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On First View: The Caves of Androzani

Guest contributor Antti Björklund continues the series offering a first time view on a Classic story.

The-Caves-of-Androzani-d

The Caves of Androzani is a classic, at least if voters of Doctor Who Magazine’s poll are to be believed. In the ”The Mighty 200”poll, the story was voted as the best of all 200 stories broadcast until then. In the recent 2014 edition it was voted fourth.

Just a reminder, in case there are readers for whom this is the first article of this series they read: As always in this series, I will try and evaluate exactly how good the episodes I have not seen before or have seen only a couple of times are from the viewpoint of someone watching the episodes for the first time. I will try and make note what are the episode’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Characters

Peter Davison is the Doctor for the last time in The Caves of Androzani. He is accompanied by Perpugilliam ”Peri” Brown, portrayed by Nicola Bryant. Peri is an American university student majoring in botany.

The Doctor

caves-of-androzani-peter-davisonThe Doctor in The Caves of Androzani is a hero, plain and simple. He goes to great lengths to save his companion. He is also a man of peace, as is evident in his ways of negotiating rather than taking up arms and wanting to take care of business through talking rather than action. He also knows his own negative side, stating that ”curiosity has often been my downfall”. Also, he is apparently knowledgeable in technology, being able to disarm one of Sharaz Jek’s androids.

The Fifth Doctor is my personal favourite of the Classic Doctors, it must be made clear. This serial is a great story to show to someone, who is unsure of the Classic era of Doctor Who, because it showcases the Doctor at his most heroic and probably also at his best.

The Companion

Sharaz-Jek-periOh dear. Peri is a screamer. She’s a companion who gets into trouble. If I were to explain Peri’s role in The Caves of Androzani to someone who is going to watch the serial for the first time, I would without a shadow of a doubt class her as the ”damsel in distress” type.

Her backstory as a university student goes pretty much unreferenced. The only time, in my view, that she shows some sign of being more than a generic companion is in a scene where she correctly identifies that there must be an anti-toxin to the Spectrox to which the Doctor and herself have been exposed to, stating that the poisoning is similar to that got from a snake bite.

The Monsters and Villains

Sharaz-Jek-cavesIf the serial is not a good one with regards to the characterisation of Peri, it at least partly compensates for this in the characterisation of the villains. There are two villains in the serial.

The first of these is Morgus. He is the leader of a mining conglomerate that is mining a subtance called Spectrox, which has some rejuvenating properties and is stated to be ”the most valuable substance in the universe”, on Androzani Minor. He is an archetypal ”bad business leader”. What drives him is profit – a fact that equates him to real-life business leaders such as the ones that can be blamed for the economic meltdown of the late 2000s. Therefore I think his role makes the story of The Caves of Androzani easier to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it, as this allegory provides a good starting point.

The second villain of the story is also, in a sense, a hero. I am talking about Sharaz Jek. He is some sort of Spectrox dealer: He is driven by revenge, because Morgus has apparently caused his whole face to be disfigured, meaning he has to wear a mask that covers the whole of his face.

Sharaz Jek portrays the most human of feelings, revenge. He is not, however, all bad, as he also helps the Doctor and Peri in their search for an antidote to Spectrox toxaemia. That said, he also tries to seduce Peri, so he’s also a ”creep”.

Sharaz is clearly inspired as a character by the titular Phantom of The Phantom of the Opera in that he is driven by revenge and also that he wears a mask that covers his hideously disfigured face. This proves another point that can be used to introduce the story to someone who hasn’t watched it, as the introducer can point to this similarity between the two stories.

The story also features a cave monster in episodes one to three. Its meaning is apparently to showcase how dangerous the titular caves of Androzani are and provide a threat in the story. This it manages to do in some scenes it appears in, but in others it just feels rather useless.

The Overall Story

Another point in which The Caves of Androzani is somewhat good is in the story. I have for a long time thought that 4×25 minutes is quite possibly the best length for a Classic Doctor Who story, as it is neither too long nor too short. In my view The Caves of Androzani is an example of this, as the story doesn’t feel ”padded out” as it were.

