The Caves of Androzani

Special Edition:
Region 1
Special Edition

Region 2
"Revisitations 1"
Box Set
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 136, starring Peter Davison)
  • written by Robert Holmes
  • directed by Graeme Harper
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Roger Limb
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor and Peri receive little sympathy for the fatal infections their curiosity has led them to receive when they are caught between opposing forces in the caves of Androzani Minor, and political/economic pressure from the more civilized companion planet Androzani Major. Will the Doctor have enough time to sort out who is whose pawn before Sharaz Jek's vengeful bloodbath becomes unstoppable?

"Special Edition" DVD Extras (on 2 discs, no less) include:

  • Audio commentary by Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), and director Graeme Harper.
  • "Chain Reaction" new retrospective making-of featurette (36 min.), adding Maurice Roëves (Stotz), Robert Glenister (Major Salateen),
    Martin Cochrane (General Chellak), script editor Eric Saward, designer John Hurst, and composer Roger Limb.
  • News items (5 min.) including interviews of Peter Davison and producer John Nathan-Turner.
  • "Creating Sharaz Jek" featurette (5 min.), using an audio interview of the late Christopher Gable (Sharaz Jek).
  • "Regeneration" behind-the-scenes footage (8 min.), with optional commentary by Davison, Bryant, and Harper (sync corrected for this version).
  • Extended scenes (4 min.), with partial commentary by Davison & Harper.
  • Director Graeme Harper interview on the differences between making classic and new millennium Doctor Who (12 min.)
  • mostly complete Isolated Music Score by Roger Limb
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery montage (5 min.)
  • Peter Davison and Colin Baker appear on the Russell Harty show (8 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

I've always been amazed at the number of people who think this story is the holy grail of the Peter Davison era, including Peter Davison himself. A grand case of style over substance, although had the writer shifted some of the emphasis, elements of greater substance could have been far better highlighted. At any rate, though I won't try to claim that the story is irretrievably awful, it is high time this mindless adrenaline rush was knocked off its pedestal a bit. Even as a huge fan of the show, and the Davison era in particular, I find this tale to be a bit of a dull drag. Not only is it NOT the best of the Davison era, I wouldn't even rank it in the top 50%.

Although writer Robert Holmes typically likes to spend a lot of screen time fleshing out his characters to a great degree, and certainly indulges heavily in that here, characters are still a major problem in this story. Basically he lets a considerable roster of new one-off characters, all of whom are unlikeable in their own way, take over and rule the story, while the two regulars get nothing proactive to do and are just passed from one set of captors to another like a sack of potatoes. At the end of the day, it's way too easy to say that they would have been better off staying in the TARDIS the whole time and not bothering to land and come out. It's the classic "Marco Polo" mistake, reminding one of similar scripting disasters from Holmes in "The Space Pirates" (story no. 49), or "The Brain of Morbius" (story no. 84).

First Impressions

Around the time of Androzani's first debut here on TVOntario in early 1987, I looked back at what the season had delivered so far, and thought that the show, and Peter Davison's Doctor, were getting really, really good, and improving nearly all the time.

However, "The Caves of Androzani" turned out to be a slow and uninteresting interlude in his current excellent streak. I didn't see or find any reason to anticipate important characters in this one, or any events taking place that were important to the Whoniverse. Ah well, we'll just sit tight during this story, and hopefully get a better Peter Davison story after it, I thought......

The name "Robert Holmes" seemed vaguely familiar. Though I definitely had no memory of his writing credit on the first story I ever saw, "The Ribos Operation" (story no. 98), which at the time was the only story of his that I had seen, I dug through my collection of novelizations and confirmed that he had written "The Ark in Space" (story no. 76), which I hadn't been particularly impressed with in book form as it seemed slow and unnecessarily morbid. "Androzani" didn't seem to be much improvement.

Fresh Assessment

On the plus side, you have to hand it to director Graeme Harper and his cast and crew for doing good hard work and making something that is often tense, often exciting and often atmospheric out of basically a misfocused script with a rubbish storyline for the Doctor. But in the end, the collection of bloodthirsty, self-centered characters that take over this story aren't really worthy of their inflated screen time, painting an excess of violence and action cliché to keep the audience mindless and glued to their seats. Philosophically speaking, there is almost nothing here to impress.

