Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros grab a torch and explore Peter Davison's final story
Fresh from getting rid of Turlough, The Doctor (Peter Davison) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) materialise on the planet of Androzani Minor - where they are soon poisoned by Spectrox, an organic substance that is fatal unless treated fairly quickly. As if a terminal case of spectrox toxaemia wasn't bad enough, the time-travelling pair find themselves caught up in a war between two powerful figures - Morgus (John Normington), a ruthless businessman and Sharaz Jek, his disfigured former business partner who has vowed to see Morgus dead for betraying him. The source of this conflict: to control supply of Spectrox, refined from a deadly poison into the most cherished substance in the galaxy, one which can extend life and hold back time. Jek isn’t interested in money or power: he wants vengeance.
To this end, Jek has manufactured his own army of androids to be the main force behind his insidious revolution, allying himself with Stoltz, leader of a band of gun-runners - supplying him with the weapons needed to pull off the coup. Inadvertently walking into the middle of the power struggle - as the seeds of revolution are being sewn by the workers against the rich and powerful corporate heads - the Doctor and Peri are captured by the arms-smugglers. The news is grim as the orders come through from the iron-fisted Morgus: execution by firing squad. As the guns are loaded, Jeks’ androids and the Federation forces are on collision-course, with the fate of warm flesh against cold steel only a heartbeat away. The Doctor might not win this time around…
Writer Robert Holmes had amassed an impressive track record when it came to writing Doctor Who, and was approached to write a script that would end with the regeneration of The Doctor. Holmes had been bummed out not long before when it came to the 20th anniversary story, which he envisioned as The Six Doctors, so was enthusiastic about penning a story which would see out the title character. Whilst he was not so jazzed about the job itself, he turned in work which inadvertently became the standard for most following episodes to be judged by, most falling far short.
That The Caves of Androzani is generally regarded as being one of the best stories ever produced for Doctor Who, and warrants little argument from us. The show gets right what most other ones - to varying degrees - got wrong, be it writing or execution. It's tightly-paced, tense, well-acted and has two wonderful actors, John Normington and Christopher Gable for antagonists, breathing appropriate life into what was already perfectly written on the page. You’ll hear many tales on audio commentaries of other Doctor Who tales which bemoan: where they didn’t have time or budget to do things properly; where they didn’t achieve their ultimate objective; but this is not the case with this pitch-perfect example of what could be done with efficiency and dedication...
...but sadly, the story also has a crappy monster that was shoe-horned into the script. It could have been better designed, and most certainly better shot, but even still it appears to serve little point in the story - other than to provide moments of menace that weren't necessary (in a script that was well-written and dramatic anyway). Still, they needed to get a bit more use out of that Bernie St. John costume, which Rent-a-Ghost spent so little money on.
OK, it was almost churlish to bring that one up, but it clears the way for all of which is good. To that end, morality tales have always been part-and-parcel of Doctor Who, but The Caves of Androzani isn’t merely a tale of searing revenge against an unjust, corrupt system, it explores the theme of trust in the ranks, both in the military and the corporate world. Whilst battling Jek’s androids, General Chellak has his complete trust in his second-in-command, giving him top-secret information and battle-plans - blissfully unaware that his right-hand-man is a duplicate who is reporting to the enemy. Though this confirms what anyone distrustful of the military knew anyway, The Caves of Androzani delivers a couple of knockdown blows when two untouchable bigwigs get stabbed in the back by those above suspicion.
The script is rich in subtext, and with the above treachery in mind, one of the best examples comes in the allusion to Stockholm Syndrome - demonstrated by the extended captivity of Salateen, Chellak’s second-in-command. Although loyal and dedicated enough to have risen through the ranks in the military, his confinement by Jek has left him almost sycophantically eager to please his captor, behaving like a puppy on the end of lead. He even wills The Doctor and Peri’s departure so he will be the only plaything for the scarred villain! Anyone with a familiarity with the Patty Hearst/Tania incidents will get even more out this this particular subplot.
The way Spectrox is craved by the masses to hold back the ravages of time is even more relevant today than it was back then, serving as topical satire for the Botox craze which still shows no sighs of abating. The similar-sounding substance achieves almost the same thing, but when Spectrox is misused, it can cause death; when Botox goes wrong, the poor sod can end up allegedly looking like Leslie Ash. Which fate is worse is still the source of some debate.
