THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Caves of Androzani
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The Caves of Androzani

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1985
ISBN 0 426 19959 6
First Edition Cover Andrew Skilleter

Back cover blurb: From the moment they land on the planet Androzani Minor, everything goes wrong for the Doctor and his new young companion, Peri. They become involved in the struggle between brutal gun-runners, ruthless federation troops, and the hideously mutilated Sharaz Jek, who lurks in the depths of the caves with his android army. Key to the struggle is spectrox, the most valuable substance in the universe. Suitably processed, spectrox is an elixir of life, but in its raw state it is a deadly poison - a fact which will cost the Doctor another of his Time Lord lives...


Reviews

Major Androzani by Andrew Feryok 1/3/06

"I'm sorry I got you into this Peri... Curiosity has always been my downfall."
The Doctor, The Caves of Androzani: Part 1
Before I discuss this book, I must make clear that this story has not been a personal favorite of mine. Now, for those of you who are still reading by this point or have restrained from vilifying me, I would like to point out that I do respect this story for the classic status it has achieved. On screen it is beautifully made with lots of atmosphere, and well-drawn characters by Robert Holmes. I can clearly understand why this story is favored by fans so much and has been lauded as a classic of Peter Davison's tenure ever since its creation. The sense of doom and desperation by the Doctor and Peri as they succumb to the Spectrox disease makes for one of the best and most logical lead-ups to a regeneration. But it is also a dark and grim story with very few likeable characters and to all intents and purposes, the Doctor and Peri are sidelined from the story in favor of other characters that tell the real story of gunrunning and drugs. And because of the atmosphere I found myself revisiting this story less compared to other adventures.

It is therefore quite shocking that I should proudly proclaim that this is one of the very best book adaptations of a Doctor Who television story and quite possibly one of Terrance Dicks' best adaptation works! This book is truly amazing and had me glued to the pages from cover to cover. And this was a story that I don't normally enjoy revisiting!

What makes this story so good? One of the biggest reasons is that Terrance Dicks has taken greater care in his descriptions and narration than in the past. I have just finished reading his adaptation of The State of Decay, and before that I had read The Android Invasion, The Wheel in Space, and The Five Doctors. In all instances, there was one glaring problem with the prose: it was being written as if it was aimed at five year olds and under. Every little plot point was explained through narration in the biggest and simplest terms. There was very little creativity in presenting settings or characters, simply leaving this to the original script dialogues and descriptions. But The Caves of Androzani is a very different book. Instead of talking down to his reader, Terrance Dicks gets on with telling the story, allowing events and characters to play their part and reveal themselves as the plot advances. Terrance Dicks cannot completely get away from describing very simple things that the story could normally explain by itself, but they are less obtrusive and usually written so as to support the atmosphere and setting of the story rather than holding the hand of the reader. This is clearly a book aimed at an older group of children and even teenagers.

The Doctor and Peri are also well realized in this adaptation. When I watched the television program, I had always thought that the Doctor and Peri played very little role in the story. While plot-wise they play a small role, thematically they play a huge role and the book does a much better job of bringing out their characters so that their desperation is always present to the reader who is constantly wondering how they are going to possibly survive in this environment. I think the reason the Doctor and Peri seemed less important in the television story was that there were so many other well-drawn characters being played by strong performers in this story. Between Morgus, Sharaz Jek, Chellak, Stotz and Salateen (playing both human and android), the Doctor and Peri have some stiff competition for screen time. In the book, there are no scene-stealing actors to worry about, which means Dicks can better balance the story and make the Doctor and Peri stand apart more.

The supporting cast is also well portrayed in this story. It is interesting that Dicks chooses not to have Morgus do Shakespearean asides in the novel, but this is probably due to the medium rather than a choice by the author. However, when Morgus prematurely feels that the situation is slipping out of his control, Dicks manages to slip in a few asides as Morgus thinks to himself and wonders how he is going to get out the situation. It is also interesting that some of Morgus' background is fleshed out, including his wearing of a ponytail that indicates his highest rank in Androzani society. It is also made more clear that Morgus is paranoid and that he only fails because his paranoia gets the better of him and he begins to make mistakes as he rashly begins to act out more in the open thinking that his cover has been blown when it really hasn't. The scene in which Morgus' secretary takes over the company from him is also well recreated as we see an apparently emotionless character suddenly reveal her true colors.

Sharaz Jek is also memorable in both the television story and this novel. His madness is made very apparent. And while his love of Peri seems deranged at first, it gradually becomes more and more touching as his concern for her safety is the only thing which keeps him from teetering over into total insanity. And yet, despite all the sympathy we may have for Jek, Dicks also reminds us of how dangerous he is. When the Jek helps the Doctor find the queen bats, we get a temporary look into the mind of the Doctor as he marvels at how quickly he is becoming friends with Jek, and also realizing that if Peri does get cured, he may have to kill Jek in order to take her from him.

The planet of Androzani is also well portrayed in this story. So few Doctor Who stories make their planets interesting or alien, with only a few exceptions. Towards the end of The Caves of Androzani, you really get a sense that this is not just some Earth cave, but an alien cave filled with deadly magma monsters and molten mud flows that can catch you unaware if you are not careful. The planet feels like an entity all its own that could easily and indifferently kill both our heroes and the villains.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the sense of the Doctor's desperation to heal Peri. The Doctor is literally reduced to his most basic and fundamental emotions and beliefs in this story. Dicks beautifully captures the almost superhuman strength of the Doctor who manages to keep back the effects of the Spectrox which has almost killed Peri, while managing to deal with Chellak's army, the Magma Beast, Sharaz Jek, androids, gunrunners, and countless other terrors that are all poised to stop the Doctor's fight to win against the disease. By the final chapters of the book, the Doctor is reduced to only an emotional state: he must save Peri at any cost to himself or those around him. And uses any means possible to simply survive and save her. This leads wonderfully into the regeneration as the Doctor collapses exhausted in the TARDIS, having kept all these forces at bay for so long, he can at last relax and let the regeneration take its course.

The regeneration itself is much faster than the television story. It is quick, strange, alien, vague, and shocking: everything that a good regeneration should be! And unlike stories such as Planet of the Spiders or The Parting of the Ways, where the regeneration seems to be a tacked on as an afterthought, this is a regeneration that has been a long time coming - ever since they first discovered the symptoms of the disease - and is part of a natural progression of the story.

In the end, this story is one of the best adaptations I have read by Terrance Dicks and one of the best overall, clearly ranking up with Doctor Who and the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Cybermen as one the most I have enjoyed reading. While the simple cover of Sharaz Jek and the half-formed face of Peter Davison and Colin Baker may not be the most exciting cover to draw the reader in, the book itself is a masterpiece and well worth seeking out. 10/10

PS: This novel sticks pretty tightly to the original television story, but does make one or two small changes: many of the scenes which were intended for the exterior of Androzani, instead of the caves, have been moved there in the novel. There is more mention of Androzani culture, including the use of ponytails to show rank and the presence of the Praesidium as an almost Roman Senate. The belt plates which are used by Jek to protect against the androids are also emphasized more. Also, the Doctor's journey to get the queen bat's milk is made more tense as the bats are written as hanging from cliff sides over the planet's magma flow. The Doctor must precariously climb down to get at them, something which is clearly suicidal, but necessary.