But, buried deep in this cesspool, there is a hidden gem of an idea. Holmes seems to understand corruption like the back of his hand, particularly how it operates at the highest level. He does create a structure for the relationships his guest characters have with each other that nicely details the way in which the truly corrupt often plan to profit from conflict, secretly supporting both sides as necessary to further their interests. Davros gave us a few manoeuvres of this type in "Genesis of the Daleks" (story no. 78), but the situation here is interesting because it has been set-up to last over a much longer term.

But "The Caves of Androzani" still does not capitalize on this idea well. The storyline should let the Doctor be the Doctor, who would naturally investigate, expose, comment on, and put an end to this scheme, thus drawing viewer attention to the most interesting aspect of the narrative. That could have drawn proper attention to the dynamics, perhaps helped the audience wake-up to this pattern that commonly threatens our sociological structures today, and actually have done society some good in bringing this story to the screen. Instead Holmes wastes too much time giving us the dramatic inertia of simply going on and on about who his characters are, until he hasn't got time left to move the plot properly anymore. We will dissect that in much greater detail in the in-depth analysis version of this review along with all the spoilers you wouldn't want to know if you haven't seen the story yet. Holmes seems to have fallen into a similar trap with his season four Blake's 7 script "Traitor". Peter Davison is also keen to say in interviews and on commentaries that he thinks this story finally got a good sense of pace from the director Graeme Harper. As far as I was concerned, the script wasn't moving at any great pace at all.

The Lack of the Best of Peter Davison's Doctor

With such a whacking great flaw in how the storyline fails to utilize the Doctor properly, you have to wonder what is going on in the mind of anyone when they think Peter Davison only finally got his character right in this story. I look at this, and I can't find his character here at all. At least, not the character I tuned in to see. Granted, his first conversation with General Chellak gave me a flashback to all the scenes Jon Pertwee had clashing ineffectively with officials, stuffy people, and anyone else he considered too slow. Emphasis on "ineffective", because it wasn't much good back in those days either. Indeed, watching Davison get slapped around each time he cheerily utters some flippant remark is not my idea of how to make this character work.

Perhaps people latch onto the line "Curiosity has always been my downfall," thinking that, yes, that really sums up the Doctor. Or the fifth Doctor. What a load of crap. Curiosity and heroism are the two traits the Doctor has that consistently drive good science fiction story beats. Downfall? Try excellence. Part of the reason why this story stinks is that the Doctor's curiosity dries up long before it has exposed the corrupt conspiracy properly for the viewer, and because the Doctor's heroism does not effectively extend further than his current companion's welfare.

It's also important to note how often the Doctor passes up excellent opportunities to do much, much better in this story. As I'm trying to hold back spoilers, I'll just say this: As a storyline, "Androzani" really loses it at the start of episode three. Think about what has happened so far, and what the Doctor then chooses to do during this section of the tale. Ask yourself if it makes sense. Ask yourself if writer Robert Holmes could really not think of anything better to give him to do. Ask yourself if this really shows the fifth Doctor at his best.

Ultimately, my biggest reason for not counting this as a great Doctor Who story is because it isn't really a Doctor Who story at all. It's a story about some other people and the Doctor just happens to float through it with minimal impact.

Of course, the real debate is not whether or not these things could plausibly happen to the fifth Doctor and Peri. The debate is really about whether or not it's worthwhile to put cameras on long pace-less sections of such incidents and try to make four episodes out of it, or to spend more time showing the times when he actually moved around freely interacting and actually doing things. In the case of "The Awakening" (story no. 132), it was decided that cameras would NOT hang around for four episodes; they would instead only hang around for two. Ultimately, you will have to look elsewhere to see Peter Davison at his best as the Doctor, and in terms of really nailing all the best qualities of the character in one story, I think we will truly find Davison at his best in "Frontios" (story no. 133). It is there that I find his positive philosophies and actions at their most satisfying levels.

