THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Ultimate Treasure
BBC
The Caves of Androzani

Episodes 4 'Feels different this time....'
Story No# 136
Production Code 6R
Season 21
Dates Mar. 8, 1984 -
Mar. 16, 1984

With Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant.
Written by Robert Holmes. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Graeme Harper. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis:The Doctor and Peri become entangled in a power struggle between rival powers over control of a youth restorative.

Back to page one (the first twenty reviews)


Reviews

Masterpiece by Mike Amaral 26/5/03

Caves of Androzani is the best television sci-fi story ever (City of Death isn't even in the same universe). Everything hits the mark the acting, the story, the directing, and yes even the production values (with one obvious exception).

First the story, Robert Holmes provides us (as usual with him) with a very believable future human civilization yet bizarre enough to be interesting. The youth drug spectrox is a stroke of genius not for its originality but for how it's handled. The spectrox is being horded as a tool for power. And the ironic thing is, in it's raw form it will kill you! And as has been pointed out before, Holmes does this without spending valuable story time on boring subjects just for the sake of back-story. Other shows that will remain nameless always sacrifice story for boring completeness. I prefer a bit of mystery.

Needless to say Graeme Harper is a stunning director and he brought real flare to the program. His shots on hand held are reminiscent of many shows and films that have come much later. Sharez Jek is Oscar worthy. The fifth doctor is at his best and Peri always did work better with Peter Davison. Morgus is as close to evil, without having evil plastered across his shirt, as you would like. This story is so good even the minor characters shine.

The only minor complaint I would have is of the dinosaur/monster thing. It was poorly, realized (what else is new). I don't blame production for its failure. With JNT's budget I'm amazed they made payroll every week. Neither, do I dislike the Magma monster's inclusion, as it is an important threat throughout. I blame, believe it or not, the director! Far be it from me to criticize a director with the talent of Mr. Harper, but when you have a crappy effect that doesn't really work don't spend a lot of time on it and certainly don't use it to close an episode! I can never understand why a director would even want to show a monster in the first place no matter how good it looks it will be a disappointment. Keep monsters hidden, they're scarier that way.

Minor complaints aside this is still as good as sci-fi ever got and it's been twenty years now.

9/10


The Nice Man in the Nasty Universe by Will Berridge 12/7/03

My latest viewing of Caves of Androzani begged one burning question: precisely what sex is the lift maintenance engineer? Because as we all know one of those sad little facts us fans find so inexplicably scintillating is that in this story, all the males die (including the Doctor who regenerates), and all the representatives of the fairer sex live to whinge another day. Supposedly. Well, in a society where the only female role seems to be as a secretary (women aren't employed as, er... soldiers, gun runners and presidents) it's a fair guess that the lift maintenance service would hold similarly prejudiced views. But what about the underling Morgus sends to "see to events" at the North Core copper mine? Do we ever see him perish? No! The statistic is false!

Actually, false as it is, it's only just so, and it's actually very telling regarding the story. Like (and slightly less obviously than) Zeta Major, it's trying to make an incredibly feminist point about the degeneration of male-dominated cultures. Bob Holmes' story brings us face to face with corruption on every level. In one scene, Sharaz Jek is ranting on about the "basest scum" and "petty criminals", who are "invariably paranoid", forming the lower echelons of Androzanian society. In the next scene (Or was it the scene before? They were definitely one after the other.), we see the corrupt chairman of the Sirius Conglomerate murdering the president by pushing him down an empty lift shaft. And in the final episode, these two parties merge together as Morgus desperately throws his lot in with Stotz who tells him, despite his descent from the first colonists, "You're just like me. A man with a gun."

So, just like Zeta Major, the non-regular cast are a varied collection of individuals linked by the one common characteristic which is their shared bastardness. Never has one story witnessed so many types of bastard: Sharak Jek, the insane, tortured, sympathetic bastard, driven only by his hatred of Morgus and lust for Peri. Morgus, the callous, conniving, unsympathetic bastard, who would halve a minute's silence to keep the production rate at his factories efficient. Salateen, the sly, heartless bastard who finds the imminent death of two innocents amusing because it will prevent one of his fellow bastard having company and leave him tragic and lonely. Stotz, the vicious, hard-bitten, treacherous bastard who we see screaming "bite, you slut, bite!" as he tries to make Krelper take the suicide pill, and later gunning down the same comrade, almost as an afterthought, because he doesn't want to participate in hunting down the Spectrox refinery. The president, too, is very much a bastard in the way we interpret all politicians as bastards, and Bob Holmes writes the character some majestically cynical lines. His calculating remark "Yes, I suppose we could make that seem morally justifiable" is just one of many little gems in the exchanges between the President and Morgus. There's one superbly scripted moment where the President appears to be showing compassion for the death of the Doctor and Peri by "the red cloth", stating "it's disgraceful", but then goes on to explain "In my day we'd have had filthy little swine like that shot in the back." All the added details such as the sub-plot about Morgus' elimination of an over-productive copper mine just add to the character of the story.

