Tardis Party: Doctor Who serial close-up ~ The Caves Of Androzani (1984)
Fivey finds his mojo: “Taunt her again with that ‘it-all-turns-to-crap-as-soon-as-Davison’s-gone’ talk, and during the next tea break I’ll spike your cuppa with unrefined spectrox…”
So, with us now being little more than five weeks away from the actual date of Doctor Who‘s (1963-present) 50th anniversary – and its multi-Doctor-featuring celebratory special, of course – it’s time for George’s Journal to celebrate the fantastic finale to The Fifth Doctor’s tenure in the role, the sensational serial that’s The Caves Of Androzani.
However, Caves doesn’t just mark the end (more or less) for Peter Davison, but – as far as this blog’s golden anniversary-marking glut of Who-related posts this year is concerned – the end of the 27-year-long original series’ run. Yes, folks, it’s time finally then to embark on our last close-up/ review of an essential story from the ‘Classic’ series of Who. Who’da thunk it, eh…?
Doctors: Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor); Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor)
Companion: Nicola Bryant (Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown)
Villains: Christopher Gable (Sharaz Jek); John Normington (Trau Morgus); Robert Glenister (Salateen); Martin Cochrane (Chellak); Maurice Roëves (Stotz)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Script editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner
Director: Graeme Harper
Season: 21 (sixth of seven serials – four 25-minute-long episodes)
Original broadcast dates: March 8-16 1984 (twice weekly)
Total average viewers: 7.3 milion
Previous serial: Planet Of Fire
Next serial: The Twin Dilemma
Having landed the TARDIS on the surface of the planet Androzani Minor, the fifth incarnation of The Doctor steps out with his very new companion Perpugilliam Brown (‘Peri’ for short), an American botany student, into a desolate, rather hostile-looking landscape. Following the tracks of a buggy, the pair discover a nearby blast-hole and decide to investigate. They enter a man-made cave, their descent of which sees Peri catch her foot in a giant egg that spreads a sticky substance on her leg; The Doctor wipes it off with his hand and claims it’s probably harmless. Quickly they discover a hoard of weapons, which leads to their being surrounded by a squad of human soldiers, whom escort them to a General Chellak.
The latter and his second-in-command, Major Salateen, are highly suspicious of these oddly dressed new arrivals and – when contacted via holographic communication by Trau Morgus, the chairman of the Sirius conglomerate based on Androzani Minor’s larger and densely populated sister planet Androzani Major – conclude with him that they must be in cahoots with gunrunners working for enemy of the corporation (and so the enemy of Chellak’s army, which is working on behalf of Androzani Major’s government via Morgus’s leadership). Thus, Morgus dismissively gives the order for The Doctor and Peri to be executed.
Elsewhere in the caves, its location unknown to Chellak, is the hideout of Sharaz Jek, the aforementioned enemy who’s a genius in android technology and whose army in the war he’s waging with Morgus’s corporation is made up of his well-developed but still very robotic-looking androids. A masked madman, he began the war to disrupt and reduce the flow of a substance called spectrox, which is produced deep in the caves by bats, mined by Morgus’s company and sold to Androzani Major’s population whose ageing it’s supposed to defy. Via his surveillance of all that goes on in Chellak’s HQ, Jek discovers the existence of The Doc and Peri – and becomes enamoured with the latter. However, hiding away as he is, he can do nothing to prevent the latter pair’s execution, as they’re stood up against a wall, covered with red face-covering hooded gowns and shot to death by a line of soldiers.
Or can he? As Chellak and Salateen examine the dead bodies, they discover they’re in fact android duplicates – brilliant duplicates, at that, as they look exactly like the real thing. They immediately decide Sharaz Jek has duped them and thus saved the pair of ‘gunrunners’. Jek has indeed saved The Doc and Peri’s lives and has had them brought to his hideout in order to make them companions in his exile – although it quickly becomes apparent he’s far more interested in Peri for her beauty than he is in The Doc for his smart conversation. When Peri asks Jek why he wears his mask, he explains that he’d once been a partner with Morgus, but he was caught in an accident when one of Androzani Minor’s mud-bursts occurred and left to die. Thus, horribly scarred and driven mad with hate, he swore revenge on Morgus and started the war.