The Un-Sci-Fi Drama

There's really not much in this tale to stamp it as sci-fi either. Yes, it's an alien planet, with mudbursts instead of volcanic activity, and that's all good. The series is about to be stuck in a succession of desert planets though, with all the quarries used to realize this having little chance of outdoing the excellent Lanzarote footage from the last story: "Planet of Fire". Still, they have a valiant go at producing some good vistas here. Really, I find this story's setting VERY reminiscent of Holmes previous Doctor Who script, "The Power of Kroll" (story no. 102), with a futuristic Earth colony on a big major planet exploiting the resources of a companion minor planet. Just substitute mud-desert for marshy-swamp, and bat-produced spectrox for sea-life-produced protein. Even if the guest characters of "Kroll" aren't drawn quite as satisfyingly as here in "Androzani", the plot was far better, allowing the Doctor to get a good grip on events and become a more integral part of them, plus it all linked into the Key to Time arc and held up as being a more important event in the Whoniverse. And it was so easy to root for the refinery crew when they were faced with the unknown of Kroll stirring up beneath the swamp, and when they were investigating it as phenomena should be investigated in science fiction. Even without "Kroll" being one of Robert Holmes' really great stories, I have to say I think it was miles better than what he wrought here.

Pretty much the only real sci-fi concept explored in this story is that of the life-prolonging spectrox extract, which only remains a minor piece of background. A true exploration of life-prolonging phenomenon should include mental disciplines, emotions, habits, and behaviours, and not all be put down to some substance to be ingested. So that subject isn't really tackled to great extent. Really, spectrox is just there as a substitute for oil, diamonds, opium, (Kroll protein), and any other commodity that gave the highest powers an excuse to set up profitable conflicts in the unique areas in which they were found.

Perhaps most obvious for something that wants to function as a sci-fi action story, why are we witnessing futuristic humans who have colonized other worlds using bullets and today's submachine guns? Where are the lasers? It's so un-sci-fi, it can't hope to qualify as delivering the action I would want to see from the show. This appears to have been a deliberate Graeme Harper choice, removing part of the series' draw for me, so it will eat into his marks as a director. Granted, if "Warriors of the Deep" (story no. 131) and "Resurrection of the Daleks" (story no. 134) are any indication, trying to do massive shootout action with superimposed beams seems to have been something that the show's post-production of that era would rarely find time to do properly, so he has a point there. But Graeme Harper's "Planet of the Ood" (story no. 196) will later suffer the same flaw without these post-production concerns, so in many ways it is a question of taste. At least Harper's "Revelation of the Daleks" (story no. 143) sports a mix of the two types of weapon effects. Peter Grimwade was better at insisting to push the envelope, and getting lots of good post-production effects for the time for "Earthshock" (story no. 122). If such things are deemed to consume far more time than will be available, the next best thing would be flash-charge pistols à la "The Monster of Peladon" (story no. 73). At least they still look futuristic and sci-fi.

Perhaps a lot of people believe something special was created with the character of Sharaz Jek, with the writing detailing a significant range of different facets for him, and with the actor, his process under this director, and the make-up and costume all working together to try and make him unforgettably unique. Ho hum. He looks like a dead-ringer for Magnus Greel from "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (story no. 91), a comparison that will be made easier if they re-release that story and this one together in a box set for the U.K. But when you really dig down into the character, Holmes isn't doing anything really special. He's just wheeling out the next malformed mad killer like he always used to do back in the Hinchcliffe days, and getting them to behave as they always have done.

Really, a character of Jek's type is typical for this role in the structure of the high-level corruption game that is being played out, along with his feelings of being wronged by someone against whom he desires vengeance. This is a known quantity and should be passed by quickly in favour of investigating the game itself and those at the highest level. This the story doesn't do very well.

On some level, it almost appears like the entire guest cast, Jek included, is each caught up in their own variation of passive-aggressive syndrome, but not quite. Most of them are hardly passive at the beginning of the story; they are deadlocked against each other instead. But I think it looks enough like passive-aggressive syndrome, and is filled with enough mercenaries, to get Eric Saward to give it the green light, no editing attempted. Holmes always did seem to have the knack of pleasing his script editors and producers, and rolling with whatever the current direction of the program was.

