The Caves of Androzani part 1

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  • #16300
    Craig @craig
    Emperor

    And so we come to Davison’s swansong. The Doctor and Peri quickly get caught up in the politics at play on the planet of Androzani Minor. Wikipedia tells me that in 2009 this was voted the best Doctor Who story ever by fans. It’s also Davison’s favourite of his tenure. So no pressure then.

    For those who watched Talons, it’s another Robert Holmes story and you may notice a few of his tropes, including another masked mystery man with a maniacal laugh, living in an undergound lair and a dodgy monster in the tunnels. You’d have thought Holmes would have learned his lesson after the rat!

    It’s also, I believe, the first serial directed by Graeme Harper, who has directed many of the AG (After Gap) Who stories and is probably almost as responsible as RTD for the style of the new series. For Androzani he broke with tradition and shot it like a film, with one camera, rather than a multi-camera TV studio production, and I think it shows, in a good way.

    One oddity in the direction is Morgus breaking the fourth wall and talking straight to camera. It’s rumoured to be because John Normington, the actor, misunderstood a stage direction. I don’t believe that. Maybe the first time, but after that they must have decided to keep it.

    This is actually our first BG (Before Gap) Who trip out of Victorian England and we’re on an alien planet. That’ll mean quarries then, less well-dressed (or even undressed) sets, technology that hasn’t aged well and lovely polyester costumes. But that’s why we love it. 😀

    At least we finally get an explanation for why Five wears a stick of celery on his lapel. And we get one of the best cliff-hanger endings ever. Good old Robert Holmes.

    #16317
    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    Welcome to Caves of Androzani, and that was a magnificent intro @craig.

    Whenever I slip the DVD of this into my player the same feelings come back. Great that it’s such a good story (for me anyway) but tinged with a couple of regrets.

    Davison is on best form from the getgo in this first episode. His exchange with Peri about trying to keep a Diary (a nice call back to Troughton) and confessing that, as a time traveller, he never found the time is a nice touch. Also his sarcasm (to the point of goading) the commander with the “Sir” business is brilliantly underplayed. This is such an atypical Five episode for many reasons. Here he has one companion to play off for the first time, and the directness of communication in comparison with the squabbling of the earlier series is very refreshing. This is only the second outing for Nicola Bryant as Peri, but I think she communicates a nice mixture of intelligence and vulnerability in this one. I really regret how she was later written and presented with Six. I’m not surprised that a lot of spin off media has attempted to write additional stories for Five and Peri set between Planet of Fire and Caves. It’s a relationship with potential.

    Holmes is also on great form. One of his last truly great scripts even if it does feature a couple of recurring tropes. The underlying concept of the “most valuable commodity in the Universe” being an anti aging treatment is probably borrowed from the Dune series. Spectrox = Spice. Holmes was a good satirical writer, and you have to remember the times he was writing in. In Talons, I’ve always got the feeling that the Police casual racism was reflecting real concerns about the Police in the seventies. It’s one of the reasons why Life on Mars was set in that period. Here he sets his story in the world of corporate power and its influence on Politics. No spoilers, but I urge viewers to follow the scenes with Morgus carefully. You may see so many resonances with political conversations that are going on today.

    I also agree with @craig that Morgus breaking the fourth wall isn’t the mistake it’s made out to be. I think it’s done deliberately to make sure you follow what he’s saying. Viewers who have seen the original House of Cards with Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart will recognise the form. It’s a stylistic choice that makes you focus on him as a character.

    Harper was a breath of fresh air as a Director. He “came through the ranks” of the BBC and this is his first directorial outing in genre, and doesn’t he have the eye? I wrote a post about the one series special Star Cops, in which, after directing the second block of episodes, the cast and crew protested about a decision to ignore what he bought to his episodes. They almost walked off the shoot. It’s no wonder he is highly regarded. He’s a low budget Ridley Scott, delivering miracles on a small budget. I’ll post this short clip, from “The Cult of Star Cops” just because it’s informative. I’ve read posts in the past which suggest you can see Davison thinking “why am I doing this?” in stories like Time Flight. I think I actually believe him when he says that this is the story that made him think – “am I doing the right thing in leaving?”.

    #16330
    stevethewhistle @steve-thorp

    I enjoyed watching a slower-paced story after Ghostlight, which I found easier to follow on a second viewing with commentary text switched on.

