Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Caves of Androzani: "Is this wise, I ask myself?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Caves of Androzani - Details

Season 21, Story 6 (Complete Series Story #136) | Previous - Next | Index

I love and hate this story. That is to say, I love it because it's one of the better stories of the classic series and I hate that it means the end of the Davison era -- and it's all downhill from here. Sure, there are a few bright spots even as the series lurches through its death throes, but there was nothing better for twenty long years of experienced time on the audience's part. I wanted to like Colin Baker, I really did. And I think he could have been a fine Doctor except for the misfortune of landing the role as the show was being run into the ground.

Nicola Bryant is much more at ease and playful as Peri in this one than she was Planet of Fire, bantering with Peter Davison as they explore the sands of Androzani Minor and a little later when she and Five were finishing each other's sentences with sirs for the General; it's a shame they didn't have more time together. She also gets to ask a pertinent question about part of the Doctor's "costume," so we know the celery is, somewhat puzzlingly, meant to alert him the presence of an allergen (which, if he's allergic to the stuff, you'd think he'd know by the allergic reaction) and just be a healthy snack.

It's not all light-hearted quipping though, not by a long shot. Davison is occasionally sharp and callous (as when Peri falls into the raw spectrox: "Probably harmless," "But it stings," "Well, don't fall in any more of it,")  traits that will be overplayed by his successors in the classic series, and Five's death blow is (ignominiously) dealt to him early, though he won't realize it for a while.

Sharaz Jek is not the main villain of the story, though he's an interesting one with kind of observational powers that make him compelling. He tells the Doctor: "You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes... But your eyes... they tell a different story." He is also transfixed by Peri's innocence and beauty, so the viewer immediately feels a certain sympatico.

Jek and Five via Nerdist
Jek and Five

Jek raises some interesting questions about the nature of the Doctor's relationship with his companions. Jek would like to keep Peri around as a reminder of what it is to be uncorrupted, but ironically, she'd probably be just as safe, though imprisoned, with him as running around getting into adventures with the Doctor. It's mad, when you think about it, that he travels with companions. They're always in terrible danger and, much as he'd like, he can't protect them from all of them. The current show makes a point showing us he needs companions to be his best, but to some extent that runs the risk of reducing them to crutches for the Doctor instead of autonomous, fully-realized persons in their own right. Five, like Nine does later for Rose, and Ten does later for Wilf, sacrifices himself to save Peri, recognizing that she is every bit as important as he is and that he, with the ability to save her, has an obligation to do so, even if it means sacrificing himself. Or, at least, an aspect of himself.

As a quibbler, I feel obliged to quibble about a couple things: first, about that spectrox, I'm surprised the Doctor has been to this system before but didn't know what that (tremendously valuable, widely known) substance was; and, second, he calls a die a "dice." When there's only one, it's a die. C'mon, Doctor, you should know that.

Oh, and I nearly forgot about the magma monster -- not very magmanificent. It's like they said, "Hey, we're shooting in a bunch of narrow hallways dressed as caves, there ought to a monster shambling around down here ... what, no budget? Well, toss something together anyway!"

Magma Monster via dvdactive

It's the classic series though, so we expect odd, shambling monsters and move on ...

Ultimately, this one one you need to have in your collection. Tea with Morbius (a nod to one of my favorite episodes, and another Holmes-penned -- with Dicks, under a pseudonym -- tale involving a mad scientist and a Fountain of Youth substance) rightly elevates this story over some of the classic series stories generally mentioned as being one of the best ... though I'm surprised anyone gets that excited about City of Death, one of the more tedious Fourth Doctor entries, as I remember it.

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