In fact, Caves could claim to be just about the most genuinely 'gritty' DW story there is, an impression created not only by the only vaguely foul word used in the series' entire history, but the constant other moments of random and unexpected violence that punctuate the story. The President is smiling warmly and confidently as he thanks Morgus for ensuring his safety, and a second later he has been shoved down a lift shaft to his death by his apparent benefactor. The Doctor is standing by watching Stotz and Jek debate their transaction, perhaps relieved his flippant mark a minute ago has for once gone unnoticed, when Jek recalls a mental note and whacks him in the face. Salateen is coolly leading his troops onwards past what he thinks is an inactive android, and, one moment later, he's been shot down by the same machine. Krelper is relaxing in the ship after the apparently amicable departure of Stotz, happily anticipating the riches his ill-gained 2 kilos of Spectrox will obtain for him, when Stotz walks straight back in and shoots him down. Stotz himself, in the final shoot-out, smugly shoots Sharaz Jek in the rear only for his android to appear out of nowhere and plug him full of bullets a moment later. The hostile atmosphere is further enhanced by a typically tingly DW score, and the misty darkness of sets used for the eponymous caves.

And cast into this vicious, hostile, untrusting world is... just about the most polite, affable, genial altruist in the whole (fictional) universe. Peter Davison's Doctor. His interaction with this story's plethora of bastards is sublime. His subtle undermining of the Chellak's pompous insistence that he be called 'sir' is hilarious, and as soon as he is brought before Morgus he courteously enquires 'and how ought I address you?'. The Doctor's charismatic streak of wit is universally poorly received by all the 'bastard' characters, one marvellous Sharaz Jek response being 'your sense of humour will be the death of you, Doctor... probably quite soon.' Of course, even the 5th Doctor's apparently indomitable temperament deteriorates eventually, as in Episode 3, taken captive and dying from Spectrox Toxaemia, he expresses his disgust at what he has experienced. He tells Morgus "I was just passing through when I happened to get caught up in your pathetic little local war." The cliffhanger of the same episode is a triumph for the sheer good nature of the same character, who amidst all the greedy, paranoid, murderous psychotics, lets his courage and altruism shine through. Despite being on death's door, he determinedly seizes control of Stotz's shuttlecraft and pilots it back to Androzani Minor, explaining "I owe it to my friend because I got her into this!". It is true, however, that he got her into it, due to one of the Doctor's (all 8... or is it 9 now?) more traditional traits, most rigorously explored in this story... his insatiable curiosity. He just can't help himself... about 3 minutes after admitting "curiosity's always been my downfall", confessing his error in investigating the caves in the first place, and stumbling upon the Spectrox nest which would cause his eventual death, he's at it again. "Morgus said Spectrox was the most valuable substance in the universe..." he ponders "I wonder what it could be?". This story features one of the most detail character portrayals of any of the Doctors and Davison's performance is utterly outstanding.

So there you have it. Who haven't I mentioned? Chellak. The Magma beast. Well I had to get round to the bad points at some stage, didn't I? I simply can't understand why the former wasn't up to the same level as the other characters in the story. I mean he's still a bastard, of course, a crass, unthinking military bastard, but like all military characters he's made unnecessarily stupid. You have to wince a little as he reacts with gobsmacked astonishment as Salateen reveals how Jek has deceived him another time. He also gets one horrible line as the camera focuses in on his face and he remarks of Jek in a hackneyed fashion "and when he's captured, I'll have that evil renegade dragged in chains through every city on Major!". Ouch. And, for a veteran soldier, isn't he a bit wimpy when Jek's mask comes of in the last episode? I'm an easily frightened 18 year old and a man with a greeny-yellow face doesn't make me scream. And the Magma Beast? Well, I'd really like to forget about it. But the production team didn't, they revolved episode 2's cliffhanger around it. Silly them.

Two tiny little flaws and they take away very little from what turns out to be a striking DW tale, far removed from the cosy little tea-time fantasy of previous seasons. 9/10


The Elements of Style -- and Substance by Jason A. Miller 10/12/03

There are two kinds of Androzani bashers, I think. There's The Discontinuity Guide, which labels this story "a triumph of style over substance". I think that's meant to be an insult, even though it sounds more like something incomprehensible out of the Doctor Who Handbooks. Unusual, since so much of The Discontinuity Guide is a reaction against the Handbook people ethos.

