Reviewing Who – The Caves of Androzani

Doctor: Peter Davison

Companion: Nicola Bryant

Script writer: Robert Holmes

Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Director: Graeme Harper

Originally aired: March 8th 1984 – March 16th 1984

Episode 1: The TARDIS lands in a wasteland of sand and the fifth Doctor – young, blonde, resplendent in his impractical cricket whites – steps out, accompanied by brand new companion Peri, who was expecting the beach when he said ‘sand’ and dressed accordingly. This is not, however, the beach. This is Androzani Minor, one of the most unappealing places you can imagine, so when the Doctor finds traces of recent activity, he can’t resist following them to see who else is stupid enough to hang out here. “Is this wise, I ask myself,” mutters Peri, but the Doctor chooses not to listen, and she runs reluctantly after him into a nearby cavern that is really a blowhole. The centre of Androzani Minor is superheated mud and when the gravitational alignment with its twin planet Androzani Major is right, there is a high tide of the stuff. As Peri puts it, “mud baths for everyone.”

For all that, the caves are not unoccupied. A group of armed men are being attacked by a lumbering green lizard that repels bullets, in a fine tradition of Whovian monsters. The Doctor and Peri are too far away to hear; they are wandering in blissful ignorance in a different tunnel, admiring the natural phosphorescence, when Peri slips and falls from a rock ledge. She lands in a large cobwebby pod. The Doctor absent-mindedly pulls her out, not especially sympathetic to her bruised pride and stinging legs. He dismisses the thing that has coated both her and his hands as ‘probably harmless’.

Not very far away, a gang of gun-runners are waiting for someone to collect their delivery and getting pretty antsy about it. They quickly scatter when they hear movement. It turns out to be the Doctor and Peri, who find enough hand weapons to equip a small army and a pair of dice on the floor that are still warm from their last throw. They don’t have time for more exploration, because just then they are discovered by a patrol of soldiers and misidentified as gun-runners themselves.

Hustled off to a military base in the caves, they meet General Chellak, who is in charge of operations here. He thinks they are in league with someone called Sharaz Jek and supplying weapons to the android rebels, and isn’t interested when Peri tries to explain that he’s wrong. The Doctor’s sarcasm isn’t helping. Nor does the general care that both his new prisoners are beginning to feel unwell. He has the two shoved into a cell while he contacts his superiors with some badly needed good news. Peri slumps miserably on the bunk provided; the Doctor gives her a look of mixed guilt and concern, the first time there has been a real emotional connection between them. This is Peri’s first solo adventure with him and they don’t know each other very well yet, but he’s at least aware that he’s already landed her in a particularly nasty sort of trouble.

And he doesn’t even know how nasty yet. On Androzani Major, the general’s hologram has appeared in the office of Morgus, who despite being a civilian is the one giving out orders. He has only criticism for Chellak’s campaign so far, but changes his tune when he sees the ‘gun-runners’ they’ve just captured. The Doctor and Peri are given a few minutes under his contemptuous gaze, barely allowed to speak, certainly not allowed to plead their case, before being hauled off out of his sight. Morgus then showers Chellak with praise that actually couches his snap decision to have the prisoners executed. Chellak is against that plan, hoping to extract information on the rebellion, but Morgus is not a democratic sort of man. He is not, however, the only one to get a look at the prisoners. The hologram broadcast has been hacked by a man in a black and white mask who seems particularly fascinated by Peri.

Chellak begins to believe that he has the wrong people, which may say something about his belief in his superior’s judgement, but he can’t be bothered referring the execution order to a higher authority. News of a gas attack from the real gun-runners arrives via his extremely competent assistant Salateen and he leaves to deal with it. The Doctor, returned to the cell with Peri, puzzles over the inconsistencies of his gaolers. Peri is rather more preoccupied with thoughts of her impending death. He has no plan of escape to share with her – he doesn’t even have a sonic screwdriver any more – all he can offer is an apology. And the firing squad setting up outside isn’t their only problem. The rash on her legs and his hands is beginning to form blisters. Whatever the pod was, it wasn’t harmless.

