Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Peter Davison
Released by BBC Worldwide - November 2018
Available from Amazon UK
The Caves of Androzani is not only my favourite Peter Davison story, it is not only among the top of my regeneration story lists, but it is definitely my favourite story from the entire 1980s. So much of that decade had iffy scripts, were still stiffly directed like it was 1965 and were overly lit studio episodes. Anytime they would leave the studio it becomes a relief because suddenly everything is lit so naturally. But then there is The Caves of Androzani, a story which mostly takes place in dark caves, and is directed with a modern pace with the camera movement feeling free once. And then there is Davison giving the performance of his life in his final moments as the Doctor. I just love the serial, I think it is excellent. But what if you strip away Davison's fiery performance? What if the directing and lighting that I admire are taken out of the equation?
Peter Davison reads this audiobook of the Target Novelization from the 80s, and while certain elements aren't nearly as exciting as their television counterparts (the crash landing cliffhanger from Episode 3 is one of my favourite moments in the whole of the classic show, and a lot of the umph is sucked out of it in this reading), I think I appreciated the base story elements better in this. For example, I sometimes forget that this story is so simple. It could be any random adventure for the Doctor...he lands on a planet, finds there is two factions warring over a rare medicine, there are androids and cave monsters, and the Doctor and his friend get captured by each faction have to figure out a way to save their own skin while possibly helping fix this society's ills.
It is a fairly standard Doctor Who story...but what sets it apart is that all those elements aren't actually what the story is about in any way. Our heroes step out of the TARDIS and almost immediately touch an odd plant, which immediately poisons them. The entire story has the Doctor and Peri dying from the word go, and all of those fairly average story bits that might otherwise be the focus of the story, merely become obstacles in the way of the Doctor finding an antidote in time. The Doctor doesn't try to find a way to sort out the fighting, he doesn't solve any issues with cave monsters or help find an alternative for this rare drug that is being battled over...no beyond the two main leaders of the faction killing each other, the problems of Androzani aren't really solved in the end. Because the Doctor is actually just too damn busy trying to save his friend. And that is what sets this story apart.
We've become accustomed to regeneration stories that are big sweeping epics...the Doctor against a horde of Daleks, with Earth in the balance! The entire universe will be destroyed by the Master, but the Doctor will give his life to stop him and make a grand farewell speech before he finally changes into a brand new actor. But for as much fun as those can be, sometimes it takes dialling it back a bit. Focus in on a more personal story, and the regeneration can be just as, if not more, powerful. The Doctor doesn't have to save the galaxy for his death to have meaning, sometimes he can just save his friend.
This audiobook was read with enthusiasm from Peter Davison, who has long professed that his final outing was his favourite of his tenure. Terrence Dicks novelization of the original Robert Holmes script is quite good, and it let me focus in on different details that I've sometimes glossed over when I think of this story. If you are a fan of the original story, and we all know you are...check out this audiobook, it added to my already high enjoyment of the original television adventure.