Shows - Review
Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode: Caves of Androzani (Part 1)
Review by: Michael Hickerson
Watching the Caves of Androzani, I'm always struck by how atypical a story it is--not only of the Davison years, but of Doctor Who as whole.
From the moment the TARDIS materialized on Androzani Minor, the Doctor and Peri are victims. There is no righting of wrongs, plucky rebels to ally with or authority figures to be dethroned. No, the power struggle into which the Doctor and Peri become unwitting pawns is far more insidious and at the end of the story all that's really happened is that a lot of people have died and no one has come out of the events any better off than they were before.
Arguably the only person who is better off at the end of the story is Krau Timmon. But since she's taking over as the spider in the web for the corrupt Morgus, you have to wonder if by winning she's really lost everything.
It's a story that you could argue, the Doctor's presense in things make the situation worse rather than better. The entire supporting cast dies in the final two episodes and it could be argued that the Doctor has made the political situation on Androzani Major even worse. Jek's stronghold is seeing burning at the end, presumably destroying his stockpiles of Spectrox--the most valuable substance in the universe. Throught the story, the shortages of Spectrox are talked about and its implied that this is what leads to much of the rebellion within the working class on Major. Should the Spectrox become more scarce, the uprising and political unrest can only become more intense. And the idea of somehow getting more Spectrox has been destroyed since we can also assume a lot of androids are destroyed as is Jek. Without Jek to create more androids to harvest the Spectrox, the situation gets even more grave.
The Doctor usually comes in and makes the situation a bit better for his having arrived. But maybe not so this time.
He and Peri are unwitting pawns in a political game from start to finish. One fascinating aspect of this story is how the Doctor and Peri's presense is interpreted by the various players in the game. To the army, the Doctor and Peri are gunrunners who should be shot. To Morgus, they are players in the political game, tightening a noose around his neck. To Jek, they are companions to him down his self-imposed exile.
In all of this, the usually noble fifth Doctor has only one goal--to find a way to save Peri and himself. The Doctor's agenda is the most clear-cut--find the queen bat to get her milk and cure himself and Peri. Were it not for an accident in episode one, the Doctor and Peri could leave the first time they escape from Jek's stronghold. But due to the Spectox Toxemia, they must stay and find a way to cure themselves before they can leave. Because of that, they become victims more and more as the story unfolds--until the fifth Doctor must sacrifice everything so that Peri can live.
It's interesting in a story that is so full of dominant male figures that it is only two females who survive past the closing credits--Timmon and Peri. Timmon proves herself just as much an opportunit as Morgus when she takes control of his increasing paranoia and seizes power. Peri, on the other hand, is a pawn in a game from start to finish. She is the object of Jek's lust and trades hands several times during the course of the story--all of them as a prisoner of some kind or another.
For those who argue that Who only really started to become dark and adult during the McCoy years, you need only point them at Caves of Androzani to see that Who was dark and adult before that. Caves of Androzani is the finest hour of one of Who's best writers. His hiatus from the show only strengthens him. It's hard to remember than when Caves first aired, it had been five years since we'd last heard from Holmes and even that was the sub-part Power of Kroll. Here he returns with a vengeance with a solid script that is packed with the trademark dialogue, characters and politcal situation Holmes excelled at creating. In a lot of ways, every Robert Holmes script that led up to Caves is a warm-up for the brilliance we get here.
But Caves of Androzani isn't just about the script--as good as it is. Caves succeeds because it's one of those moments in Who when every element comes together in near perfection.
Part of what elevates the story is Graham Harper's superlative direction. Harper gives the story a visual flair, even doing something as simple as making standard BBC caves seem sinister. Between the lighting, the smoke effects and camera angles, Harper drives the story alone, making it come alive visually and increasing the growing sense of dread and despair. It's interesting that the best lit scenes are those of Morgus's office, where the darkest dealings of the story take place.
