The Caves of AndrozaniBookmark and Share

Friday, 19 May 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

My conscience is clear... but the Presidium will find my actions treasonable.

What is there to say about The Caves of Androzani that hasn't already been said at least a dozen times before? It's great, it's brilliant, it's dark, it's gritty, it managed to give Peter Davison cold feet about leaving Doctor Who and arguably was a factor behind his decision to go back for the Big Finish audios...

But I honestly don't look at Caves and think Doctor Who. I look at Caves and see a crossover between Doctor Who and Blake's 7. Of course, there was another one - The Sun Makers, also by Robert Holmes, but also made before the first episode of Blake's 7 was filmed, let alone screened.

Like Blake's 7, Caves shows a universe full of utter bastards with nice lines in wit who as likely to insult you as shoot you in the back. Androzani Minor could be any planet in B7, a barren quarry with caves filled with trigger-happy troopers, native monsters and amusing-looking androids. The army is fighting a small band of rebels lead by 'an evil renegade', and Sharaz Jek does kind of resemble a mixture of Roj Blake and Kerr Avon - a sinister bloke in black leather who obsesses about a woman he hardly knows and is fighting a wide-scale war against his society more out of revenge than ideology. Morgus resembles Servalan in many ways (bar, obviously, gender and fashion sense): a high-placed official in a plush office, already with great power over their world and prepared to kill and murder their way until they are more powerful than the President. And like Servalan, Morgus is deposed and left on the run trying to locate the key to restoring their position - in the former, it's the spaceship Liberator, in the latter, it's a stock of pure Spectrox. And like Blake's 7, the story ends with most of the guest cast dead and no interest in what will happen to society following this adventure. Androzani Major may flourish or collapse, and the regulars have no interest in it, either way.

But it is B7 with its small good humor ripped away. While Stotz and Krelper's bitching recalls the repartee between Avon and Vila, Stotz has no real camaraderie with Krelper, evidence by the loud and uncomfortable scene where he beats Krelper up, holds him over a cliff, slashes at his face with a knife and throws a cyanide capsule down his throat. The rebels in Blake's 7 were at least attempting to fight something more corrupt and evil than they were - on Androzani Minor, everyone is ironically on the same side, but still determined to wipe each other out. Morgus runs the army, Morgus runs Stotz and the gun runners, and Sharaz Jek is thus dependent on his hated enemy who has masterminded this entire war in order for him to stay rich and profitable.

Of course, it's around this point we say The Caves of Androzani is the fifth Doctor's finest hour. Well, it's true, isn't it? I believe Davison's Doctor has quite a few good hours, but this still beats out in quality. For the first episode or so, it's as though Davison is playing the fourth Doctor. You can easily imagine Tom Baker casually wandering through the caves, baiting Chellak, and all the while doing that wonderful expression of his grin collapsing into a grimace as he realizes what a horrible place this is. But the desperation the Doctor develops upon learning he is dead meat is definitely playing to Davison's strengths. The third episode cliffhanger with the Doctor simultaneously threatened by a bullet to the head, a fatal crash-landing and Spectrox Toxaemia is justly famous for its tension. But when seen in context, after the rest of the fifth Doctor's era, and the cliffhanger gets even better.

When I reviewed Planet of Fire I noticed that the new, tougher fifth Doctor has developed a 'I don't have time for this' attitude when it comes to his companions, enemies and the universe in general. Caves takes this and cranks this up to eleven. While the end of the first episode has the Doctor as usual trying to understand this situation and work out what's going on, by the end of the second he has no time for the politics of the Androzani twins. When he sees Morgus and realizes who is really in control of this 'pathetic local war', he loses all interest. He doesn't care, he's got Peri to worry about and he's not going to let juggling the big picture and the little picture lose him his friend.