However, I don’t think the serial is as good as it is made out to be. I started watching the story with high expectations, after noticing that the story is so highly liked in the fandom that it won the aforementioned ”Mighty 200” poll. I was a little disappointed by the serial due to these high expectations.

The regeneration sequence of the story is quite probably the best in the history of the show. It showcases how the Doctor, at his best, sacrifices himself to save those he cares for the most, his companion. It is somewhat comparable to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor’s regeneration. Both deal with death, in a sense, and in both the Doctor sacrifices himself to save a companion. However, I would have to say that in my view The Caves of Androzani does pondering about death better than the Tenth Doctor’s swansong.

Next time: Revelation of the Daleks.

Step back in time...

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70 comments
floppy_who
floppy_who

Did anyone who has watched this story spot the tiniest hint of the 5th Doctor's regeneration starting near the end of episode 3? Looks like he held it off for a whole episode whilst saving the day before having his swansong overshadowed by Nicola Bryant's cleavage. Top stuff from the pen of Bob Holmes (but then his stories were generally of a much higher quality than average: Pyramids of Mars, Brain of Morbius and Talons of Weng Chiang anyone?. Let's not forget he penned the first Auton and Sontaran stories too)

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

Androzani is a fine story, though not quite as great as the legends would have it. Still, nothing can beat that episode three cliffhanger. Superb stuff.

sontaran17
sontaran17

Another great addition Finn! Its one of my all time favourites!

Oodkind
Oodkind

It was a very good episode. I agree that it is maybe a bit overrated-- I found it not as amazing as it is made out to be. However, it still is a great episode, and the Doctor at his best.

Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

a great article. I might watch Caves of Androzani myself, I liked Peter Davisons doctor too mostly because he was cute, but also because he liked cricket ,and he mentioned Don Bradman a famous Australian cricketer in an episode once

beskar
beskar

If you bring TV watching expectations of 2014 to this, you will be disappointed. Further, if like most people who seem to write for your site, you bring the expectations of someone who got into Doctor Who in 2005 or beyond to this, you will be disappointed, too. So why does the review not surprise me in the least? For those of us who were there and and watched it in 1984, it's perfect Doctor Who. Anyone coming to it later stands a chance of not "getting" that at all.

TARDIShead
TARDIShead

Caves is an excellent science-fiction story, yes.

But Caves isn't a good Doctor Who story.

Let me explain : just look thoroughly at the plot and you'll realize that the only actions of the Doctor which have an ACTUAL influence on the situation of the planets is a) being odd enough for Morgus to want to save him and b) not being an human so he can escape his base, and so the human kept there can too. All the later important events for the planets are direct consequences of these two, and the Doctor could just have disappeared after. It's one of the Fifth Doctor episode where he has the least influence on the plot.

There are two stories in that episode : the story of the planets and the story of the Doctor. They are both good but too much unrelated for them to make a good Doctor Who story together.

Ivegotnewkidneys on the 23rd
Ivegotnewkidneys on the 23rd

Tied with Earthshock for being my favourite 5th Doctor story and it's definitely in my top 5 classic stories the only niggle I have with it is the unconvincing lizard I know its 80 who and it had a very low budget but still they could've took it out the story without any repercussions but that some niggle didn't stop this story from being a 10/10 IMO

Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

A brilliant story. Tied with "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" as my favourite classic serial.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

So, is Revelation of the Daleks considered to be one of Colin Baker's best stories? I've only seen Timelash wIth Doctor number 6.

Pockydon
Pockydon

This remains one of my favourite stories, and I'm glad you liked it! I get what you mean about high expectations which can sometimes dampen the appeal of a story first time you watch it, which probably explains why I enjoyed this story so much, as I had no idea what the general fan reception to it was. 

This is a serial that I can watch over and over again without getting bored, which still manages to surprise me every time I watch it, and which I can (and have) talked about for hours on end. It's fantastic.

Friend of the Ood
Friend of the Ood

Brilliant story, my only niggle with it is the Shakespearian breaking of the fourth wall which that President guy constantly gets away with.

Liana21
Liana21

I watched for first time past week and I love it, it's so cool. I think it has few of the most exciting and nail biting cliffhangers of the series. I love specially, Episode 3 one, in he space ship.