The second kind of Androzani basher is from the school of thought that there isn't all that much substance here, period. The story's seen as a rip-off of "Phantom of the Opera", or, better, of The Talons of Weng-Chiang (by the same author, even). This bit is defensible -- compare Magnus Greel's unmasking with Sharaz Jek's. They're virtually identical, even down to what we see underneath. Also bafflingly, this story has been called a rewrite of The Power of Kroll so many times that I think people are starting to take it on faith. Where did that come from? I first saw it in a Matt Jones list in DWM. You've got a gun-runner and a double-dealing authority figure, but that's about it. Maybe Androzani is a rip-off of The Seeds of Doom, too? There's no emotional punch in Kroll. It's not fair to compare the two, especially to try and make Kroll look good in comparison.

Style first. This story is certainly a triumph of style. It's Graeme Harper's direction, obviously, pulling all sorts of nifty tricks out of the bag that DW didn't use often enough. There's the frequent use of dissolves, and matches. So many times we enter a scene on a character's disembodied head, whether it's Davison's musings on what Spectrox could possibly be, or Sharaz Jek's laughing maniacally.

The visual look is best appreciated when compared to the next story produced, The Twin Dilemma. Both stories have similar sets -- caves, craggy knobs, rooms made from off-white flats with windows overlooking purple skies. Which story has the glossier look? Androzani even recycles wholesale all the costumes from Warriors of the Deep and makes it look new.

The score is edgier than usual. We learned from Doctor Who that use of percussion on the soundtrack doesn't necessarily add to a story -- witness those silly Casio-inspired handclap effects accompanying the Daleks of Remembrance. But here, it's the military cadence behind the execution scenes in Part One which fits so well. There's even the use of symbolism, in the rattlesnake hiss that accompanies Sharaz Jek, the way a cawing crow on "The Simpsons" tells us we're back at the nuclear power plant.

Other things Harper does that just never got done, before or since:

There are not one, but two, seminal cliffhangers here. The first is all Harper, I think. How many Doctor Who episodes ended on the word "Fire!", or on, "Kill them!"? Probably one in every three. At the end of Part One here, the episode doesn't end on the order to fire. It actually ends on the bullets!

Speaking of subversion of expectation, there's another great one in Part One. How many times did the Doctor escape a villain by hiding in plain sight? Here, the Doctor and Peri both try to hide from the army... by standing behind the same crate! This time, the army's not fooled.

So, all that style, it's a triumph over substance, right? No, because there's substance, too. This is a Robert Holmes story, people. True, you could take all the elements of a Holmes script and run them through a Markov chainer: there's the cast of six characters; the frequent use of invented continuity references to make the palette seem larger; there's the double-act and the double- double cross. Yes, that's here too. The name "Professor Jackij" is mentioned so often you wonder if the guy didn't flunk Holmes out of medical school back in the '50s. Holmes creates this deliciously fatal poison, symptom by symptom, and even gives us the cure: the milk of the Queen Bat. Who even know that bats gave milk?

But for all the old elements, Holmes writes so much that is new, here. This is a stronger, more physical Fifth Doctor than we've seen before. He shoves Salateen, who'd up to that point been busy laughing over the Doctor and Peri's fate. Salateen stops laughing. Later, the Doctor breaks out of shackles bare-handed. But the Doctor is so innocent too (as opposed to naive, as he's frequently called in fandom). He takes the time to apologize to Peri for getting her into this. He memorably pleads, "I am telling the truth. I keep telling the truth! Why is it no-one believes me?".

And then there's the other great cliffhanger, the one to Part Three. Lots of Part Threes end on villainous rants. How many Part Threes end on the hero's rant? Tom Baker only wishes he had gotten to act out this cliffhanger.

There are other characters in Androzani, too, and their dialogue never gets enough credit. Listen to what Morgus and the President discuss; this is fascinating political bantering that grows with Doctor Who's target age group. In fact, pretty much anything Morgus says while in his office could be printed and sold as one of those inspirational leadership books that spun out of control on the bestseller lists a few years ago. "Morgus's 19 Keys to Eternal Youth". Or "Normington on Elevator Shafts". As the right-wingers say, his philosophy truly represents a paradigm shift. You could make a lot of money, Dick Cheney, running Halliburton like the Sirius Conglomerate. And you'd still have the President in your pocket.

Jek is great, too, with angrily poetic dialogue. "Scalded near to death." "The mouth of a prattling jackanapes." His diatribes about Morgus, delivered with such precision timing that you could wind your watch to them, are full of enough oaths and curses and insults that you figure the poor schlimazl had to have been fluent in Yiddish, too. His revenge is so methodically carried out that you almost have to get up and cheer when he finally outlives his man.

