Review of Doctor Who ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (Series 21)
In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be reviewing one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.
By 1984 Peter Davison was in his final year as the Doctor, in fact this story is the fifth incarnation’s last outing before transforming into Colin Baker’s sixth version of the Time Lord.
At this point in series 21 the Doctor is travelling with a new companion called Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown (Nicola Bryant), an American college student who first made her debut in Planet of Fire after encountering the Doctor and his companion Turlough (Mark Strickson). As Turlough made his departure from the Tardis, Peri decided to join the Doctor on his travels across time and space.
Meanwhile Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) bid farewell at the close of Terminus after she decided to stay on a derelict space station and help turn it into a hospital. Tegan (Janet Fielding) left the Tardis for good in Resurrection of the Daleks after the traumatic events she witnessed were just too much for her.
The Caves of Androzani finds the Doctor and Peri land on Androzani Minor – a world that looks suspiciously like a quarry. They are promptly thrown headlong into a complex battle between scheming businessman and David Cameron lookalike Morgus (John Normington) and the mysterious Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable). There’s also some raw spectrox involved which poisons both the Doctor and Peri, creating a race against time to retrieve the antidote and save them.
Robert Holmes’ has written a complex story that makes the viewer sit up and pay attention in order to connect the dots. While creating an elaborate plot creates depth, in this case it is taxing to watch. It would be difficult to replicate a story of such scale on the show today because there is simply not enough time to go into the same amount of detail.
As a whole the adventure feels very flat as a series finales go – especially with a regeneration at the end of it. But it’s not all bad, there are some good points to be found. For instance Sharaz Jek is a brilliantly written, with an interesting backstory. Although Gable does get pantomime and hammy at times, he is on the whole skin crawlingly creepy and barking mad. Meanwhile Davison gives a strong last performance as well, showing his gravitas despite his youth. Then there is all the razzmatazz of the gun battles and the great cliffhangers. But that’s about it.
The politicking between Morgus and the President (David Neal) left me with glazed eyes, while the ‘threatening’ monster hiding in the depths below was dispensed with swiftly without proving to be much of a danger. Aesthetically, the creature was embarrassingly shoddy and looked like a re-hash of the pterodactyl-like creature from Arc of Infinity.
In 1984 the world was watching films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or The Terminator or Gremlins, in comparison The Caves of Androzani fails to impress. Doctor Who was a flagship television programme and yet it appears to be underfunded and is a visual disappointment. It leaves the mind boggling.
In terms of companions, Peri is initially as irritating as a bluebottle constantly buzzing around one’s head, particularly with her endless questions. However, after she gets infected with raw spectrox and spends most of the serial passed out, her likeability increases greatly.
Sartorially, Peri has been clothed in something similar to Tegan, a playsuit with a shirt for modesty, along with a pair of impractical shoes to run in. In my mind Peri gets a raw deal when it comes to costumes, they may look sexy but just don’t cut it when trying to escape from deranged lovelorn harlequins. She is irritating but she does have one moment of glory in The Caves of Androzani. Shortly before her execution she is asked if she has any last requests, to which she replies with ‘just get on with it’. It’s a brief flash of the American sass that is sorely missing from this character.
For nu-Who fans venturing back through the time continuum of Doctor Who, this story can be summed up as a middle-of-the-road Phantom of the Opera in space, with less musical numbers and more androids.
DVD & image credit: BBC
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