Monday, 27 July 2015

Story 135 - The Caves of Androzani

In which the TARDIS materialises on the desolate world of Androzani Minor. Exploring, the Doctor notices signs of recent human activity, as there are wheel tracks leading to and from a nearby cave. He and Peri go inside to look around and she falls down a slope in the dark. Her fall is broken when she lands in a mass of vegetation. The Doctor helps her out, and both find they are covered in a sticky substance exuded from the plant. Venturing further into the caverns, they find a stock of weapons, and evidence that someone has been here very recently. Suddenly a squad of soldiers appears and they find themselves under arrest - accused of being gun-runners. They are taken to the base of General Chellak. Here they learn that government forces from Androzani Major have been waging a long campaign against a terrorist named Sharaz Jek. This scientist has an android army, and he has been stopping supplies of a substance called Spectrox from reaching the home planet. Spectrox slows down the aging process, and is therefore in great demand. Chellak notifies Trau Morgus of the arrest. He resides on Major, and is the ruthless head of the Sirius Conglomerate. Though a businessman, his power is such that he is more influential than the government, He is paying for the military campaign. Morgus is keen to see the captives, but quickly loses interest - which puzzles the Doctor. Chellak's lieutenant Salateen is left to prepare the Doctor and Peri for execution by firing squad.

Once the sentence has been carried out, it is found that the prisoners have been replaced with android replicas. The Doctor and Peri have been taken to Sharaz Jek's base elsewhere in the cave system. Here they meet the real Salateen - who has been captive for months. It is a perfect android copy who has been working with Chellak, to monitor his actions and spread disinformation. Jek wears a mask as he was disfigured some years ago in one of the periodic boiling mud-bursts which erupt on Minor. This was down to treachery by his business partner - Trau Morgus - who wanted to seize the monopoly on Spectrox production. Jek is supplied with weapons by a sadistic gun-runner named Stotz. He is unaware that Stotz is really working for Morgus. In supplying him with guns, the military campaign against him is justified and supported by the government back on Major. When Morgus learns that the President is planning to start negotiations with Jek, he kills him in a faked accident in order to keep his double-dealings secret.
The Doctor and Peri are both feeling unwell. When Salateen finds out he informs them that they are suffering from a deadly disease - Spectrox Toxaemia. This is caused by contact with raw Spectrox - the vegetable substance which Peri earlier fell into. Salateen finds this ironic, as Jek kidnapped Peri in order to keep her as his companion. The only known cure comes from the milk of the Queen Bat - a creature which dwells in the lowermost caverns. The Doctor escapes, and narrowly avoids being attacked by a savage reptilian creature called a Magma Beast. He then falls into the hands of Stotz and his comrades.

Salateen manages to escape with Peri, and Chellak discovers that he has been harbouring an android spy for the last few months. Salateen offers to lead Chellak to Jek's base, and the android copy is sent off on another mission as a diversion. Unfortunately, their plans have been overheard by the android. A trap will be set for the attackers. The android abducts Peri and takes her back to Jek. Stotz takes the Doctor to Major in his spaceship, but he escapes and locks himself in the control room. He pilots the ship to crash-land back on Minor. Morgus decides to travel to Minor to take charge of the campaign. He secretly plans to join Stotz on his own raid on Jek's base - Stotz has worked out its rough location - and they will seize his Spectrox stocks for themselves. After he leaves, he discovers that his assistant has taken over his company and provided the government with evidence of all his criminal activities, as well as sequestering all his ill-gotten wealth. A mud-burst begins. Jek informs the Doctor of the location of the Queen Bat, as he is in love with Peri and wants to save her. Stotz kills his comrades so that he and Morgus will not need to share Jek's Spectrox. The real Salateen is killed in an ambush, and Chellak dies in the mud-burst. Morgus and Stotz break into Jek's bunker. Stotz is killed by the android Salateen after fatally wounding Jek. Jek kills Morgus, then dies in the android's arms. The Doctor gains the bat milk and retrieves Peri, taking her back to the TARDIS. There is only enough milk to save Peri. As she recovers, she sees the Doctor regenerate...