And there's no scene in The Power of Kroll that comes remotely close to that.


In the Caves of Triumph! by Konstantin Hubert 13/5/04

It is not to my surprise at all that a great deal of reviews have been written for The Caves of Androzani. Through this review I just wish to briefly express my admiration for this dynamic, dazzling masterpiece rather than thoroughly analyze it.

Robert Holmes was most probably the best writer the TV series ever had: Spearhead from Space, Ark in Space, Deadly Assassin, Talons of Weng-Chiang, all of those stories which are considered classics, were penned by him and no other Who writer has ever been credited with so many classics, not even Terry Nation. After an absence of about 5 years he returned to Doctor Who by crafting the swan song of the 5th Doctor's era, one of the best science fiction adventures of all time and which confirmed Robert Holmes' genius in storytelling.

For this purpose, he introduced us to the caves of planet Androzani Minor in the Sirius star system, where a decades-old war is raging over the control of Spectrox Toxaemia, a very valuable and deadly substance. The two opposing forces are on the one hand the disfigured roboticist Sharaz Jek and his androids and on the other hand the soldiers of businessman Morgus, who surveys the bloodstained going-ons in the safety of Androzani Major. The Dr and Peri arrive and while wandering the caves, unbeknown to them they suddenly develop lethal spectrox toxaemia poisoning. As a result, both of them are now dying, time is running out and noone seems willing or able to offer them the cure to this lethal disease... The Dr finds himself literally between the Scylla and Charybdis in his desperate effort to find an antidote, save himself and Peri and leave this cesspool of degradation and death. To my knowledge, there's no better portrayal of an antihero than that of the non-violent, submitted to evil forces, dying Doctor in the hellish atmosphere of Caves of Androzani.

In this serial almost everything culminates: acting (Peter Davison and Nichola Bryant could boast here of their best Who performance, while Christopher Gable, Robert Glenister and John Normington who play Sharaz Jek, Salateen and Morgus respectively shine), cast (excellent actors cast for the role of the gunrunners), the dialogue, the chilly and most appropriate incidental music, Graeme Harper's direction, the settings, especially Morgus' office and Androzani Minor's wastelands (quarries the BBC used often for the series), and of course Holme’s supreme scenario, for which information I gave in the previous paragraph. Peter Davison should be thankful to Graeme Harper, who undertook so artfully the direction of his swan song. The close-ups of Sharaz Jek laughing slyly or simply grinning, the gunrunners' brief conflict in Part 2 are among the very well directed and memorable moments of the series, while the regeneration sequence, if not for the Dr rather stupidly uttering the name of Adric just before breathing out, would have been perfect.

I could parallel the progress of Caves of Androzani to a dynamite that is about to blow up: its first three parts are the fuse that gradually melts and then as soon as the fuse expires we are exposed to the unforgettable Part 4 during which time the story... fiercely explodes! Caves of Androzani triumphs in its eccentricity; so many gunshots, gunfights, violence contrast with the DW pattern and unlike most episodes of the series it one could be compared to Hollywood's action films. The scene in Part 2 when Salateen blows the android to bits reminds me of Terminator II, while the tremendous cliffhanger of Part 3, among my favourite DW scenes and actually the moment of explosion, despite the series' limited low-budget possibilities rivals in intensity and suspense even the Return of the Jedi's climax inside the Death Star.

I don’t find it decent to fault such a masterpiece but the spirit of objectivity inside me urges me to mention and its weakest or badly executed aspects as well. In Part 1 when did Sharaz Jek capture the Doctor and Peri and how did he find the time to immediately produce (English-speaking... and very human in character) adroid clones of them? The first cliffhanger is spectacular and very astonishing but overrated because lightweight. In Part 3 the Doctor very easily pulls himself free of the chains binding him to the wall and early in Part 4 the duo of gunrunners just can’t or must not strike home, whilst at the end the bat’s milk cures Peri unbelievably fast. The notorious Magma Monster, the serial's most dated and laughable element, lets one down and should have been used in the final part, when the Dr makes his descent to the deeper caves to get the bat’s milk, and the story, if filmed inside true caves like those of Revenge of the Cybermen, would have had a more delicate and truthful feel.