Morgus, meanwhile, is entertaining the president of Androzani Major in his office. He offers a small vial of a substance called spectrox as a gift. It is harvested on Androzani Minor, distilled into a restorative to prolong life and health, and is in crucially short supply at present due to the war – thus perfect for sucking up to elderly politicians. But Morgus’s control over the political situation is not as strong as he thought. He’s all hardline patriotism, determined to crush Sharaz Jek at whatever cost; the president just wants the war over and a proper supply of spectrox restored.

They find temporary common ground in the impending execution, watching as the hologram forms of the Doctor and Peri are led from their cell and draped in military red. “This is a mockery of justice,” are the Doctor’s last words. “Just get on with it,” are Peri’s. Their hoods are pulled down and the soldiers open fire.

Episode 2: The red draped figures fall under a flurry of bullets. But all is not as it seems. The Doctor and Peri are alive, if not exactly well, in the hidden headquarters of the masked man who intercepted their mugshots. He is no other than Sharaz Jek, leader of the android rebellion. Chellak only works out what has happened when he discovers the ‘bodies’ of his prisoners are actually androids. The switch was done right under his nose. Embarassing much?

Whether Team TARDIS are really in a better situation now, however, is yet to be seen. Jek has rescued them, yes, but he has plans of his own for them, particularly Peri. He follows her around the room, trying to corner her, crooning about how important beauty is to him, being so unutterably creepy that she runs across the room and hurls herself into the Doctor’s arms to get away from him. The Doctor, whose sarcastic tongue is getting him into trouble here as well, gets Jek talking about his Evil Plot instead. With the general’s slow progress and Androzani Major’s rabid demand for spectrox, Jek is sure they’ll soon cave to his demands. That being, the head of Morgus at his feet. I can see why Morgus is so against the idea of an armistice…

Jek has another advantage. His third prisoner is none other than Chellak’s right hand man Salateen, who has been locked up for months, his position filled by a flawlessly convincing android. He has been held as company for the psychotic yet lonely Jek and is terrified at the arrival of two replacements. Then Salateen realises both the Doctor and Peri are both suffering cramps, and his fear dissolves into maniacal laughter. “You’re dying,” he tells them bluntly. The pod they stumbled into was a spectrox nest left behind by bats, and they have contracted spectrox toximia. The only antidote is the milk of a queen bat, but they have all gone down into the deep caves, out of reach. Left untreated, the Doctor and Peri will die within two days.

Jek does not know this. His plan is to keep Peri’s aesthetic appeal forever with his hoard of spectrox. Not that that means he’s going to be 100% nice to her. He overhears Peri wondering aloud why he wears that mask all the time and his response is so savage that she throws herself into the Doctor’s arms again to hide while Jek moans after his lost beauty like a psychotic medieval poet. Morgus was the one who did this to him. Jek built an android workforce to collect spectrox in return for split profits, but Morgus decided sharing was not his thing and abandoned his erstwhile business partner during a mudburst. Jek survived, but was left badly deformed and, well, kind of obsessive.

Meanwhile, his gun-runners are antsier than ever. They had to dump their delivery of weapons to stop the military getting hold of them, but they still want paying. Jek goes to deal with them and the Doctor launches into his hastily formulated plan. The android that is guarding Jek’s headquarters has been programmed to kill any human on sight, unless ordered otherwise or deflected by one of Jek’s protective belt plates. But the Doctor is not human. He just has to hope the android will know that. It does; taking advantage of its bafflement, he quickly deactivates it and the three prisoners escape.

Jek and his lead gun-runner Stotz are negotiating a payment deal. Eventually, Jek leaves to collect the agreed amount of spectrox and Stotz realises the supply must be close to their meeting site. He and his men are protected by belt plates in order to work with Jek’s androids, and they’re well armed. They like their chances.

The prisoners are not in such a good position. An android fires on them in the tunnels and the Doctor is left stunned while Salateen drags Peri off with a stolen belt plate. When the Doctor comes to and goes looking for them, what he finds is a battle. The gun-runners have met with one of the reasons Jek’s stronghold is so secure: the lizard of the caves.

Episode 3: The lizard tears its way through several gun-runners, repelling the bullets of the fleeing survivors. It is distracted (and distracting) enough that the Doctor manages to get past without being seen by either threat. Salateen, meanwhile, has returned to Chellak’s base with Peri in tow. The general is due a few humiliating revelations. Salateen, however, has a use for his doppelganger. He wants to feed the android misinformation, concealing the true attack until it’s too late for Jek to escape.