Robert Holmes drew upon the rich source of inspiration that fared so well during the early Tom Baker years and looked at the gothic horrors, in particular Phantom of the Opera, upon which to base some of story. Sharez Jek is essentially the titular Phantom - a tragic, disfigured character who is lonely and obsessively drawn to a beautiful young woman that stray across his path. The tragic aspect is off-set by the sheer hatred that he has for his former business parter, and both actors grab their characters by the hands and play them for all they're worth. Christopher Gable has an underlying smoothness to him, but the disfiguring accident allows Gable to give Jek a rough side that contrasts, yet also compliments each aspect wonderfully; Jon Normington is thoroughly slimy and yet has a similar smoothness that is not too far removed from Sharaz Jek, but they are diametrically opposed, yet they need each other in their twisted, symbiotic relationship.
Peter Davison still gives the thing his all, in spite of it being his final story, especially during the climactic moments when he appears not to be entirely sure if he is going to regenerate or not. Though Davison only appeared with Nicola Bryant in two stories - almost ships that passed in the night - it was more than apparent that the two of them shared a pleasing chemistry; Peri would come to be regarded as Colin Baker's definitive companion, but Davison's short stint with her is not without its merits - as the sense of determination that The Doctor has whilst trying to save his companion's life is wonderful to watch. Take note that they achieved all this without the melodramatics which plague Nu-Who in these situations, nor the need to go on a thirty minute tour of characters and locations featured during the actor's tenure.
There is a sincerity and unity among the cast, with none of the minor characters left looking bored in the background as they watch the stars deliver their lines. Many other occasions during the run of the show have seen the Special Envoy of the Royal House of the Hob-Nobites metaphorically scratching their arse with nothing to do, but not this time around. A combination of casting seasoned thespians who know how to keep their characters alive (a good example being Psychomania's Roy Holder, a quality actor in a smaller role, but always working on set) and watertight writing, choosing not to create extraneous characters just for the sake of it whilst delegating the dialogue equally among those populating the script.
Something that rightly strikes you is the production design, which came with more imagination that you would expect to find, and all achieved on the same budget, proving that it wasn’t the money which held the look of some stories back. A perfect example comes in the form of Morgus’ office, which sits at the top of a huge skyscraper, looking out onto Androzani Minor’s surface and other buildings. Sure, we know that they have employed a cyclorama and the vista is merely the results of an artists’ brush, but it’s is set up and filmed in a way which keeps the focus away from its shortcomings whilst still holding your attention. You really do buy that you are in the penthouse of a powerful industrialist, and it all adds little ticks in boxes to make Caves of Androzani one of the very best.
With Phantom of the Opera being reflected in the story, you can’t help but expect the classic “reveal” being mirrored also, and you certainly won’t find yourself left wanting by it. The image of Lon Chaney’s unmasking is one of the indelible images in the history of cinema, but The Caves of Androzani manages to be just as powerful, and all by the reaction of the cast than through pure shock. When Jek’s mask is torn from his face, Nicola Bryant’s scream is absolutely terrific, defying the urge to go pure RADA and come up with a shriek of psychological fear rather than end-of-episode acting. It’s damn effective. Writer Holmes had a leather-masked villain unmasked in a similar manner in the previous decade in Tom Baker's The Talons of Weng Chiang.
The resolution of episode one's aforementioned cliffhanger is one hell of a cheat, whereby The Doctor and Peri whom we see executed at the end of the episode aren't actually them, but rather androids hastily constructed by Sharez Jek. However, it all makes sense in relation to the rest of the story, so it doesn’t sting as much and you don’t feel as dirty as you might after being... well, you know. Repeating viewing of The Caves of Androzani make this cliffhanger easier to swallow, and sure, it sticks in the throat the first time, but it’s not as bad as instances in the Superman/ King of the Rocket Men/ Flash Gordon serials, so let’s be thankful for that!
Aside from the crappy monster, the only misstep in the whole production has to be the rather awkward way in which Peri manages to doom both herself and the Doctor, by stepping in Androzani’s deadly sticky substance of death. We are rather enamoured of this particular story (as are numerous others...) and we would see it as being the ultimate example of “dumb-arse assistant syndrome”, where the perilous events of the story are triggered by the thoughtlessness of a companion. Peri literally puts her foot in it, leading to the poisoning of both her and the Doctor, necessitating the various twists and turns of the story, ultimately leading the heroic death of everyone’s favourite Timelord. Given that this was Bryant’s second tale, she can be forgiven for so easily coming a cropper and dragging The Doctor down with her. As Benny Hill used to say: “Sirry pirrock!!”