Those few bitter comments aside, I can’t but admire this swan song: the two dying protagonists, the grotesque yet sympathetic and miserable villain, who is seeking to take revenge from a capitalist, the Beauty and the Beast theme, the fact that the hero, who is gradually weakening, does not really have a material enemy (he is just a visitor to the caves and his only enemies are Time and the poison, excellent), the tragic end, which sees the hero, as if a cursed paladin, sacrificing his life for the sake of his companion, whom he inadvetedly brought to a place of corruption and death, all those elements make Caves of Androzani an adventure very difficult to beat. So far, Caves of Androzani is the finest Doctor Who episode that I have seen featuring a Doctor other than Tom Baker. Even the highly acclaimed The Daleks (great atmosphere and beginning but sluggish, too long), Tomb of the Cybermen (a masterpiece lacking however the tragic impression, twists and intensity of Caves), Remembrance of the Daleks (spectacular, complicated but uneven and surely overrated) neither surpass nor equal Caves of Androzani?. One of the greatest science fiction adventures ever but I didn't imply that it is necessarily the shining gem of the series.

Grade: either 9/10 or 10/10. It's up to you to decide the final grade, it's almost a... twin dilemma!


Caves of Perfection by Adrian Sherlock 4/7/04

For all those who don't like rubber monsters, the return of old monsters and old villains, (I recently counted about 200 of Dr. Who's 696 episodes featured the Daleks, Cybermen or Master, almost a third of the total 26 year output and only a quarter of those 200 eps, about 50 was produced during the 1980s where, FAN MYTH tells us, these old characters were over used or relied upon too much... which is bollocks!) and for those who prefer their Dr. Who to be nothing like Dr. Who at all so they wont get embarrassed or offended by anything, Caves is the ultimate Dr. Who story.

Why? Because it's a straightforward human drama with the Doctor at its core. And the whole thing is scripted, acted and directed masterfully. It's a brilliant story and I love it to pieces. But Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks are my favourite stories of all time. Caves comes next in my top five, followed by Five Doctors, (the original version) and probably a toss up between a few other great stories. But it is perfect. Why shouldn't it be? Peter Davison is the perfect Dr. Who.

I could go on, about Morgus and Jek and the plot, but there's no controversy with this story, it's fully accepted that it is brilliant and there's really nothing to add. Almost a pity, I'm so used to defending my favourite stories agains the empty headed criticisms of people who think Earthshock was full of plot holes and yet overlook the massive, gaping holes in Genesis of the Daleks in a torrent of Tom Baker worshipping hypocrisy, that it seems a pity Caves is so popular there's no case to be made. It is simply a stunning human drama on all levels and a solid, thrilling adventure yarn to boot. Pity I seem to prefer Daleks and Cybermen, though, I guess I actually enjoy the real Dr. Who enough to not need a monsterless drama to feel satisfied.

Anyway, Peter Davison it should be noted, gives a performance in this story that is second to none. Not even Tom Baker can top Davison's brilliance in this story, he simply defines the Doctor in every look, every move, every word, every breath, from first scene to the very last he's in. A masterpeiece beyond words to describe. See it, love it.


A Review by Nick Mallory 27/9/04

Nothing becomes the fifth doctor, noted more for his diffident charm than compelling grit, like his relinquishing of the role. Reminiscent of Tom Baker's elegant Robots of Death in its duplicitous androids controlled by a Machiavellian genius in a claustrophobic mining environment, what Caves loses in style it more than makes up for in substance. That this is a terrific story is a commonplace view, and although one or two simple plot points still gnaw after all these years, minor flaws cannot dent Caves' classic status.

Most obviously, the laughable magma monster is superfluous to the plot and seems to have wandered in from The Curse of Peladon. This futile gesture to the toddlers, shoehorning a traditional lumbering beast into a dense, compelling tale of political machination and personal animosity, could have been redeemed had the Doctor stumbled across its mud scalded body to find it to be another of Jek's early android creations, designed to sow fear in the jittery federal forces. Its plastic appearance could be excused if it really was as artificial as it appeared and the Doctor's feeble escape from its clutches would have been justifiable if, like the androids, it hadn't recognised him as prey.

To pursue the native beastie theme, the cavalier way in which the bats have been driven from the caves or slaughtered, mentioned early on, is somewhat baffling. As the source of the ultra valuable spectrox, surely they would have been farmed, or at least protected, rather than carelessly destroyed. Whatever the short term gain in limiting the longevity drug's supply, to destroy its source so carelessly makes no long term economic sense - although given the all too real slaughter of Rhinos and Tigers to fuel the ludicrous Chinese medicine trade perhaps it is a point well made.

As such fuss is made of the Doctor's alien physiology protecting him from the androids, and the oxygen depleted lower depths, why should Spectrox Toximia affect him as it would any ordinary human? Had the Doctor characteristically assumed himself to be immune, his final succumbing to the disease, and choice to give his single dose of antidote to Peri would have carried even greater power.

