Sunday 7 June 2020

Inspirations - The Caves of Androzani

When he took over the Script Editor role on Doctor Who, Eric Saward had the opportunity to look back at tapes of earlier stories. One writer in particular stood out for him - Robert Holmes. Saward enjoyed his stories, and the stories he had script edited (often at the same time). When it came to finding someone to write the 20th anniversary story, it made sense to find someone who knew the programme's history well, and who was a great writer to boot. Producer JNT remained resistant to using writers or directors from before he took over, but was talked round, and this is why Robert Holmes was commissioned to write "The Six Doctors". We all know that that story didn't work out in the end, but Saward was determined still to work with Holmes.
One of the reasons Holmes had been so successful was because of his borrowings from popular books and films, adapting their themes to suit the Doctor Who format. Films which he had borrowed elements of included The Manchurian Candidate, The Beast With Five Fingers, Forbidden Planet and various Universal and Hammer horror titles; whilst books he had been inspired by ranged from The Phantom of the Opera to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He even borrowed from his own earlier works. The Krotons was adapted from an unproduced generic science fiction story which he hoped would form part of the Out of the Unknown TV series, whilst he used elements from his 1960's low budget sci-fi picture Invasion for Spearhead from Space. It was mostly to his own work that he looked when he devised the storyline for The Caves of Androzani.

The Doctor and companion arrive on the smaller of twinned worlds - the larger of which is densely populated with colonists. There is something on the smaller world which the people on the larger planet want. The Doctor encounters a colonial party from the larger planet on the smaller one, who are in the middle of a conflict. A gun-runner is arming the anti-colonial force, but is secretly working for one of the colonial people (the villain of the story). The villain wants to keep the conflict going so that he can wipe out the anti-colonial force. There is a monster on the smaller world, hiding in the depths. The monster has been added to the story at the behest of the producer, but the writer is more interested in the conflict. The writer is Robert Holmes.
That could be a synopsis of two stories - this one and The Power of Kroll. Holmes had never been very happy with his second story for Season 16, which had been commissioned as a late addition after other stories had fallen through. Clearly he felt that some of his ideas were wasted on it, and this story allowed him to reuse them in a more satisfying manner.
Kroll isn't the only Holmes story which he looks to. The idea of a General who is not as clever as he thinks he is, who has a far more intelligent second-in-command could refer to Chellak and Salateen here, but it could equally be a description of General Hermack and Major Warne in The Space Pirates.
The villain betrayed by his own blonde-haired assistant? Could be Morgus and Krau Timmin, or it could be Gatherer Hade and his underling Marne, from The Sun Makers.
Holmes had borrowed from Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera for his villain Magnus Greel in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and he does it again here with Sharaz Jek, this time bringing the unrequited love story aspect as well (Jek's obsession with Peri mirrors the Phantom's for Christine).
The appearance of the masked protagonist isn't just borrowed from another source - it is a wholesale steal. This is Sharaz Jek:

And this is an image of a Nubian tribesman from the Sudan, taken by photographer Leni Riefenstal in the 1960's:

As you can see, the monochrome patterning isn't just similar - it's identical.
The story plays out like a Jacobean revenge tragedy, wherein characters are driven by greed, anger and revenge which ultimately destroys the characters who would normally be expected to survive a drama. The only character who does not suffer here is the peripheral character of Timmin, who actually comes out of it richer and more powerful. Her ruthlessness suggests that Androzani Major won't be a happier place with Morgus out of the way. Every other character, including the relatively sympathetic General Chellak, perishes by the end. Only Peri makes it out alive, but she has spent most of the story sick and in captivity, lusted over by Jek. Even the Doctor fails to make it out alive, as this is Peter Davison's final story. He is forced to regenerate at the conclusion - a death of sorts. (This is even more of a tragedy, in hindsight, as the nice, likeable Doctor will be replaced by a rather unlikeable incarnation).

One of Morgus' traits is to turn and appear to address some of his comments directly to camera, as if he's colluding directly wit the audience. Again, this is something you'd see in stage drama, and apparently it came about because of a misunderstanding. Director Graeme Harper had asked hi to address comments just off camera, but John Normington misheard him and looked directly into the camera. Harper actually liked this, feeling it added to the performance, and so kept it going.
The last inspiration came from the director. In order to make the regeneration more dramatic, Harper was inspired by a Beatles song - A Day in the Life - which ends with a weird cacophony of sound.
The series had featured fan-pleasing clips from earlier stories since JNT took over, for flashback scenes and the like. For the regeneration scene it was decided not to use old clips of all the Davison companions, but instead to get everyone in to record special inserts. They were invited to Davison's farewell party later that evening anyway.
As well as all the companions, we also get a cameo of Anthony Ainley's Master, who has been the recurring villain of Davison's era.
Davison has subsequently stated, jokingly, that he felt his death scene was upstaged by Nicola Bryant's chest. Colin Baker, meanwhile, has always said that he hated his blink. He wanted to stare fixedly into camera for his first words as the Doctor.
Next time: from the sublime to the ridiculous. A story which has often topped the polls is followed immediately by the one that usually sits on the bottom...

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