The Caves of Androzani

Posted in Episode by - January 29, 2016
The Caves of Androzani

Aired 8 – 16 March 1984

Simply put, ‘The Caves of Androzani’ is easily among the very best serials in the classic run of Doctor Who, a perfect encapsulation of the Peter Davison era and a perfect farewell for the Fifth Doctor. Legendary writer Robert Holmes returns to the franchise for the first time since ‘The Power of Kroll,’ incorporating several of the same notions from that tale in a more powerful context as corrupt corporations and gunrunners prominently feature while also elevating the ever-increasing brutality surrounding the Doctor to exquisitely tragic levels.

Increasing the number of characters and plotlines had been a technique employed throughout the era in order to provide a semblance of more mature serials, but too often the sheer numbers came at the sacrifice of depth and context. Hastily-written and often-changing motivations with actions that proved either inconsequential or redundant plagued many stories, but Holmes manages to effectively provide consistent strings of motivation to all of his characters here, allowing the story to logically flow from one point to the next without any unneeded twists to provide the impetus for continuation. Everything presented is clear and concise- the president wants to preserve his public image, Sharaz Jak seeks revenge, Salateen and Chellak want to put an end to the war, and Stotz wants his paycheck- and the characters always stay true to form.

Yet it’s the characterization of the Doctor himself that firmly anchors ‘The Caves of Androzani.’ Whereas some stories had proceeded to treat the Fifth Doctor’s kind-heartedness and optimism- and especially his unwillingness to kill- as character flaws, here they are brought to the forefront as the very best attributes of this tragic incarnation. Holmes has always had a firm grasp on the character of the Doctor in his many incarnations, and here the Doctor is simply presented as a man who wandered into a dangerous situation whose motivations never go beyond looking after his new companion no matter how desperate he becomes. Given that Adric’s death was such a momentous moment for the Fifth Doctor, it’s fitting that he would go to such extreme measures to save one, and the emotions portrayed are all the more effective since Peri is still such an unknown quantity to him at this point.

Part of the tragedy, of course, is the incidental chain of political events that the Doctor’s happenstance arrival sets in motion. With no intention of doing so, the Doctor brings about the bloody culmination of a lengthy conflict, wholly disrupts an economy, brings about the assassination of the President, and throws a powerful corporation’s executive structure into chaos. Morgus’s manipulation of the system to garner profits is an obvious dig at corporate entities as a whole, and that subtle cynicism works to incredible effect as a backdrop for the monumental conflict at hand. Of course, the pathos of the story is directly tied to Sharaz Jek, and Christopher Gable is able to wonderfully instill a sense of poise and gravitas into the lunatic fanatic that keeps the character from ever becoming anything less than wholly enthralling. Even with his intentions for Peri blatant, the fact that he sees himself as a heroic figure given his backstory manages to imbue a sympathetic nature upon him, and the character fortunately never goes too far to make events too uncomfortable or unsuitable for the family audience.

Director Graeme Harper deserves full credit for managing to deliver an ambitious and elaborate setting along with a subdued sense of melancholy within the television studio’s confines, both of which bring the serial to life fantastically. Doctor Who had been trending down a darker path for quite some time under producer John Nathan-Turner, but the script, performances, and director all aligned perfectly to truly exemplify what the potential of this intent could be. It’s fitting, then, that the Fifth Doctor and his decrees that his ways must change as the universe continues to become more violent around his passiveness and optimism would come to regenerate at the culmination of his quest to save one life amidst a violent battlefield.

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