This story is considered by many fans as the tour-de-force of 1980’s Doctor Who. It is the final regular on-screen appearance for the Fifth Doctor and so is Peter Davison’s last story. It also marks the first appearance of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor and also marks the long-heralded return by writer, and former Doctor Who Script Editor, Robert Holmes to the show.
In the spring of 1983, Script Editor Eric Saward contacted Robert Holmes with the offer to write a story where he would have virtually complete freedom - the only stipulation was that The Doctor would have to regenerate at the story’s end. The story he wrote became "The Caves of Androzani".
This story was the first time Robert Holmes had written for the show since the 1978 Fourth Doctor story "The Power of Kroll", as John Nathan-Turner had been keen to use, wherever possible, writers new to the show.
Robert Holmes created a story outline entitled "Chain Reaction" which was inspired by the 1911 Gaston Leroux novel "The Phantom of the Opera" (in which a mentally unbalanced but brilliant recluse wears a mask to conceal facial disfigurement develops an obsessive fascination with an attractive young woman and eventually abducts her). "The Phantom of the Opera" was also the basis for his earlier 1977 Fourth Doctor story "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"). Another influence for "Chain Reaction" was Frank Herbert’s Dune (where people are killed over a drug that extends life; the unstable ‘tripod of power’ between the rulers of Androzani; the ‘mud blows’ and Androzani Minor's generally arid climate).
In Robert Holmes’ initial scripts The Doctor’s regeneration was a result of wounds from the gunrunners and overall physical exhaustion. Only afterwards was the storyline modified to include The Doctor’s and Peri’s exposure to spectrox toxaemia.
Eric Saward was responsible for two notable additions to Robert Holmes’ scripts. One was the concluding scenes beginning with Peri’s recovery; the other was finally an explanation for The Doctor wearing a stick of celery. In response to a question by Peri, The Doctor reveals that ‘I'm allergic to certain gases in the Praxis range... if the gas is present the celery turns purple’. This allergy however, does not appear to be one shared by any incarnation prior to, or since the Fifth Doctor.
Peter Davison had decided to leave earlier in the year, making this his his third season in the title role. Peter Davison was wary of typecasting, and had been advised by former Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, that three years in the role should be his limit.
After failing to convince Peter Davison to sign on for one more season, Producer John Nathan-Turner decided to have this story specially written as a regeneration story and for it to air as the penultimate story of Season Twenty One, therefore giving Colin Baker, who would become the Sixth Doctor, a story to end the season. The idea being to give the audience a chance to experience the new Doctor before the long break between seasons. This would just be the second time that a regeneration had occurred mid-season (the other being the regeneration from the First Doctor to the Second Doctor, in the 1966 story "The Tenth Planet", in Season Four).
It has though since been revealed that by the time this story was recorded Peter Davison regretted his choice to leave, having enjoyed many of his scripts for Season Twenty One and especially for this story. Peter Davison has stated that this is his favourite story from his three years on the show and that he particularly enjoyed the script by Robert Holmes and working with director Graeme Harper.
Despite having misgivings about leaving the show it was far too late for him to change his decision, given that contracts had already been signed for Colin Baker who had already been announced to the public as the Sixth Doctor. Peter Davison though continued his prolific career after leaving Doctor Who, including roles in Campion, A Very Peculiar Practice, the feature film Black Beauty and a new series of All Creatures Great and Small. Peter Davison returned, in 1993, to play the Fifth Doctor for the Thirtieth-Anniversary Children In Need special "Dimensions in Time", narrated two novelisations of his stories for release as audio tapes, hosted the video special "Daleks - The Early Years", recorded the unreleased "The Davison Years" special, and appeared on many Big Finish Productions Doctor Who audio stories. In October 2007 He even returned to the show to record a scene, alongside the Tenth Doctor, for the Children In Need special story "Time Crash".
The working title for this story was "Chain Reaction". However, it was also given another title, "The Doctor's Wife", but this was actually a ruse by John Nathan-Turner to find out where information leaks were coming from in his office. He was convinced that fans were somehow getting access to information from his office and so he replaced the entry for "The Caves of Androzani" on his planning board with one for a made-up story. It was not long before reports about "The Doctor's Wife" began appearing in the fan press, confirming his suspicions.
The director assigned to this story was Graeme Harper. Graeme Harper had started in the television business as an actor before later deciding he preferred to work behind the cameras. He came to John Nathan-Turner’s attention when he had worked as an assistant director on the 1981 Fourth Doctor story "Warriors' Gate", and in which he had been instrumental in helping that story’s director, Paul Joyce, complete the required scenes. After completing the BBC’s director’s course Graeme Harper worked on the soap opera Angels amongst other productions, before going freelance and being hired by John Nathan-Turner for this story.
