Wednesday, May 21, 2008

view from the panopticon- caves of androzani

5-19-06 “The Caves of Androzani”

“Curiosity’s always been my downfall.” –The Doctor

I’ve got to say I’ve joined the masses on this one a long time ago. It’s another Robert Holmes piece, and he is almost infallible as a writer for Who (I think). I’ve said before that regeneration episodes are generally a cut above the rest, and here’s one of the best (in my opinion, obviously). I think its success is due to a few factors, those being the characters, who are mostly a collection of baddies who get it in the end (it is a Holmes piece, after all!), and it presents such a noble Doctor who saves Peri—whiny, infantile, but decent enough Peri—by giving his own life.

Well, we were just on a planet of fire—why not have a planet of hot, molten mud? I have to wonder where they filmed the above-ground sequences in this serial—it’s quite good—I thought it was stock footage of Utah at first, but now I’m wondering if it was Morocco. And I really have to ask—why caves, ALL THE TIME? Is it because it’s easy to create not-very-convincing sets of caves? Oh well. I like Stotz and his men’s costumes—very believably guerilla; as Doctor Who: Regeneration says, “five minutes into the future.” The costumes (by Andrew Rose) of the characters on Androzani Major remind me very much of Star Trek, I don’t know why. Chellak’s men are somewhat more bland and boring, and Sharaz Jek . . . gets a paragraph to himself later on.

I really like the ending to episode one—the Doctor and Peri apparently get killed by firing squad! There are some other interesting touches in this serial. Some interesting camera angles in the scene where Krauper confronts Stotz on the surface. I like the design of Jek’s androids, and the cool sub-dermal view of the Doctor’s two hearts. There’s some fairly good music by Roger Limb. Alas, the mud blasts and the mud creature (a precursor to the Tetraps, perhaps?) are sadly unconvincing.

I’m touched by a kind of sadness for both the Doctor and Peri in the fact they were barely getting to know each other before he has to die and turn into some awful egotistical maniac (though we all know I love the Sixth Doctor, bless him). The first few scenes with the two of them, notwithstanding Peri’s brattiness, were really rather nice. Some snappy dialogue, including, “Sarcasm is not your strong point, Peri,” and Peri’s perceptive, “Is this wise, I ask myself . . .” I especially like “You’re a very confusing person to be with, do you know that, Doctor?” “That’s the trouble with time travel—one never seems to find the time.”

What I was saying about the interesting characters applies mostly to Sharaz Jek (see the paragraph later on), Trau Morgus, and Stotz (General Chellak and Salateen, to a lesser extent). Though John Norrington characterizes Morgus in the first scene as a bit too camp, the character straightens out a bit later and is deliciously evil—not one of those meglomaniacs intent on ruling the universe; he just wants his Spectrox and when he gets caught, he’s determined to make the most of it. This seems very real to me. Stotz is like the mirror image of Morgus, a parallel Holmes is certainly aware of when he pairs the two in the last episode. I like Stotz a lot, even if he does murder his own men and pretty much everyone else—it’s probably because I like Maurice Roeves from Last of the Mohicans. Again, like Morgus, he seems very real—you could easily meet a mercenary like him on Earth, not to mention the rest of the universe. I think Chellak is a slightly boring but necessary character—Morgus calls him “obtuse but loyal”—and that the actor was doing the best with a limited role that he could. Meanwhile, Salateen freaks me out—android or human. First, the actor’s comb over is atrocious. He’s just creepy, as an android that doesn’t blink, or a human who laughs at the Doctor and Peri’s Spectrox poisoning. But again, I think he acts fairly justifiably on the whole. Timmin also gets a shout out because of her very funny betrayal of Morgus at the end: “I wish that was all I didn’t like about you.”

As for Sharaz Jek . . . “Caves of Androzani” was one of the first Doctor Who serials I watched in the post-child-behind-sofa period in my life, and right away I picked up on the parallels between Sharaz Jek and the Phantom of the Opera. Now I’ve reconsidered and find Jek more like V from V for Vendetta than Erik the Phantom, though I have no idea if Robert Holmes ever read the comic. Doctor Who has a plethora of masked villains who were burned in fires (in Talons of Weng-Chiang, Vengeance on Varos, just to name a few) and I suspect the entire British nation until 1988 only ever watched the 1943 Phantom of the Opera with Claude Raines who started the whole acid-splashing. That would explain why Jek seems more like a combination of the Claude Raines Phantom and V. I have to say, after all the masks I’ve seen in my life, I do like Jek’s here. The costume, in its black leather-ness, is very reminiscent of V, minus the hat and sword. Like V, Jek blames a man in power, who is currently controlling the people of his government, for his physical deformity. Like V, Jek lives underground and rather than composing music, like Erik, he does more practical things—build androids, control the wonder-drug for a community, and dream of the day he can revenge himself on the man who ruined his life. Like Erik and V, he values beauty. Though V may not have androids as bodyguards, the fact he asks the population of London to look like him is another connection. Jek is undeniably a genius—he says he was once a doctor—and undeniably driven crazy by his hermetic lifestyle.

