The Caves Of Androzani
By Fiona Moore And Alan Stevens
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 305
"The Caves of Androzani" was broadcast between 8th and the 16th of March 1984, thus ending eighteen days before Winston Smith began his fateful diary in George Orwell's best-known novel. While the two facts may seem totally unrelated, there is if nothing else a spiritual connection between Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel about a future England dominated by a totalitarian government, and the Doctor Who story, a tale about a distant planetary system dominated by an all-encompassing business conglomerate. An examination of the themes and subtexts contained in "The Caves of Androzani" will reveal the story's many influences, and in so doing demonstrate that Robert Holmes at his best is every bit as complex and insightful a writer as Orwell or Victor Hugo.
"The Caves of Androzani" both consolidated the character of Peri (Nicola Bryant) as companion and brought to an end Peter Davison's tenure as the Doctor. Written by ex-Doctor Who script-editor Robert Holmes, and directed by Graeme Harper, this tale is regarded as not just the finest story of the Davison era, but one of the greatest the programme was ever to produce. It is then somewhat ironic that "Androzani" bears little resemblance to the rest of the Davison period, and harks back more to Holmes' own work during early to mid Tom Baker. It is also rather revealing to discover that Holmes found the fifth Doctor's character difficult to interpret, and so instead wrote the part as if it were for his predecessor. Undoubtedly, this high quality script coupled with Harper's energetic direction, contributed greatly towards boosting Davison's performance, as he shows a confidence in the role which had up until this point, sadly eluded him.
As with many of the best Doctor Who stories, we are thrown into "Androzani" in media res. We are introduced to the- quasi-Orwellian- society of Androzani Major, led in theory by the President who is in charge of the Presidium (a collective legislative body along the lines of a parliament or assembly). The main political force on Major, however, is the Sirius Conglomerate, led by Trau Morgus: this is an organization, resembling the East India Company, which spans five planets and controls many industries, including copper mining and, most importantly, the collection and refinement of spectrox (a parallel to the East India Company's opium trading). We discover early on that Morgus has the Presidium "in his pocket," with a number of his people in its membership. More than this, however, we soon learn that Morgus has the power of life and death over more than just the Presidium.
Spectrox, the most profitable product of the Sirius Conglomerate, is a drug made from the excretions of a species of bat living on the (Conglomerate-owned) planet of Androzani Minor. Refined, this substance can, according to the President, prolong youth and "[offer] us at least twice normal life span" (it does not appear to restore youth, however, but simply to retard aging). Sharaz Jek later informs the audience that spectrox can give eternal life. Why, then, the discrepancy between the President's and Jek's accounts? It would appear, from this and other hints within the dialogue, that the Conglomerate is cutting the spectrox with another substance. The reasons for this are evident: first, resources (it would be very expensive to provide eternal life for an entire society; the implication is that only the wealthy had access to spectrox even when it was relatively plentiful); second, ambition (eternal life, as the story of the vampire child Claudia in Interview With The Vampire demonstrates, makes for a lack of incentive to achieve anything). The most important reason, however, is one of advertising. If people have eternal youth, they will take it for granted; if, however, they age slowly and subtly, they retain the fear of aging and death, making them aware of how much they rely on the Conglomerate. Consequently, the Conglomerate gives their clientele just enough of the drug to keep them happy, but not enough for them to lose the fear.
The spectrox business is, furthermore, the main cause of the conflict into which the viewers find themselves launched. Morgus, about thirty years ago (judging by the fact that the President has been taking spectrox for approximately this amount of time), worked with a man named Sharaz Jek. Jek either discovered the spectrox itself or a means of refining it, with Morgus, according to Jek's account, supplying him with resources. Once spectrox became a viable product, Morgus arranged to kill Jek by giving him faulty detection equipment, which did not warn him of an upcoming mudburst; Jek took refuge in a baking chamber and survived, albeit horribly scalded. Subsequently, Jek vanishes from the picture. What he does in the intervening time we do not know; he seems to stay on Minor (as alluded to in his remarks about living in the company of androids), and spends at least some of this time amassing resources and building a base.
