Doctor Who #633: The Caves of Androzani Part 4

"Is this death?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.16 1984.

IN THIS ONE... The fifth Doctor dies saving Peri. The guest cast pretty much dies too.

REVIEW: Bob Holmes teaches Eric Saward a thing or two about killing off your entire cast by waiting for the last act to off all the speaking parts. Make no mistake, Caves is as violent as Resurrection of the Daleks, but it's not gratuitous. The deaths are a satisfying part of the story's flow which, not unlike the hot mud bursts of Androzani Minor, have been built-up for three tense episodes and now offer relief. When the Doctor goes, the whole planet does. The guest cast has simply been caught in the wake of his fate. Salateen is shot by androids. Kelner is coldly murdered by Stotz. Chellak is scalded in mud. Morgus is choked and zapped by Sharaz Jek. And there's the domino shootings of Jek by Stotz, and Stotz by the android Salateen. The action doesn't let up, and there isn't a character in bunch who didn't deserve it in some way. Maybe even the Doctor.

There's no getting around it. Had the Doctor not chosen to indulge his curiosity, none of this would have happened. It's his presence that puts Morgus and Jek into more direct conflict, that releases Salateen to make Chellak attack Jek's HQ during mud burst, that puts the mercs on Minor during these events, that gets the President assassinated even (though he'll never realize the extent on his effect on this culture), and ultimately, that gets him killed. Worse, in a sense, is the fact this isn't a story about the Doctor saving a planet, but a single person - the companion he himself put in danger. This is a story about the Doctor's failure, and he'll pay the price. It's nice that his former co-stars (companions and Master, boo Kamelion) all came back to create the heads spinning around his in Davison's regeneration scene, a somewhat touching moment upended by the arrival of Colin Baker's Doctor COMPLETELY in the role already. What could be more different from Davison's portrayal than this condescending, cold wordsmith who like Morgus, dares to look straight into the camera and tell us as much as Peri that this is "change and not a moment too soon". Gone is the beige everyman, this Doctor is IN YOUR FACE and UNAPOLOGETIC from the get-go. The contrast bodes well for the future, though we know through hindsight that results did indeed vary.

But the regeneration scene, while the most historically "important" is far from the only memorable element in Part 4. For example, I love how Morgus loses everything in a coup by his assistant Timmin! There's something wonderfully perverse - and CURRENT - about a corporation that behaves like it's the government (and a tyrannical one at that). The MOST memorable moment for me, however, is when Peri sees Sharaz Jek without his mask and screams, sending a distraught Jek running on all fours for the safety of a table's underside. The way he moves and the way the camera follows him there makes my skin squirm. Much more disturbing than his disfigurement make-up when we finally see it. I wish they'd never shown it. Similarly - and this is a problem with the script - the celery never really becomes relevant despite making Peri sniff it. Ah well. But those missteps aside, Harper's direction continues to dazzle. Just look at the scene where the Doctor returns to take Peri in Jek's lair. The way it's shot through flame makes it seem like Peri's on fire, a manifestation of her fever/illness. And in both camera work and editing, he keeps it MOVING. You can never catch your breath, right up to the point when the ground explodes where the TARDIS just dematerialized. Gripping stuff.

VERSIONS: There's a Target novelization, though I'm unsure of any important differences with the broadcast program.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Historically significant, but much more than that. An exciting piece of television, smartly written and innovatively directed.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - And that's something I could say about the whole serial. It's an important moment, written by classic Who's best writer, and arguably, directed by Who's best director. The fifth Doctor really went out with a bang.


Zundian said...

Mr. Davison seems rather excited to be leaving the program!

I may need to have him sign a copy of the header image at dinner tonight!

Siskoid said...

It was the story's climax in more ways than one.

LiamKav said...

The episode that regularly comes top of "Best episodes of Doctor Who ever", and I've still not seen it. I've had the DVD now for over a year, but I'm too scared to watch it. Partly because I want to see more of the Fifth Doctor's run, partly because I'm worried it won't live up to the billing, and partly because it might.

I have seen the regeneration though, and it's an irony that the Sixth Doctor, for many people their least favourite model, has bar FAR the best introduction of any classic Doctor.

Siskoid said...

That's a good point. The competition isn't particularly fierce either. New teeth? I'm a girl? Sleeping the regeneration off?

Maybe Doc8's Frankenstein/Jesus mash-up.

LiamKav said...

Of course, if you do that you inevitably start compiling a list, because Fans Love Lists! Although now that I think about it, "sleeping it off" applies to Doctors 3, 5 and 10. The Sixth Doctor's era had faults, but at least he was actually doing stuff right from the get go.

(And to be fair, having the Tenth Doctor stay in bed was actually very clever. The genius part of "The Christmas Invasion" was that when he finally appeared and said "Miss me?", you'd completely forgotten that you hadn't even met him yet.)

LiamKav said...

A small aside, 3 years later... Colin Baker doesn't talk to Doctor Who Monthly because he hates that they do polls and publish ALL the results, from best to worst. His Doctor has been put at the bottom on a few occasions, and Timelash is usually at the bottom of the "Every Episode Ever Ranked" lists they do every 10 years. What DWM really should do is "Best introduction of a Doctor", because, as is said above, he completely nails it.

As long as they don't do a "Best Regeneration" poll as well, because he'd almost certainly be at the bottom of that one and he'd get in a grump.


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