Episode Four. Roy Holder plays Krelper with just the right amount of load mouthed swagger to successfully convey that for all his criticism of Stotz he is merely a thug who is totally outclassed by his psychopathic leader. Another well-characterised minor character (again, relatively speaking) is David Neal's President. He clearly dislikes Morgus but needs his support; his contempt when he points out the advantages to Morgus in shipping the unemployed to labour camps is barely concealed, as is his revelation that Morgus' funding of the campaign on Androzani Minor ought to be generous, since he owns the planet. Holmes also provides a nice detail by hinting at a past military career for the character, as he watches the apparent execution of the Doctor and Peri with disgust and declares that "In my day we'd have had filthy little swine like that shot in the back. The red cloth was for soldiers".
Krau Timmin is another particularly good example; she is initially portrayed as Morgus' confidant and possibly secretary, but by the end it is revealed that she is just as ruthless as her employer, selling him out to the presidium in order to take over as chairman of the Sirius Conglomerate. Barbara Kinghorn plays the role with a calm efficiency; she is not remotely unsettled by the explosion at the North Caul Copper Mine, even though Morgus later implies that she isn't supposed to know that he organized it, and her reaction to the death of the President is only slightly more emotional. Then there is Martin Cochrane's Chellack, a professional soldier clearly embittered by the fact that he has to obey orders to a civilian he understandably despises, and sufficiently aware of how his society works that he accepts the need to execute the Doctor and Peri despite believing them to be innocent. His aforementioned refusal to tell the presidium that he has ordered the execution of androids evokes no sense that this is a man who is happily dishonest, rather one of impotent frustration that his world requires such deception if he is to maintain his career. Indeed, he has succumbed to the pressures of Androzani society to the extent that he decides to send Ensign Cass, the only other witness aside from Salateen to the discovery that the bodies are androids, on a deep penetration mission, knowing full well that he won't return. He doesn't seem happy with the decision, but knows that if he doesn't ensure Cass's silence, his own future will suffer. Salateen contrasts nicely with Chellack; far less experienced than the General, the real Salateen has an enthusiasm about him even after months spent as Jek's prisoner. He also, once he escapes, exhibits a brash confidence that is unwarranted; his plan to trick Jek with misinformation is optimistic at best. His incautious approach to an android in Episode Four is a great example of this confidence; he doesn't even contemplate the fact that his belt plate will fail him and dies as a result. Ironically, Jek's facsimile of Salateen would never have made such a reckless mistake. Robert Glenister impressively distinguishes between the two in his performance, the android seeming far more efficient and emotionless than its original.
But for all the great supporting characters in 'The Caves of Androzani', it is the two main villains who dominate. Morgus and Sharaz Jek are very much opposites; Jek is emotional and unstable, whereas Morgus is cold, and calculating. Sharaz Jek is a superb character, played deadly straight by Christopher Gable, in an astonishing performance. Jek is frighteningly mad; in the blink of an eye he changes from gloating genius to a deeply embittered and damaged individual shaking with uncontrollable fury. Jek's volatility is evident throughout, and it brings an edge to his scenes with the Doctor and Peri that make him utterly unpredictable; Gable acts with both his voice and his body, becoming a physical threat in an instant as he towers over Peri and demands whether she wants to see his face beneath the mask with sheer rage in his voice. His motivation is perfectly devised, a once handsome and popular man betrayed and abandoned and turned into a monster as a result. So bitter is he and so desperate for revenge that he will stop at nothing to get at Morgus, denying Spectrox to everyone on Androzani Major and orchestrating the deaths of hundreds of Chellack's troops as they fight to regain control of Androzani Minor. His desperate loneliness and need for beauty is pathetic, and almost sympathetic, but he's also brutal and dangerous; he thinks nothing of having the Doctor's arms torn out to gain the information he requires. His desire for Peri is interesting, because the impression is given that he really won't hurt her, despite the predatory sexual overtones.