Peter Davison is fantastic in his swansong as The Doctor and i like Sharaz Jek as villain.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

An excellent story, though watching it for the first time it did strike me that certain bits of the plot were a touch 'convenient', something which New Who sometimes  gets criticized for... Peri was generic in this episode, but some of the threat to her was pretty sinister and quite near the knuckle I thought!








MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

Fantastic review once again. However, I honestly believe that this story IS the best Doctor Who story of all time. Which makes it all the more upsetting that it only came at number 4 in the recent poll. Still, great review.

OhLookRocks
OhLookRocks

"Oh dear. Peri is a screamer." 


Ha. Just you wait for Mel.







Bollyknickers
Bollyknickers

Very nice, thorough critique, Antti Bjorklund (or slightly easier on the tongue, ‘Finn’).


I adore The Caves of Androzani.  It’s my favourite classic story.  My love for it will be as eternally powerful as Five’s touching act of love for Peri.  Mostly companion stories take place between the Doctor and an old friend, two people who have known one another for a long time, reflecting on days gone by… but Caves is completely unexpected.  Five has plenty of life with him and it starts off as a story for ‘the new girl’.

But oh, how it quickly develops into something else, something quite beautiful that touches somewhere very deep and always will.  Five suffers, he puts his life on the line and he re-enters that deadly realm on the brink of death to save the life of a girl he’s only just met.  It’s full of poignant, thought-provoking moments and a side-character who reminds me of the chap from ‘Phantom’, which coincidentally happens to be my favourite musical.

In fact it feels like a musical, just a bit less theatrical.  Gentle then powerful with a fast, fluent rhythm, leading up to a massive crescendo – then in the last few moments the great Peter Davison bows out, and if you don’t give him a round of applause for that moving performance, then you need to stand up and get clapping before the show’s over.  And the show goes very quickly…


The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

I liked Caves but I still think The Time of the Doctor was the best regeneration story to date.

Antee991166
Antee991166

Caves is a fantastic story, and while not my favourite, is definitely the best story of the 1980's. I do agree about Peri, who is one of the worst companions IMO. Just to add, one of the reason the episode was so popular was the directing. Most DW episodes at this time were filmed like a drama, with some several cameras filming each scene. Director Graeme Harper filmed this like a movie, planning and filming each shot to provide a much better look for the episode. Even the lights were turned down for once. Looking forward to Revelation of the Daleks!

TheDaleksDaughter
TheDaleksDaughter

@beskar What about someone who started watching the show with the 2005 episodes, likes Caves of Androzani and "gets" it, but thinks that some of the 1960's stories are better ? My point is : everyone has different sensibilities and opinions, and being younger or older certainly plays a part, but it isn't all there is.

LaraHarris
LaraHarris

@beskar I watched the original at the original time and have watched it many times since. I don't think it's all that either. Nor does my husband. People are capable of seeing past current tv trends and forming their own opinions on things.

The Finn
The Finn

@beskar Firstly, I'm not an editor for this site so it's not "my site". Secondly, I can't help but be affected by modern TV, as that's what I've been brought up watching. Notice how I haven't mentioned wonky sets etc. That's because I fully understand that they were part of the production values of that time.

Liana21
Liana21

I bought them together, Caves, Talons and the movie + Enemy of the World.

LaraHarris
LaraHarris

@The Outer Space K9 I would urge you to watch Genesis instead or as someone else has suggested Talons. Timelash is good but it's an awkward story and some find it very off putting. I think it's one of those "marmite" episodes. Some love it, some hate it.

Tomb of the Cyberbob
Tomb of the Cyberbob

@The Outer Space K9  First time I saw Revelation (when it was originally on) - I loathed it - it was what put me off Doctor Who.   Some real ham acting, a really annoying DJ throughout, and  a weird plot.



Now - I love it - for exactly the same reasons!!





TheUltimateUpgrade
TheUltimateUpgrade

@The Outer Space K9  No it is pathetic. For an episode that bad I find it okay to be that blunt. The Sixth Doctor had far more enjoyable episodes, such as The Two Doctors, The Mark of the Rani and Attack of the Cybermen.

