"Curiosity's always been my downfall..." --The Fifth Doctor, The Caves of Androzani
The Caves of Androzani, 1984
Stars Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor and Nicola Bryant as his companion, Peri
In the recent Doctor Who Magazine #413, (which, by the way, some in the U.S. are still impatiently awaiting delivery of,) is a list of the 200 most favorite Doctor Who stories of all time, as voted on by the readership. The list is AKA The Mighty 200, after the bus in the Tenth Doctor's recent adventure, Planet of the Dead. 1984's Caves of Androzani came in at #1, so I, being naturally curious, had to check it out. By way of explanation, you need to know that I wasn't a big fan of the Classic episodes, although I had a fondness for the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. I only really became hooked on Who during the reboot Season 1, with Christopher Eccleston at the helm of the TARDIS as the Ninth Doctor. As I became an uber-fan of the new Who, I discovered I needed to go back and start watching the older stories in order to fully understand the new ones. That's a tall order, considering the huge number of them! Where to begin? I turned to the Mighty 200 for asssistance.
Before I share my thoughts on the Caves, you should know that I work in the television industry. One of my first jobs in TV was timing all the tapes that came in for air, and that included each and every episode of Doctor Who from Hartnell to McCoy. I've seen every episode at least once, but the catch is, I never actually watched them. I'd catch a moment of two of drama or dialogue as I spot-checked the tapes and then continued to fast forward, but never was compelled to watch an entire episode. I recognized the various Doctors and companions, the Daleks and Autons and Cybermen--even the Master--but what they all did to/for/with each other remained a mystery to me until recently, when I started really watching the programs. I began with Tom Baker (City of Death) and Peter Davison (The Visitation), as they are fairly iconic Doctors, and I was already fond of them, as I said. By the way, does anyone else think Peter Davison is still pretty darned hot??
Huh. I've written two whole paragraphs and basically said nothing about the The Caves of Androzani outside of "Peter Davison". Better get on with it then, hadn't I? I warned you I tend to digress and go off on tangents, so don't say I didn't! Now where was I? Oh yes, I watched the Caves of Androzani because it was #1 on the Mighty 200 list. After watching it, I'm left wondering exactly why that is? The story is about as busy, muddled and complicated as a story could possibly be, with too many villains to keep track of, a whiny companion with a rash, a random rubber monster, an army of androids, occasional splashes of boiling mud, political intrigue, drug running and gun smuggling, and then ends with a regeneration...Yikes!! Pick a story and stick with it! And while you're at it, don't try to tell the story in real time, OK?
I'm not sure where to begin or what I can say about a story that has a villain (or is he?) named Sharaz Jek who lives underground, looks like a Mexican masked wrestler in motorcycle leather and who has decided undertones of the Phantom of the Opera. Then there's an apparently obtuse general who doesn't know his army had been infiltrated by androids; a president with a haircut that looks like a brain (seriously!) and a rubbery monster (is it supposed to be a bat?) which makes random appearances to threaten folk for no apparent reason. This critter walks instead of flying and resembles a giant overfed armadillo more than anything. And just to add to the fun, this armadillo bat (I think anyway...) leaves a nest that is poisonous if you're exposed to it, but is also the source of a powerful fountain-of-youth drug when processed, and which everyone in the story seems to be fighting over. Apparently Mama Bat's milk is also the sole antidote to the poison, but she lives in a cave without air, just to add a degree of difficulty. Phew! Let's all take a moment to think about this. Since it marks the end of the Davison/Fifth Doctor era, did the writers feel like they needed to use every leftover plot point in the breakroom fridge before they spoiled, or what?
So, anyway, all of those plot threads taken into consideration, what do you think the chances are that Peri will stumble and fall straight into the poisonous nest? If you guessed 100%, then you would be correct! She comes out in a hideous deadly rash, which the Doctor tries to fix, but then he gets the rash too. Two words: Latex gloves, people! Well, that's three words, but you get my drift. Meanwhile, the rebel army is run amuck; there's yet another subplot involving magical belt buckles; the legit army is running in circles, the president with brain hair is assassinated by being pushed down an elevator shaft by a drug running corrupt official (Is that what's known as 'getting the shaft'?), the rashy Doctor is being taken off to another planet for reasons unclear to me and he's weakening by the minute. Back on Androzani Minor, the evil boiling mud is popping up again and causing mayhem, apparently because there wasn't quite enough going on with deadly rashes, bat armadillos, armies, androids, drugs, kidnapping and assassinations. Whew! That's a lot to take in and process! I'm exhausted just thinking about it all. How will it all be resolved? Do I really care if it is resolved?
At this point, I had already invested a considerable chunk of my limited free time in this, so I figured, what the hell, better see this through to the end no? Besides, it ends with a regen, so that's got to be cool, right? Um...maybe not so much...The Doctor gets back to the proper planet, finds the airless caves, milks a bat(!!) saves Peri , and then dies of a rash. He dies of a rash. HE DIES OF A RASH! I waded through this whole muddle for that? I found myself wishing that Five survived and Peri perished, because she's such a whinger! Even worse, the luscious Davison regenerates into clown-like Colin Baker, who apparently had a ten year old colorblind costumer designing for him--quite possibly a Blue Peter competition winner? My eyes!! There's a reason that Colin Baker ended up on the bottom of the Doctor Popularity List, dear readers, and I suspect it had more than a little to do with his idea of Haute Couture, which could burn out the retinas of even the most steadfast and serious of fans. (You'll note I've digressed again.)
I'm telling you, by the time I finished watching this circus of craziness, I needed an eight hour nap to recover, and I didn't even have the rash. Besides the delish Peter Davison and Graeme Harper in the director's chair, I just don't see the attraction here, so I'm depending on you, dear readers, to tell me why this is the most favorite DW story of all time, 'cos I just don't see it. (Hint: Be kind and extra points for being funny! ) Also, please let me know what you think I should watch next from the Classic Who vaults. This past weekend I watched #7 on the Mighty 200 list, Pyramids of Mars. My faith in the Classics has been momentarily restored, so I'm looking for more like that one. There are more like that one right? Tell me there are, please ? Please?
Until next time,
PS: How many times can one writer insert the word "apparently" into one blog? Apparently, quite a few. That's what I get for doing this without an editor.