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The Caves of Androzani

Using the weekend to catch up with three classic bits of TV I have rewatched recently, and never got around to writing up here.

First up is "The Caves of Androzani", a Doctor Who story first broadcast in 1984. It was the last story to feature the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, and is generally rated as the best of Davison's 20 televised adventures by quite some way (the dynamic rankings site has it at #7 out of 186 Who stories from 1963 to 2006, with the next best-rated Davison story, "Earthshock", at #34 and only "The Five Doctors" otherwise making the top fifty).

It's a story with curious links to the old and the new. The writer was Robert Holmes, responsible also for some of the greatest Doctor Who stories of the Tom Baker era - "The Ark in Space", "The Deadly Assassin", and "The Talons of Weng Chiang"; sadly this was the last time he wrote for the show. But the director was Graeme Harper, who came back to direct four of this year's episodes (the ones with the Cybermen). It's a dynamite combination.

The story: The Doctor and his new companion, Peri, arrive on Androzani Minor, a planet where a resource-extraction company from Androzani Major, backed by government forces, is under attack from android guerillas. The boss of the company, Morgus, and the leader of the androids, Sharaz Jek, are both villains, but nicely sketched - Jek falls in love with Peri, and is at least fighting for a cause, whereas Morgus, if a bit more two-dimensional, redeems himself by making frequent asides to the camera - it shouldn't work, but it does.

Two out of three episodes end in brilliant cliff-hangers - the Doctor faces execution by firing squad at the end of ep 1 (as did the Second Doctor at the end of the first ep of his last story, "The War Games"); and at the end of episode 3, as the poisoned and dying Doctor seizes control of a spaceship whose pilot threatens to shoot him if he doesn't turn it round, he replies "Not a very persuasive argument, actually, Stotz, because I'm going to die soon anyway... I'm not going to let you stop me now!" There's very nearly more drama in that line than in the rest of Davison's era put together.

I've seen the view expressed elsewhere that this could easlily have been a Fourth Doctor/Sarah Jane, or a Third Doctor/Jo Grant story. I don't know about that. I think that there is something peculiarly Thatcherite in the relations between Morgus and the Androzani Major government. As far as I remember the only other Holmes story featuring resistance fighters against the capitalist exploiters of resources is "The Power of Kroll", his last and least impressive Tom Baker story, so it was good to see him revisit the theme so triumphantly here; and I'm straining to think of any other Who story with a twin-planet arrangement, surely a little inspired by Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed.

Anyway, it's very good, although I think its looks were improved at the time by the fact that the surrounding stories are simply not of the same quality (the story immediately following was Colin Baker's first, "The Twin Dilemma", which is currently - and likely to remain - in last place on the Dynamic Rankings scale).

Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
seph_hazard
Oct. 28th, 2006 12:04 pm (UTC)
I watched this the other day. The regeneration scene is hillarious. Or was I just thinking wrong? [ahem] Well, I needed something to distract me from that awful American accent...
nwhyte
Oct. 28th, 2006 12:05 pm (UTC)
Next time, watch it with Peter Davison's commentary - he certainly gets the joke!
seph_hazard
Oct. 28th, 2006 12:06 pm (UTC)
Phew-I thought it was just me... [ahem]
getawaywithit
Oct. 28th, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC)
sadly this was the last time he wrote for the show

Aside from The Two Doctors and five episodes of The Trial Of A Time Lord, of course :) I know some fans like to pretend the Baker and McCoy eras didn't happen, but that's going a bit far...

And Harper was a bit of an old hand at this point too - even though it was his first time as a director, he'd worked on a lot of the stories that Douglas Camfield directed.

I only quibble about trivia because there's not much else to say except 'I agree', though I think the issue about how it could have been a Third or Fourth Doctor story is more down to the fact that Holmes apparently hadn't seen much of Davison in the role (he was living in Spain by that point) so he wrote the Doctor more generically from his memories of the Third and Fourth. Eric Saward then added in a few character touches like the explanation of the stick of celery.
nwhyte
Oct. 28th, 2006 01:46 pm (UTC)
Aside from The Two Doctors and five episodes of The Trial Of A Time Lord, of course

Er, yes!
davesangel
Oct. 28th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
Great review - I always love hearing what other people think of Caves because it's my favourite story, possibly of all of the 'classic' series. I definitely agree in regards to the Thatcherite aspect to the story, but I also think that it works because of the dynamic between Peri and the Fifth Doctor in particular, as characters they seem to work well together and part of me wonders what future stories would have been like had Davison stayed on as the Doctor...

On a similar note, I wonder whether the fact that this was the first story featuring the Fifth Doctor with only one other companion is a factor in making this his highest-placed story by a considerable margin...I think his Doctor (and the plot/characterisation of most of his other stories) perhaps suffered from an over-abundance of companions...
blue_condition
Oct. 28th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
I characterise Five as being "weedy bloke stands by while two stroppy birds quarrel", plus running a home for wayward juvenile slash-fiction boys. Oh and that's before we even bother mentioning Kamelion. ;)

Davison I think was just crowded off screen by the companions. When he was on screen alone he was usually very good, but he was particularly backed into a corner by Janet Fielding's OTT acting.