The Finn
The Finn

@The Outer Space K9 If I've read the "Mighty 200" results correctly, Revelation is indeed the highest-placed Sixth Doctor story.

beskar
beskar

@The Outer Space K9 Oh dear, then your only experience of Colin Baker is through what is regarded as his worst story. Revelation, meanwhile, is great. It's really "out there" and I'm not sure a modern viewer (I'm taking the punt you got into Doctor Who after 2005), will necessarily get it, or appreciate it, as it's very much of its time. But yes, its arguably Colin Baker's best.

Antee991166
Antee991166

@The Outer Space K9  Its definitely one of the best. It has an incredibly dark tone and yet manages to pull off humour with a wide variety of interesting characters. Timelash is probably one of 6's worst stories, whereas Attack of the Cybermen, Vengeance on Varos and Revelation are all great stories IMO.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

Trust me, once you start watching them you'll  ask yourself how come you didn't watch them sooner.  I started watching them last year because I felt I couldn't celebrate the 50th properly if I hadn't seen them and I felt sorry I didn't start earlier as I didn't have time to see all the episodes I would have wanted. 

The Finn
The Finn

@Friend of the Ood Ah yes, that. It's actually Morgus who does that, and I only let it slip as I came to think of it as him thinking by himself. As I've come to understand, that mistake came about due to a misunderstanding of stage directions.

beskar
beskar

@MeglosProductions Correct, and as the years go by, it will get pushed further and further down the list, particularly by people who have only watched Who since 2005 and ignore the rest.

Liana21
Liana21

Little bit pity that now that the Big Finish is officially cannon, the sacrifice for his new friend has been quite overwhelmed because in the audios Five and Peri have plenty adventures together.

beskar
beskar

@The Outer Space K9 You've got to be kidding. Time of the Doctor was a wild hodge podge of ideas that barely holds together at all.

The Finn
The Finn

@Antee991166 "Spoilers" about the next article: I think she's vastly improved in that story.

beskar
beskar

@TheUltimateUpgrade You're entitled to think that by all means, but it's nowhere near conventional fan wisdom on the topic. The stories you've listed as good, meanwhile, are among those at the lower end of the scale for most 6th Doctor fans, who have Revelation and Vengeanve on Varos at the top of the list. So, it could well be, that you simply go in for a different kind of thing to most people.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

It definetly wasn't my finest choice but I started by thinking I'll watch one episode per Doctor but they were so great I spent a lot of time watching Baker  and Throughton and when I got to the Sixth Doctor I read the synopsis of this on wikipedia and thought it's quite good. Anyway I should say I expected Colin Baker to be an awful Doctor and I had really low expectations but I liked him. And the story itself was bearable. 

Liana21
Liana21

That's what happened to me, I watch a couple and it was like "how have I past until today without Tom Baker?"

Antee991166
Antee991166

@beskar @Antee991166  The classic series is hard for many modern fans to get into since you have to buy most DVD's individually. I was lucky that my parents would rent videos and so I saw a lot of classic who when I was quite young. If more classic DW was on Netflix UK, I'm sure more people would give them a go.

Antee991166
Antee991166

@The Finn @Antee991166  She's probably at her best in Revelation, but I still don't like her character. The American is annoying, they should have just got an American actress. She is blatantly sexualised in many stories to the point of being ridiculous. By the 80's DW had begun to move away from "Damsels in distress" and Peri just sets it back to square one. Not to mention her awful ending, which could have been brilliant! Still, glad that you like her, she's definitely not as bad as Mel. 

beskar
beskar

@Antee991166 @The Finn A bit of trivia -- at the time, the show's producer told the press she /was/ American. Ahhh, the 80s.

Antee991166
Antee991166

@The Finn @Antee991166  The lobotomy would have been a tragic and brilliant ending. Marrying Brian Blessed is just as bad as Leela marrying some random Time Lord.

Liana21
Liana21

Peri was a good character, but she should have been better developed, there's times she's only a screaming flower vase on a skimpy outfit, when the story of the botanic student could have been more useful.