The Caves of Androzani is one of those rare Doctor Who stories where virtually everything – script, direction, acting, music, etc – is as good as it possibly can be. The result is a story that’s nearly perfect. The Magma Beast, of course, is a sign that nothing can ever be quite perfect – but given the rest of the story, a few shots of a rubbery monster is a small price to pay.
It had been five years Robert Holmes had contributed a script to Doctor Who and his previous one (The Power of Kroll) hadn’t been a happy experience for him. Also, he hadn’t been able to get a script together for The Five Doctors (in retrospect, this was the worst thing to ask Homes to do as he never worked well with “shopping list” stories, he much preferred to create his own story from scratch).
So, Caves was the ideal commission. He had to write out the 5th Doctor, but apart from that he had a free hand to fashion whatever plot took his fancy. Holmes always liked to borrow from his favourite novels and Caves is no exception. He’d already played with the concept of The Phantom of the Opera in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, but it’s even more explicit here, as Sharaz Jek – like the Phantom – kidnaps a beautiful young woman and takes her back to his underground lair. Greel also liked to kidnap women, but he had quite another use for them!
This is the first time, but certainly not the last, that Peri will be the object of somebody’s lust. Clearly Eric Saward thought it was a storyline that had legs, so poor Peri found herself mauled by the likes of Shockeye, the Board, Jobel and Yrcanos. Although, to be fair, Shockeye was more interested in how she tasted, rather than how she looked.
What really brings the story to life is Graeme Harper’s direction. Due to the nature of the programme (i.e. the very short time available to tape the story) few directors ever attempted to do anything particularly different. There were exceptions, like Paul Joyce on Warriors’ Gate, who also pushed the series as far as it could go and produced a very stylish story – but there’s evidence to show that this was unpopular with both the crew and the cast. And he certainly exceeded the budget, which ensured he was never asked back.
Harper was also imaginative and prepared to innovate, but he was able to do so within the time he was given – and he also managed to carry the cast along with him. There seemed to be a general feeling during rehearsals and recording that this story was something unusual and special, so everybody seemed to pull together. His style favours fades, jump cuts, dissolves and hand-held shots – all of which weren’t common to Doctor Who at the time.
Harper couldn’t possibly have cast this any better. Key to the success of Caves are three actors – Maurice Roëves as Stotz, John Normington as Morgus and Christopher Gable as Sharez Jek.
It’s quite possible to believe in Roëves as a mercenary, as he certainly proves throughout the story exactly how mercenary Stotz is – ready to sell out anybody for personal gain. Normington is nothing less than totally compelling. His asides to camera (an accident that was kept in) add a certain frisson to his performance. He’s also incredibly subtle at times – watch the scene where the President complains that gun-runners should be shot in the back. Normington doesn’t reply, there’s just a twitch of a facial muscle to register what he’s thinking.
Elsewhere, Holmes gives him some wonderful material, such as –
TIMMIN: Trau Morgus?
MORGUS: Yes, what is it?
TIMMIN: The Northcawl copper mine, sir. There’s been a disaster. I thought you should know.
MORGUS: What kind of disaster?
TIMMIN: An explosion, sir, early this morning. The mine has been completely destroyed.
MORGUS: How sad. However, the loss of Northcawl eliminates our little problem of over-production. The news should also raise the market price of copper.
TIMMIN: Undoubtedly, sir.
MORGUS: As they used to say on Earth, every cloud has a strontium lining, Krau Timmin.
TIMMIN: Yes, indeed.
MORGUS: As a mark of respect for one of our late executives, I want every employee to leave his place of work and stand in silence for one minute.
TIMMIN: I’ll network that order immediately, sir.
MORGUS: No, on second thoughts, make that half a minute.
TIMMIN: Half a minute?
It’s reported that David Bowie was considered for the part of Sharez Jek, but nobody could have played it better than Christopher Gable. It has to rank amongst the very best performances in Doctor Who, sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Kevin Stoney (Tobias Vaughn), Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley) and Scaroth (Julian Glover).
Sharez Jek has several electrifying speeches, the first coming 16 minutes into episode two. It’s interesting to see how this was shot as Harper elected to record most of it “as live” on just one camera. There’s not a cut until 1:55 into the scene, on the line “hanging from the bone”. It’s tempting to suppose that Harper had planned to record the whole scene in one take and on one camera, but there was possibly a stumble which meant a brief cutaway had to be patched in.
This is part of the scene, and the dialogue is worth reproducing –
PERI: Why does he always wear that hood?
JEK: You want to know why? You, with your fair skin and features, you want to see the face under here? Do you!
(Peri squeals and runs into the Doctor’s arms.)
JEK: You’re wise. Even I can’t bear to see or touch myself. I, who was once, once comely, who was always a lover of beauty. And now I have to live in this exile. I have to live amongst androids because androids do not see as we see.
DOCTOR: What happened?
JEK: Morgus. Why I ever trusted that Fescennine bag of slime. I built an android workforce to collect and refine the Spectrox. We’d agreed to share the profits, but he’d already planned my death. When the mud burst caught without warning, how he must have gloated. But I tricked him. I reached one of the baking chambers and I survived, just.
PERI: You were burned?
JEK: Scalded near to death. The flesh boiled, hanging from the bone, but I lived. I lived so that one day I could revenge myself on that inhuman monster. And I shall.
During this monologue, Jek seems to turn into a character from a Victorian melodrama – “I, who was once comely” – which is possibly another nod by Holmes to The Phantom of the Opera. It’s certainly an odd choice of words, and in the hands of another actor it could so easily have fallen flat, but Gable is outstanding here, as he is throughout the story.
I’ve previously touched upon how Eric Saward favoured a nihilistic view of the Universe. It certainly comes across in Saward’s own Resurrection of the Daleks and it’s even more evident here. There are no heroes (apart from the Doctor and Peri). Krau Timmin (Barbara Neil) deposes the corrupt Morgus, but only so that she can take his place. And Chellak (Martin Cochrane) is quite happy for the Doctor and Peri to be shot, even though he belives they are probably innocent.
As for the Doctor, although Davison doesn’t have a lot to say in the last episode (he’s mainly running about and crawling through unconvincing CSO caves looking for the Queen Bat) overall it’s a strong story for him and he rises to the occasion to give a really good performance. He’s said that Caves was one where he actually had to do a bit of acting – witness his scenes with Gable, where he’s more than holding his own.
Caves is a story that never disappoints, has never been out of fashion and will surely always be around the top of any poll of favourite Doctor Who stories. Classic is an overused word in Doctor Who circles, but Caves certainly deserves it.