Checking out Classic Who: The Caves of Androzani

The Caves of Androzani is one of the darkest Doctor Who stories I’ve ever seen.  It’s also one of the best. Peter Davison, who was the Doctor for three seasons and during the twentieth anniversary, decided to leave in 1984. It was time for another regeneration story. The show’s ability to change both in front and behind the camera was one of the many reasons why it had stayed on the air for over 20 years.

The Doctor and Peri land on Androzani Minor, where they’re met with a barren sandscape. Peri had only come aboard the TARDIS the story before, so she’s still new to traveling with the Doctor. There’s not much to look at on Androzani Minor, but interestingly there is some fused silica from a spaceship landing and a sled track. Someone was here recently and the Doctor wants to follow the tracks. It turns out to be a near fatal decision. 

Nothing but sand and rocks. (image credit)

Once inside one of the caves, The Doctor and Peri wander around for a bit. It’s not long before Peri slips and falls into a large egg, plastering her leg with strange stinging goo. The Doctor gets some on his hand trying to wipe it off. They think nothing of it and continue exploring. Peri asks the Doctor why he’s wearing a celery stalk, something fans had been wondering since the Fifth Doctor found his outfit back in his first story. Turns out the vegetable is an excellent restorative, and can detect certain gases.

When they stumble upon a cache of weapons, The Doctor realizes there’s something larger happening on Androzani Minor. Unfortunately the military arrive and arrest the Doctor and Peri as suspected gun runners. Once Trau Morgus, the businessman who is funding the military operation, sees The Doctor and Peri, he orders their execution. He doesn’t give them a chance to explain or defend themselves.  Part One of The Caves of Androzani ends on an excellent cliffhanger with the Fifth Doctor and Peri in front of a firing squad.

The Doctor and Peri before their execution with General Chellak (image credit)

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Sharaz Jek takes a liking to Peri and saves her and the Doctor. Chellak and his men shoot androids instead. However it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Time Lord and his companion. Sharaz Jek likes Peri so much he wants her to stay with him forever. Needless to say, he’s a bit unstable. He has been trapped in the mines for the last few years, fighting Morgus and his military operation with a bunch of androids. Jek blames the business leader for backstabbing him and wants revenge.

While “guests” of Sharaz Jek’s, The Doctor discovers the stinging goo that Peri encountered earlier was not harmless. In its natural unrefined state, spectrox is toxic to humans. Refined, it prolongs life and is all the rage on Androzani Major. Trau Morgus is in the spectrox refining business and desperately wants to get at Sharaz Jek’s stache of the chemical.

Peri Brown, The Doctor, and Sharaz Jek (image credit)

The clock is ticking down for the Time Lord and his companion. The Doctor must find a way to get the cure to spectrox toxemia before it’s too late. He must escape not only Sharaz Jek’s lair, but also find a way out of the conflict between Jek, Morgus and Chellak. The Doctor is pushed to his limit and nearly broken. All seems lost as the simmering conflict explodes into an all out battle. Somehow he manages to get the cure and Peri back to the TARDIS before it’s too late. But there’s only enough for his companion. As she recovers, the Fifth Doctor feels himself fading away. At the very last minute he regenerates into the Sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker.

The Caves of Androzani is highly regarded by Doctor Who fans. In 2009, to celebrate 200 televised stories of Doctor Who, Doctor Who Magazine conducted a poll asking fans to rank the episodes, and the Fifth Doctor’s story finished at number one. Five years later, the magazine conducted another poll after the Eleventh Doctor had finished his run, and The Caves of Androzani was number four. Ahead of it was “Day of the Doctor,” the 50th anniversary, “Blink,” and Genesis of the Daleks.

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One thought on “Checking out Classic Who: The Caves of Androzani

  1. That Robert Holmes knew how to write Doctor Who. Indeed, anybody looking for an introduction to Doctor Who (1963-1989) could do much worse than track down all of his stories.

    True, there’s the odd blip (hello, Power of Kroll!) but otherwise it’s easy to see why his reputation has never wavered over the decades, even when other writers and eras have gone in and out of fashion.

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