Our review of Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani: Special Edition, published February 24th, 2012, is also available.
The second wave of the long-running British science-fiction series makes its way to DVD with the final episode of the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. This 1984 story is considered by many to be this Doctor's finest offering. "The Caves of Androzani" is a solid story—for the series—that yields an excellent farewell for the fair-haired Doctor.
Facts of the Case
For those of you unfamiliar with Doctor Who, here's a quick synopsis. Doctor Who started in England in 1963. It follows the exploits of a time-traveler called the Doctor who enjoys sticking his nose into other people's business. His time machine looks like a British police call box (a phone booth for police) from the '60s. The Doctor has a fondness for Earth, especially England, and picks up traveling companions (usually women) from the various planets he visits along the way. As the show did run on BBC for 27 seasons, the same actor did not always portray the Doctor (just like James Bond changes from time to time). In an interesting twist, the Doctor, being an alien from Gallifrey, has the ability to "regenerate" when he is seriously wounded. This allows him to get a new lease on life (and change actors when they get bored). Throughout the series' life, seven actors have portrayed the Doctor (and yes, for those of you in the know, we'll not mention the "eighth" Doctor). And, being British, the show was shown in a decidedly odd fashion: it was serialized. Thus, one story is composed of, on average, three to six "episodes." Each episode lasts about 25 minutes and one episode per week was shown on BBC. Thus, it would take a month to see one complete story.
With that out of the way, this story marks the final appearance of the fifth Doctor. The Doctor and his hottie companion Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown decide to make a visit to the planet Androzani Minor to pick up some sand to satisfy the Doctor's glass blowing hobby (those goofy Brits!). While there, they stumble into an interplanetary conflict involving the "most valuable substance in the universe": spectrox. Upon arrival, the Doctor senses something is amiss and they trek into the local caves. Almost immediately, they stumble into a raw spectrox nest that quickly infects them with spectrox toxemia—an almost incurable, fatal disease. They do not realize the severity of their situation and become embroiled in the battle over spectrox. Sharaz Jek and his android rebels have taken over the spectrox mines, but General Chellak, under orders from Morgus, fights to quell the insurgents. What is Morgus, the richest man in the five planets, really trying to accomplish? Why does he keep talking to himself? Will Chellak regain the mines or will Jek and his androids maintain control of the spectrox? Why is spectrox so valuable? And will the Doctor and Peri die?
Doctor Who is an acquired taste. While this story is considered one of the fifth Doctor's best, in the grand scheme of television, the story is pretty weak. However, for Whovians everywhere, this story is excellent: a brisk story, solid acting, a silly monster in a rubber suit, and a regeneration sequence. As a Whovian myself, I enjoyed this episode a great deal, especially because of said regeneration. But looking at this story from 1984 in the light of 2002, it really is quite a silly thing. The BBC never gave Doctor Who a lot of money (any money, even) to create the show so the sets, the monsters, and the show in general have a very cheap feel to it: walls wobble, futuristic equipment looks like World War I surplus, and terrifying monsters look ridiculous in their bulky rubber suits. Yet this is part of the appeal of the Doctor. You began to ignore the cheap sets and terrible special effects and instead focus on the story. Over time, you learned a lot about the Doctor and his motivations and you cared about him. You hoped that he would save the day and make the universe a better place. And when all seemed lost, you knew he would pull through. But this time, the Doctor is dying and everything is going against him from the start. Will he regenerate? Will he save Peri? It's this tension that saves this episode.
Time Warner decided to release this batch of DVDs in the British serialized fashion. Thus, you watch the opening credits, see an episode, watch the closing credits, then watch the opening credits again, get a one-minute recap of the end of the last episode, watch the next episode, then see the closing credits, and so on for all four episodes. It would have been much preferable to present it "Americanized" where it's just one nice hour and a half story.
And in this second release of DVDs, they have included a fair number of supplements to make the discs special—though I wouldn't call them a special edition by any sort…but it does have more material on it than "The 5 Doctors Special Edition" DVD released last year. Go figure.