This four part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and broadcast between 8th and 16th March, 1984. The final story of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, it is also significant for being the first story to be directed by Graeme Harper, and it is the first Holmes script in 5 years. Of course, it is also our first sighting of the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker.
Holmes' last outing was The Power of Kroll back in 1978 / 79 - a story which features elements that are refined in Caves. Producer John Nathan-Turner had been very resistant to using writers from before his time, but Script Editor Eric Saward was a huge fan of Holmes and fought for him to be used. The elements from Kroll that are apparent are the gun-runner, and the fact that the principal villain is behind the supply of weapons to his own enemy - as an excuse for then wiping them out.
We also have the twin planets (or planet and moon in the case of Kroll) - one densely populated and the other the source of something the main planet wants.
Two influences on the story are Dune and The Phantom of the Opera.
Harper had earlier directed some of Warriors' Gate when its credited director was temporarily sacked, but this is his first proper directing credit. The influence of his mentor - Douglas Camfield - can be felt throughout.

There is a first rate cast on view. Trau Morgus is played by John Normington, and he is one of the greatest villains the programme has ever seen. Normington will be back in The Happiness Patrol, as well as Torchwood's Ghost In The Machine. Jek is Christopher Gable - best known for stage musicals, plus the film version of The Boyfriend. Salateen is Robert Glenister, who had previously played Peter Davison's younger brother in the sitcom Sink Or Swim back when he first became the Doctor. He has to portray both the real Salateen and the android replica. Lucky that the real one can be just as cold and detached as the fake one. Stotz is Scots actor Maurice Roeves, who was based in the USA at the time. His number two, Krelper, is Roy Holder. He was in The Land That Time Forgot with Anthony Ainley, and Psychomania, with Ian Marter and John Levene. Chellak is Martin Cochrane.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor and Peri have been dressed in scarlet robes and tied up in front of the firing squad. The troops open fire and they slump forward, dead...
  2. The Doctor has escaped from Jek, but he now finds himself trapped in a cavern with a savage Magma Beast bearing down upon him...
  3. The Doctor is determined to save Peri at any cost, and so sends Stotz's spaceship hurtling towards the planet...
  4. Peri is shocked to see a new man dressed in the Doctor's clothing. He tells her that he has changed - and not a moment too soon...

Overall... Well, what is there to say that hasn't already been said. It is no surprise this features in top ten listings. Between 2009 and 2013 it was officially the fans' favourite story. (It slipped down to 4th place in the DWM 50th Anniversary Poll). We can forgive the Magma Beast in the same way we forgive the Skarasen and the Giant Rat. Brilliant script, great acting, and a tense, funereal tone throughout.
Things you probably know but we'll go over again anyway:
  • Harper's initial thoughts on casting Jek veered towards the pop world. He wanted David Bowie or Roger Daltrey.
  • Ian Holm and Ronald Lacey were considered for Morgus. Harper has claimed that he wanted Diana Dors and her husband Alan Lake (Underworld) for Timmin and Morgus.
  • John Normington's asides to the camera were the result of a mistake - him misunderstanding a stage direction. They looked so good Harper kept them in.
  • Colin Baker is the first Doctor to get a word in immediately after he has regenerated. His predecessors all had to wait until their first full episode. Unfortunately, what he does have to say makes him sound like a right sarcastic sod.
  • As with his very first appearance (in the fourth episode of Logopolis) Davison gets only second billing for his last episode. A bit of an insult I feel, but JNT has already moved onto his new Doctor.
  • The hand-held computer used by Morgus' devious assistant Krau Timmin (Barbara Kinghorn) is clearly a TV remote control.
  • Nicola Bryant is seen to visibly bounce when she falls into the Spectrox nest.
  • When the android guard sees the Doctor's two hearts via X-Ray, Davison is clearly wearing them around his neck, as none of the rest of his physiology gets X-Ray'd.
  • The Doctor's decorative vegetable is finally explained. It turns purple in the presence of certain gasses, whereupon the Doctor eats the celery.
  • The Master and all the Fifth Doctor's companions appear as he is about to regenerate. These were all specially filmed cameos. The appearance of Nyssa gained her creator Johnny Byrne a fee.
  • We should be thankful that all four scripts overran. One scene cut would have shown a lot more of the Magma Beast, as the Doctor had to fight it to get to the Queen Bat in Part Four.
  • We've never been back to Androzani (Major or Minor) but the inhabitants are still exploiting natural resources in The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe.

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