Directed by Graeme Harper
Starring Peter Davidson and Nicola Bryant
The Doctor fights against corporate greed, militarism, and 1980s sci-fi fashion!
The Doctor (Peter Davidson) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) find themselves caught up in the petty resource dispute on the barren planet Androzani Minor. Suspected as spies and caught between the creepy masked man Sharaz Jek and the militant Androzani Major forces, this time-traveling duo finds themselves combating corporate greed in a race against time and a deadly toxin.
“The Caves of Androzani” is the climatic finish to Peter Davidson’s career at the Fifth Doctor. This four-episode story features the Doctor stuck between warring factions, fighting to save not so much the world or all of time, but simply the life of his friend Peri. It’s neat to see the Doctor go through such effort over something more personal. His struggle is more against individual greed, such as the corrupt businessman Morgus, as well as hostile vengeance from Jek and the military. The actors for the most part do a decent job. Davidson’s Doctor is smart and a smart aleck at times, but he’s serious when he needs to be. The mercenary leader is also fun to watch backstab everyone and be a general ass. Sharaz Jek is creepy and Morgus is a great slime ball as he’s meant to be.
From a production stand point, however, this is pretty low tier. The sets are laughably cheap, and despite cleaver tricks, such as wheeled walls to move around to make new “locations,” the cave set in particular still comes off as poor and repetitive. More so, the sense of ‘80s flash added to assumptions of futuristic attire cause a horrible visual clash at times, leading to almost laughable clothing and sets. Most of the budget probably went into monster costuming and special effects, which are still pretty cheap looking but are otherwise decent for the time and budget (which is to say next to nothing).
However, low budgets can be overlooked for good storytelling. Direction often cannot. The camera movement and actor staging is clunky, and years later, director Graeme Harper is more than glad to point out during the commentary how very novice he was. The actors often don’t face each other in conversations, making them seem very staged and unnatural. Odd and sudden close ups from directorial mix ups seem very awkward, as characters randomly talking to the audience tends to disrupt the immersion.
The story is good, and the actors do the best with what they have, but the bad direction choices and cheap feel put a damper on the production.
The Video and Audio
Unfortunately, the show’s age shows. The main feature is presented in its original television broadcast 4:3 fullscreen aspect ratio. That haze you see? That’s not nostalgia. The show really looks as old and low budget as it is, and yet it’s clear enough to see the hokey sets and props. Even worse, at some points, the footage scrolls horizontal lines, as if an error in the recorded playback. Somehow, the footage used in the documentary extras looks better than in the feature, probably thanks to cherry picking what looks best. If you have a pair of VHS nostalgia goggles, you’d better grab them.
The audio, also a product of its time, is in mono, but it’s still decent enough to hear Nicola Bryant forgetting to use an American accent.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This two-disc set is pretty loaded with extras. The second disc is just extras, and the first disc has plenty as it is. There are several documentaries and behind-the-scenes features, making sure you know everything about everything that went into the making of “The Caves of Androzani.” The footage ranges from the period of the original airing (including a television interview with both Doctors of the feature – Peter Davidson and Colin Baker) to modern-day look backs with the cast and crew.
The navigation could be a bit better, as the commentary is hidden under the not-so-obvious “Audio Options.” Once you find it though, it’s worth hearing Peter Davidson, Nicola Bryant and director Graeme Harper reminisce about the shoot and how things have changed since then (and how Holmes keeps pointing out his novice mistakes in his directorial early days).
One unique feature is the isolated score audio mode for the feature, which plays ONLY the score with the footage, not the dialog or sound effects. It goes to show how quiet most of the show is, with scores being far between and often painfully on the nose when they do play.
Overall (Not an Average)
This is actually my first outing into the original Doctor Who television series. I had only seen from the 2005 revival through now, and everything else, I got through Wikipedia and a Whovian of a roommate. One has to keep the period in mind, but even still, this might be rough for some with more modern tastes, spoiled by more recent advances in special and computer-generated effects.
For Who fans though, as well as people interested in the progression of “sci-fi on a budget,” this is a great find. The amount of extras that detail the makings of this work from every aspect will keep you entertained long after the four episodes are done.
The Film 5/10
The Video and Audio 4/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 6.5/10