Peri: Doctor, why do you wear a stick of celery in your lapel?
The Doctor: Does it offend you?
Peri: No, just curious.
The Doctor: Safety precaution. I’m allergic to certain gases in the Praxis range of the spectrum.
Peri: Well, how does the celery help?
The Doctor: If the gas is present, the celery turns purple.
Peri: And then what do you do?
The Doctor: I eat the celery. If nothing else, I’m sure it’s good for my teeth.
While effectively incarcerated by Jek, the travellers discover another prisoner… Salateen. The latter explains that he was captured months ago and replaced with an android duplicate ‘under’ Chellak’s command that reports back to Jek, ensuring that (in addition to his surveillance techniques) the latter learns all that Chellak’s army plans to do before it does it. This explains why the war has been going on for so long; why Chellak’s force has never been able to locate and get the better of Jek’s. Then, having been told by The Doctor and Peri they’re feeling pain from rashes that have developed on her leg and his hand following their encounter with the egg’s substance, Salateen darkly laughs, informing them they’re dying – what they came into contact with was unrefined spectrox, which is fatal. The only antidote is milk from the queen bat that since the mining began has resided deep in the caves where there’s very limited oxygen.
Meanwhile, Jek has been negotiating with the gunrunners for weapons in exchange for spectrox. The gunrunners under the leadership of the sly Stotz, though, decide they can successfully rush Jek’s android guards and steal all his spectrox supplies, thus becoming enormously wealthy on their return to Androzani Major. A gun battle takes place then between the gunrunners and the androids, just as The Doc engineers an escape for Peri, Salateen and himself, which inevitably sees them caught up in the battle. In the confusion, Salateen grabs Peri and drags her back to Chellak’s HQ, leaving The Doctor (whom doesn’t know where she’s gone) to return to Jek’s hideout looking for her, avoiding a dragon-like magma beast as he does so, which attacks the gunrunners (see video clip above).
Having returned to Chellak’s HQ (with Peri), Salateen manages to persuade the former he’s the ‘real Salateen’ and the one that’s been at Chellak’s side for so long is Jek’s android duplicate. The two thus cook up a scheme to attack Jek’s base (as Salateen can remember the way back through the caves) and attempt to bring the war to an end, while supplying the fake Salateen with false tactics, which in turn will be supplied to Jek. Peri, however, is starting to feel genuinely ill from spectrox toxaemia. Indeed, The Doctor is beginning to suffer from it too when he discovers Jek and Stotz in discussion; under duress, he admits to Jek that Peri is now most likely at Chellak’s HQ. The rebel orders Stotz to return to Androzani Major with the Doc to find out whether he’s a government spy.
In orbit aboard his ship, Stotz communicates with Morgus and it becomes clear the latter is Stotz’s employer, thus he’s responsible for supplying weapons to Jek that are being used against his/ the government’s own army in order to keep the war going, and therefore the spectrox supplies limited and the price of spectrox high. However, as the two are talking, Morgus notices on his screen The Doctor standing behind Stotz. This instantly troubles the businessman. For, like Jek, he concludes the Doc may well be a government spy and, if that’s so, the government most likely has found out what he’s up to and will look to remove him imminently. Therefore, he invites the government’s President to his high-rise office and pushes him to his death down an empty lift-shaft – he informs his second-in-command Timmin to have the lift maintenance engineer shot, adding he will travel to Androzani Minor himself to maintain control.
Morgus: Jek, where’s the Spectrox?
Sharaz Jek: Morgus!
Morgus: Take one more step and we shoot!
Sharaz Jek: Do you think bullets could stop me now? You stinking offal, Morgus, look at me!
Meanwhile, having been foolishly left alone on the ship’s bridge, The Doctor breaks free of his binds and manages to pilot it back to Androzani Minor, claiming Stotz’s promise to kill him once the latter’s broken through the sealed door carries little threat because he’s going to do die from spectrox toxaemia anyway, but not before he’s somehow saved his friend Peri from a similar fate. Escaping the ship, the Doc runs across the planet’s surface but, energy-sapped by spectrox toxaemia, he can’t escape the gunrunners under Stotz’s lead. However, just as they’re about to kill him, a mud-burst from below explodes; the gunrunners flee and the Time Lord descends into the caves once more to find Peri.