For the Doctor, it’s just one of those days. He ends up circling around in the labyrinthine tunnels and bumping straight into a rather tense meeting between Jek and the gun-runners. Jek, by now aware that he’s lost Peri, is in a foul mood. He brings the whole lot of them back to his HQ and threatens to rip the Doctor’s arms off if he doesn’t reveal where Peri’s gone. All the Doctor knows is that she’s probably with Salateen. Realising where his first prisoner would gravitate, Jek relaxes a little, or at least changes his mind about tearing the Doctor into pieces. He hands him over to the gun-runners instead.

Chellak has started on the misinformation plan. Unfortunately, his android right hand man has X-ray vision and can see through the wall to where Salateen is hiding with Peri in the general’s quarters. He departs, presumably to inform his real boss, and Chellak is left with the uneasy feeling his plan isn’t going very well. But deceiving the android is only one aspect of it. Salateen has given Peri some medication to help with the symptoms of her sickness, intending to keep her alive as a tactical advantage over Jek, and has provided the stolen belt plate for replication and mass distribution. That Peri is miserable, manhandled and mutinous is not being factored in to anybody’s plans.

The only person who actually cares about her is currently tied up and blindfolded on the bridge of the gun-runners’ spaceship, listening in as Stotz contacts his employer. Who is, wouldn’t you just know it, Morgus. Stotz is trying to sell his negotiations with Jek as something other than crushingly unequal when Morgus catches sight of the Doctor and recognises him. Alarmed, Morgus turns around to discuss this turn of events with the camera. He’s assuming Chellak deliberately double-crossed him, and that he was doing so on orders. Morgus turns back to the hologram in his office, demanding that the Doctor reveal who he is working for, promising wealth in return for truth.

“I am telling the truth. I keep telling the truth,” the Doctor snaps. “Why is it that no one believes me?” Morgus confides his suspicions to the audience – he thinks the Doctor is the president’s spy, which changes his game plan a bit. He tells Stotz to stay in orbit for a while instead of returning at once. The only real spy, if he only knew it, is android Salateen, who has been sent on a wild goose chase investigating a fake target with a group of soldiers that Chellak probably doesn’t like all that much. He doubles back to meet with Jek anyway, who has not been fooled. Guessing that human Salateen will be free to move about now his android double is out of the way, he slips into Chellak’s base and re-kidnaps poor Peri.

Left alone while Stotz goes to catch some sleep, the Doctor yanks his cuffs free of the wall and cuts them off his wrists using an exposed energy rod, then goes for the controls. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, figuring how the ship works as he goes along. His own sickness isn’t doing wonders for his concentration.

Meanwhile, the president has returned to Morgus’s office, where he is informed there are rumours of an assassination plot against him. Morgus shows him to a ‘private exit’, then shoves him down the lift shaft and summons his own devoted secretary to share news of the tragic accident.

On Androzani Minor, Jek is spying on the distribution of the protective belt plates when Peri, whom he drugged in this latest kidnapping, comes to. He tells her that the Doctor has been taken away by gun-runners and that she’s going to live here with Jek himself forever instead. Peri, reasonably enough, does not take this well. She points out that Jek could have stopped the gun-runners taking the Doctor and Jek rages at her about the injustice of his social downfall that forces him to associate with people like that. Then he turns creepily coaxing again. He tells her he will “feast his eyes on her delicacy”, fingering her face while she looks like she wants to throw up.

On Stotz’s ship, the Doctor is preparing to land while the furious gun-runners cut through the door. Kicking it in, Stotz leans through to level a gun at the Doctor, threatening to shoot him if he doesn’t return the controls.

“Not a very persuasive argument, Stotz,” the Doctor replies, “because I’m going to die soon anyway, unless of course I can find the antidote. I owe it to my friend to try because I got her into this. So you see I’m not going to let you stop me now!

Episode 4: The ship crashes. The Doctor staggers from the bridge, the gun-runners in hot pursuit across the sandy wasteland of Androzani Minor. A point in his favour is that they are all incompetent marksmen, but he’s sick and exhausted and it’s only a matter of time before they catch up. Then plumes of mud begin to erupt from under the surface, signalling the beginning of a mudburst. The gun-runners baulk; the Doctor does not.

