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DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Caves of Androzani Special Edition

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Now on DVD from the BBC is Doctor Who‘s “The Caves of Adrozani” Special Edition. Broadcast in 1984 and voted the best Doctor Who story ever by fans in both 2003 and 2009, “The Caves of Ardozani” finds the Doctor (Peter Davison, the fifth actor to play the role) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) landing smack dab in the middle of a war. Trapped as they are between gun runners and drug dealers, there is the added threat of poison that is slowly killing the pair. And only one of them survives the ordeal.

Yep, that’s right. “The Caves of Ardozani” features the last regular appearance of Davison’s Doctor, who regenerates into the sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) at the end of the four-part adventure. It is an emotional scene, with the Doctor dying right in front of Peri, only to awaken again seconds later. It’s even better, when one considers how many old companions recorded new content for the special effect that goes with the event. The monumental sequence is the subject of an eight-minute extra on the DVD, which can be viewed with or without commentary, and it is mentioned in multiple other extras as well. Surely, as big as the events of “The Caves of Ardozani” are, no element of the story is more important than the finale.

But before that happens, plenty else must occur. The battle that the Doctor and Peri drop into is raging between General Chellak (Martin Cochrane, Specials) and Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable, The Boy Friend). Chellak has control of the caves, and has an army to back him up. But Jek has control of the planet’s precious resource, which lengthens life, and he has many androids to protect him. Adding to the power struggle is a duplicitous politician named Morgus (John Normington), who is comfortable playing with others as his personal pawns, and who has no problem assassinating presidents to get his way.

Which means that the struggle within “The Caves of Androzani” is multi-layered, and has many players. Each of these characters has his or her own motivations and goals, making for a very full two hours. There are officers who serve Chellak, as well as gunrunners who also come into play. As such, the story is complicated and intricate.

Almost too much so, in this reviewer’s opinion. If one does not give “The Caves of Androzani” one’s full attention, it may be hard to follow along. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Jek willingly makes android copies of others, including the Doctor and Peri, and thus, it’s hard to trust that any character is real at any given time. It’s barely-contained chaos that can end in no other way that destruction and death. Which is exactly what happens to the caves, and to almost all of the guest stars.

Folded within this action-packed serial is a very touching story about the Doctor’s affection for Peri. Other companions become dear to the Doctor over the years, but surely this relationship ranks among the strongest. Peri is poisoned, and is about to die. The Doctor rescues her, but escapes with only enough antidote for one of them, and he is also ailing. The Doctor’s death is a heroic sacrifice, giving over his own life so that Peri may live on. The knowledge that he will regenerate does not take away from this at all.

Which is why “The Caves of Adrozani” is a great story, but not the best, despite what the polls say. It has a lot of wonderful things in it, but the many, twisty characters, not so clearly defined, hurt it a little, just because there is so much wedged into a relatively small amount of time. Well, that, and really cheesy giant bat costumes don’t exactly help, either. But the acting is terrific, except, arguably, that done by Bryant herself.

Adding another layer to the already busy story is Jek himself. He is a lonely, tormented soul. He has a beef with Chellak, and his reasons for the conflict are personal. But he is not without care for others. For instance, he develops a very deep, somewhat creepy, bond with Peri. It’s almost a Phantom of the Opera type of relationship that they share. But in the end, he contributes to saving her life, rather than hurting her, so he’s an all right guy.

Considering that this release is a Special Edition, there are plenty of extras included, more than enough to make this DVD worthy of your hard-earned money. A commentary for the story is here, featuring Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, and the director, Graeme Harper. Hearing from the people who were actually on set is thrilling, and all three add a lot to the history and understanding to the episode.

In fact, many of those who worked on “The Caves of Androzani” are still alive, and are featured in the various special features. A 36-minute extra called “Chain Reaction” interviews a number of them about their experience with this particular story, which was originally titled “Chain Reaction.” Harper gets his own 12-minute interview, in which he dwells on directing both this serial, and a modern Doctor Who tale from the current reboot. Five minutes are devoted to the creation of Sharaz Jek, who was almost played by several of today’s well-known icons. Old talks with Davison and Colin Baker are present. Plus, there is a photo gallery, extended scenes, and PDF materials.

In short, this is a great Doctor Who story, and even if you have already purchased it on DVD, this release adds a lot to the tale. For anyone interested in the best of Classic Who, and how it got made, this is a set for you.

Doctor Who “The Caves of Adrozani” Special Edition is available for sale now.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com