THIS STORY TAKES
BETWEEN THE FIRST
TWO EPISODES OF
THE BIG FINISH AUDIO
BOOK "PERI AND THE
AND THE TV STORY
"THE TWIN DILEMMA."
'REVISITATIONS 1' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2806)
RELEASED IN OCTOBER
ON THE CAVE-RIDDLED
WORLD OF ANDROZANI
MINOR, THE DOCTOR AND
PERI FIND THEMSELVES
ENMESHED IN A WAR
BETWEEN THE RUTHLESS
GENERAL CHELLAK AND
THE SINISTER SHARAZ
JEK AND HIS ARMY OF
WANTS CHELLAK TO
EXECUTE THE TWO TIME
TRAVELLERS AS SPIES,
WHILE THE DISFIGURED
JEK SEEKS TO KEEP PERI
HOSTAGE WITHIN HIS
BUT THE DOCTOR SOON
REALISES AN EVEN MORE
GRUESOME FATE AWAITS
THEM BOTH - THEY HAVE
BECOME INFECTED WITH
AND THERE IS NO CURE...
HUNTED BY BOTH SIDES
AND WITH DEATH JUST
HOURS AWAY, HOW FAR
MUST THE DOCTOR GO IN
ORDER TO SAVE PERI'S
8th MARCH 1984 - 16TH MARCH 1984
Since its initial release on DVD in 2001, The Caves of Androzani has been voted
the greatest Doctor Who story of all time by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine on more than one occasion, trouncing competition from even the revived series’ glossiest episodes. Accordingly, its status warranted a DVD reappraisal. Whilst the original release was bound in suitably deathly cover art and blessed with numerous fascinating special features (at least when compared to other early DVD releases), like The Talons of Weng-Chiang it lacked a showpiece documentary linking everything together.
The first of the two Androzani discs is effectively the DVD that was released in 2001. The four episodes are presented magnificently remastered, and buoyed by optional production subtitles and a particularly fascinating commentary from Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and director Graeme Harper. It’s refreshing to hear Davison actually have some kind words for one of his stories, and Harper has a number of interesting anecdotes to share about his first directing job. Poor, frostbitten Bryant has less fond memories of the production, though this is hardly surprising given that it nearly killed her.
Above: Matthew Sweet visits erstwhile Doctor Who script editor Eric Saward in Chain Reaction
None of the first disc’s features are particularly lengthy, but they are all of great interest. We are treated to an extended scene featuring Stotz and his motley band of gunrunners, various news features focusing on Davison’s decision to leave the series, the original BBC1 trailer, and two illuminating behind the scenes featurettes. The first of these, Creating Sharaz Jek, offers fascinating insight into how Christopher Gable approached playing this tale’s tortured villain, but inevitably it is The Regeneration skit that really piques one’s interest. Particularly having recently witnessed the scrupulous labours that went into perfecting the latest renewal via Confidential’s cameras, it’s astonishing to watch the 1984 crew flitting about in a panic, desperately trying to get Colin Baker onto the set and Peter Davison off it before the plugs were pulled at ten o’clock. It’s also lovely to see another take of Baker’s first scene, having watched the broadcast version ad infinitum.
The second disc, which is exclusive to the Revisitation 1 box
set’s special edition release, boasts a revamped photo gallery,
a contemporaneous interview that sees both Peter Davison
and Colin Baker grilled by Russell Harty on his show, and two
thoroughly enjoyable custom pieces – Chain Reaction and
Directing Who: Then and Now. The former runs for a little over
half an hour and documents the progression of the production
right from Eric Saward’s dogged insistence that Bob Holmes
should write the script, all the way up to the serial’s completion
and reception. Beautifully framed with eloquent links from Big
Finish audio writer Matthew Sweet, this wonderful documentary
features interviews with many of the cast and crew and tells of
near stunt-casting, dynamic direction and – of course – Nicola
Bryant’s prominent cleavage. The latter featurette is similarly
impressive, and also rather inspired. As the only director to have worked on both classic and new Who, Graeme Harper is uniquely positioned to compare and contrast the two, and here he does exactly that.
Above: Graeme Harper discusses the differences between directing the series in the 1980s and today
I can’t think of enough superlatives to throw at The Caves of Androzani itself. More so than any other Doctor Who story that I can think of, it highlights its lead character’s decency and virtue by throwing him into a cauldron of human vice and iniquity that he just isn’t equipped
to handle. The Doctor and Peri unwittingly wander into a petty human drugs war, and within moments they’re running for their lives. By the story’s second episode, they’re both infected with a fatal illness, and by the end of the third they’re both hanging on to life by a thread. Put the Doctor in front of an army of Daleks and he’ll do his thing, but place him in the centre of
a petty little war fuelled by greed and apathy and he’s lost.
