Doctor Who is a long-running British science fiction television series featuring The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey whose adventures see him travel through time and space. Over the years, different actors have starred in the role, and to compensate for the realities of the television business Time Lords were given the ingenious ability to regenerate their bodies when they die.
“The Caves of Androzani” is the 136th story of the Doctor, first broadcast in four parts on March 8th, 9th, 15th, and 16th, 1984, on BBC 1. “Part One” finds the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and companion Perpugilliam (called Peri) Brown (Nicola Bryant), an American college student, who joined in the previous story “Planet of Fire”, landing on the planet Androzani Minor, which is the middle of major political struggle.
Androzani Minor is the source for a drug known as spectrox, which is derived from the planet’s bats. Because of the drug’s ability to increase one’s lifespan, the inhabitants of neighboring Androzani Major have created a great demand for it. Trau Morgus (John Normington) is the businessman in charge of the mining operation. After a revolt led by the masked Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable) and his team of androids has halted production, Morgus sees an opportunity to secretly become a war profiteer by funding both the military operation against Jek and the rebellion led by him.
As they traverse the caves, The Doctor and Peri frequently find themselves a prisoner of one of the sides in the conflict, all of who mistake them for working with their particular enemy. Every time they escape, someone else quickly captures them. Jek also develops feeling for Peri. His masked appearance combined with living underground in the planet’s caves is reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera.
The Doctor and Peri also find themselves growing sick as a result of unknowingly coming into contact with raw spectrox, which has poisoned them. The only anti-toxin can be found in the queen bat’s milk. Obtaining it is all the more difficult as the bats have descended deep into the planet where there is no oxygen.
In polls conducted by Doctor Who Magazine in 2003 and 2009, “The Caves of Androzani” was voted the greatest Doctor Who story by readers. With nearly 800 episodes, I am not sure how anyone can fairly make that determination, but it certainly is a very good episode. What works well is the story by Robert Holmes. It’s not the typical plot of the Doctor coming in and saving the day against obvious villains. The plot is more complex as there isn’t a good guy to root for as all the characters have questionable moral standing. The Doctor’s main focus is saving his new companion from the dire danger he has put her in.
Longtime Whovians will appreciate this episode because it reveals why this Doctor wears a stalk of celery on his lapel; Androzani Major is referenced in the 2011 Christmas episode “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe;” and the adventure’s conclusion, which is likely well known but is better left unmentioned for those who have yet to see it.
As usual, the Special Edition is packed with extras. Davison, Bryant, and director Graeme Harper recorded the commentary track together and their collective joy while reminiscing is evident. “Behind the Scenes: The Regeneration” (8 min), available with optional commentary shows footage of the shooting of the episode’s final scene. Gable does audio commentary on “Behind the Scenes: Creating Sharaz Jek” (5 min) as he talks about the mask and make-up he had to wear as well as the decision behind his vocal delivery. There are three brief Extended Scenes (4 min) with optional commentary on the first by Harper and Davison. These are for completists because they offer little of value. There is also a trailer.
On disc two, “Chain Reaction” (36 min), the episode’s working title, combines modern-day interviews of the cast and crew with archival footage to reveal how the episode was made. Graeme Harper discusses the differences in working on the show over the years on “Directing Who: Then & Now” (12 min). “Russell Harty” (9 min) finds Davison and Sixth Doctor Colin Baker appearing on a British talk show chatting about playing the character shortly after “Part Four” aired. There is also a video Photo Gallery (5 min).
Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani (Special Edition) is well worth exploring for any science fiction fan and is especially deserving of a spot on the video shelf of any Who fan.