12 October 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 650: The Caves of Androzani, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve been banging on for the last couple of days about the way the Doctor is being put through the wringer in this story, and this final episode doesn’t disappoint in holding that tradition up! I love that we spend the full episode with him in a state so unlike we’re used to seeing - with a cut on his head, and his costume caked in mud and blood. The Doctor has never looked so out of his depth and lost before, but by the same token, he’s never looked this determined, either. This really has to be Peter Davison’s finest hour in the role - do you remember through Season Nineteen, when I used to track the way his performance was evolving while he worked out how to play the part? He’s been on good form for ages now, but this episode is probably where it really clicks for him… just in time for him to die!

I’ve not really mentioned the direction of this story all that much so far, because I’ve been waiting to bring it up at the end here. Grahame Harper remains the only director who worked on the ‘classic’ series who came back to do work on the 21st century version, too. It’s not hard to see why when you’re watching something like The Caves of Androzani, and you can really see the skill that he’s putting into everything. There’s no end of little moments that I could pick out - like the scene in Episode One where Morgus has a conversation with Chellak on a kind of video screen. It’s almost become the bread-and-butter of futuristic Doctor Who stories, and we’ve seen characters video-conferencing like this since the Hartnell days of the programme, but Harper has managed to find a new and unique way of shooting it - including the back of Chellak’s head for reverse-shots! As I say, a simple thing, but something which really does stand out as being different.

Then there’s today’s episode, and particularly the chase of the Doctor across the barren landscape. It’s possibly the finest moment of the story, and I have to admit that I was gripped throughout. Thankfully, Harper manages to then take this interest and hold it in place for the rest of the episode. When the Doctor’s journeying through the tunnels to find the bat’s milk, it feels tense. In the back of my mind, I know there’s not long left in the episode, and we’ve still got to fit the regeneration in there somewhere… there’s a real energy to it and it almost makes you feel a bit sick, just knowing how much the Doctor is up against the clock. Truly, masterfully done.

Of course, though, the crowning moment comes in the form of the regeneration. As with all of them throughout the programme’s run, I’ve seen this scene more times than I’ve seen any individual episode of Doctor Who. Every line, and ever beat of every line, is burnt onto my memory. That said, it really is no substitute for watching the action in context - not only with the rest of the story, but the 649 days that have led me to this moment. I’ve already praised Davison’s performance today, but it really does bear repeating - because his absolute finest moment comes as he lay dying on the floor here.

There’s been debates for years about how the Big Finish audios giving Peri more adventures with the Fifth Doctor between Planet of Fire and this story can lessen the impact that he’s given his life to save this girl he’s only just met. I have to admit that I prefer the idea that they’ve not spent much time together, but it’s because I think the Doctor is feeling incredibly bitter here. There’s one exchange in particular which has always felt a little bit scary to me:

PERI
Where is it?

DOCTOR
What?

PERI
The bat's milk!

DOCTOR
Finished. Only enough for you.

There’s a hint - just the tiniest hint - of resentment in the way that Davison delivers that final line. There’s almost shades of the Tenth Doctor’s rage at having to give his life to save Wilf, having already survived saving the entire world. It’s not explicit, and I think that works to its advantage - the Fifth Doctor isn’t a man who would outwardly resent having to give his life for another person. Indeed, of all the Doctors to date, I think he’s the one who would most willingly do so to save another (just take Mawdryn Undead as an example, where he refuses to give up his remaining regenerations, until he knows that Nyssa and Tegan are in danger), but still, I like that in his final seconds, he’s allowed to have just that tiny bit of anger, just tucked away under the surface.

Speaking of Nyssa and Tegan… here they are! And Turlough, Kameleon, and Adric, too! This is my favourite example of the classic companions coming back to hall will the Doctor on into his new life, and there’s something really rather poignant about Adric being there, and being the Doctor’s final word. It’s great to see them all again - albeit briefly - and I love the way that they all pop up out of his mouth! The Master puts in an appearance, also, and he’s possibly never been more terrifying than he is here! willing the Doctor to his death… yeah, that’s rather smart.

And that’s it! The Fifth Doctor has taken his final bow, and we’re off on some more colourful adventures with the Sixth Doctor from tomorrow. It’s all change, again, and it’s… well, it’s come around rather quickly! You’ll find my ‘Fifth Doctor Overview’ post further up the news page here on Doctor Who Online. 

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