    I agree with most of the things that @phaseshift has to say, and it is also worth noting that the Miners’ Strike was in full  flow when this episode was broadcast, though, of course, the economics and politics are still valid now. At this time, there was some dodgy use of the police, and the  rumour was that some of the “police” on the picket lines were members of the armed forces. I wonder if further episodes will mention The Enemy Within”.

    Anyone used to more sophisticated stage scenery and props of recent years may find that the painted backgrounds and other props look slightly ropey, although someone with a combined TV/DVD would not be surprised to find that the remote control can also be used to open sliding doors. Of course, if there is a strong story with plenty of page-turners (not sure of the equivalent TV phrase), this can be forgiven.

    I am looking forward to discovering how the various story strands come together on the other three episodes. (Honest, I won’t cheat!)

    BTW

    If the Doctor wears a stick of celery on his lapel as a gas detector, why does the Prince of Wales sometimes wear a spring onion on his?

    🙂

     

     

    #16331
    chickenelly @chickenelly

    Aaah, back to watching classic episodes.  I just caught up with the last episode of  ‘Ghost Light’ and hadn’t got a clue what was going on.  I don’t think the two week break in between helped, but then again having read some of the comments underneath perhaps it wouldn’t have made any difference.

    Anyway, in regards to this episode I really enjoyed it.  The better quality direction (rubber monster aside) along with the not so cluttered storyline is certainly a factor, but I’ve got to say that I think Davison is the better Doctor for my money.  As I mentioned in another post, after Tom I hadn’t rated Davison at all but watching this story I’m beginning to change my mind.  Then again, as @craig describes the episode as ‘Davison’s swansong’ I’m in for a rude awakening at the end.

     

     

    #16342
    TardisBlue @tardisblue

    A big thank you to @craig and @phaseshift for the informative posts.

    I enjoyed this tremendously. In fact, I didn’t have the discipline and restraint that @steve-thorp demonstrated. I couldn’t stand the suspense. What happened to The Doctor and Peri at the end of the first episode? I couldn’t sleep, I was so worried. So I went on to watch the second episode. That’s kinda ok, isn’t it, seeing that the show was broadcast twice a week back then? The second was so good that I didn’t want to watch the third. Just like Ten, I don’t want this (and Five) to end!

    I’d seen Talons years before, but this was the first time for Caves. It won’t be the last. Holmes really was an excellent scriptwriter. I’m not bothered in the least by any similarities between Talons and Caves — caves, masked bad guys, etc. The plot, characters, and story seem fresh and non-derivative. I love the subtle references to the economics and compassion of the Thatcher era … things which time seems not to have changed. Interesting that there was a miners’ strike going at the time this was aired. I wonder if this influenced Holmes’ choice of subject matter or is reflected in his script.

    I don’t mind the polyester costumes. (I grew up with Star Trek, the original series (TOS), after all.) In fact, I was intrigued by the off-the-shoulder-rolled-yoke costume worn by Andronzoni Major men, and the flat, geometric variation worn by the woman. Nice design, IMHO.

    What I DID mind was those infernal question marks on Five’s collar. I think they bother me as much as that infernal sweater vest poor Seven was cursed with. Because, if memory serves, they were not a part of Five’s costume when we first met him. And he was quite handsome and debonair without them. I found them distracting me from Davison’s face during his exceptional performance. Very annoying. Boo, hiss, JNT.

    @steve-thorp, HRH The Prince of Wales’ lapel leek looks pretty teeny in the photo I found. Does he wear it every time he’s in Wales or just on St. David’s Day? And, isn’t he supposed to be wearing it in his hat anyway to avoid being mistakenly slain as a Saxon on the battlefield? And speaking of Saxon — Harold Saxon — do you think the UK might have been spared The Master if Prince Charles wore a full-sized leek 24/7? Or Wales? Or at least Cardiff?

    Sorry for all this silliness, the poor air quality from the Androzonian caves must be making me giddy.

    TardisBlue

    #16348
    Anonymous @

    A great story. Probably Robert Holmes’s last decent contribution to the programme. I’m not sure I’d say it was the best Who story ever — or even anything like my favourite of the Davison era but it’s still a belter. I’d echo @phaseshift‘s view of the Peri/Doc 5 relationship and it just serves as a sad reminder of how much a shame it is that Davison was saddled with a TARDIS full to twerps for much of his tenure. A season of adventures with just him and Peri would have been great I think.

