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Is “Caves of Androzani” really that good?

February 19, 2015



Yes it is.

Not only does it offer Peter Davison’s best performance, but it is a story written especially  for Peter Davison’s Doctor.  This swansong tells us more about the Fifth Doctor (heartbreakingly late in the day) than most of the preceding season.  We finally get an explanation for the whole celery thing, to be sure, but we also get the apotheosis of a kind of quiet nobility that has been the key to the success of the Fifth doctor’s characterisation from the outset.  The Fifth Doctor is someone who would rather absorb suffering than inflict it.  Peter Davison owns this story and  it is impossible to imagine any other incarnation of the Doctor realising this very painful and bitter narrative.

The world(s) of Androzani is as bitter and nasty as Robert Holmes has ever imagined.  The forces of Law and Order and the forces of criminal insurgency are not merely equally morally bankrupt, they have forgotten that such a thing as moral capital has ever existed in the first place.  The dream of everlasting life – perpetual youth – has resulted in a murderous plutocrat monopolising the supply of the one commodity that guarantees it – a commodity which, in its raw form, is slowly killing the Doctor and Peri.

Thirty years on, Holmes’ bitter imagination seems more plausible and prescient than ever.  We have the drugs available, today, right now, in the early twenty-first century,  to save any number of human lives, but the pharmaceutical giants who own the rights to these drugs spend millions on patent tweaking just so that the prices are kept artificially high.

If Spectrox were to be discovered tomorrow, its development would follow Holmes’ script to the letter.  Hardly anyone would get to use it.  Its supply would be ruthlessly (actually brutally) controlled – all so that a handful of billionaires could become trillionaires.

Peter Davison’s Doctor, meanwhile, is in his truest element – a lonely yet defiant representative of decency in a degraded universe.

It’s one thing to see the Doctor zapped, blasted, or pushed out of a window – but to see a Doctor die slowly and painfully over the course of a four week story is peculiarly cruel.  He eventually sacrifices his life (or one of his lives – though he’s very uncertain as to whether he’ll actually get to regenerate) on behalf of a companion who has only just arrived.  Peri, who wants to travel and see new things has, as her first adventure with the Doctor, the experience of subterranean incarceration and crippling pain.

The Fifth Doctor departs much like the reported exit of the Thane of Cawdor at the beginning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it”.  Or he’s like Sydney Carton at the end of Tale of Two Cities.  There’s a peculiar and poignant sense that just has we had fully appreciated the full flowering of the Fifth Doctor’s essential goodness, he’s to be taken from us.  And to be replaced by someone who will prove far harder to love.  Poor Peri.


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