What is the insoluble problem with collecting milk from the queen bat anyway? If the oxygen cannot, for some strange reason, penetrate the lower levels then is it really credible that no one on this planet has any breathing apparatus at all? Why not use one of the androids, developed to face peril in the mines in the first place, to collect the cure? Why didn't Jek use the toxin as a weapon if it was so deadly - or make an effort to find the cure himself for his beloved Peri? The simple solution to the problem does undermine the tension spun by a seemingly certain sentence of death.

It seems churlish to criticise the first chilling cliffhanger, and has been mentioned before, but how could Sharaz Jek copy the clothes of the Doctor and Peri for his androids? Had they been forced to donate their clothes to the robots, and been dressed in new garb for the remaining three episodes, the Doctor's loss of his precious celery could then have been made a plot point too, perhaps in him succumbing at the last to the "praxis" gases of which he now had no warning.

These though are but minor quibbles. A couple of Shakespearean asides too many can be forgiven in a most Shakespearean tale, and though maniacal laughter is always a mistake regardless of who commits the offence, this is still an outstanding show. If the close attention it demands throws up the occasional non-sequitur it is testament to the serial's power to enthral.

The rather crude miner's strike propaganda of this 1984 story aside, the intelligent and refreshingly adult machinations of this story are superb. Plots are always at their best when multiple protagonists clash in following logical paths to plausible goals and if this occasionally renders the Doctor superfluous to the plot, this only increases the story's reality and impact. For once the Doctor is merely an impediment or tool in the hands of others, and this creates a genuine frisson in the audience as almost uniquely the doctor is not always, or indeed ever, in control, and therefore his peril is real.

Sharaz Jek is perhaps the most charismatic character in the Whoniverse, the iconic mask, balletic carriage and multi-layered motivation of this ostensibly faceless character is a constantly evolving triumph throughout. His burning attraction to Peri is daring for this usually sexless programme, making the most of her ripe sensuality in a realistic way, and is far creepier and more threatening than any dozen generic schemes to rule the universe. His agony in being revealed as a "monster" himself is genuinely moving as, all vanity shattered, he scutters under the table like a frightened child, and Peri's gesture towards him, glimpsed at the climax of the scene, and his final moment, frozen and bowed in the hands of his android "son" linger long in the memory.

Morgus is another superb creation, brilliantly acted and all the more evil for having such banal economic motivations. The final battle between Sharaz Jak and his nemesis is a fitting climax that loses nothing for the absence of the doctor.

Though Holmes's rich script is justly praised, the direction is equally energetic and convincing. The hand held action camera work is ahead of its time, every trick of smoke and shadow wrings the tension from the small cave set and the visceral cracks of real guns in small spaces create an impact always squandered by more "space age" lasers. The pace never falters, the multiple threads are never lost and an epic feel is generated from minimal resources.

Among many fine performances, not least from the unjustly denigrated Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant is simply wonderful. Her infamous twin pronged upstaging of the Doctor's regeneration drew no complaints from this red blooded male, but her beauty blinds many to her considerable acting skills. The jelly on her leg may be fake, but her ever-darkening portrayal of fear, sickness and despair is a tour de force. Peri's whiny nature is often slated, but that was her character, and, faced with constant threat, who wouldn't be constantly terrified? Like her or not, Peri convinces as a character because of Bryant's strong portrayal of weakness, and as Davison's Doctor was hamstrung by a succession of duff companions, it's a shame that Peri wasn't with him from the start.

Perhaps the show was already in terminal decline, and as I grew up with Tom Baker, he'll always be "my Doctor", but the deliciously labyrinthine Caves ranks with any show in the programme's long and distinguished history.


A Review by Finn Clark 12/8/06

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 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 psycho.

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 in a language of blood. I adore the fact 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 his farewell story. 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.


"I could have been a contender" by Thomas Cookson 23/6/13

The most frequent counter I'm faced with when I write off the JNT era, is how I can dismiss Caves of Androzani, let alone wish for a world where it never got made? Well, I can't debunk Caves of Androzani. Unlike most 80's stories that are elevated to greatness based on seriously diminished expectations, like The Happiness Patrol, which gets championed by a 'right on' cultish movement, convinced the rest of fandom is too 'narrow minded' to appreciate such a 'good natured' story where the Doctor murders someone's pet dog, Caves really is every bit as brilliant and near impossible to fault or debunk as fandom unanimously claims.

