Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani
Directors - Graeme Harper
Cast - Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant
Country of Origin - U.K.
MSRP - $39.98
Distributor - BBC Home Video
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Serial (5/5)
In the pantheon of Doctor Who regeneration stories, there are some very good episodes (The End of Time, Logopolis), some very bad (Time and the Rani), and a few downright classics (The War Games, Parting of the Ways). However, among all of the Doctor Who regeneration stories none might be as great, or have as classic a status as Fifth Doctor Peter Davison's swan song The Caves of Androzani.
This is a story where everything that can go right with the episodes does, and truly creates something truly fantastic not just in the realm of Doctor Who, but in science-fiction storytelling at large. The episodes were scripted by Who master craftsman Robert Holmes who from 1968’s Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor) vehicle The Krotons to 1986’s Colin Baker (6th Doctor) story the Mysterious Planet scripted many of Classic Doctor Who’s greatest classic serials. I will not go so far as to claim that the Caves of Androzani is his greatest screenwriting achievement, it may, however, be considered his final classic.
The story takes the Doctor and his new companion Peri (having been picked up in the prior serial Planet of Fire) to the planet Dune-esque desert planet Androzani Minor. Androzani Minor is currently in the midst of a complicated war over the mineral Spectrox, which grants the user life-extending properties. The war is between the rebel forces of Sharaz Jek and his Androids on Androzani Minor, and the government of Androzani Major. The military operations of Androzani Major are being underwritten by Trau Morgus, a corporate mogul, who is heavily invested in Spectrox. He is also putting money into a group of gun runners who are supplying arms to Sharaz Jek effectively profiting on both sides of the conflict.
Soon after the Doctor and Peri land on the planet they enter one of Jek’s caves and immediately walk into a ball of sticky unrefined Spectrox. This exposure begins to affect them almost immediately giving them rashes, and cramps. They are quickly alerted to the fact that they are suffering from Spectrox Toxemia, and will be dying slowly over the course of the next few hours unless the milk of a queen bat can be retrieved from the lower oxygen depleted levels of the cave. Unfortunately, for the Doctor and Peri they are trapped in an alternating state of capture between the government forces of Androzani Major and Sharaz Jek, and may not find the cure in time.
Enough cannot be said about Robert Holme’s script. When people discuss Doctor Who often times it is referred to as family friendly viewing, but like many great genre TV Shows and Movies it occasionally has deeper roots than it initially lets on, and it is episodes like the Caves of Androzani that really show those roots. Doctor Who frequently has episodes where the Doctor ends up on a planet where he ends up in a Yojimbo-esque conflict between 2 warring factions. Holmes story here ends up a little deeper than most with a multifaceted villain in both Sharaz Jek, and Trau Morgus.
Jek seems like an amalgam of many fantasy villains and monsters of the past from the Phantom of the Opera to Frankenstein’s Monster. While Trau Morgus seems like a villain grounded in reality, this is not only a man that could exist, but probably has or does exist. It is elements like the presence of a villain like Morgus that helps to elevate the material from a typical Doctor Vs. monster story, and into something much deeper and relatable.
The performances here from Davison and Nicola Bryant are quite excellent, and they handle the material well. I always rather enjoyed Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, but his performance here is so nuanced. He is sick, he is trying to save the one person he is responsible for, and he is stuck in the middle of another conflict, and needs to find a way out of it, and would prefer to help resolve it. You can see that on screen, and feel that in his performance. A special notice must be given to Christopher Gable who played Sharaz Jek. He plays most of the serial under a mask, but brings an excellent sense of charisma to his villainous character, and takes what could have been a one dimensional characterization, and truly fleshes it out.
80’s Doctor Who, and classic Doctor Who in general is not typically known for its top shelf special effects, and while The Caves of Androzani, will probably not change many people’s minds on the subjects. The FX in this serial is actually quite excellent when compared to some of its contemporaries, and even hold up well today. The direction by Graeme Harper, who has gone on to direct many episodes of the revived Doctor Who also helps set this serial apart giving the whole affair a more cinematic flair than is typical for Who. Overall, The Caves of Androzani is a masterpiece of Classic Doctor Who and a fine swan song for Fifth Doctor Peter Davison.
BBC Home Video has presented Doctor Who – The Caves of Androzani with a fantastic 1:33:1 full frame transfer. You may wonder if the A/V quality is a good reason to upgrade your 2002 disc, and the honest answer is, if you are an A/V-centric individual than YES. The colors are much more natural, and bright in this transfer. The black levels are solid, but are still not very deep, and I did not notice issues with compression artifacts like I did with the 2002 disc. This alone would get a recommendation from me on the video front.
The audio is presented with a solid Dolby Digital Mono track in English with Optional English subtitles (or a trivia track). The audio is similarly improved, dialogue is very clear, and the music and effects are mixed very well. I would also recommend this on the addition of the subtitle track. I know I am not alone on this, but I prefer subtitles on all releases, as I find that I often cannot watch movies, and TV shows at full volume, and their inclusion definitely helps. Overall, an excellent restoration on all accounts.
BBC Home Video has put together a nice slate of extras for their Caves of Androzani special edition. Some of these are hold overs from the prior release, and some are newly crafted for this SE. The disc kicks off with a commentary by Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, and Graeme Harper. It’s an informative and entertaining commentary track like most of the ones that feature Peter Davison. We then get an 8 minute Behind the Scenes piece on Peter Davison’s regeneration into Colin Baker, and a Behind the Scenes piece on Sharaz Jek which features an interview with actor Christopher Gable. We then have 3 extended scenes with optional commentary by Graeme Harper and Peter Davision, and a trailer. The 2nd disc is where most of the new extras are, and it kicks off with the 36 minute documentary Chain Reaction about the making of Caves of Androzani. We then have a 12 minute interview with Graeme Harper entitled Directing Doctor Who : Then and Now where he discusses the differences between directing the classic and the new series. There is also a 9 Minute piece called Russell Harty which features Colin Baker and Peter Davison on a British talk show shortly after Caves… aired. Finally, there is a photo gallery.
Not everyone is completely OCD about Doctor Who, and is attempting to have every single serial, by every single Doctor on their shelf. There are those out there that just want the best of the best, and Caves of Androzani, definitely falls into that camp. The A/V upgrade is fantastic, and the extras are informative, entertaining, and fairly elaborate. Highly Recommended.