50 Years of Doctor Who

The Caves of Androzani Story No. 136

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Graeme Harper

“Might regenerate, I don’t know… feels different this time…”

The Doctor (Peter Davison), and Peri (Nicola Bryant) land on the dangerous planet of Androzani Minor, the only source for the highly valued, life extending drug, Spectrox.  As they explore the planet’s underground caves, they find themselves caught in the middle of a war between corporate guerrilla forces, and the android army of the mysterious Sharaz Jek.  But soon after their arrival, incidental contact with the drug’s raw, deadly form caused The Doctor and Peri to become infected with Spectrox Toxaemia, and now The Doctor must race against time to find a cure, before the toxins kill them both.

Voted in 2009 by Doctor Who Magazine readers as the best story in the history of the programme, and I would absolutely agree.  Robert Holmes once again delivers a powerful, intelligent, sci-fi story that hits every mark, and includes perhaps Davison’s finest performance as The Doctor, a shame really that it was his final story.  Graeme Harper’s direction of the story was extremely innovative at the time, and included quite a bit more “free” camera movement than was usual for the programme at the time, as was Harper’s decision to direct from the studio floor when most directors would steer the ship from the booth above the floor. Harper was also more energetic in his directorial style, which was apparently a marked contrast to most classic series directors.

The story sees the end of Davison’s tenure as The Doctor, but is also a story of firsts.  For the first time in the history of the programme, The Doctor manages to fend off his impending regeneration through sheer force of will when the process begins in episode three, a concept that would not be revisited again until David Tennant’s regeneration in The End of Time part two.  This is also the first time we see The Doctor sacrifice his own life for the life of his companion, a girl he barely knows, even though he realizes he may not be able to regenerate.  It also contains the best regeneration sequence in the series since the Harnell to Troughton scene in The Tenth Planet, that featured the return of all the fifth Doctor’s companions, and a chilling appearance by his greatest nemesis, The Master.

DVD extras include a commentary with Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, and Graeme Harper, exclusive footage and behind the scenes documentaries, production notes, a music only option, and more.  Note: this review is of the original, now out of print 2002 DVD release.  A Special Edition was released in region 1 in 2012, that featured all new documentaries, and a new re-mastering of the picture and sound by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.

Even though the first story I ever watched was Tom Baker’s The Sontaran Experiment, Peter Davison was always my Doctor, and this story is one I have revisited more than any other story.  Why should you revisit the material?  It’s a regeneration story, which are always fun, not only that but it’s a strong story by one of the best writer’s in the history of the series full stop.  It contains a tremendous performance by Davison, and strong performances by all others involved including the use of Shakespearian soliloquies by actor John Normington who plays main villain Morgus.  I mean sure the fourth wall breaking asides were just a result of a misinterpretation of stage directions, but they were still awesome!  The special effects are fantastic for the time, in fact some of the best the programme had ever seen up until that point.  And if you are a fan of Classic Doctor Who and for some reason you haven’t seen it, stop what you are doing right now, and rent/buy then watch this story.  You will not be disappointed.

A great story with tight direction and awesome performances, Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani gets FIVE Shakespearian soliloquies out of FIVE.

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