Keeping in mind how cheaply this show was done, the transfer to DVD is quite good. The Doctor never looked so good is his 4:3 format. This is absolutely non-reference quality, but a very clean image. While the film is often grainy and soft, the colors are reproduced well except for blacks, which are blurred and muted—which is sad as this story is set in the caves of Androzani. But, this isn't the fault of the DVD but in the source material. Presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital only, "Caves" does sound quite good for the time. I deeply wish the story would have been remixed to 5.1 like "The 5 Doctors Special Edition," but the audio contained on the DVD is better than any feed from TV (if you can still find it on TV in your area).
What supplements are offered? Like the pockets in the Doctor's trench coat, there are a striking variety of things to be found. Most important of all the supplements is the audio commentary featuring Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), and Graeme Harper (the director of the story). For the most part, this is a lively and entertaining discussion featuring lots of great details about Doctor Who and the "Caves'" story. Unfortunately, there are times when they are all quiet for just a touch too long, and Nicola overall is subdued and doesn't offer much to the commentary. I did have a problem with the commentary track in that it turned itself off at the end of each episode, and I had to turn it back on again.
Also included is an Information Text option that places related info on the subtitle track. While informative, there are many gaps when there is no information and a few times the text duplicates thing already stated in the audio commentary. Nonetheless, in my humble opinion, the informative text option should become standard fare for all DVDs. This is a great place to put information, especially when no one wants to do a commentary.
What else is there? Lots! There's a seven minute documentary called "Behind the Scenes: The Regeneration." This gives the viewer some insight into how the scene was filmed. You see alternate angles of the shot—though not necessarily focused on the actors—and you get to hear the producer and director do their thing with the actors. Though you'll only watch it once, it's interesting. Note that there is a bonus audio commentary track with Peter, Graeme, and Nicola. This commentary is not listed on the packaging or on the menu. The commentary on the feature is not exceptional, but it's always nice to get additional information from those involved.
Then you have an "Extended Scene." It adds a small touch to the mercenaries' story arc, but nothing more. Not sure why we had to watch the entire scene for the extra minute. The feature also has a bonus audio commentary track with Peter, Graeme, and Nicola (which, again, is listed neither on the packaging nor on the menu). Again, not much information is shared in the short time, but I appreciate their effort in recording the track.
Next you get the "Original Opening Sequence." What this shows is the sequence with its original, terrible special effects shot. For the DVD, they spent a few bucks and cleaned up the opening matte shots, but gave you the chance to see how bad it really was. If, from above, you think there's another bonus audio track for this special feature, you would be wrong. While it does look like there is a bonus track, it is simply the "main" commentary track that plays; however, that switches off about ten seconds after the opening credits.
Following is the five-minute "Creating Sharaz Jek" narrated by the actor who portrays Jek in the story. He talks about the difficulties with his makeup and costume and what he did to breathe life into his character.
We then get to see a five-minute "Live on Five" type story from the BBC's "South East at Six" discussing the upcoming departure of Peter Davison from the series. It also includes the hideous John Nathan Turner (famed director of Doctor Who). The question to ask is: why is John hideous? Is it because of the loud Hawaiian shirt, or because of the ugly beard, or because it's simply John? Only Whovians can answer that!
Rounding out the disc are a BBC trailer for the original broadcast, a couple snippets of BBC newscasts talking about the fifth Doctor leaving the show, a "Who's Who" of the actors in the episode, a Photo Gallery (which oddly fixates on Sharaz Jek), and an audio option for isolated music only.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
You want me to watch some silly British science fiction story? I can't even skip the FBI warning nor the Time Warner or BBC logos before I get to the menu, so I'm already frustrated. What an awful show with bad acting, lousy scripts, ridiculous effects, and poor lighting. But that Peri girl sure looks good in that bikini top and shorts!
If you are a fan of Doctor Who and enjoyed the fifth Doctor, then you already own this disc. Otherwise, this type of show is not for the casually interested as there is a lot of history behind each episode. That being said, if you have a chance and it's on PBS in your city, give the ole Doc a try. It's bad but in such a good way. If nothing else, feel free to give this disc a rent.
Time Warner is fined for not allowing us to skip the intros getting to the menu (a pet peeve of mine). They're also lightly fined for presenting the story serialized and not including any captioning. Ignoring that, they are absolved of all wrongdoings for just bringing the Doctor to DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary
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