by Mark Greig
We come to it at last. The greatest Doctor Who story of all time.
One of the many faults with Doctor Who in the 80s, along with bad scripts, horrid costumes, loads of question marks and Bonnie Langford, was the direction. Producer John Nathan-Turner refused to hire directors who had previously worked on the series and understood how Doctor Who worked and how to shoot it. Instead he brought in directors who had previously only worked on Last of the Summer Wine and the like. Visually the show became very static and stale as dreary two shots and over lighting became the norm. The directors JNT hired knew very little of Doctor Who and next to nothing about science fiction. They all found it terribly confusing.
There were some exceptions such as Fiona Cumming and Peter Grimwade who brought some much needed flair to 'Kinda', 'Earthshock', 'Snakedance' and 'Enlightenment', but Harper was a revelation, a director who managed to make even running up and down corridors look interesting. Harper’s direction is truly breathtaking, finally getting the camera off that accursed tripod and allowing it to roam free. It is no surprise that Russell T. Davies brought him back to work on the revived series, he’s a bloody genius. That said, even he couldn’t make the dreaded Magma Monster look good. He just made sure we see as little of it as possible.
Along with Harper’s skilled direction, ‘The Caves of Androzani’ also has one of the best scripts to ever come out of Robert Holmes’ typewriter and considering the great man’s previous output that is really saying something. It’s a dark, cynical, hard-boiled tale that never resorts to the sort of gratuitous violence that would mar much of the Sixth Doctor’s era. It’s a tale of drug smuggling, corporate bastards, political machinations, military arrogance, ruthless mercenaries, androids, and a Phantom of the Opera wannabe. The dialogue is razor sharp, the action scenes are dynamic, the sets and costumes look great and, the aforementioned Magma Monster aside, the effects are quite good for once if still of their time. And the cliff-hangers for episodes 1 and 3 are two of the most intense in the entire history of the show.
Peter Davison is clearly relishing the chance to sink his teeth into a meaty Holmes’ script. Knowing this was to be his swansong he goes above and beyond giving the kind of performance that puts his predecessors, and even his successors, to shame. Although he doesn’t save the universe, or even thwart the villain, this still stands as the Doctor’s finest hour as he risks all and makes the ultimate sacrifices to save the life of his companion, someone he’s only just met the other day. Nicola Bryant puts in a performance that is a massive step up from her lackluster debut in ‘Planet of Fire’. Her American accent, though still dubious, is a lot more consistent this time out. Shame she doesn't really get much to do beside look ill and get leered at.
‘The Caves of Androzani’ is blessed with some of the finest characters Holmes has ever created, all played by actors clearly giving it their all and not phoning it in for the sake of a quick paycheque. Hidden behind a fantastically designed but all concealing mask Christopher Gable lets his voice and body language do all the work as Sharaz Jek. The focus of Jek's revenge, Trau Morgus, is one of classic Who’s finest villains, a Machiavellian businessman who breaks the forth wall by making Shakespearian asides to the audience. John Norrington’s performance is brilliant, cold, calculating and ruthless with not a single ounce of ham. The rest of the cast are all excellent with special mention to Martin Cochrane as Stotz.
The regeneration scene is still the best the series’ has ever produced. For once the Doctor fears that he may indeed die this time. One by one, visions of his companions appear to him, encouraging him to live before finally a vision of the Master shows up, gleefully urging him to die. Things then get a bit intense and psychedelic, Davison starts to fade away and then suddenly…
Hello, Colin Baker.
It's a masterful sequence and, again, all credit to the director.
Notes and Quotes
--This was also the first story since 1978’s disastrous ‘Power of Kroll’ to be written by Robert Holmes.
--Peter Davison has often (jokingly) complained about being "upstaging" in the regeneration scene by Nicola Bryant’s cleavage.
--Androzani Major would be mentioned again in the 2011 Christmas special "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" as the homeworld of the expedition members who had come to the winter world to harvest the Androzani trees.
--Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Gerald Flood and Anthony Ainley all make cameos for the regeneration sequence.
Sharaz Jek: "We shall become the best of companions"
The Doctor: "What do you say, Peri. We can go on nature walks, have picnics and jolly evenings round the camp fire."
Sharaz Jek: "Don't mock me, Doctor. Beauty I must have, but you are dispensable."
The Doctor: "Thank you."
Sharaz Jek: "You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes, but your eyes... they tell a different story."
Peri: "Doctor, why do you wear a stick of celery in your lapel?"
The Doctor: "Does it offend you?"
Peri: "No, just curious."
The Doctor: "Safety precaution. I'm allergic to certain gases in the praxis range of the spectrum."
Peri: "Well, how does the celery help?"
The Doctor: "If the gas is present, the celery turns purple."
Peri: "And then what do you do?"
The Doctor: "I eat the celery. If nothing else, I'm sure it's good for my teeth."
Stotz: "You better turn this ship around Doctor!"
The Doctor: "Why?"
Stotz: "Because I'll kill you if you don't!"
The Doctor: "Not a very convincing argument actually, Stotz, because I'm going to die soon anyway, unless of course..."
Stotz: "I'll give you to the count of three!"
The Doctor: "Unless of course I can find the antidote… I owe it to my young friend to try because I got her into this..."
The Doctor: "So you see..."
The Doctor: "I'm not going to let you stop me now!!!"
Tegan: "What was it you always told me, Doctor? Brave heart?"
Turlough: "You must survive, Doctor. Too many of your enemies would delight in your death."
Kamelion: "Turlough speaks the truth, Doctor."
Nyssa: "You're needed. You mustn't die, Doctor."
Adric: "You know that, Doctor."
The Doctor: "Adric?"
The Master: "No, my dear Doctor, you must die! Die, Doctor! Die, Doctor!"
Four out of four vials of giant bat's milk.
Mark Greig made the Kessel Run in less than eleven parsecs, but you don't see him bragging about it. More Mark Greig.