It’s been a while since Robert Holmes wrote a Doctor Who script; it’s almost like he’d been saving this one up. It’s an uncharacteristically sophisticated story, mature and quite dark, dealing with themes of corporate corruption, terrorism, betrayal, greed, violence and sacrifice.
That being the case, the silly-looking man-in-a-rubber-suit monster is rather perfunctory. The story doesn’t need the added threat of a creature when the various sides are already ruthlessly butchering each other. Caves of Androzani doesn’t pull any punches; it’s violent when it needs to be, and its large cast of characters are largely dead by the end. If anything, the story is a little too complicated – with everyone backstabbing each other, it took me a while to work out what was going on!
At the heart of the story is Sharaz Jek, who is using his supply of spectrox drug to seek revenge on the man who left him horribly scarred. It would have been more effective if we never got to see his face, just the reaction to it – no amount of makeup can match one’s imagination, after all. Jek is quite a dramatic character, very intense and threatening but, like all good villains, he has a tender side, and seems to develop affection towards Peri, although I’m not quite sure why; did I miss something?
Caves of Androzani is also well made, with some interesting camera angles. I suspect some of it must have been shot handheld to get the dramatic close-ups and awkward angles that you don’t usually see in a video production. The androids’ thermal vision is also a good-looking visual effect, and the Doctor’s two visible hearts a nice touch of detail. Another nice detail is that we finally learn what the Doctor’s piece of celery is for! Poison detection, Gallifrey style. It didn’t save him from the spectrox spores, though.
This was a very good ending for the fifth Doctor, and a thorough test bed for his best qualities to shine through. It’s a shame that this version comes to an end, but I will have some more to say on the fifth Doctor’s character and adventures shortly.