Six months prior to the beginning of the story, Jek struck, taking over the androids used in spectrox production (as raw spectrox is toxic, androids are used to harvest it). This "android rebellion," as it is slightly inaccurately known, has the effect of reducing the spectrox supply, endangering the industry (as the bats are now dying off due to the destruction of their habitat in the conflict) and plunging Major into chaos. The President, in his exchange with Morgus, is distressed due to having missed three weeks of the drug; five years, the length of time Jek believes he is capable of maintaining his position, would be intolerable. Jek's action thus causes more than economic consternation, and leaves us with a planet's population outwardly stable, but inwardly fighting literally for life.
The first and most influential figure we meet on Major is Morgus. From the very beginning, it is plain that he is a man in control; his opening scene shows him dealing with a problem of overproduction at a copper mine which is bringing down the market, echoing his later economic finagling with the spectrox supply. He is at least thirty years older than he looks, and it is a safe bet that his "private stock" of spectrox is unadulterated. Morgus is a poker-faced man who makes frequent asides, apparently to the camera (a device drawn from Jacobean drama which Holmes makes use of elsewhere, most notably in his Blake's 7 story "Gambit"); Morgus is thus, in a sense, our guide to the politics of Androzani. And a politician Morgus is. Morgus uses different sorts of language, depending on the occasion; high rhetoric with the President, blunter language with the gunrunner Stotz, patriotic platitudes with General Chellak. His speech upon seeing the Doctor and Peri is a minute of pure political cant. However, it is delivered without feeling, in a monotone. Morgus is thus a businessman and a politician, but one with a strong awareness of the superficiality of politics.
The President, by contrast, is more of an orator. He is correct in his remark that the difference between Morgus and himself is that the President's interest is in the mood of the people and Morgus' in the balance sheet; he must appear more sincere than Morgus. At the same time, he too makes use of political rhetoric to cover a multitude of sins, suggesting that he find excuses to justify Morgus' cruel but economically profitable treatment of the unemployed. Both of these, however, also point up the President as a man controlled by the Conglomerate; he would rather appease Morgus than dissuade him from his actions, and it is plain that, when it comes to spectrox, the people are willing to be ruled by the balance sheet.
The President's expostulation upon witnessing the Doctor and Peri's seeming execution is perhaps the most telling moment with regard to the character. After the President denounces gunrunners as "filthy little swine" with apparent feeling, Morgus gives him a speculative look; while the President seems to mean his idealistic words, Morgus appears to suspect him of putting on a show. Later, Morgus is not surprised by his conclusion, based on the apparent evidence that the President has been plotting against him. To the viewer, however, it indicates that the President, for all his political savvy in many ways, is capable of being outmaneuvered by Morgus, which shortly proves to be the case.
The final character whom we meet on Major is Krau Timmin, Morgus' P.A. Initially, she appears to be a subordinate of and sounding board for her employer. However, it is soon obvious that she knows a lot about his work: to judge by the things which she reveals in her final scene, she has been working for him for a long time. Time enough, apparently, for him to come to rely on her loyalty more than that of any other. In the scene in which they take the lift together, their conversation reveals that they both know the true reason for the Doctor and Peri's death sentence. Similarly, when Morgus kills the President and lies to Timmin (his face, significantly, turned away from her), she plays along with his lie, but at the same time their exchange of platitudes is perfunctory, suggesting that they both know the truth of the situation and the necessity of maintaining the facade. Finally, however, at the end of the story Timmin exposes her employer to the Presidium and takes over his business; for too long he has taken her and her loyalty for granted. Like Jek himself, Timmin has been waiting for many years to make her move.
It is also interesting to consider the "war" being fought on Androzani Minor. At first glance, this appears to be a neat, self-contained situation barely worthy of the name; a battle in a foreign land, with the brave boys of Major (partly funded, significantly, by the Conglomerate) against a group of local upstarts, like the numerous colonial "wars" of the British Empire. There is, however, a secret random element, in that the arms for the insurrectionists are being supplied from Major (it is later revealed that the Conglomerate are stabbing their own in the back, which is strangely preminiscent of the Iran-Contra Affair scandal, which also involved allegations that the CIA was trafficking in drugs to support their activities, that would erupt two years after "Androzani" was screened).