It has been reported that Graham Harper had high hopes with regards to the casting for this story, especially with the role of Sharaz Jek and it has been revealed that Christopher Gable was not the first choice to play the part of Sharaz Jek. Among the actors offered the role were Tim Curry (renowned for playing transvestite Doctor Frankenfurter in the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Mick Jagger and even David Bowie! In the end the part went to ballet dancer Christopher Gable, who had originally been approached to play the part of Salateen.
The part of Salateen was played by Robert Glenister. Robert Glenister and Peter Davison had previously played brothers Brian and Steve Webber in the 1980-82 BBC sitcom Sink or Swim.
John Normington (who guest stars as Morgus) later returned to the show as Trevor Sigma in the 1988 Seventh Doctor story "The Happiness Patrol". He also appeared in the 2006 story "Ghost Machine", an episode of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.
One of the soldier extras, played by Steve Wickham, was later to head The Doctor Who Appreciation Society.
After carrying out three days of location filming (at Masters Pit in Wareham, Dorset) in November 1983, studio recording of this story was then interrupted by industrial action - this time by the scenery shifters. John Nathan-Turner therefore decided to allocate the two studio days originally assigned to this story to this season’s final story, "The Twin Dilemma". As a result, recording did not begin until two weeks later, with a three-day session starting on the 15th December.
Other Doctor Who stories adversely affected by the industrial actions of the late 1970s and the 1980s were the 1984 story "Resurrection of the Daleks", which was delayed by a year, and Shada, which was due to be the final story of Season Seventeen but had to be abandoned completely.
Graham Harper however, proved to be a meticulous director, often recording scenes shot-by-shot. As a result, the production soon became badly behind schedule resulting in overruns of fifteen and thirty minutes having to be granted. However, even then it grew apparent that Graham Harper would not be able to complete all the material in time, resulting in two sequences having to be cut. The first was during the opening TARDIS sequence in which The Doctor was to explain to Peri the reason for their visit to Androzani Minor (Apparently, as a boy, The Doctor had started a ‘blown glass bottle collection’ which was made from the sand of different planets. He had lost his Androzani bottle and decided to return there to retrieve some more sand). It was in this scene Peri that was to say ‘You're such a pain, Doctor’. However, when the final cut of the story was made, it was discovered that certain lines of dialogue (like The Doctor professing that ‘I am not a pain and Peri’s comments about needing sand to ‘make some glass’) alluded to the cut sequence. To rectify this, Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant voiced over part of their conversation while the TARDIS materialises from outer space to the planet. The second cut was a major scene from the fourth episode where The Doctor kills the magma beast by tricking it into jumping over the edge of a cliff. However, even with these cuts, recording still finished with only seconds to spare.
The Fifth Doctor’s regeneration, like the Fourth Doctor’s (in the 1981 story "Logopolis"), features a flashback of that incarnation’s companions. However, for the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration, it was decided that special recordings of the Fifth Doctor’s companions would be used instead of stock footage. Aware that so many former cast members would be present for Peter Davison’s wrap party, he asked Eric Saward to script one-line cameo appearances for each of them, to appear as regenerative illusions. Therefore amongst those present on the final studio day were: Matthew Waterhouse (as Adric), Sarah Sutton (as Nyssa), Janet Fielding (as Tegan Jovanka), Mark Strickson (as Vislor Turlough) and Gerald Flood (the voice of Kamelion), as well as Anthony Ainley (as The Master). Initially, it was thought that neither Sarah Sutton (who would have been starring in the theatrical Cinderella had production fallen on its original December date) nor Anthony Ainley would be able to appear. Fortunately, this did not prove to be the case, although Sarah Sutton was suffering from chicken pox at the time.
Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Gerald Flood and Anthony Ainley were already under contract to appear in the stories of Season Twenty One. However, special contracts had to be made for Matthew Waterhouse, who had left the show in Season Nineteen, and Sarah Sutton, who had left in Season Twenty. Johnny Byrne, who created the character of Nyssa (in his 1981 Fourth Doctor story "The Keeper of Traken") also had to be paid royalties for the use of the character in this regeneration scene.
Also present on the last day was the new Doctor, Colin Baker who was due to record his lone scene on this day. This is not Colin Baker’s first appearance in the show as he had previously appeared (playing the part of Commander Maxil) in the 1983 story "Arc of Infinity". Ironically in this earlier story Colin Baker has a scene in which he gets to shoot the Fifth Doctor.
Amusingly it has been revealed that it was discovered that Peter Davison’s trousers would not fit Colin Baker’s portlier frame. Consequently, he performed his sequence with them unbuttoned.
A John Peyre is credited for ‘Design Effects' on the fourth episode. This though is a misspelling of the name of Jean Peyre, a Frenchman who created the matte paintings for the shots where The Doctor travels down to obtain the bat’s milk.
If the pre-companion appearance of Nyssa in "The Keeper of Traken" is discounted, this story marks the first occasion since 1977 Fourth Doctor story "Horror of Fang Rock" that The Doctor has spent a complete adventure with only a single companion.