The twin worlds of Androzani are depicted as being unremittingly callous. Androzani Major
is a world where PAs casually jot down to have someone shot on their notepads as if they were writing “two sugars”; a world where ruthless businessmen like Morgus trample all over their workers with impunity. Androzani Minor is perhaps even worse – its labyrinthine caves shelter disfigured dealer Sharaz Jek, a Phantom of the Opera-like character who was once betrayed and left for dead by Morgus, but now finds himself having to illicitly supply him with vast quantities of the miracle elixir Spectrox in exchange for the weapons that he needs to fuel his coup against the very state that Morgus represents. And pursuing Jek through these caves are Martin Cochrane’s Major Chellak, a ruthless militant buffoon promoted beyond his measure, and his more savvy right-hand man, Salateen, who is probably the closest that this blighted star system ever gets to a sympathetic supporting character. Even Salateen though is invariably cruel and nasty, jesting at the Doctor and Peri’s fate, amongst other things.
“Beauty I must have, but you are dispensable.”
As with all of Holmes’ scripts, his characterisation is superb, and in this case is heightened by some bravura performances. The casting of noted dancer Christopher Gable as Jek was
a real masterstroke, as not only is Gable’s voice perfect for the part but his lithe movements really do evoke the operatic feel sought. What I particularly like about Gable’s performance though is its delicate sense of danger; watching him, it’s difficult not to cringe or cower as Peri does, as at any moment anything could set him off. Yet, despite being the only villain that I can think of to ever fruitfully torture the Doctor (a claim to fame in itself), as the serial reaches its muddy, bloody climax one can’t help but champion the wretched fiend; cheer
him on as the bullets ineffectively tear into his flesh while he stalks his long-sought quarry…
In contrast, John Normington’s Morgus is completely cold and emotionless; the perfect foil for Jek. What I find interesting about Morgus is that in playing him, the actor did pretty much everything wrong, yet it doing so he made Morgus one of Doctor Who’s most memorable villains. Normington’s misunderstanding of stage directions led to the character’s repeated breaking of the fourth wall, sharing his thoughts and schemes with the audience rather than muttering them to himself. However, this intimacy sucks the viewer right into the adventure and makes them a part of events. Even more notably, Normington doesn’t vary the tone of his voice no matter what the provocation, but rather than feel flat or lifeless, this only adds
to his unfeeling allure.
“It’s all over Doctor.”
Equally remarkable is Robert Glenister’s Salateen. Charged with playing both the human character and his android duplicate, Davison’s former Sink or Swim co-star had probably the most difficult job of any of the cast. Glenister acquits himself admirably however, subtly differentiating between the human and the android Salateen with his dancing eyes.
My favourite character though is
Maurice Roëves’ Stotz, the wily
mercenary charged with ferrying
Jek’s Spectrox to Morgus and
Morgus’ weapons to Jek. Stotz
is remarkable because he’s not
the sort of rogue that you often
find in Doctor Who. He’s not an overdramatic despot or theatrical
megalomaniac, but an evil c***. Stotzy doesn’t mess about threatening people or sharing his plans; he just guns them down with a smile on his face. For me, Stotz is The Caves of Androzani in microcosm: cruel, dirty and dangerous. Watch the infamous ‘pill scene’ and tell me that this is kid’s programme.
“Not a very convincing argument, because you see I’m going to die soon anyway. But I owe it to my friend
to find the antidote. I got her into this, so you see, I’M NOT GOING TO LET YOU STOP ME NOW!”
This plot itself is wrought with tension, as our two moribund heroes are subjected to the most horrendous of ordeals, whilst all the while Roger Limb’s funerary score reminds us all that the end is imminent. As the Doctor is beaten, tortured and thrown from one villain to the next, it’s touch your toes time for Peri as she has to play Christine to Jek’s beauty-obsessed Erik. As the tale rages towards its inevitable climax, the Doctor is visibly fighting off the regeneration, desperately trying to cling on to life long enough to find the antidote needed to save his and Peri’s lives. There is no invading force to repel here; no sinister scheme to derail, no world
to save. He just wants to survive the day. The cliffhanger ending to the third episode says it all, and for me ranks amongst the series’ finest.
The story’s final moments are a thing of beauty. The Doctor, antidote in hand, literally drops Peri into the TARDIS (a serendipitous stumble on Davison’s part, I understand) as the caves erupt around them climatically. But then, in a cruel anti-climax, the flagging Time Lord spills half of the cure, leaving him with only course: to give up his own life to save that of his friend, the sight of whose ample bosom would nurse him to his rest. Beats a bunch of singing Ood in my book.
“Feels different this time…”
With the voices of lost friends and enemies flying around his head, the release of tension is explosive as the Doctor sits violently upright in his new body, admonishes Peri, and, with a twinkle in his eye, announces that the change has come “not a moment too soon…”
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m in firm agreement with the readers of DWM. Of all the Doctor’s televised adventures, The Caves of Androzani remains my favourite to date. It’s the best there is, the best there was, and probably the best that there ever will be, and now it’s got the DVD appraisal that it’s always deserved.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006, 2010
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