Friday, March 12, 2010

6R4 - The Caves of Androzani 4

The Caves of Androzani has so much baggage in the form of almost unanimous praise attached to it that it can be difficult to watch it with a clear conscience. In the days and weeks leading up to watching it, I was almost concerned that its legacy would build it up so much and put it on an unreachable pedestal that I would be, after having seen it some 50 times over the course of my life, disappointed and slightly disinterested in this time round. The result? This was the first time I has actually cried while watching it.

It's not as if Androzani is sad or moving or emotional. That's not why I had to fight hard to hold back the tears while watching this on the bus riding to work one morning. Androzani is just quite simply the most powerful, most perfect piece of motion picture entertainment I have ever seen in my entire life. That's a statement not at all bathed in hyperbole, either. I have never felt the same after watching anything 50 times. Ever. If anything, complacency sets in, and it becomes a bit passe. I'm shocked that Androzani continues to do the impossible by actually getting better each time I see it, even after the repeated viewings.

Obviously, a lot of this enduring success is down to Graeme Harper. Upon seeing (and, more importantly, understanding) Androzani, it instantly inspired me to want to work as a television director, or somewhere, anywhere, in the TV industry. Harper's direction is the one element that links all that is spectacular about this story. Directors cast their own actors in those days, so it was Harper who was directly responsible for putting together the finest guest cast ever seen in Doctor Who.

Christopher Gable's Sharaz Jek is the centrepiece of that group, equally scintillating in the scenes where he rants uncontrollably about how Morgus has destroyed his life as he is when he barely manages to expel a tiny whisper. In fact, those two facets follow directly on from one another in Memorable Moment #1,418 in this episode, when, after a blistering rant, he demands of Peri, "Do you think I'm mad?!...I am mad. Do I frighten you?". Gable's work in this is so operatic, and so melodramatic, that in the hands of any other actor, the character of Jek could have fallen apart. We were one step away from Professor Zaroff. Instead, we get television magic.

John Normington's Morgus is wholly despicable, and completely slimy. His greasy nod at Stotz's suggestion to split Jek's stock of spectrox 50/50 betray his real plans. Stotz had better get fitted for his Jek-esque face mask now. Martin Cochrane's Chellak has a melancholic nobility about him that it's his death that seems most tragic of all. Of all the characters in this story, it is possibly Chellak who is mistreated the worst, being betrayed by both his commander (Morgus) and his lieutenant (inadvertently, thanks to the android duplicate of Salateen). Every performance here is note perfect, with a special mention for Nicola Bryant as Peri, who is the damsel in distress for most of this story, but plays it so believably. How could you expect anyone new to interstellar travel to behave any differently in such a scenario?

It's tough to rein in the praise and respect I have for Androzani, but it really is a creative high point in the history of Doctor Who. Even the regeneration sequence (oh, yeah - that. I almost forgot that we lose my favourite Doctor out of all of this) set the standard for the series (not that any subsequent regeneration sequence was at all notable). Androzani is, in my opinion, obviously the best story of the Peter Davison era, and the best story of all time, but it almost doesn't feel right to rank it so highly because it is so different than any other story. Even though it's written by old Who stalwart Robert Holmes in his first script since 1979, it doesn't feel like anything he's written before. Harper's direction is also so shockingly removed from the standard BBC style of production, and so timeless with its minimalist production design, that Androzani almost doesn't belong in Doctor Who.

It's rare that an era in Doctor Who closes out on a high. Even though some of the other Doctor finales like The Tenth Planet and The War Games are quite good and much appreciated now, at the time, it was almost perceived that each Doctor's era was limping to a close in terms of ratings and creativity. The Caves of Androzani is, therefore, a cruel tease of what could have been in more perfect world, but something that would never come again. Vivid direction coupled with a Fifth Doctor-solo companion team - it's something of a rarity in the Peter Davison era, but it's clear that these elements would have turned a very good era into a truly great one.

Even still, hand on heart, if I had to choose one Doctor above them all, it would be Peter Davison. Davison is such a good actor, and his Doctor is the first young Doctor, that his Doctor is really the template on which the new series version of the lead character is based. He is also the first Doctor to leave before his time, in my opinion. We saw all that could be brought to the role with the other actors who played The Doctor. I'm not so sure we had that same opportunity with Davison, an opinion that, after having experience The Caves of Androzani, Peter may have to agree with.

The Peter Davison Era:

Best Story : The Caves of Androzani
Worst Story : Time-Flight
Favourite Story : Enlightenment

On to Colin Baker...


Brackers said...

It's all downhill from here!

(Then up again a bit towards the end).

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