Below the surface, all hell has broken loose as the mud-burst complicates the battle between Chellak and Salateen’s men and Jek’s androids (which have wiped out Salateen and the troops, owing to the army making a tactical error). Chellak, however, reaches Jek’s hideout and struggles with him. As he does so he pulls off Jek’s mask and, so horrified by the sight of Jek’s disfigured face is he, the latter gains the advantage and pushes him to his death into an advancing mud-flow. Having followed the troops’ movements, a desperately ill Peri has found her way to Jek’s base too and is similarly horrified by his true appearance. However, the increasingly insane Jek still has enough about him to agree to help the Doc save Peri’s life, as the latter arrives at the hideout. He supplies The Doctor with directions and additional oxygen so he might be able to descend deep into the caves and retrieve the queen bat’s milk.
Meanwhile, Morgus arrives on Androzani Minor and instantly finds out from Timmin that the government is aware he murdered the President and knows of all his profiteering and double-dealings because she’s been a genuine government spy and has now replaced him as chairman of Sirius. Dismayed but convinced he’s not beaten, Morgus turns to Stotz and makes a deal with him to steal from Jek’s hideout all the supplies of Spectrox. Finding the hideout easily because Jek has switched on its extractor fans to keep Peri cool, Morgus and Stotz confront the former, which drives him wild; as he tussles with his nemesis, Jek pulls off his mask to reveal what Morgus ‘has done to him’. However, as he throttles Morgus, Stotz opens fire on him, only for the Salateen android to appear and shoot Stotz dead. Riddled with bullets then, Jek pushes Morgus into an extractor fan, killing him, and orders the android to hold him as he slumps in its arms and dies.
Making it back to the burning hideout (thanks to all the gunfire), the Doc is just in time to haul Peri away and to the surface before, together with mud-bursts, the hideout explodes, fireballs ripping through the planet’s surface behind them as they flee to the TARDIS. The Doc drops half of the bat milk he’s collected but he makes it into the TARDIS, safely demateralises the machine and feeds Peri all the remaining milk before he crumples to the console room floor. Recovering quickly, Peri shrinks away as she watches the Time Lord’s face change – from the blonde, floppy-haired, kindly fellow into a blond, curly-haired man wearing an unskakably sure almost proud expression – he has regenerated. ‘What’s happened?’ asks Peri; to which the new Doctor answers: ‘Change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon…’
If you’re a fan of smart, serious, lugubrious modern sci-fi like Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) or modern, hard-nosed TV thriller dramas like 24 (2001-present) and Homeland (2011-present), then The Caves Of Androzani is definitely the ‘Classic Who’ serial for you. When you break it down, it’s truly just as smart, serious, lugubrious, hard-nosed and thrilling as anything today’s ‘new Hollywood’ (i.e. quality modern US TV drama) has cooked up. And it’s more besides – it’s unrelentingly fast-paced, actually quite violent and, well, absolutely Doctor Who at the same time.
Fundamentally, there are two reasons – or to be precise, two men responsible for – why it’s so damn good: Robert Holmes and Graeme Harper. As he had in writing fellow all-time classic Who stories The Ark In Space (1975), The Deadly Assassin (1976) and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (1977) back when he was the show’s script editor, Holmes came up with an absolute stonker of a script for Caves, filled with political intrigue and corruption, lamentable, inglorious warfare and small-scale petty squabbles that blow up in the face of every participant come the end and brimming, as it also is, with tension, suspense, surprises, anger and lashings of action.
With its backdrop of a manipulated war borne out of disagreements over mining a commodity on which a planet’s entire population has become hooked, the set-up for Caves‘ plot is, if anything, most reminiscent of some sort of dirty drug-derived and -driven war in a barbaric corner of Africa that many a Westerner would like to ignore. The story then offers up humanity at its very heart, but unlike many a lighter, ultimately sunnier Who story, this is humanity at its deepest, darkest, most animalistic worst. Of all the characters we meet on Androzani Major and Minor (not just the main ones like Morgus, Sharaz Jek, Salateen and Stotz), none have enough about them to be genuinely redeemable. None get close to becoming allies for The Doctor and Peri; they all have underhand, ulterior, self-serving motives that come the last few minutes of the final episode – save for the power grab of Barbara Kinghorn’s Timmin – seal or have already sealed their deserved downfall. No wonder all The Doc and his companion want to do is find the antidote and escape in the TARDIS; they’ve accidentally wandered into a whirlwind that, for once, is too much for our hero to resolve and this time will even lead to his death.
