Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Graeme Harper
Starring: Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant
- Commentary with Davison, Bryant, and Harper
- Behind-the-Scenes footage
- Pop-up production notes
- BBC Trailers and news features
- Music-only audio track
- Photo gallery
- “Who’s Who” actor bios
Released by: BBC Video
Rating: NR, suitable for audiences 12+
Anamorphic: N/A; presented in original 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio
My Advice: Rent it.
[ad#longpost]This story, the farewell performance of Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor, sees the Doctor and his companion Peri (Bryant) mixed up in a conflict between gun-runners and a corrupt society governed by big business. The chief income of these businesses relies on the trade of Spectrox, a substance that, when refined, has amazing rejuvenative properties, keeping the people of Androzani young and fit well into their eighth decade. Having blundered into the middle of this situation unawares, the Doctor and Peri are taken into custody as suspected gun-runners, arming the rebellion that has brought Spectrox production to a standstill.
While the military plans their execution, they are kidnapped by the android forces of Sharaz Jek, the masked mad scientist behind the rebellion. Having fallen from the proverbial frying pan into the proverbial fire, the Doctor also discovers that he and Peri have been exposed to raw Spectrox, which is fatal within days. While the battles rage, the Doctor must keep himself and Peri out of the crossfire long enough to find a cure and escape the madness.
While the plot seems labrynthine, it comes across fairly well. All the turns, twists, and betrayals serve to create an entertaining story, and the performance of Davison is top-notch. The only real hitch in the performances belong to a corrupt businessman, who has an annoying habit of breaking the fourth wall, and the military second-in-command, who has an annoying habit of over-acting.
This story, unreliant on previous knowledge of the Doctor or his universe, makes a good first introduction to these stories. The only fact an uninformed watcher requires to make full sense of the story is the Doctor’s mysterious regenerative capabilities, which have allowed him to cheat death and the producers of the series to cheat various actors in the role. Davison was the youngest of the Doctors, and also perhaps the least sardonic. His performance is an interesting contrast to that of Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy, both of whom have a definite edge to their portrayal of the character.
The DVD presentation is excellent, loaded with extras and information about the production itself and the series in general. The various clips from BBC news are interesting, as they discuss the impending departure of Davison, and speculate on his replacement. With a show running past its twentieth year, it was a definite news item any time the current Doctor prepared to leave the show. I’d be interested to see similar discussions from the departure of the other Doctors.
The production notes are impressive, even a bit daunting. A nearly constant flood of information about the show, the story, its cast and crew, and its place in the Doctor Who canon serves to give newbies a crash course in the Who universe, and give veterans plenty of trivia to argue about later. But a word of warning to viewers bottle-fed on Star Wars and various other high-budget sci-fi movies and shows – Doctor Who has never been known for its lavish effects or impressive visuals. The show is about story, and the presentation takes a back seat. This can be a bit disconcerting to American audiences, the first time a cheesy rubber-suited monster comes lumbering out of the shadows. But if you don’t need flashy effects to entertain you, and you like science fiction, The Caves of Androzani is for you.