‘Our genius has been abused.’ So, the climax of this boils down to the Doctor learning Mestor’s true plan and deciding to assassinate him with poison. He’s only prevented from doing so by Mestor’s mind powers, at which point Mestor informs the Doctor he intends to transfer his brain into the Doctor’s body, but before doing so he will demonstrate what he’s about to do by transferring his brain into Azmael’s body. The Doctor then dissolves Mestor’s old body with acid (another Season 21 death by gloop), and Azmael commits suicide.
‘It’s called compassion Doctor, it’s the difference that remains between us.’ Steven Moffat did the whole ‘She cares so I don’t have to’ storyline with Peter Capaldi and I like this about the same. In principle, the idea of the Doctor going bad is workable – The Invasion of Time showed that. But the regeneration has already disrupted normality enough, and, thanks to the decision to end the season with this, there are only four episodes to establish the new reality. So, keeping the audience so uncertain about the new Doctor for so long is a risky gamble.
‘If it’s a question of his life or mine…’ Better than the previous episode because the bad bits are just bad rather than horrible. The Doctor is still behaving like an idiot – for example, hiding behind Peri when he’s threatened by a Jacondan – but this is largely played for (and works as) comedy. There’s nothing grisly like the assault in Part One. He’s starting to settle as a character who does everything at the extreme – extreme enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of exploring somewhere new; delight at re-meeting Azmael and reminiscing about their drunken exploits. Baker does well with all of this, but he’s basically been asked to play a very annoying person. The contrast with the insouciant fifth Doctor is deliberate and extends to every part of the new Doctor’s look and personality. The common thread between them is a certain brusqueness towards their companions.
‘I never saw anyone who loved himself so much.’ The new Doctor’s era begins with a burst of colour, each sparkle and each spangle in the title sequence in glorious neon, the slightly kinked logo a sort of luminous purple. It sets the scene perfectly for a story that’s bright and bold unlike the hallmark pinkish greys and beiges of the Davison stories. The Sylvest family look like they live in a set from a kids’ TV show. This makes a striking contrast to the grimdark of Androzani, and with the introduction of two Adrics, capable of manipulating reality with their maths, surely it’s going to be twice as good.
‘Not enough time.’ There’s a line of thought that suggests The Caves of Androzani succeeds because it was written with Tom Baker’s Doctor (or even a generic Doctor) in mind, and that Davison is essentially playing a different character than in the last 65 episodes. I don’t really buy that: everything the fifth Doctor does here feels like a natural endpoint for his character. We’ve seen the single-minded determination in the face of disbelief and suspicion, in Snakedance; we’ve seen him rail against the petty obsessions of villains, and breezy insouciance in the face of mortal danger. Here, with the stakes raised, all those elements are upped – but they aren’t unlike anything in Davison’s previous performance. He even gets to do something useful with the celery, and his costume finally proves its real value as perfect camouflage on the 86% of planets that look like Dorset sandpits.
‘When I ask a question I do not expect flippancy.’ Sharaz Jek is a truly frightening villain, as insane as Hindle, filled with hatred and motivated almost entirely by vengeance. Like many of Robert Holmes’ previous villains he has a nice line in vitriolic peroration: ‘To think that I, Sharaz Jek, who once mixed with the highest in the land, am now dependent on the very dregs of society, the base perverted scum who contaminate everything they touch’ is very much like ‘I, Morbius, who once led the High Council of the Time Lords and dreamed the greatest dreams in history, now reduced to this, to a condition where I envy a vegetable.’ But he’s more frightening than most because he’s so unpredictable, suddenly turning on the Doctor to strike him in the middle of a conversation with Stotz. ‘I am mad,’ he tells Peri: and I believe him.
‘Your sense of humour will be the death of you, Doctor. Probably quite soon.’ Davison’s performance in this is subtly different; his insouciance and sarcasm are more pronounced than ever. I have the weird sense watching this of it feeling like the movie version of a British sitcom, where the characters are familiar but seem strange because everything is a bit more definitive. I suppose this is Davison’s final statement on his Doctor, he was enthused by the script, and is putting in even more than usual.
‘These people are the lowest type of human being. One only has to look at them to realise the extent of their depravity.’ Trying to put myself in the shoes of “Joe Public” rather than someone who’s known for years this is one of the all-time classics, it’s very much of a piece with Season 21. There are dour military types in grey coveralls with coloured flashes, poison gas, gloomy caves, lots of tough dialogue, and a monster that’s only better than the Myrka by virtue of being less exposed. This is absolutely not exceptional.
‘Quickly, to the ruin!’ Like Resurrection of the Daleks, this has two plots that have no thematic or character link between them: the Master finding a way to restore himself; Turlough forced to blow his cover, turn to his own people and return home to face the music. Of the two, the latter should be the most interesting: finally understanding who Turlough is and why he’s constantly nervous (if the Trion network of agents track him down, he’s for the high jump): it could have been one of the best companion send-offs because it actually pays off the mystery of the character.
‘The Master must have precipitated an eruption.’ You can tell this is a post-Return of the Jedi story because suddenly everything’s about fathers and brothers. Turlough’s discovery of his own brother means that we’ve met family for every JNT companion (and he introduced Sarah Jane’s auntie, too) compared to none bar Leela’s dad for pretty much any previous era. At the end of this it’ll be a surprise if the Master doesn’t turn out to be the Doctor’s secret brother.