The "warfare" rhetoric also has a parallel in recent political language (to say nothing, of course, of Orwell's "newspeak"): while, for instance, the Northern Ireland conflict could easily have been called a war, the government of the UK referred to it as "terrorism" to minimise the sense of threat. By contrast, American politicians frequently use the word "war" in questionable contexts (e.g. "the war on drugs," "the war on terror") to give their actions more weight, rally the population and appeal to patriotism. In a similar way, by calling the conflict on Minor a "war," Morgus and the Presidium can enforce emergency measures with regard to prices and supplies, kill political enemies indiscriminately without trial, and, most importantly, use propaganda to maintain a sense of patriotism and avoid the revelation that arms are being supplied from Major. We also see this in the way in which the enemy are referred to as "android rebels," led by "that evil renegade"; it emphasises the nonhuman element of the opposition, and makes Jek appear an antisocial element. This, it would seem, is the reason for the Doctor and Peri being executed "under the red cloth," a method reserved for military executions- presumably a way of dressing up the killing of prisoners of war, but in this case also a way of maintaining the fiction that the operation is a war, with two sides and a code of honour. Note also that Morgus wishes that the execution could be publicly broadcast. The way in which the war is discussed on Major therefore echoes real-life wartime political machination.
The portrait we get of Androzani Major is thus of a corrupt society, controlled by a Conglomerate and embroiled in a war which is actually of its own making. True to life, however, this setup is one, which reveals increasingly complex levels of operation, hidden beneath a veneer of propaganda and expediency.
On Androzani Minor, the situation is more brutal and down-to-earth. The military scenario is well portrayed, with much attention given to details of structure and procedure from (ex-policeman and ex-serviceman) Holmes. Major Salateen, for instance, is smarter than Chellak (although ironically, he is not as clever as his android double); however, he still defers to him without resentment, as is the case in military situations with strict hierarchies. Chellak, for his part, respects his subordinate's intelligence, following his suggestions on how to deal with the Salateen Android, because Salateen keeps to his place. Among the soldiers and gunrunners, we have a variety of accents and speech styles; rather than having all characters in a story speak in Received Pronunciation, regional accents and RP are used to delineate different groups in Androzani society. The military setup is thus as detailed as the political one.
On the face of it, the situation on Minor seems to be a case of two sides with opposing allegiances and agendas. The army force, with clean uniforms, hard-hats and RP-voiced officers, report to Morgus; the gunrunners, with their khaki drill, Afrikaans names and regional accents, report to Jek. The army maintains a complex hierarchy which operates without mutiny or apparent conflict; the gunrunners, by contrast, have a simpler hierarchy, and their first scene on location is one of an almost animalistic dominance contest between Krelper and Stotz. The army force boasts an unintelligent leader with an intelligent second-in-command; the gunrunners have an intelligent leader with a clearly dense lieutenant. Both sides, however, hunting each other through the muddy, stony, artificially-lit tunnels and utilitarian headquarters of Minor, seem far removed from the action in the luxurious offices on Major.
The introduction of the Doctor and Peri forces a number of these hidden alliances to the surface. It is often said in reviews of "The Caves of Androzani" that the Doctor is peripheral to the action and effectively a victim of circumstance; looking at the story, however, it is apparent that not only is the Doctor the one whose actions show those of the others in their true light- he is motivated by selflessness rather than greed or hatred- but it is himself and Peri who tip this delicate balance of spying out of kilter. The initial title for the story was in fact "Chain Reaction", reflecting the impact which the simple event of the Doctor and Peri's arrival has on the volatile political situation. Salateen's escape (motivated by Jek's kidnapping of the travellers, and ending his tacit compliance in the balance of power) means that Chellak discovers the connections between himself and Jek; the Salateen Android's discovery of his double means that it also knows that Chellak knows. Similarly, the sight of the Doctor in the gunrunners' spacecraft frightens Morgus into abandoning Chellak and revealing his alliance with the gunrunners, irreparably splitting Stotz' team. Chellak, for his part, is now actively feeding Morgus false information on the advice of Salateen, working against Morgus in order to defeat Jek; little realising the effect which this will have on Morgus' plans. Peri, similarly, betrays the army's plans to Jek despite her loathing for him; as neither side are in her experience any better than the other, she stands more of a chance of survival if she is seen to side with Jek, who at least wants to keep her alive for longer than the army does.