It can't be argued the Doctor has not been that successful with his companions. Although Adric sacrificed himself nobly trying to save a world of people he'd never met (for a species he regularly found annoying), he ultimately died for nothing and the Doctor couldn't save him. When Nyssa left the Doctor, it wasn't because she had found a place she wanted to live and enjoy herself, it was because she was faced with a problem so big the Doctor wasn't prepared to hang around in fix so she refused to go with him. The Doctor could easily feel proud of Nyssa's compassion and bravery, it's not the happy ending she deserved and the Doctor obviously felt he should provide. Turlough seems to decide to quit the TARDIS the moment the Doctor snaps at him that he's had enough of the Trion's secrecy, and was prepared to face arrest, exile, maybe even execution rather continuing traveling with the Time Lord. Kamelion was killed by the Doctor himself, fatally wounding the android and then crushing the poor thing. And Tegan, of course, ran out on the Doctor when she saw him pick up a gun and prepare to commit cold-blooded murder - and ironically changed her mind at the last moment, even though she never found out the Doctor didn't kill Davros. Even in the comic strips, the Doctor was unlucky with friends. Sir Justin in The Tides of Time sacrifices himself for something, but the Doctor shouldn't have let it get that far. In The Moderator, Gus Goodman was killed defending the Doctor, and died with the miserable realization he'd never get home - all because the Doctor was sarky to a giant cane toad.

Ultimately, Big Finish's decision to put a whole season between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani is uncomfortable to put it mildly. Caves is clearly set a very short time after Planet and why not? Robert Holmes was hardly writing the scripts with the proviso in twenty years time missing audio adventures were being recorded. Also, just putting Erimem in there ruins the feel. Unless she also leaves the Doctor on bad terms, it shoots the whole point of Caves through the head. The Doctor HAS to save Peri because he has spectacularly failed to save any other companion. But if Erimem does suffer this fate, it makes the Doctor and Peri suspiciously cheerful at the start of this story. Damned either way, really, but the audios definitely remove the poignancy of the Doctor dying saving the life of someone he's only known for a few days.The Caves of Androzani also manages what Resurrection of the Daleks failed at - that is, it puts the Doctor on the sidelines of action but still makes him vital to the plot. This is one hell of a difficult trick, so there's no shame in failing at it. Shame in stupidly trying it again and again, though.

The Doctor manages to meet every character bar Timmin, and has a domino effect on those around him. If he didn't visit Androzani Minor, Stotz wouldn't have lost his consignment of arms, Sharaz Jek would never have seen Peri, Salateen wouldn't have been able to escape and thus the whole balance of power would have remained the same. Yet while the Doctor's mere presence (and that of Peri) causes the whole adventure to happen, no one's interested in him in anything other than target practice - they just have different reasons for doing so. Morgus wants the Doctor dead because he's probably a spy; Chellak wants the Doctor dead first because he's ordered and then because he thinks he's a traitor; Sharaz Jek wants the Doctor dead because he's annoying and irritating; Stotz wants the Doctor dead because he might be a scapegoat and the gun runner is something of a sadist; Krelper wants the Doctor dead because he likes killing people and the Doctor's survived so far; Salateen even goes so far as to defend the Doctor, but it's more because he's honest rather than he cares for the Time Lord's safety; even the Magma Beast wants the Doctor dead, but just because he's hungry. Tellingly, the Doctor barely glances at these characters when he passes their corpses.

On top of that, the Doctor's fate is continually being sealed by those around him, and ironically they seal their own fate as well. Chellak admits he believes that the Doctor and Peri are innocent, but can't be bothered to try and save their lives - and thus this leads to him being the last survivor of his army, drowned in boiling mud. Salateen abandons the Doctor but keeps Peri prisoner as insurance to help him - and ends up being the first shot dead by the androids. If Sharaz Jek had put his foot down and kept the Doctor on Androzani Minor, he would have discovered Peri's condition sooner and been in a better position to save her. Morgus' casual decision to order the time travelers shot is what ultimately leads to him facing Sharaz Jek face to face and paying the price. Every character is cruel, rude and callous - only Jek has any redeeming quality: he wants to keep Peri alive and safe, and although he's causing mass panic and confusion on Major, he'd happily hand over his Spectrox and save them as long as Morgus was dead. But he's still not a nice guy and he suffers the same fate as the others.