But Harper also chose a strong cast for his story. The highest compliment I can pay this story is that I cannot imagine anyone else in the roles. Each of the actors here work brilliantly, again elevating the greatness of Caves. In a story full of great performances, several stand out. One is the often overlookd role of Robert Glenister as Salateen. Glenister does a great job of portraying not only Salateen but his android copy--and making both unique. Glenister holds his eyes open, his head at a different angle as the android Salateen. Glenister clues us in from the first scene that something isn't right with Salateen but we don't find out what until episode two. Once you see the real Salateen, you realize what Glenister is doing as the android Salateen. It's a brilliant performance.
Add to this the superb work done by Maurice Rooves and John Normington and that might be enough. But Caves doesn't stop there. All these are icing on the cake when seen in the light of Christopher Gable's performance as Sharaz Jek.
Jek is a unique monster in Doctor Who. A man who's been burned in every way. All he wants is to be human again--to love and to be surrounded by the good things in life. He can buy whatever he wants with his strange hold on Spectox--except for his soul back. He tries to find it with the Doctor and Peri...seeing Peri as an object for her beauty. The script makes Jek a sympathetic monster--so that by the time his true face is revealed in episode four, we feel sympathy when Peri screams in terrror. In the end, Jek wants what he can't have--human touch. His dying words to the robot of Salateen are to be held as the world crumbles around him. And Gable infuses Jek with all of this. The way that he carries himself and hides in shadow is great. Jek's voice and temper are superbly realized. Jek is one of the few enemies feels threatening and not over the top in his rage. Seeing his extremes--the scene where Jek throws himself on the table in rage when Peri escapes could easily have been over the top, but Gable gives the scene depth and makes it real.
But as close to perfect as this one is, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least address the one glaring weakness with the story--the Magma Monster. Visually, it's the usual guy in a rubber suit and you can see the story struggle with that. Thankfully, the monster is kept to the sidelines for much of the story and doesn't weigh it down too much. Yes, there is a sense of forcing a cliffhanger to episode two with the monster, but in the overall scheme of how brilliant this story is, it's not something that drags it down too far. It doesnt' do anything to keep this from being one of the absolute classics of Doctor Who's entire run.
Of course, it should come as no shock that this was the first Davison story to see the light of day on DVD. (Five Doctors is really more an ensemble effort in my book). Looking at it again on DVD, I'm struck by how good it looks. DVD only helps the story's strong visual style.
The only thing I wish we'd had on the DVD was a 5.1 audio track for it. Imagine how great that would have been.
Otherwise the extras are their usual strong compliment to the story. We get commentary by Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and Graeme Harper. Davison is particularily irreverant about some parts, but he also seems to remember a lot about the story and talks well of it. Everyone involved shows a good amount of respect for the show and the work but they aren't so serious about it that they lose sight of its a show that is intended to be fun. Bryant has fun pointing out things like how does Peri know they're bombs in episode one and seeing her bounce on a mat off the cliff.
The other extras include some studio footage of the regneration sequence, with optional commentary. Interesting to see Harper talk about what he wanted from the material and how he's not sure he achieved it as he envisioned (in reference to the regeneration sequence). We also have some clips from the announcement of Davison's departure. It's more one of those--watch 'em once and not ever again. We get an isolated music score and the usual picture gallery and Who's Who. It's a solid release, though I found myself wishing that Colin Baker had been invited to participate in the stuff about the regeneration. I've heard him say in interviews that his first few lines are the ones he'd most like to redo since he was so nervous about doing them and he's not sure he thinks the performance is his best. I'd love to hear his perspective of the outsider coming in.
Wrapping it all up, Caves is a brilliant Who story. The best of the Davison years and one of the three best stories in the entire run of Doctor Who. It's one that is worth seeing again and again. In fact, no matter when you last saw it, it's been too long since you've seen it. Watch it again and enjoy.
Last Updated: 10/25/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
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