Morgus meanwhile is very different to Jek; whereas Jek is motivated by a desire for revenge, Morgus is motivated by power and profit. Wheras Jek is passionate and unstable, Morgus is icy cold; his destruction of his own copper mine and his murder of the President are the actions of a man determined to control his profit margin and his power base whatever the cost. He orders sabotage and executions with casual calmness and never loses his composure. When he believes that the President has discovered that he has been secretly providing Jek with weapons to prolong the war and drive up the price of Spectrox, he is forced to think quickly, but he doesn't panic. His murder of the President is carefully calculated; he swiftly plans to leave Major taking with him financial resources sequestered on the outer planets. Even when Timmin usurps him and reveals that he is wanted on seventeen counts and that his assets on the outer planets have been frozen, only a tight lipped expression and a widening of his eyes hints at the emotions this engenders. And he remains calm even then, quickly proposing to Stotz that they attempt to secure Jek's store of Spectrox. John Normington's portrayal of Morgus is superb, with even his breaking of the fourth wall, which could have been horribly tacky in the hands of a lesser actor and a lesser director, providing a chilling glimpse into the character's thoughts. The final scene between Jek and Morgus is astounding; Morgus, motivated purely by profit, pulls a gun on Jek and demands the Spectrox, with no apparent interest in their past history. Jek on the other hand is finally faced with the man for whom hatred has motivated his every waking moment for long months; with revenge consuming him, he has the strength to strangle Morgus and fight off Stotz even with bullets pumped into his body. With Morgus dead and his reason for living gone, he slumps, finally, into the arms of his greatest creation. Both Gable and Normington are superb in this scene, Gable embodying loathing whilst Normington shows Morgus, his icy calm finally punctured by the iron grip around his throat, unable to do anything but struggle weakly in Jek's death grip.
Two great villains - Jek is passionate and unstable, embittered by betrayal and motivated solely by a desire for revenge. Morgus is cold and calculating, motivated by power and profit. His destruction of his own copper mine, plus his murder of the President, are both carried out with calm, ruthless efficiency. Jek's obsession with Peri has disturbing sexual undertones. He's sympathetic and pitiful, but utterly mad. By the end, Morgus has lost everything but remains calm and calculating. Jek's final scene is superb, as he finally confronts Morgus and kills him, his hatred allowing him to fight off Stotz and withstand bullets until his task is complete.
There is another villain worthy of mention in 'The Caves of Androzani'; Maurice Roeves plays Stotz as a charismatic psychopath with great effect. Stotz is brutal, but not stupid; his ill-fated attempt to follow Jek to the Spectrox storehouse is logical, but foiled by the presence of the Magma Creature, and his threatening of the rebellious Krelper at various points leave the viewer in little doubt that anyone who crosses Stotz is likely to end up dead very quickly. He accompanies Morgus back into the caves at the end partly because he wants to settle his score with Jek, and his murderous anger towards the Doctor at the end of Episode Three is utterly convincing. Roeves also brings a laid-back attitude to the role when appropriate; he has not particular axe to grind with the Doctor until Morgus orders him to remain in geo-stationary orbit, and as a result he chats casually to his prisoner even as he chains him up. His finest moment however is his murder of Krelper, an utterly casual final lesson to a subordinate who dared to cross him.
Graeme Harper's direction of 'The Caves of Androzani' is of course crucial to its success, and rightly so. Harper brings a variety of techniques to the production that is responsible for creating the highly dramatic atmosphere throughout. His use of camera angles and slow fades is masterful; in particular, the slow fade from Jek in Episode Two after he explains that he wants Morgus' head to Morgus just as he learns that his sabotage of the copper mine has been successful and back again, nicely juxtaposes the two very different enemies. Virtually every aspect of the production is a triumph here, from model work to costumes, and with highly impressive cave sets. Roger Limb's score also adds greatly to the atmosphere. The costumes also work very well (obviously including Jek's highly distinctive leather suit), and the use of machine guns rather than ray guns adds considerably to the gritty realism of the story. The main shortcoming is of course the Magma Creature, which looks awful; it is doubly unfortunate that it is virtually extraneous to the plot, since it does little except provide a cliffhanger to Episode Two. This is however, a very minor criticism.
Finally, there are the regulars. After Peri's happy and enthusiastic characterisation in 'Planet of Fire' (and the intervening Big Finish audios), here she undergoes a significant change. Her obvious enjoyment of her travels with the Doctor is evident at the start, but is soon knocked out of her as she is gets Spectrox Toxaemia and becomes increasingly ill, nearly gets executed, and then suffers the attentions of a obsessive lunatic. It is quite natural therefore that she spends most of 'The Caves of Androzani' increasingly traumatized and unhappy, a trend that will continue into the following story. Nicola Bryant is great in the role, conveying the impression that Peri is genuinely frightened throughout, especially when faced with the overpowering Jek.