Indeed, although Jek shows some redeemable behaviour come the end (combining with The Doc to try and save Peri) he’s only doing so because he’s fallen in lust with her and much of his empathy anyway stems from his fall; he’s lost the war and like the masked, haunted, in-subterranean-hiding protagonist of The Phantom Of The Opera (which may’ve been an influence on his creation, just as it was on Talons‘ villain Magnus Greel in that Holmes story), he’ll lose the girl too. The Doctor’s acceptance that he’ll have to sacrifice himself (or at least his incarnation) to save his – only relatively recently acquired – companion because he’s responsible for getting her into this mess, is the only truly heroic and positive example of human behaviour in the entire serial. But it’s the greatest, bravest and most courageous behaviour one can imagine – and he’s not even human! Caves‘ writing is indeed bleak but brilliant then. And highly satisfying.
Like Holmes, Harper’s contribution to Caves‘ greatness is hard to overstate; unlike Holmes though, he came to it as a rookie – yet hit it out of the ballpark on his first at-bat. Much of the energy, urgency and intensity on-screen is probably attributable to his ever enthusing, chivvying and harrying directing-style (he spent much of his time explaining things to cast and crew on the studio floor, instead of overseeing everything and relaying instructions to the floor from the technicians’ gallery, as was the norm on the show). Moreover, his just-go-for-it deployment of in-the-thick-of-it action (no sophisticated laser weapons here, just gritty rapid-fire mini Uzi-like guns) and intense two-hander scenes (shot with both players looking just off-camera and not at each other) were a revelation for ‘Classic Who’, if employed pretty much because Harper was inexperienced and so didn’t follow the norm.
The overall effect, though, is dramatic; Caves plays like a human tragedy, almost in a Shakespearian manner. One’s reminded of Kenneth Branagh’s approach to his outstanding adaptation of Hamlet (1996); he wanted it to come across as a Shakespeare tragedy ‘done as a thriller’ – to my mind, Caves does something of a comparable thing for Doctor Who. And not least because of, for me, its very best moments: Normington’s soliloquies in Episodes Two and Three, which he delivered directly to-camera, thus breaking the fourth wall, because he’d misunderstood Harper’s direction, but which the latter kept in when he realised how über-dramatic, unusual and therefore effective they were.
There’s more still, though, that it offers. No question, deserving too of comment are John Normington and Christopher Gable’s performances as chief antagonists Morgus and Jek respectively. Both are utterly engaging; the former quietly menacing, the latter overt and anguished. There’s also an incongruously charming ’80s aesthetic to this story (like many of the Nathan-Turner era, admittedly); with its so-crap-they’re-great cardboard army HQs and pastel-hued business offices and, of course, the marvellously garish shellsuit-like fatigues Chellak, Salateen and their grunts sport. Plus, lest we forget, come the very finish we get that regeneration. Every one of The Doctor’s regenerations is dramatic, but this one perhaps more so… it indeed ‘feels different this time’. Maybe because it culminates in Colin Baker‘s first appearance that drips with (albeit nicely ironic) foreboding.
Despite nowadays being considered the defining and certainly best story of Peter Davison‘s Who run, ironically Caves, it could be said, started out as something of a black sheep. Rightly feeling that Davison should go out with a bang, the show’s then script editor Eric Saward reached out to arguably Who‘s greatest and definitely its most prolific writer to come up with a script for the Fifth Doc’s send-off, namely Robert Holmes. Yet, knowing that ’80s producer John Nathan-Turner had a problem with Holmes (i.e. he was intimidated by him – the same issue had arisen in pre-production for 1983’s The Five Doctors), Saward had to pursue Holmes clandestinely. Fortunately, however, it worked; Holmes said yes and eventually came up with a dark, riveting, fast-paced script (his motive for writing it apparently being to put Davison ‘through hell’, feeling his Doc’s escapades had thus far been too light).