I was actually quite pleased to hear the vast improvement in the quality of Roger Limb's music for the show, as he did his first story in over a year, and made it highly atmospheric, moody, and interesting. Many of the cues backing sequences that show Jek stalking about in his lair remain the most memorable, largely due to very interesting percussion sections. He also varies his choice of instruments nicely, and reintroduces the "bell of doom" sound that had worked so well back in the first cliffhanger cue of "Terminus" (story no. 127). The sound seems to be far more definitive for this story. Not bad. Still, when it comes to melodic phrases, Limb rarely puts more than two notes together, or spaces them apart further than a semitone. Most of his contemporaries at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were still ahead of him.
Music by Roger Limb
A suite of 6:05 duration is available on:
Audio CD
Doctor Who - The Five Doctors
Silva Screen FILMCD 710

More info & buying options

To be fair, the can't-miss, unrelated "coda" sequence itself is well done, and is one of the landmark moments of the season and the series as a whole. As usual in the JNT era, we get flashbacks, which are done this time with completely new footage of previous cast members, and some excellent, very Who-ish, effects. It is, really, the best part of the story in retrospect. The central cameo performance here is on the money and quite correct.

Although we didn't know it until at least another week, this is probably also the moment that the Doctor burst out of the passive side of the arc that Saward was crafting for him, and onto the aggressive side. But that's an examination for another era.......

In the end, "The Caves of Androzani" has its redeeming qualities, but really isn't as great as a lot of the horror fans or adrenaline/violence junkies out there would have you believe, particularly if you appreciate seeing some philosophies of greater wisdom triumphing on screen. In fact, though I'd always ranked this last out of Davison's run of four highly entertaining for this season, I think I have found the flawed "The Awakening" (story no. 132) to be much more fun and rewarding to watch, while the better written "Warriors of the Deep" (story no. 131), if it received a high-quality effects/lighting CGI makeover, could very well give this tale a run for its money. In my world, content is king, and Androzani is easily outclassed.

Season 21 Peter Davison Story Rankings:

Best Story:

  • Frontios
  • Planet of Fire
  • Resurrection of the Daleks
  • The Awakening
  • The Caves of Androzani
  • Warriors of the Deep
  • [ The Twin Dilemma ]

Best Director:

  • Michael Owen Morris (The Awakening)
  • Graeme Harper (The Caves of Androzani)
  • Matthew Robinson (Resurrection of the Daleks)
  • Fiona Cumming (Planet of Fire)
  • Ron Jones (Frontios)
  • [ Peter Moffatt (The Twin Dilemma) ]
  • Pennant Roberts (Warriors of the Deep)

Best Music:

  • Peter Howell - Planet of Fire
  • Malcolm Clarke - Resurrection of the Daleks
  • Paddy Kingsland - Frontios
  • [ Malcolm Clarke - The Twin Dilemma ]
  • Peter Howell - The Awakening
  • Jonathan Gibbs - Warriors of the Deep
  • Roger Limb - The Caves of Androzani

Best Writer:

  • Christopher H. Bidmead (Frontios)
  • Peter Grimwade (Planet of Fire)
  • Johnny Byrne (Warriors of the Deep)
  • Eric Saward (Resurrection of the Daleks)
  • Robert Holmes (The Caves of Androzani)
  • Eric Pringle (The Awakening)
  • [ Anthony Steven (The Twin Dilemma) ]

Best Video Effects:

  • Dave Chapman & Dave Jervis - The Awakening
  • Dave Chapman - Frontios
  • Dave Chapman - Planet of Fire
  • Dave Chapman - Resurrection of the Daleks
  • Dave Chapman - The Caves of Androzani
  • [ Dave Chapman - The Twin Dilemma ]
  • Dave Chapman - Warriors of the Deep

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
Original release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.

Original DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Davison, Bryant, and Harper.
  • News items including interviews of producer John Nathan-Turner.
  • "Creating Sharaz Jek" featurette with Christopher Gable (Sharaz Jek).
  • "Regeneration" behind-the-scenes footage, with commentary
  • Extended scenes (4 min.), with partial commentary by Davison & Harper.
  • mostly complete Isolated Music Score by Roger Limb
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery
  • Who's Who text biographies (Region 1 only?)

New Special Edition / "Revisitations Volume 1" re-release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A in North America
NTSC B in North America
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Twin Dilemma"

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