At the end of the story, the alliances have broken down, as have the barriers between them. Morgus goes on the run with Stotz, Timmin takes over from her boss, and Chellak, Morgus and Stotz all severally turn on Sharaz Jek, making attempts to kill him, and the Salateen Android returns to its maker and embraces him in death. Interestingly, although things have clearly collapsed on Major as well, we see the situation only from the ground level on Minor. The symbolic reasons for this are plain; the connections between the groups have been exposed, the safeguards on the system (such as Salateen and the President) destroyed, the social order has broken down and everything plunged into chaos. Naturally, this breakdown is seen from Minor, the planet of mess and mud and rockfalls (which significantly chooses now to erupt), as opposed to Major, the planet of violet skies and beautiful offices.
The situation on Minor is thus one of delicate balances of information and intelligence, which are disrupted by the entrance of the Doctor and Peri. As the story progresses, the viewer witnesses the gradual breakdown of order, ending with the possibility of a new, post-conflict but equally politically fraught society with Timmin as the new Chairman and Chief Director of the Sirius Conglomerate.
3. Sharaz Jek
At the centre of this web of intrigue is Morgus' former business associate Sharaz Jek. Jek's actions, which influence so much of the narrative, are almost entirely driven by a desire for revenge. He is attacking the Conglomerate, but exhibits no signs of wanting to take it over or make a profit from it; a man who shuns human company would make a poor Chairman indeed. Jek shows no desire to leave the caves, even to become the most powerful man within the five planets; his remark to Peri that "after a few years you will be quite content living here with me," appears to indicate that he has no plans to go elsewhere. Jek is thus attacking the Conglomerate not for reasons of greed or politics, but of revenge on Morgus.
It is also significant that, as noted above, Jek has waited about thirty years to bring his plan to fruition. Jek was once "comely" and apparently something of a narcissist (as evidenced in his near-pathological self-obsession); the loss of his looks must have struck a blow at the core of his being. Thirty years gives the Conglomerate time to become well established, a dependency on spectrox among its clientele likewise, and Morgus to reach the height of his power. Jek's attack consequently hits Morgus where it hurts- the source of his money and influence. Morgus snatched the fruits of Jek's labours away from him before he had a chance to enjoy them; now Jek is doing the same to Morgus.
The strength of Jek's feeling is apparent in his self-loathing speech to Peri when he is forced to tell her that Stotz has taken the Doctor prisoner. It becomes clear that Jek is in a heightened emotional state, and also that he is not talking about the Doctor and Stotz so much as himself and Morgus: the description of Jek's associates as paranoid, with "petty little minds infested with distrust and suspicion," reflects Morgus more than it does Stotz. Jek is even willing to destroy himself to get to Morgus; he is not unaware that the environmental destruction of the war is killing the bats, which produce the spectrox, but seemingly does not care. When threatened by Morgus and Stotz, he cries out, "Do you think bullets will stop me now?" and indeed, they do not prevent him from exacting retribution. Jek thus lives for revenge in all senses of the word.
Jek is therefore a character who draws on the vengeful figures of Jacobean tragedy, biding their time, even going into exile, in the pursuit of revenge. Similarly, he also bears a resemblance to the monstrous, obsessed characters in Gothic literature; there are echoes of both Shelley's Frankenstein and Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but the most notable parallel is with the protagonist of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, and specifically its interpretation in the Lon Chaney silent film, as a genius who spent years in the sewers of Paris concocting schemes and preparing to set his plans in motion. More facetiously, one might note the links between Jek and the protagonist of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a sinister figure who builds himself a man for companionship and then sets his sights on corrupting an innocent couple who wander into his realm (interestingly, not only was Tim Curry initially approached to play Sharaz Jek, but when we first see the character it is as a set of disembodied lips, resembling the opening of Rocky Horror). However, there is one other aspect to such stories: the obvious salacious themes of Rocky Horror aside, The Phantom of the Opera is of course a tale of sexual obsession between a deformed genius and a beautiful woman.
Jek, when we meet him, is a lonely man. He craves the company of beautiful and intelligent people; consequently, he keeps with him Salateen, a good-looking and clever man kidnapped from the army detachment. There is an undoubted strategic advantage in replacing Salateen with an android; as we have seen, however, it is riskier to keep the real one around afterwards. Jek's relationship with Salateen is apparently nonphysical, but the same can be said of his planned relationship with Peri: "Even I can't bear to see or touch myself," Jek declares. For Jek, beauty is more important than intelligence, and female beauty to male beauty. In the all-male world of Androzani Minor (and even Major seems to be short on women in positions of power), Jek is willing to form an attachment with Salateen, but once the Doctor and Peri arrive, Salateen senses that his days are numbered.