Only three characters survive this story - Peri, Timmin and the Doctor (and technically the Doctor doesn't), and this highlights the cold justice in this story. In this world, if you're nasty, you pay the price. The Doctor, like his third self, gets caught up in this through his own curiosity and by putting Peri in danger is ultimately doomed. But the Doctor gets a second chance because he plans to make amends, to save Peri's life whatever the cost. Peri never hurts or want to hurt anyone in the story, even trying to help Jek. Timmin is seemingly the exception, as she seizes control of Morgus' empire without a shot being fired and effectively wins. However, we know that the mud burst has wiped out all the supply of Spectrox and most likely the bats as well, so Timmin has just taken over a planet of people about to die of old age catching up. And how long before Timmin finds others conspiring to overthrow her? Timmin's nastiness is subtle and cunning, and the karma she's facing will be just as insidious.

Peri manages very well in this story, though like the Doctor, she's more a catalyst for change than a player in the story. Her relationship with the Doctor in part one is relaxed and friendly, and it's as though being around Peri allows the Doctor to assume a more 'Doctorish', absent-minded, curious quality, as if it's a fresh start. The situations they face show Peri to be a real person - she's slightly clumsy, scared of being arrested by people with guns and being lusted after disfigured self-proclaimed maniacs. Peri is able to cope with the events in her first story because they are easily compared to her old life - being unintentionally kidnapped by the Doctor and Turlough can be dealt with because she was planning to abscond with two strange men already; facing down the Master (and Kamelion) is easy because she has dealt with annoying arrogant men for most of her life; and travelling to Sarn is just Lanzarote with fewer cafes. But here she's been captured by soldiers, threatened with death by firing squad, feeling very ill and sick. If she has anything to compare it to, it's... being captured by soldiers, threatened with death by firing squad and feeling very ill and sick. She jumped into the TARDIS because she liked the Doctor and wanted to travel, but she didn't sign on for this and she's scared. Fair enough. But seeing the Doctor dying in front of her cracks her resolve which kept her going throughout the adventure. She doesn't sob because she wants to go home or is scared of being trapped in the TARDIS, it's because her friend is dying! Peri is reassuringly human, even if it's becoming clear she's not the perfect time traveling companion.

Ultimately, Caves is a story that should be a one-off. It throws the Doctor into the deep end specifically to make him sink, because it's ludicrous for him to swim. Caves wouldn't work if the Doctor survived the end, and if he kept trying to resolve the Spectrox war, it would be a completely different story - and not half as bleak and lethal as the one we see. Yes, Caves is brilliant but that's precisely because it's a story that can only be told once. Like Genesis of the Daleks - it'd be the height of stupidity to tell an identical story when the original did it so well. Yet, the production team decided to pop back to this dark, B7 universe where life is cheap, happy endings rare and nice people surviving are even rarer.

Like the Doctor's involvement, Caves had something of a chain reaction on Doctor Who itself. The following season was one long attempt to repeat Caves' atmosphere and success - a nice aim, but flawed from the outset. Apart from anything else, finding subterranean settings full of bastards and villains drooling over Peri got old very quickly. Caves ended the fifth Doctor's era and it's a sad but true fact that Doctor Who was on shaky ground ever since. From 1985 onwards it was on a precipice of cancellation, and it ultimately fell despite getting its act together at the last moment - quite like the Doctor here.

Another thing I noticed that Holmes was also responsible for The Brain of Morbius, in which we are shown the Doctor is in his twelfth body by the time he's Tom Baker, and The Deadly Assassin where we learn Time Lords only get thirteen bodies. It's hard not to see some significance in the dying Doctor's wondering if he will regenerate - as it is implied he's on his last life, and might explain why he's about to go through his most difficult regeneration so far. In any case, the idea that the Doctor goes through all he has to in Caves even though he knows he's really going to die this time, just makes him more of a hero.The Caves of Androzani is damn-near perfect.

But you knew that already, didn't you?