In the caves, Chellak and the human Salateen are leading an attack on Jek’s base. They realise too late that Jek has made the belt plates ineffective, when Salateen is gunned down in the tunnels, but Chellak persists and Jek realises the general may actually have a chance. Just to complicate matters, Morgus has arrived on Androzani Minor in person. Believing his double dealing is on the verge of being discovered, his plan is to bunk off to some other planet before things get nasty, but he intends to take Jek’s hoard of spectrox with him before he goes, using Chellak’s attack as a distraction. But Chellak has finally reached Jek’s lair. They grapple violently, Jek’s mask torn off during the struggle. Jek is so enraged that he hurls Chellak from the door into the path of the mudburst. Ah, irony can be an ugly thing. He then struggles towards the terrified Peri, but when she sees his face she screams, terrified. He screams too, like a frightened child, crawling away to hide his misshapen face.

Morgus, not aware of any of this, contacts his office and discovers his devoted secretary sitting at his desk. “Timmins,” he says warningly, “I don’t like your tone.” “I wish that was all I didn’t like about you,” is her excellent retort. Turns out she was not so much devoted as observant. She has given such damning evidence against him that interplanetary warrants have been issued for his arrest. The gun-runners find this hilarious; Morgus, less so. His business is in the hands of his former dogsbody, his secret slush funds exposed and confiscated – he needs this spectrox now. The only one of his former employees willing to join the venture is Stotz, who guns down the others and follows Morgus for a 50/50 share in the profits.

The Doctor returns for Peri. Jek has finally realised what is wrong with her and gives the Doctor what help he can, showing him the route into the deepest caves and lending him an oxygen cylinder to survive the airless depths. He stays behind to tend unconscious Peri in the most stalkerish way possible; the Doctor descends through the tunnels, milks a nesting bat (who knew it was that easy?) and struggles back the way he came. But by now Morgus and Stotz have made their way through the carnage of the battle and broken in. The crazed man waiting for them is rather more than they were expecting, as is the force of his rage. Stotz shoots Jek; the android Salateen shoots Stotz; Jek, though dying of his own wounds, forces Morgus’s head into a rotating section of equipment and only reels back when his enemy’s lifeless body falls to the floor. Without even rage to hold him up, Jek then collapses into the arms of his loyal android.

The Doctor returns to a room strewn with bodies. He barely registers that, just swings Peri into his arms and staggers out into the tunnels. Somehow he reaches the TARDIS with her, dematerialises, and doses her with the milk. There was only enough for one. It is a very potent antidote – within seconds of drinking, Peri sits up and finds the Doctor dying on the floor beside her. “I might regenerate,” he muses. “I don’t know. It feels different this time.” Images of his former companions encircle him, urging his survival. The face of the Master overwhelms them, gleefully commanding his death. And so a mild young philanthropist turns into a frizzy mopped maniac.

“Doctor?” Peri says, uncertainly.

“You were expecting someone else?” The new Doctor is already scanning the room around him, as though he’s the one expecting something, and it is trouble. “What’s happened?” Peri asks, bewilderedly. “Change, my dear,” he replies. “And it seems not a moment too soon.”

The Verdict: This isn’t the superhero Doctor of later regenerations, the one can sonic his way out of anything. This is a man who makes mistakes, who doesn’t have a plan, who is vulnerable and flawed and isn’t actually sure how to manually land someone else’s spaceship. I never liked Davison’s Doctor much as a child, but even then I couldn’t not appreciate him in this story, and I love him in it now. He’s dying of spectrox poisoning, there’s a violent criminal pointing a gun at his head and he’s about to crash into one of the most inhospitable planets imaginable, but none of that will stop him saving his friend.

This is Peri’s second story and her first as an official companion. Pushed about by the egos of different men throughout all four episodes, shot at, leered at, objectified, poisoned and forced to depend upon a man she barely knows for her personal safety, it’s a rocky beginning to say the least, and things aren’t about to get much better. We’ll catch up with her again next month when she is strapped down by a mad scientist and covered in feathers on the demented prison planet Varos. Oh, Doctor, you take your friends to the nicest places…


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