But it is Peter Davison who really steals the show, in what is for me his finest performance in the role. Having got himself and Peri into trouble through his own curiosity, he spends the rest of the story desperate to save his companion's life. The Doctor is at his most heroic, as he increasingly frantically struggles to rescue Peri and find a cure for the Spectrox Toxaemia; the cliffhanger ending to Episode Three is one of the series' finest and this is largely because of Davison. He is like a man possessed as he disregards Stotz's threats with a manic cheeriness, shouting that he owes it to Peri to try and find a cure. Indeed, it is concern for Peri's life rather than his own that seems to drive him, culminating in his final sacrifice as he gives the bat's milk to Peri and, effectively, dies. Throughout Episode Four, as nearly all of the supporting characters die around him and the mud burst begins, the Doctor fights his way through chaos to reach the Queen Bat, and then get back to Peri. As the Doctor struggles with his own increasingly ill health and carries Peri in his arms, Davison's ability to combine the impression of illness with one of manic desperation is incredibly good. Interestingly, whilst the Doctor unknowingly catalyses events throughout 'The Caves of Androzani' and is thus crucial to the denouement, his need to save Peri means that he spends most of his time in single-minded pursuit of this goal, raising the question of how differently events on Androzani Minor might have played out had the Doctor focused his full attention on the conflict. The final scene is beautifully directed. Graeme Harper provides my favourite regeneration in the series to date, with a rising crescendo and light and noise accompanying the transformation. The appearance of all of the Fifth Doctor's television companions seems fitting rather than a gratuitous nostalgia trip, mainly because it results in "Adric" being the last word that the Fifth Doctor speaks; final recognition of the companion that this incarnation couldn't save, and whose death has undoubtedly contributed to his increasingly serious attitude throughout the Fifth Doctor's era. It is a fitting end.
The decision to give the new Doctor lines at the end of final story of the old is an effective one; the Sixth Doctor's caustic comments speaks volumes about the character of the new incarnation, and tantalizes with a glimpse of a Doctor who is obviously going to very distinct from his predecessor. In summary, 'The Caves of Androzani' is not just one of Doctor Who's finest stories, it is also a stunning swansong for Peter Davison and offers an intriguing hint of what is to come. Which means that the following story comes as a bit of a shock…
I was initially rather disappointed with this story when it first was on television, but with hindsight now regard it as one of the true classics of its time. The problem was that I was expecting another Logopolis type story, with a dramatic threat-to-the-universe type senario as befitting a Doctor's regeneration tale. This rather sordid gun-running drama didn't, to me, seem really worthy to be the Fifth Doctor's final adventure; not for a Doctor who had been back to Event One, saved the universe on Terminus, faced Omega again, etc. Also, I was really, really wanting an old monster to appear for this final story - I love stories with old monsters so rather enjoyed Peter Davison's run - but there wasn't one. We saw tantalising glimpses of Sharaz Jek in part one - close ups of his mouth, eyes etc, and I was hoping that this would be some old foe from the Doctor's past, but alas.
However, what we are left with is still an action filled, tense and extremely exciting tale. I loved the fact that machine pistols were used by everyone and not some space laser guns; it made the thing more realistic and gritty. The characters were uniformly excellant - Jek, Chellack, Morgus, Stotz. Some of them were wonderfully evil throughout whilst others had evil more or less thrust upon them by being in a difficult situation at a difficult time. I particularly liked Salateen who, while being ruthless at least had a sense of fair play - he didn't do anything bad without a reason and also didn't hog all the credit for his and Peri's escape from Jek's headquarters. He was fair minded but ended up just as dead as everyone else.
All the episode endings were superb but the ending of episode one was a bit flat in comparison - we see a panel slide open in the back of the Doctor and Peri's cell moments before they are led to the firing squad, so this rather spoils things as we know that the doctor and peri do not face certain death. We don't yet know about Jek's ability to create replicas, but we now know that SOMETHING happened. If we hadn't seen that panel open beforehand the ending would have been much more spectatcula, but as it is the suspense is spoiled somewhat.
Then, after a load of treachery, explosions, shootings and death, the Doctor regenerates after a typical act of noble sacrifice - beware of Trions carrying beautiful half-drowned American girls into one's Tardis the moment one's back is turned is I suppose the moral - but regenerates into what? Who is this new persona who is rather sharp with the bewildered Peri at the story's closing moments? That, as we all know, is another story.....