However, an element of distortion needs addressing. The gulf of quality between this and the next story became almost mythological, and Caves became erroneously viewed as concluding the last golden age, and even as the unbreachable gate, protecting all that preceded it from the corrosive awfulness that followed. But Caves was an anomalous fluke of an otherwise rotten era. Fans try to claim the show was still doing something right. That the pointless bloodshed of Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks was meant to be tragically pointless and to reckon with a moral malaise, rather than exaggerate and bloat it. We know the rot set in earlier, but we refuse to believe the fall happened until after Davison's departing high note.

Whilst it's impossible to imagine the show without Genesis of the Daleks or City of Death, I can imagine the series existing fine without Caves of Androzani, and feeling no less 'complete' for it. Perhaps the show already was complete by City of Death (if not by The Seeds of Doom). But whilst the show could happily exist without Caves, the Davison era absolutely couldn't.

Seen in hindsight, The Daleks' Masterplan would be a far better, more appropriate regeneration story for Hartnell. Likewise State of Decay or Horror of Fang Rock would be a better exit for Tom Baker than Logopolis. But nothing else in Davison's era would work as a regeneration story. Only Resurrection of the Daleks comes close, and it's a mess.

That Caves is the only viable cap-off to Davison's era is rather a damning indictment of the era. In fact, the Davison era frequently produced what can be called 'anti-quality'. Whilst Death to the Daleks or Creature from the Pit are fairly rubbish, if they were deleted from history, something would feel missing from their respective seasons. But the opposite is true of Time-Flight or Warriors of the Deep, which have no context in being and whose seasons would feel much improved and would amount to more without their existence. So the era would feel incomplete without its final story, yet ironically the show would feel more complete without the Davison era existing at all. Or if the show ended halfway through, on Enlightenment or The Visitation.

Is Caves of Androzani needed to affirm the Doctor's selfless, determined nobility and heroic nature that we've seen so many times before? Ordinarily, no. But the 80s saw some of the most ugly, dishonourable and unforgivable characterisation of the Doctor. And in that context, his nobility needed to be reasserted. Resultantly, Caves of Androzani tips fan opinion of Davison overwhelmingly into gushing praise. Fandom was already conned into mistaking Davison's depressingly limited characterisation for 'integrity'. But Caves of Androzani elevated Davison's Doctor to a greatness he was otherwise unworthy of.

The Davison era was simply fan propaganda, made for fans who are writing propaganda about the show in the fanzines of the time that JNT took keen interest in. Tegan existed to say that the show now has strong feminist female companions. The bickering scenes she has with Adric are there to say 'this is all a serious drama show now'. Davison is characterised impotently to say 'this Doctor is different to Tom Baker'. And stories like Warriors of the Deep somewhere along the line stopped even being a story, and became instead a particularly obnoxious and crass piece of propaganda, telling fans what to think.

This is why Davison's era feels so soulless and heartless. Propaganda is almost never about empathy. Quite the contrary, it's about simplifying, glorifying or vilifying. It's also self-perpetuating and has no concept of quality control, even whilst claiming to itself be a new era of quality control. Propaganda exists for mass production. Sometimes propaganda actually is anti-art, like how Nazism benefitted from the moral panic about Jazz music. Which explains Warriors of the Deep's lunatic fringe. And sadly, Caves of Androzani winds up being part of that propaganda too.

Like Earthshock, this story galvanised fans to embrace the Davison era as a whole, warts and all, by drawing such an emotional high from the era's journey. Conning fans into seeing a tragic hero in the Fifth Doctor, and even into thinking that there was a hero's journey to the era overall. The only hero's journey there was to Davison's Doctor was a regressive one, the hero's journey in reverse.

When I first watched this story, it truly was a glorious, beautiful noble self-sacrifice of the Fifth Doctor. The tragic tale of a decent man in an indecent time. But it isn't. Sure we may remember Davison's futile determination during the final episode in the same breath as his mad rush to save Adric, or his deciding enough is enough and preparing to kill Davros. But sadly Warriors of the Deep exists, showing him up as a snidey, reprehensible bad risk, incapable of honouring anyone or anything but the most genocidal. A hero who protests his innocence before setting off the base's reactor. Who is partly responsible for letting the Myrka break through, didn't even warn anyone that it would electrocute them on contact, withheld information on a weapon that could have saved everyone's lives and shouts down anyone left alive who suggests using it, and then breaks his promise to a deceased Preston that he'd return to save Vorshak, by reviving the very Silurian who'd held him hostage and who consequently kills him. Gotta love how the story's apologists highlight how that last point demonstrates the Doctor's belief in the preservation of life always taking precedence, even over the... erm... preservation of life.

