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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).


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...
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.
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.

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