DW: The Caves of Androzani Review

DW Caves of Androzani

The Fifth Doctor’s reign comes to an end in a story that is often, and quite rightly, described as his best. Caves of Androzani is dark, gritty, full of complex characters, and has the normally a bit naff and polite Fifth Doctor going through hell and being a true hero. If only his other stories were half this good! Let’s take a look then, shall we?

Synopsis:

Arriving on the barren world of Androzani Minor, the Doctor and Peri find themselves embroiled in a long running, literal underground war. At the heart of the conflict is a substance called Spectrox – both valuable and deadly! The Doctor & Peri wind up being poisoned by the material, which is killing them slowly and painfully unless they can find a cure. As the conflict heats up and the situation gets more desperate, the Doctor realises time is running out – both for Peri and himself…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

DW Caves of Androzani 1

“If you’re so clever and into botany, what is this?”  “A leaf?”  “… Yes, well done!”

The Doctor (Peter Davison) – The Doctor is on one of his first solo adventures with companion Peri Brown (or if you don’t count Big Finish audios in your canon, his first adventure with Peri period) and the two have landed on a pretty barren and sandy world… only good things surely await!

Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant) – Peri is looking forward to some new adventures with The Doctor (her first, or one of her first with just the two of them, depending…) but is disappointed by the location chosen… Still, maybe things will pick up?

Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable) – Sharaz was once one half of a successful Spectrox mining operation with his partner Morgus… until the latter betrayed him and left his face and body horribly scarred. Jek soon wore a bizarre leather suit and mask and began plotting his revenge by using the very androids he had created to benefit Morgus as his undoing…

Morgus (John Normington) – “The richest man in the Five Planets”, Morgus is driven by the lust for money and power, and so had no problem cutting out his business partner Sharaz Jek from the shared profits by killing him… except the planned mud blast “accident” merely disfigured him, and gave him a strong thirst for revenge…

Stotz (Maurice Roeves) – A mercenary hired by Morgus, originally trading in guns down on Androzani Minor. Stotz eventually found out where Morgus’ enemy Sharaz Jek was hiding, leading to a fateful encounter…

Plus more!

The Good:

DW Caves of Androzani 2

Now… do I got for a classic “looks like he’s into S & M” gag or not…

Let’s start with our lead, The Doctor. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Fifth Doctor could be a bit too polite and unwilling to get his hands dirty, and mostly his era was sadly filled with rather dull and boring stories to go along with this. In Caves on the other hand, he’s thrown deep into an unpleasant war between two people intent on killing the other with an army of soldiers or androids, during which he and his companion are poisoned. Throughout the story he is injured (beyond the poisoning) but pushes on, not for himself, but for his companion, as he “got her involved in this” so he “owed it to her to find the cure”. Finally, at the end of the story, he only has enough of the cure for one, so of course he gives it to Peri and lies dying, not knowing if he’ll regenerate or not. It’s a great, noble and heroic send off for this incarnation of the Doctor.

Then you have the antagonists of the story. Morgus is your classic money and power obsessed businessman type, and Stotz is your classic “do anything for the right price” mercenary type, but Sharaz Jek is something different. Sure, he’s driven purely by revenge, which isn’t a heroic trait, but at the same time you do feel for him. He was screwed over and disfigured, and at times you see the man he used to be. He then gets a Phantom of the Opera-like obsession over Peri, which leads to some properly creepy scenes, then later to some scenes where he is afraid of Peri seeing his disfigured face, and so you kind of feel sorry for him again. It’s a strange, but definitely interesting performance. His also works with The Doctor as much as against him, after all his enemy is Morgus, not him, especially when it’s obvious that Peri is dying. This trio of negative traits, power, greed and revenge, all kill each other (well, with Stotz being killed by one of Jek’s androids), which is fitting, Not one of them deserve a “victory”, although Jek’s killing of Morgus was probably the only victory he wanted anyway…

The dark tone is something that you either like or you don’t. I certainly wouldn’t want all of my Doctor Who like this, but this bleak tone is just right for The Doctor to become just a little bit more desperate and unyielding, but still come across as a genuinely nice person who always wants to do the right thing. It’s unique in that normally when The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a conflict he joins with the rebel or underdog side and fights the clearly “evil” army with them, but here you have an army lead by a greedy businessman against an army lead by a man who wants revenge no matter the cost. The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a war with no right side to stand on. By the end the only thing that happened on Androzani Minor was a massacre, with even The Doctor “dead” in the end…

The Bad:

DW Caves of Androzani 3

Mercenaries who just couldn’t be bothered with a good colour scheme…

Not much to talk about really! Peri can be a bit annoying sometimes, the accent especially, but this is far from her worst performance. The magma creature that appears before The Doctor in a cave is among the worst special effects in the series long history, even for its time period, so yeah… that’s not good. But in general, very little to dislike here!

The Continuity:

DW Caves of Androzani 4

Funky line effects with past companions willing him on, another new take on regeneration… it’s a shame they’ve become so uniform now…

Surprisingly, given the story’s popularity, very little to write here (beyond “The Twin Dilemma” picking up where this story leaves off, as pretty much all first stories for the next Doctors tend to…) The Eleventh Doctor Christmas TV story “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” involves a mining team from Androzani Major, though doesn’t take place in the planetary system, and… that’s about it! Though in the Sixth Doctor audio story “The Widow’s Assassin”, Peri reveals that the Spectrox poisoning rendered her infertile, which, you know… is nice. I guess it retroactively suits the rather bleak tone of this story, anyway!

Overall Thoughts:

The Caves of Androzani is one of those stories that gets universally praised so much you go into it assuming you’ll like it, but also assuming that it won’t “live up to the hype”. Well, I have to say, it does! Every time I rewatch it I kind of expect my opinion will probably change for the worse a little, but nope. It’s dark, well written, well acted with a great final episode and a damn fine regeneration story overall, with the Fifth Doctor going out on a high that really his era didn’t deserve, but I’m glad it got.

5 Star Watch

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