While it might not sound much of a way to die, and you might even go so far as to say that Davidson goes out like a punk, the very fact that Peri causes their “deaths” in such a thoughtless way enables The Doctor to go on a Hero’s quest to save her life. He knows full well that he is doomed, and could have just laid down and let the regeneration do its work, but no. He staves off the change to try and thwart Earthly mortality, embarking on a brave adventure to the cave below and retrieve the milk of the Queen Bat, and with only enough for one dose, he makes the ultimate sacrifice. Going out like a pussy? Certainly not!
The regeneration scene at the end of the final episode is memorable, with Davison pulling out all of the dramatic stops - it's a pity that the attention of many viewers was not drawn to Davison acting his socks off in a poignant end to his fifth incarnation, but to the fact that Nicola Bryant was leaning over him in a low-cut top. The regeneration sequence mirrors that of Tom Baker's one, where there are flashbacks of characters relating to that particular Doctor, and all of the companions filmed specially-shot cameos for Davison's send off, along with Anthony Ainley, and - most bafflingly of all - Gerald Flood (Kamelion). When a surprisingly svelte Colin Baker rises from the floor, he immediately starts as he means to go on, with his first words being typically brash and smart-arsed.
The Caves of Androzani is top-drawer Doctor Who, and proof that the Wet-Vet shouldn’t have listened to Pat Troughton and quit after three years, as there was clearly more left in him; much as Sylvester McCoy’s darker persona was coming into its own before the show was axed. Let’s grab a lantern and shine a light on the A/V qualities of this fan favourite…
This story was previously released during the early period of Doctor Who on DVD. The whole point of the Revisitations box-set was to go back and improve upon the previous releases, and along with the second disc of new extras, it certainly looks as though the AV quality has had something of a boost, as it looks cleaner and sharper than the original release, particularly with the location footage, which was shot on film - the colours are most impressive and there is just seems more vibrant that on last release. Not much could really be done to improve the studio material, which was shot on videotape, but this is not a criticism, as it looked great to begin with.
Not much to report here - the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and sounds fine to our ears. Dialogue is clear and Roger Limb's incidental music sounds perfectly pleasant on the ear (though there are many who would dispute our observation, but we are not here to slag off Limb's contribution to Doctor Who).
Audio Commentary: with actors Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and director Graeme Harper. Peter Davison is always great fun to have on an audio commentary, as he knows just when to pull back at the point where gentle ribbing becomes barbed criticism. Davison also does a lot of prep-work before going into the recording studio and this is most evident when he is able to provide information that others will have forgotten about. Bryant is suitably bubbly and chimes in with some interesting information and amusing observations, whilst Graeme Harper is great fun as usual.
Behind the Scenes - The Regeneration: This is a look at the goings-on in the studio whilst the regeneration sequence was being filmed. Witness Peter Davison doing his thing, then see Colin Baker getting into place and speaking his first lines, all whilst Nicola Bryant tries to stay in exactly the same position. This enjoyable eight minute featurette also includes an optional audio commentary track with Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and director Graeme Harper.
Creating Sharaz Jek: This five minute exploration of the character of Sharaz Jek, is made up of an audio recording of the late Christopher Gable; he talks about how he prepared for the role, how he found his own voice for the part and how laborious the make-up process was. Sadly, Gable does not appear on-camera, but there are numerous photographs and footage from the studio recording to help illustrate his words. It's a little bizarre to hear the actor talking about the role from beyond the grave, but Gable seemed like a pleasant, erudite chap and makes this little featurette a fun experience.
Extended Scenes: These three extended sequences have been taken from the original film sequences and timecoded production tapes. The latter scenes are VERY brief, just a line or two, but it's all interesting stuff - especially the middle scene that explains a VERY illuminating piece about Salateen's history that drops a little hint about him. The first of the extended scenes has an optional audio commentary from Peter Davison and Graeme Harper, during which Harper talks about the need to cut material for pacing or dramatic reasons, even though the stuff that's cut is good stuff.
Trailer: This is a BBC1 trailer for the first episode of The Caves of Androzani; it's pretty lumpy, but it's a good representation of the way that Doctor Who was promoted at the time.