The whole dynamic of the show works best with one companion, for me - my problems with Nine and Ten have been when the show descended into Tyler soap opera. About the only multi-companion period I like is Two with Jamie and Victoria.
alocin42
Nov. 12th, 2006 12:12 am (UTC)
"running a home for wayward juvenile slash-fiction boys"

*giggles hysterically*

Sorry, just passing through and caught that comment. It's so very true.
wwhyte
Oct. 28th, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
One interesting thing from the commentary track was that Graeme Harper insisted on all the guns being projectile weapons, not laser beams. I think it makes a huge difference to the feel of the show.
seawasp
Oct. 29th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC)
Well...
"Androzani" gets better rankings from me only because it's Davison's exit. I like the actor but he played the Doctor very weakly for most of his run, and was handed the most abominable scripts in Who history ("Black Orchid" being the worst Doctor Who episode set ever made, IMCGO). Davison also managed to dump one of my favorite companions and pick up my two least-liked of all time, making it actively painful to watch at times.
nwhyte
Oct. 29th, 2006 05:41 am (UTC)
Re: Well...
There are so many companions in the Davison era that one is spoilt for choice - did you like Nyssa or Tegan more? And was there one out of Kamelion, Turlough and Peri that you disliked less, or did you hate all three?
seawasp
Oct. 29th, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Well...
There are so many companions in the Davison era that one is spoilt for choice - did you like Nyssa or Tegan more?

Nyssa was all right, but the companion to which I refer you have forgotten completely: Adric. Admittedly, Adric WORKED better as a companion for the Doctor and Romana, but that's also partly due to the way in which the later scripts shifted capabilities and responsibilities more and more to the other companions.

At his peak, Adric was #3 on my Favorite Companions list.

And was there one out of Kamelion, Turlough and Peri that you disliked less, or did you hate all three?


I detested Turlough and Tegan. Peri had redeeming... assets. Kamelion, apparently, had the redeeming asset that I do not recall the character AT ALL. Something I wish I could do with Tegan.
nwhyte
Oct. 29th, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Well...
Crumbs, your fondness for Adric does put you in a minority. It did not occur to me for a moment that he might be your favourite. Perhaps you might expand on this in an lj-post some time?

(And who were your top two ahead of him?)

As for Peri and Turlough, agreed. Am not quite as down on Tegan as you are, but she wouldn't make the top half of my all-time companion ranking either.
seawasp
Oct. 29th, 2006 02:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Well...
Crumbs, your fondness for Adric does put you in a minority. It did not occur to me for a moment that he might be your favourite. Perhaps you might expand on this in an lj-post some time?

I think I shall sometime soon, then, since you ask.

(And who were your top two ahead of him?)

Leela of the Sevateem, of course, and tied for #2 usually were Lady Romanadvoratralundar and K-9.

These days it'd be a harder choice because Rose ranks right up there. (Miki ranking way DOWN there. No, I'm sorry, Miki, turning into a Commando at the end doesn't make up for cowering behind the little blonde girl like a helpless babe in a Frazetta Conan painting, and screaming like a little girl ("no more than nine -- pigtails!").)
nwhyte
Oct. 29th, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Well...
Agreed on Rose; but do you not have a soft spot for Sarah Jane Smith? or Zoe?
seawasp
Oct. 29th, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Well...
Agreed on Rose; but do you not have a soft spot for Sarah Jane Smith? or Zoe?

Sarah Jane I have a soft spot for because she was the first companion I ever saw. I didn't like Zoe *NEARLY* as much as Victoria. Zoe made Jamie out to be an idiot, which he was not. Uneducated, but learning, and very capable. I think "Evil of the Daleks" showed Jamie at his best. (Obviously I like Jamie -- though not as much as my wife, for whom Jamie is the #1 companion). Jo was reasonably fun through most of her run. The Brigadier was cool.
tanngrisnir
Oct. 29th, 2006 09:16 am (UTC)
...sadly this was the last time he wrote for the show.

Sadly, it wasn't. Holmes wrote five episodes of the Trial of a Time Lord season (the first four, and the penultimate one). I would sooner remember Androzani, though.
loveandgarbage
Oct. 29th, 2006 03:51 pm (UTC)
Although even in his last episode there are some wonderful Holmesian flourishes. Mr Popplewick is a wonderful character.
tanngrisnir
Oct. 30th, 2006 08:33 am (UTC)
That is certainly true.
loveandgarbage
Oct. 29th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
I wonder if The sunmakers fits the model you suggest as well as Kroll (both Kroll and SUnmakers written after Holmes had a bad time with the INland Revenue).
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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