The script’s working title was Chain Reaction, but was ultimately altered to the more exotic – and better – The Caves Of Androzani, going before the cameras in late ’83 and, after a Christmas break (owing to an industrial action interruption at the Beeb), in January ’84 when the regeneration scene was hastily filmed in one evening, squeezed in before the plugs were pulled on the BBC TV Centre studio’s electricity at 10pm sharp, as was the strict, usual practice for many years.
Cast-wise, Christopher Gable was chosen for Sharaz Jek (a character whose thesp would require unique qualities – someone who looked and moved well and memorably despite wearing a skin-tight suit and a mask for the vast majority of his screen-time); the reason being he’d previously been a soloist with the Royal Ballet before becoming a film actor in The Boyfriend (1971), The Slipper And The Rose (1976) and later Ken Russell’s The Rainbow (1989). Other figures ambitiously considered for Jek were David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey and Tim Curry. Cast in the particularly challenging double role of Salateen and his eerily severe android duplicate was Robert Glennister, who’d previously appeared in the sitcom Sink Or Swim (1980-82) as the brother of its star, one Peter Davison. Glennister would later achieve fame as a regular in the grifter comedy-drama Hustle (2004-12) and is notable for being the older brother of Philip Glennister, aka Gene Hunt in Life On Mars (2006-07) and Ashes To Ashes (2008-10).
Containing the Davison-into-Baker regeneration, of course, Caves also features very brief cameos from the thesps whom had played the Fifth Doc’s previous companions: Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Gerald Flood (voice of robot Kamelion) and even Anthony Ainley, whom had portrayed nemesis The Master throughout this era. All appear in the Doc’s sub-conscious, swirling around his head with encouragements not to die (or the opposite in The Master’s case) as he regenerates; the scene’s psychedelic visual- and (definitely) sound-effects being strongly influenced by the ever rising final chord to The Beatles‘ masterpiece A Day In The Life (1967). It’s some regeneration, all right, even if in fan circles it’s notorious for (thanks, no doubt, to Davison’s oft made assertion) him being completely overshadowed by Nicola Bryant‘s ample decolletage (see video clip below).
For their part, the future held different fortunes for Robert Holmes and Graeme Harper. The latter returned to helm Revelation Of The Daleks (1985), but his biggest contribution to the show has come with ‘NuWho’, having directed several well received episodes in the Russell T Davies/ David Tennant era including Utopia (2007), Turn Left and The Stolen Planet/ Journey’s End (all 2008). Holmes would only write for Who twice again, the Sixth/ Second Doctor multi-story The Two Doctors (1985) and the ’86 story The Mysterious Planet, part of the show’s heavily arced 23rd season (subtitled The Trial Of A Timelord); it was while writing more for this particular season that he’d sadly die aged just 60.
This, as mentioned, was of course Davison’s swansong and, reputedly, he much enjoyed it, specifically for the energy and quality that Holmes and Harper brought to it, somewhat lamenting the rest of his time on the show hadn’t produced similar results. To this day, it remains his favourite Who story on which he worked, a sentiment shared with many fans, whom have always placed it very highly in polls ranking Who stories; indeed, it topped a mega poll conducted by Doctor Who Magazine in 2009 (ironically, the very next serial The Twin Dilemma – Colin Baker’s first proper one – perennially finishes bottom in such polls).
Sadly, the future for ‘Classic Who’ wouldn’t be rosy; Davies has suggested that it was with The Twin Dilemma that ‘everything started to go wrong’ – and that may be fair to say. The Caves Of Androzani then, until Davies’s ressurrection of the show, was its last great story, a glittering rough diamond of spectrox-fuelled ever-lasting excellence that, despite the (less than) average serials that surrounded it, to this day is still a shining beacon of brilliance of ’80s Doctor Who.
Next time: Doctor Who: The Movie (1996)
Previous close-ups/ reviews:
The Five Doctors (Special/ 1983/ Main Doctor: Peter Davison)
City Of Death (Season 17/ 1979/ Doctor: Tom Baker)
The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (Season 15/ 1977/ Doctor: Tom Baker)
The Deadly Assassin (Season 14/ 1976/ Doctor: Tom Baker)
Pyramids Of Mars (Season 13/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)
Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)
The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)
Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)
The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)
An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)