News Items: This five minute compilation of various news reports and interviews about Peter Davison's departure from Doctor Who is great fun; there are a couple of lumpy BBC News reports, but things become more interesting when Davison is interviewed and comes across as very "acTOR-ish" when pressed about his decision to leave. The final interview segment is from South-East at Six and features both Davison and JNT; Davison is more relaxed than in the previous interview, but JNT is utterly charming, and it's this side of him that many fans forget. The subject of having the next Doctor as a woman was also discussed - this was probably the first time it was brought up.
Isolated Music: Selecting this give the viewer the option to watch the story with Roger Limb's music score on it's own and no dialogue or sound-effects to mar it.
Coming Soon: It's Robert Banks Stewart's six-part eco-horror The Seeds of Doom!
PDF material - Inserting this disc into your PC and bringing up the contents will allow you to view the original Radio Times listings in PDF format.
Subtitle Production Notes: As ever, someone has worked jolly hard to compile a never-ending series of facts, trivia and general information about the production of this fan-favourite story. The balance of information and humour is as skilful as ever, being another pleasure to sit through.
Chain Reaction: This is a retrospective documentary in which the cast and crew, including actors Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, Maurice Roëves, Robert Glenister and Martin Cochrane, director Graeme Harper, script editor Eric Saward, production designer John Hurst and composer Roger Limb look back at the making of The Caves of Androzani. This 36-minute documentary explores the various elements which aligned to create the uber-favourite story, and everybody has nothing but praise for Graeme Harper, who was bubbling with ideas and energy from the outset, and living proof that hands-on enthusiasm can bring more to a project than tired experience. JNT-bashers will enjoy Mr Harper’s philosophy that one of the crucial areas for a successful product is the casting, where you employ the best actors, not necessarily stars, flies in the face of JNT’s dictate of populating Doctor Who with “names” (allegedly Mick Jagger and David Bowie were two such "names" to be approached by JNT about the part of Sharez Jek). The only misstep in the production is explained away, where our evil tyrant reveals his plans whilst looking directly into the camera, the culprit revealed as the plugs in the studio thirty seconds from being pulled whilst a frantic note to John Normington was misread. This is another documentary to thoroughly enjoy.
Directing Who: Graeme Harper has the distinction of being the only director to have worked on both the original Doctor Who and Nu-Who. In this eleven-minute featurette, the genial Harper talks about the vast differences in production techniques between the old and the new. He's a very hands-on guy, jumping in to wafting smoke around the set, as the copious production footage shows, and blessed with more energy than most lazier TV directors combined. Essentially, the main difference between the two is time, money and technology, which we all knew anyway, but Mr Harper's no-bullshit manner is refreshing, with the standout being his honesty destroying the mystique of a key moment of villainy from The Caves of Androzani.
Russell Harty: Just after the final episode of The Caves of Androzani was transmitted, both the outgoing and the incoming Doctors were invited onto the chat-show of Russell Harty, a man who couldn't so much be described as the poor-man's Michael Parkinson, rather the destitute-man's Parky. Peter Davison and Colin Baker are asked questions that are about as incisive as the bite given by a captive baby chimpanzee after it's had all it's teeth pulled out with pliers. Near the end of Davison's final story, The Doctor asks himself "is this death?" - Spectrox toxaemia wasn't, but Russell Harty going over to the studio audience, some of whom were dressed in Doctor Who costumes, certainly was...
Photo Gallery: Clocking in at nearly five minutes, a selection of production and design images from The Caves of Androzani are presented here, accompanied by Roger Limb's incidental music.
If anyone from 2Entertain are reading, for the love of Christ can you make the opening logos skipable, as it gets to the point where you want to hurl a rock at the screen whilst waiting for the menus to start up.
The Caves of Androzani quite rightly falls into the category of "classic"; there are few other stories that were so well-written, well-directed and well-acted, and this has been voted by fans as being the best story in the original run of Doctor Who. The cliffhanger at the end of episode three was one of the best ever seen on the show and Peter Davison was certainly able to go out with a bang - his performance helped make The Caves of Androzani one of the very best.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 4th October 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Production Subtitles
Extras: Audio Commentary, Behind the Scenes, Creating Sharez Jek, Extended Scenes, Trailer, News Itmes, Isolated Music, Coming Soon, PDF Materials, Chain Reaction, Directing Who, Russell Harty, Photo Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Graeme Harper
Cast: Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, Colin Baker, Christopher Gable, John Normington, Roy Holder
Length: 96 minutes
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