Doctor Who #631: The Caves of Androzani Part 2

"Don't mock me, Doctor. Beauty I must have, but you are dispensable."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.9 1984.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Peri are brought to Sharaz Jek, from whom they escape to find the cure to their spectrox toxaemia.

REVIEW: In Part 2, Harper presents his two villains and dares dissolve shots of one with the other. They are two sides of a same coin, former partners, just as chilling as one another. In Morgus, we have the cold, calculating, controlled manipulator. In Sharaz Jek, we have the passionate, aesthete, tormented rebel. Each gets the directorial treatment he deserves, whether that's stately camera angles and music, or shaky-cam and rattlesnake-like percussions. For the mercenaries inhabiting the story, there's a certain bawdiness, the camera acting like Krelper will urinate on Stotz and then vice-versa. For the androids, crash cuts close in on their sensors as they examine the Doctor's worth as a target. Each faction seems to support its own style, with the Doctor and Peri as "normatives". Of course, this being his actual introduction, it's Sharaz Jek that makes the biggest impression. He could almost be a sympathetic victim/rebel - there is certainly a painful irony at work that a man who loves beauty would be disfigured and feel the need to surround himself only with androids who don't care - if he weren't so creepy. Making Peri the object of his lust - a fate that will befall her again and again - is only one element. The camera work another. And then there's the script itself which gives him vivid descriptions of violent imagery.

But then, this is a particularly violent and macabre story. The firing squad sequence, with the TARDISeers wrapped in red cloth, and General Chellak pushing the teetering "Peri" over. Stotz jamming a suicide pill down his subaltern's throat. In both cases, it's a fake-out. The dead Peri is an android duplicate, and Stotz is only bluffing, but unless you know that, there's no difference between the facsimile and the real thing when it comes to the effect it has on the audience. As if the threat of violence - possibly even sexual violence - wasn't enough, the Doctor and Peri are also living under threat of spectrox poisoning, something that will kill them in a couple days after some fairly unpleasant symptoms. And from one jail, they're sent to another. Escaping that one, Peri is almost immediately grabbed by Salateen, and the Doctor gets in the way of the magma beast (which would make a beautiful sculpture, but is hardly convincing as an animal, not with that rigid armadillo "cape"). The constant state of jeopardy still doesn't come across as gratuitously violent as Resurrection of the Daleks, maybe because the characters introduced to date are still alive to contribute to the story!

The Doctor, in his last hurrah, is in great form. I love how he and Peri keep their spirits up through the whole ordeal, and how he pops up to intercede between his companion and the tactile Sharaz Jek. His foiling of the android guard shows both bravery and his technical ability. But as usual, he's too trusting and is betrayed by Salateen. Just because he's a prisoner too doesn't make him a nice guy. He's less intense than his android duplicate, but still has a pretty dark sense of humor, laughing at the irony that Jek wants to confer immortality on a dying girl. Being there only means one thing: That Jek has a plant inside General Chellak's camp. Either Salateen could be a ruthless bastard. Jek is obviously brilliant, but damaged, and as the episode progresses, he makes more and more mistakes. He loses Peri because his androids do not read the Time Lord as a viable target, and he underestimates the mercs who are more than ready to exploit every crack, flaw and weakness. If we're asked to contrast Morgus and Jek, we're also asked to compare the latter with the Doctor. Both men are genius engineers who care for Peri and make major blunders. And it won't end happily for either of them.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Though the cliffhanger involves the equivalent of a giant rat (from another Holmes classic), the characters, writing and direction are otherwise firing on all cylinders.



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