DVD REVIEW: Doctor Who – The Classic Series ‘The Caves of Androzani’

Doctor Who has some stunning episodes spanning its near fifty years on television and with classic series being on DVD, it means that Whovians from all ages can really get to grasp with this amazing character and see where he has come and what he has gone through to become the man we see currently portrayed by Matt Smith.

The Caves of Androzani was a turning point in many ways in Doctor Who. Released in March 1984 it saw the return of Robert Holmes (in many people’s eyes the greatest writer in the show’s history) to pen the script. Further it is the first time that relative unknown at the time Graeme Harper would direct. The only crew member to return to the new series and direct many episodes. But most importantly it saw Peter Davison leave the show and be replaced by Colin Baker.

The story follows the Fifth Doctor and his new companion Peri as they arrive on Androzani Minor where mining for Spectox is going on. Spectox is something that allows a human to live for double if not more of their lifespan. Before long both The Doctor and Peri are infected with a deadly poison that will lead to their eventual death. To top things off they get stuck in the middle of an embittered civil war, corrupt bureaucrats and Sharaz Jek, played by Christopher Gable, who is planning his own use for Spectrox and is holding it to ransom for anyone that wants some.

First and foremost this story will be one that you cannot draw your eyes away from. Peter Davison’s acting is incredible. As the Fifth Doctor he was always on form. A man that was infinitely better than the universe that he was trying to save yet did everything in his power to help people. Possibly the most human and noble Doctor (at least in the Classic series), The Fifth lost more people than anyone and faced some of the greatest challenges that there were. The Fifth Doctor is shown as a man that will do whatever he can to save anyone. It does not matter how long he has known them and or what they have done. He will find away if he can. Further the final scene of Episode 3 is television gold. Davison acts his socks off as The Doctor is sure he isn’t just going to regenerate that he is going to die.

The regeneration process starts but he holds it off giving a resounding speech to the enemy making the point that he will fight on until he knows that Peri is safe. Credit must go to Davison as the viewer (who is aware The Doctor will regenerate) even starts to worry that this will be the end of the Doctor. Here we are again shown a man who will put everyone before himself. The final scenes of episode 4 again shows remarkable acting by Davison. He jokes that no-one was watching his acting, instead paying attention to Nicola Bryant’s cleavage. But still this is a moment to go down in the ages. Watching The Doctor struggle back to the TARDIS as his determination helps him power through is remarkable. Further his regeneration scene is one of the darkest shown as The Doctor truly believes that he is about to die. In away I think it is a shame that even in the eighties we knew The Doctor was to regenerate because on Davison’s acting alone, the viewer is sure that this is the end.

What is more interesting about Caves and The Fifth Doctor in particular is the impact they have had on the show. The Tenth Doctor is simply a modernization of the Fifth and we Tennant even stating that Davison is his favourite Doctor. Not just in dress and character we can also see this in the way that the scripts were written. The Christmas Invasion has a similar feel to Castrolava and more importantly the theme that no-one person means less to The Doctor was a running theme of The Tennant Era.

Think back to Gridlock where the Doctor does anything to save Martha and makes the point he hardly knows her. The same is here with Peri. He has literally just met her in the episode before hand and yet he will sacrifice himself for her. Further The End of Time is clearly an attempt to make a modernized version of Caves with Wilf being the one person The Doctor will risk it all for. The theme of the villain wanting to live forever was something that was a crux of the Tennant Era. We saw many times The Tenth Doctor talking with a villain explaining that eternal life was not everything it was cracked up to be. For example in The Lazarus Project. Would this theme have occurred if it were not for Caves? Maybe but I doubt it would have had such importance. Even in The Doctor, the widow and the wardrobe, Androzani fuel is mentioned. As well as this Caves is really a change in storytelling. It is the start of a much faster Who, a precursor for what the show would become.

Something I love about this story is the enemy. There really isn’t one black in this very shade of grey world. The only white in this story is The Doctor. Everyone else in the civil war have caused problems and done things that they should not have. Further this story, more than many others, really illustrates The Doctor as a traveler and that he was simply unlucky. There was no impending doom that he was running from that The Tenth Doctor and recently The Eleventh Doctor have shown. He simply arrived at the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn’t come to fix Androzani and by the end of episode 1 it is clear he just wants to cure Peri and get out of there as unscathed as possible. Further Holmes’ writing finally reveals why The Doctor wears Celery: it has powerful healing residues for a Time Lord. It does not only make sense but it stops it from being a comical side step on The Fifth Doctor.

The direction is phenomenal and never slows down. Harper brings an energy to the script that was rarely seen in Classic Who. His shots and movement really adds something to the already tremendous plot.

Caves can also be seen as turning point in the show because by many it is seen as the greatest episode of Who that exists. Unfortunately after this spectacle, the show never manages to recapture this magic and in fact crashes and burns. It is a paradox in itself: the great moment in the classic series and yet the moment that everything starts to fall apart afterwards.

2Entertain must be congratulated for the fantastic job they have been doing in releasing the classic series. The love and care put into these DVDs is just unbelievable. From cast commentaries to documentaries to even re-creating lost episodes with animated versions. These people are clearly Doctor Who fans who love their job and love making the most of the episodes we have. Each one is an intriguing insight into the mood around the time and how the episode was put together.

Simply put this story is incredible thing to watch as you see the second best Doctor of the classic series (in my opinion) give the greatest swan song he ever could. This is what The End of Time should have been, these are the episodes that every Whovian should have seen. Classic storytelling, wonderful directing and expert acting at its best.

Rating: 5/5
Reporter: Luke Halsall

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  1. One of the best! Great review!
    I’m eager to rewatch this

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