In this story it is revealed that Spectrox is the ‘most valuable substance in the universe’. The raw substance contains a toxic chemical similar to mustard nitrogen. Once refined, it halts the ageing process and offers ‘at least twice the normal life span’. However, Spectrox toxaemia causes cramp, spasms, slow paralysis of the thoracic spinal nerve and finally thermal death. The cure (which contains an anti-vesicant) is the milk of the queen bat discovered by one Professor Jackij.
It seems that The Doctor has been to at least one of the planets of Androzani before, in an untelevised adventure, as he is heard to state that he has been ‘this way before’. He is also heard to say that Androzani Minor ‘hasn't changed’.
Morgus is (or was, before being deposed by Timmin) ‘the richest man in the Five Planets, chairman of the Sirius Conglomerate and a descendant of the first colonists.
It is believed by many fans that when The Doctor is in the control room of Stotz’s space ship, he apparently has a premonition of his coming regeneration when he sees the same patterns as at the story’s conclusion.
The only characters who do not die during this story are Peri and Timmin, both of whom are female. Every male character is seen to die - apart from The Doctor (who does but then regenerates into the Sixth Doctor). The Salateen android is not seen to be destroyed on-screen, but it is not definitely shown as surviving this story’s events (Also it is debatable whether an android would count as being ‘alive’ in the first place).
This story contains a number of errors. Namely: despite the title of this story, The Doctor notes that the caves are in fact blowholes; Peri is seen to bounce after slipping down the cliff-face in the first episode (obviously caused by Nicola Bryant, or her stunt double, hitting a safety cushion of some kind); Krau Timmin’s handheld computer is clearly a television remote control; in the android’s view of The Doctor, his hearts are clearly outside his coat; the sound of the machine guns firing interferes badly with the image on screen. While he is in his office, the character of Morgus frequently breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to camera. This arose through actor John Normington misunderstanding a stage direction; When Stotz eventually cuts through the door the polystyrene is visible on the fake door; When the Fifth Doctor says his last word his mouth did not seem to move.
Peter Davison has joked on several occasions of how he felt ‘upstaged’ by Nicola Bryant (who played Peri) in his last major scene as The Doctor. Before the regeneration hallucination occurs, the Fifth Doctor is seen lying on the floor and his head is resting by Peri, who is kneeling beside him. As he is delivering his last few lines, Nicola Bryant’s loose fitting outfit prominently displays her cleavage.
Despite this distraction The Doctor’s last word is: ‘Adric?’.
This story leads straight into "The Twin Dilemma" and has the Sixth Doctor going through a brief period where he subconsciously blames Peri for his previous self’s death. He tries to distance himself from her while telling himself he’s working towards a greater good, until he finally realises this in the Virgin Books’ The Missing Adventures novel "Burning Heart" written by Dave Stone.
The closing title sequence, in the final episode, included specially-crafted closing titles, featuring the face of Colin Baker, as the Sixth Doctor, and then listing him prior to Peter Davison. This was the first and, to date, only time that the new lead received top billing in the final story of an outgoing Doctor.
Part of Big Finish Productions’ audio story "Circular Time" takes place during/in the lead up to The Doctor’s regeneration – this audio story also gives a much more intimate version of the events at the end of this story.
In the Virgin Books’ The New Adventures novel "Timewyrm: Revelation", written by Paul Cornell, it is revealed that after the Fifth Doctor dies he becomes the mental personification of The Doctor's conscience, but is buried by the Seventh Doctor following his regeneration.
In the BBC Books’ The Past Doctors Stories novel "Matrix", written by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker, an alternate timeline is referenced where the influence of the Dark Matrix - wielded by the Valeyard, The Doctor’s dark future self - provokes the Fifth Doctor to take the bat’s milk himself while leaving Peri to die, turning the Fifth Doctor into a wraith loyal to the Valeyard until the Valeyard’s influence is undone by the Seventh Doctor.
This story was repeated on BBC2 in February and March 1993.
This story was released as the accompanying DVD with issue 36 of the Doctor Who DVD Files in May 2010.
In 2003, in the 40th Anniversary Doctor Who Magazine poll, "The Caves of Androzani" was voted the best Doctor Who story of all time.
In 2009 this accolade was repeated with "The Caves of Androzani" coming ahead of the 2007 Tenth Doctor story "Blink" and the 1975 Fourth Doctor story "Genesis of the Daleks". It was the only Fifth Doctor story to feature in the top ten (the Fourth Doctor had 5 entries while the Ninth Doctor and the Tenth Doctor had 2 each). Earlier in 1998, in a similar poll, this story came third.
Colin Baker's first appearance as the Sixth Doctor.
The first, and only, Doctor Who story where the new lead received top billing in the final story of an outgoing Doctor.
The first Doctor Who story to be directed by Graeme Harper.