The interactions between Jek, Peri, and the Doctor, though sometimes daubed in melodrama, are some of the highlights of the story. The rivalry and distrust between the Doctor and Jek are worse than the Ninth Doctor and Jack Harkness, and a lot more mean-tempered. Jek’s reference to the Doctor as “the stimulus of a mind nearly equal to my own” is hilarious and makes the Doctor quite angry. “Beauty I must have,” Jek snaps, “but you are dispensable, Doctor.” Then he says one of my favorite lines from the show on a whole, “You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes, but your eyes . . . they tell a different story.” I think Jek has certainly got a point with, “Your sense of humor will be the death of you.” But when Jek’s pathetic, he gets very Phantom-like. “You want to see the face under here?” he bellows to Peri. “Even I can’t bear to see or touch myself. . . . Why do you think I live here underground with androids? Because androids do not see as we see!” “I’ve lived so long in these caves alone like an animal. . . . I want to forget the pain and blackness inside my mind” (which seems to directly anticipate Susan Kay’s Phantom). Peri in this sense lacks even the depth of Christine, because she never even seems to pity her “Phantom”—she is frightened of him from start to finish. Granted, he does paw at her hair in way that’s kind of disgusting—but she reacts the tried-and-true way when his mask is torn off (though I guess it’s partially his fault since he crawled up to her). Her scream sets up his scream, which sounds a lot like being scalded (à la Earl Carpenter’s version of “Stranger Than You Dreamt It”?) and he’s very Phantom-y about it, down to the reptile-like crawling away. Christopher Gable is a bit over-the-top with the part, though I suspect it may be Holmes’ writing, as well. But I have to admit a fondness for the character. He even gives a laugh to rival Michael Crawford’s.

All things considered, Peri copes pretty well in this serial. She doesn’t do a lot that’s constructive, but she does spend most of it infected with Spectrox poisoning and getting attacked and imprisoned, not to mention molested by Sharaz Jek. I have to admit she holds up pretty well. I can’t actually see Rose acting too much differently. “We’ve got another hour to live,” she says, and for a second I wonder if she’s going to kiss him. Then my mind gets out of the gutter, and the Doctor apologizes for getting her into this mess. To her credit, she replies, “It’s as much my fault as yours.” She does, however, perpetrate one of the Great Falls of All Time, up there with Sarah Jane and Adric: right into a Spectrox nest. The Doctor’s response is a rather cold, “Don’t fall into any more.” “I thought you knew everything,” she comments—who said she was so bad at sarcasm?

The Doctor is very harassed in this story (“Why is it no one believes me?!”) and does a lot of physical exertion. He does, at last, explain the celery on his lapel: “Does it offend you?” No, but it’s good for people’s teeth. I love how annoyed he is by Chellak’s pig-headedness and his response, “Well-done . . . sir.” The Doctor’s never loved authority, especially self-important authority. It is interesting to me that the Doctor is always accused to working for an enemy faction in a civil war or complicated situation—not just in the series, but in the books, in everything. It really shows how paranoid everyone participating in some kind of subterfuge really is. I love the end of episode three, in which he’s trying to crash land Stotz’ ship: “I’m not going to let you stop me now!” That’s more passion than we’ve seen this Doctor display since . . . Just kidding. And the Doctor gets to join the majority of his companions and fall down. It looks rather painful, too. Poor Doctor. I wonder about the Doctor’s comment, “We’re all quite innocent, you know”: Peri’s the only one out of most of the cast who survives. Even the Doctor “dies.” Perhaps she is the only one who’s “innocent”—the Doctor has certainly had his share of sins. It’s sad and yet fitting that his last words are, “Adric . . .” And the Sixth Doctor comes in with style: “Change, Peri, and not a moment too soon . . .” The regeneration scene is, on the whole, very good.

The Doctor says to Stotz, when Stotz blindfolds him not to see Morgus, “Is there something wrong with his face or mine”? This is a theme that seems to crop up through this serial as a whole. There’s something wrong with Jek’s face, for sure . . . The Doctor trades faces at the end. Salateen’s face is a lie, and Peri’s face seems to be the only reason Jek is interested in possessing her at all (although the legs and cleavage no doubt contribute). Morgus presents one face to the President and quite another to Timmin. Caves are where we hide, or where something clandestine is going on. The underground has always symbolized the unconscious in the Phantom mythos.

I don’t know if it’s the Phantom fan in me or what, but I enjoy this story a lot.

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