    Unfortunately this story also has one of the other perennials of Davison’s era — the crap monster. The Myrka, the Ergon, the Garm — Davison really got a lot of duff monsters. And the Magma Beast is no exception. Fortunately, it’s barely noticeable because the story it’s in is so strong.

    Like Talons, it’s the characters that make this. John Normington’s Morgus is great and definitely a parody of the then current doctrines of Thatcherism. Sharaz Jek is another of Holmes’s masked scenery-chewing nutters but he won’t really come into his own till later and Maurice Roeves is great as Stott, but again doesn’t have a whole lot to do in episode one.

    And I’d say compared to some even later BG stories, visually this one hasn’t aged too badly. Yes, some of the sets are rather underdressed (and what is Morgus doing with that old telly remote?) but it still looks a lot more impressive than say even The Twin Dilemma which followed it.

    Another thought that occurred is rather than being too similar to Talons, this story is rather like a superior retread of The Power of Kroll. Both alien mining stories. Both have gun-runners. Both have big, dodgy monsters running about.

    I also have a lot of sympathy for one of the concerns I’d read online about this story about the Doc being that bit just too passive in the first episode. He doesn’t seem to put up the slightest fight against the execution and rather defeatistly lets Peri and himself go to their deaths for no good reason. I suppose rather ironically it seems to me to be the one occasion where a foiled escape attempt would have been justified.

    #16356
    XAD4 @xad4

    As someone who has nearly exclusively watched AG Who (so far), I found it both intriguing and refreshing how The Doctor reacted when they arrived at Androzani.

    Still nothing but sand.

    Meh. Underwhelmed.

    Compared to the constant excitement the newer Doctors seem to exude about basically everything. Can anyone of the experts here educate me if this in in-line with the general characterisation of the Fifth Doctor? (Maybe also relating to @jimthefish‘s last comment.)

    Also laughed out loud seeing the remote control. They didn’t even bother changing the original signs! I might have missed a bit of the episode contemplating if this was the same model as my grandmother’s TV remote control back then.

    #16375
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Great cliffhanger ending – but it is amazing how slow this episode feels nowadays. I don’t remember feeling that when I first watched it.

    I never felt that Peter Davison was firing on full throttle as the Doctor; I think one of the reasons Caves of Androzani is so well regarded is that this is the story where he finally does give it everything he’s got. Davison’s Doctor is a complete contrast to McCoy’s. The Davison Doctor is generally willing to stand back, let things develop; perhaps a side effect of running a TARDIS that was a combination of refugee centre and number nine bus. He takes it to rather ridiculous extremes in this episode, however; I can only guess that the Spectrox was making him feel rather worse than he thought it was.

    McCoy’s Doctor, on the other hand, would probably have researched the situation on Androzani Minor before arrival and have ended up in front of the firing squad because his manipulations had gone a bit pear-shaped.

    And what is it with the BG Doctor and instant executions? I seem to recall that one of the AG producers (or possibly Steven Moffat when writing for RTD) said that they came up with the psychic paper because they were just so sick of ‘the Doctor turns up on a strange planet/space station/country/army base and promptly gets arrested.’

    Complaints aside, it’s a good script with an interesting scenario. A drug that everyone wants, a sole source of supply, and a businessman willing to kill people to keep the price artificially high.

    I’d agree that John Normington’s asides-to-camera may have started with a misread stage direction, but that Graeme Harper then decided to use them throughout. The fourth wall break has quite a shock effect and suits the character of Morgus very well.

    #16379
    Anonymous @

    Great and informative posts so far, putting the episode into its historical time slot of early 80’s Britain and providing interesting technical background.

    On that note, is it important that the rebels had what sounded to me like Scottish accents?  There was the abortive 1979 devolution referendum which was fairly recent history when this episode was written.  Would it make sense that ‘the baddies’ would be presented as Scots?

    As to Peri, sorry Nicola Bryant but I kept getting distracted by your dodgy American accent.   Also, after our first two BG outings, I’ve become accustomed to feisty (Leela) and fiery (Ace) pro-active companions.  Peri just seems like a big blah so far to me.  She doesn’t add anything to the adventure and I got the impression of a schoolgirl tagging along behind a teacher she hasn’t known for too long on a school trip.  I hope she gets more interesting in the subsequent parts.  Her fatalism in the cell made me long for, say, Rose, who would have been fizzing with ideas on how to get them out of the predicament.