In that context, the Doctor sacrificing himself to save Peri here is the least he could do after not only getting her into this in the first place, but also sacrificing everyone else on the sea base for his lunatic pacifist principles that he eventually didn't even uphold. This story may be about shady humans who won't give Davison a chance and keep stabbing him in the back, but in context of Warriors of the Deep, they're rightly not giving him a chance to do them all dirty for unreasonable motives first.

So why does Caves of Androzani work? Well, 'because Robert Holmes wrote it' doesn't entirely cover it, but it is crucial. The best Saward-era stories were usually written furthest away from the unpleasant, volatile production environment. Barbara Clegg's Enlightenment seemed to be inspired and rattled off quickly without feeling rushed, Revelation of the Daleks was written on holiday, and Caves of Androzani was written by a returning old hand who'd distanced himself from the show since. The following year, Holmes was more part of the team, and wrote The Two Doctors, which demonstrated how much working under JNT brought out more sour grapes in his writing than even The Sun Makers.

What hurt the show was the team trying too hard through lack of faith in what they had. Eric felt the show was becoming staid pantomime, and as JNT wouldn't let him do his job of finding better writers, so Eric kept overcompensating for weak scripts with vulgar overstatement and shock tactics. The show was put together by someone with no faith in it. But this script was worth being confident about.

Most of the time, JNT's demands of what goes into the story and his limitations on the Doctor's character led to the show feeling morally, seriously out of balance. Starting on Logopolis, the first 'slapped together' story, with Nyssa, Tegan and the Master forced into it. A story full of wanton cruelty that goes unstopped by a marginalized, neutered protagonist. It effectively spearheaded the next several years of sloppy writing and appalling characterisation. JNT's insistence on the soap set-up and 'dramatic' histrionics particularly felt off-balance. Season 19 presented mind parasites, nightmare sequences, and aliens causing the Black Death, yet it's the soap scenes of Tegan and Adric shrieking at one another that leave the viewer wondering what the hell is happening and why?

Here, for the first time since Keeper of Traken, everything feels in balance. The Doctor and Peri work perfectly as a duo, and giving Davison only one companion to rescue gives him a single task to focus on, rather than him having to manage or drop several (i.e. deciding to go kill Davros, and then chickening out). The characters and conflict created all have a purpose in being. Nothing is included gratuitously in a way that feels unneeded, and nothing feels either underwritten a la Four To Doomsday, or overwritten a la Resurrection of the Daleks. Everything's just right. Everything's poetically polarised by binary opposition, from cold, understated Morgus, to the volatile, furious Jek. As such the Doctor's noble nature and innocence has something to shine and react against, by the beauty of contrast. Even Stotz' men refusing any price to brave the final mudbaths emphasises how far the Doctor will go to save Peri's life. Likewise, the Shakespearian bloodbath is in balance. Thus the theatrical soliloquising and the gunbattles work in unison without jarring.

Compare with Warriors where the Doctor's Hamlet-esque moral hesitation becomes brutally, tastelessly gatecrashed by an action revenge moment with Preston's killing, only because the former contrived to allow the latter to happen, meaning these elements tarnish and disgrace each other. Like if Nyder had shot Sarah in the back halfway through the 'do I have the right' scene.

Here Jek's rants about the evils of Morgus or Stotz actually are narratives in themselves which complement, rather than sabotage, the momentum and the story's driving passions. In Warriors, even when the story reaches the logical narrative point where sympathy for the wronged avenging villains is lost, the Doctor's dialogue angrily tries to guilt the viewer into feeling sympathy again. But Jek demonstrates his nobler, sympathetic nature without needing the Doctor to forcibly tell us so, in contradiction to everything that's onscreen. When his mask is unpeeled, Chellack's determined campaign to breach the defences sees him horrified by what he discovers, and going into retreat, and his death. Likewise seeing Jek cowering like a wounded animal after Peri screams at the sight of him is a genuinely heartbreaking moment.

The momentum makes it all the more sad when the illness finally catches up with the Doctor and he has to give up and take it lying down. A burst of life, making a crippling death all the more tragic. I don't buy fandom's reading on Davison's Doctor as a tragic victim. Not when he did others so dirty, and held onto his impotence like a grudge. Yet there's something satisfyingly championable about his kicking ass here, even when he fiercely grips a laughing Salateen by his shoulders. An underdog coming up, fighting back, against all odds. A victim not of circumstances or adversity, but of reprehensible writing degrading and character-assassinating him, but finally here, getting the strong writing he always deserved, proving what he's capable of. Frustratingly, this is exactly how he should have been written from the start.

Caves shouldn't have been how it ended, it's the note his era should have begun on. Sadly, it was never allowed to have an impact on the show. It should have turned things around for the series' direction, but ended up not making a scrap of difference. It might as well not have happened.