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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.

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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.

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