    It’s quite a stunning cliff-hanger to be sure, but didn’t it look like the Doctor had a big box covering his chest under the red robe?

    #16381
    Anonymous @

    stevethewhistle  – you and @craig reference the ‘painted backgrounds’ and ‘underdressed sets’ but that didn’t bother me.  I thought the sparseness gave a clean, ‘futuristic’ look to the Androzani Major scenes.  And where some see polyester costumes, I saw what looked like raw silk.

    @bluesqueakpip – coming at this as a viewer new to Davison, I lack the background of his years of playing the Doctor that you reference:

    The Davison Doctor is generally willing to stand back, let things develop; perhaps a side effect of running a TARDIS that was a combination of refugee centre and number nine bus. He takes it to rather ridiculous extremes in this episode, however

    I too thought him extremely passive; something @xad4 also appears to have had a problem with, especially in contrast to AG Doctors and especially with 10 and 11.

    What my ‘fresh eyes’ saw in this part was that the Doctor and Peri were almost peripheral to the politics being laid out:  the machinations between the ‘evil corporatist’ Morgus and the slimy President; the military having to bend to the will of Big Business; rebels of whom we don’t yet know their cause but lose our sympathy with a mass murder of soldiers.

    #16382
    Anonymous @

    @shazzbot — don’t think it was intentional to make the gun-runners Scots. The 79 referendum fiasco was ancient history by then and Scotland’s only real political role by this point was to be a dumping ground for nuclear bases and experimental zone for travesties like the poll tax. (bit of politics ladeezandgentulmeeeennn). I think it was more to do with the fact that Maurice Roeves was quite a popular actor at the time. (although I think this was slightly before his big turn in Tutti Frutti).

    #16400
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    a dumping ground for nuclear bases 

    @jimthefish Oh, England’s quite a dumping ground for nuclear bases as well. Don’t go to Suffolk unless you want to glow in the dark. 😉

    @Shazzbot No, I don’t there’s anything especially anti-Scottish. For one thing, this episode was broadcast in the middle of the Troubles, so if they’d been trying to make any political points they’d have been much more likely to go for Northern Irish accents. As Jim says, the Scottish referendum of 79 was history by then.

    #16401
    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip — good point. Maybe having the gun-runners as Irish would have been considered as making too much of a ‘political point’ — which I suspect JNT would have hated — but that making them Scottish was a sly way making that kind of suggestion but in a more ‘safe’ way. Besides, were they all Scottish or was it just Stott….

    #16404
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @jimthefish – I suspect that – given the evil businessman busily manipulating the army and corrupting the politicians – they probably felt there was quite enough politics in this story, thank you! 😈

    #16406
    Craig @craig
    Emperor

    @Shazzbot @bluesqueakpip @jimthefish

    I think Maurice Roeves (Stott) is the only rebel with a Scottish accent, the rest are English. I think he had worked with Graeme Harper before and so was happy to take the job to support him in his first big directing gig.

    #16596
    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    woefully late again-

    What I really loved about this was the chain of ethics?, morality? from the first person who takes them prisoner, who says they’re dead if they don’t give up all information, to the civilian he has to answer to, who says no, just execute, to the person he is talking to (sorry, I’m very bad at picking up names) who regrets even the red cloth ceremony thing. Each person in the chain is visibly appalled by the next.

    I also liked the visual effect of the opening, whether intended or not, where the two puddles and the tracks ahead of the tardis made it looks as though they were walking towards a kind of abstract face.

    I liked pretty much everything Peri said, but I did find the delivery annoying. (Baring in mind that an actor is at much the mercy of a director as a writer). In fact when she said ‘Doctor, look!’ and he said ‘What?’ the exchange reminded me of personal, present experience of being around someone you love very much, but does talk a lot. And I mean a lot.

    I loved the non-chronological diary idea. Especially since Davison’s doctor seems to be more linked to AG doctors than most because of the ten-five sketch.

    and I never mind a bit of fourth wall breaking. It looked deliberate, in acting and directing. But I wasn’t much bothered with Oswin doing it in AOTD either. It’s nice to be jolted a little, when you’re into a story.

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