Jek's feelings for both characters are, however, possessive ones. Jek likens Peri to a precious jewel; he strokes the TV screen which shows an image of her face. Part of the attraction of Salateen must surely be the fact that Jek made an android duplicate of him. Jek reveals that he was a medical doctor before his interests turned to android construction; in other words, he gave up the healing of living people for the study of fake ones. And yet, in the end, it is the real Salateen Jek wants, not the android; he could easily have constructed another, but he does not. Similarly, there is no question for him of building an android Peri, which will permanently replace the genuine article. Jek wants to have real people around him, and yet at the same time he wants to possess them, as he possesses the androids and the spectrox supply.
Jek's appearance is also significant. His outfit recalls leather- and rubber-fetishist gear-- the mask and hood lending an even more kinky air to the ensemble-- symbolising both his twisted sexuality and his sense of confinement (interestingly, another well-known actor up for the part was David Bowie). Jek's left hand is scalded; in literature and film, the left side symbolises the sinister (see, for instance, Blake's 7's Travis). Jek's mask deliberately recalls a skull, making him also the dealer of death. Hence Jek's appearance shows him for what he truly is.
Jek's mask, however, reveals another aspect of the production; its artistic antecedents. The fact that his mask is based on an African one references the Expressionist movement, which popularised African art in Europe; Expressionists were also obsessed with themes of twisted sexuality, madness and anguish. As well as exhibiting African art, Expressionists- particularly the German school- showed displays of mental patients' artwork and produced paintings based on the aftermath of WWI. Jek also references, as do many if not all mad-scientist characters, Fritz Lang's tragic villain Rotwang (Metropolis), a sexually obsessed man missing a hand, who is unable to touch the object of his desire and designs a robot based on her appearance in order to compensate for it.
Although superficial resemblances have been suggested between Jek and another deformed Holmes villain, Magnus Greel, better parallels might be drawn between Jek and the character in Doctor Who that most closely references the antagonist of Metropolis, "The Robots of Death"'s Taren Capel, created by Holmes' protégé Chris Boucher. While Greel may live in a sewer, disguise his face and kidnap young women, he is a more openly emotional, less rational figure than Jek, and the outright sadism of the character is a far cry from Jek's complex obsessions. Capel, however, like Jek, is a twisted genius, a robot programmer rendered insane by past events, who lives with robots and plans to bring down the society that produced him. Jek, like Capel, programmes his androids (bar the two in Jek's Headquarters) to kill all humans on sight. However, the parallel is not a complete one; Capel is asexual where Jek possesses a twisted sexuality; Capel loves robots where Jek resents the necessity of having to live with them; and, most importantly, Jek is self-aware and conscious of his own insanity. Jek retains a clear head and is a brilliant strategist; he is vengeful, but not irrational and sadistic. However, recognising one's flaws and being able to do something about them are two different things, and Jek is still, like Capel, a mad scientist.
Finally, the literary antecedents of Jek also expose those of the story as a whole. Expressionist film deals with obsession, politics and corruption, and ultimately develops into the film-noir genre whose complex plots influence Holmes' work, as well as presaging the anomic literary satires of postwar English writing. The visual motifs of decadence in the clothes of the characters on Major, as well as the foreshadowing of the regeneration sequence prior to the Doctor landing the gunrunners' ship, also references classic film motifs. The political aspects of the story, with governing bodies secretly controlling both sides of a conflict and bureaucracy triumphing over common sense also recall the Expressionist-influenced films of Terry Gilliam (in particular his Nineteen Eighty-Four tribute Brazil, which was released the following year). "The Caves of Androzani", as well as having a strong 'villain' with obvious literary predecessors, is also one with powerful political and literary themes running through it at all levels.
"The Caves of Androzani" is consequently more a lost story from Season 14 than a classic of the Davison era. Like many tales from that former season, it is a complex, literate thriller based on real-life political machination as much as on the classic themes of European film and drama. In a sense, then, "Androzani" is not so much the culmination of Peter Davison's tenure as the Doctor, as it is a belated coda to the more satisfactory Holmes/Baker period of Doctor Who.
Effects copyright Maureen Marrs