The Fifth Doctor (4): The Caves of Androzani – “Feels Different This Time”
In my last post I reflected that The Caves of Androzani felt like the natural conclusion to the darkness of Season 21. And for all that some commentators have suggested Robert Holmes is writing for a generic Doctor rather than the fifth, this seems disingenuous given how well the story wraps up the concerns of the era. We’ve already seen how the Doctor has never really got over Adric’s death – and his final word makes that absolutely clear. But there’s more to it than that.
Warriors of the Deep ends with a damaged Doctor wishing he could have resolved the story without killing all of the Silurians. Resurrection of the Daleks’ bloodbath concludes with him resolving to mend his ways. Even on Sarn, his action (or inaction) results in Kamelion’s destruction and the Master’s apparent death. So, by the time of The Caves of Androzani the fifth Doctor has very much become damaged goods. Then on Androzani Minor he finds yet another planet populated by the kind of amoral soldiers he met on Seabase 4 and Davros’s prison ship. All the pieces are in place for another story where “there should have been another way”, where the Doctor is once again forced to stoop to the level of his enemies in order to survive.
And what’s interesting is that Robert Holmes – that cynical, mordant writer – looks at Saward’s cruel world of mercenaries, guns and massacres, and he rejects it wholesale. He has the fifth Doctor refuse to engage with the narrative. He makes no attempts at mediation, giving orders, taking charge or persuading people to make noble gestures of sacrifice. All the Doctor wants to do is to take Peri away from this dreadful place.
This in itself is astonishing. We haven’t seen the Doctor quite so detached from the horrors around him since the Hartnell historicals – and The Caves of Androzani does have a similar tone to The Massacre. It looks at what happens when the Doctor refuses to play his part in the story. There’s a hole where he is supposed to be, sorting all this out. And because it’s a Doctor-sized hole, it exerts such gravity that the rest of the narrative collapses in.
What Holmes suggests is the Doctor has taken the decision to “mend his ways” by not getting involved in the violence – not even to ask Jek for help in curing Peri’s spectrox toxaemia. Their survival will be thanks to the Doctor’s noble self-sacrifice alone, not bargaining with self-serving monsters. Maintaining his own morals when the rest of the world has abandoned theirs is to be this Doctor’s salvation. It kills him, of course.
Saward, sometimes it seems to his own horror, suggests that only a more “robust” Doctor, willing to carry a gun and kill, can survive in a hostile universe – even if that means everyone dies. Holmes goes to the opposite extreme by having the Doctor conscientiously refuse to participate in Saward’s world, saving Peri and redeeming himself in the process. And that, Holmes implies, should have been an end to this particular dead-end of storytelling. Sadly, it’s not. In the next two seasons, time and again Saward’s more “robust” Doctor arrives in equally cynical surroundings, resorts to violence, and to an extent, every story ends with “there should have been another way”.
Tragically, Saward never works out what it might be.