The Androzani Effect, by Paul Cornell

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Published in Doctor Who Bulletin, 1985 Summer Special

The Caves of Andozani is a beautiful sample of a story written at exactly the right time. It has affected all stories after it, and has changed the very nature of the series. Before I start, I'd like to give a little disclaimer; I'm not too big a fan of Eric Saward's material. He may be good to little puppies and kids, but I'll be criticising him considerably, and constructively, as a writer — it's part of his job to expect that…

Caves was written in a very short space of time, as a last-minute replacement for a story that had fallen through, and as such it shows what a good writer can do under pressure. The style is straightforward, being a straight-line interaction of five factions — the military, Stotz's men, the Doctor, Morgan and Sharaz Jek. There is no padding, save the Magma creature, which, at a good bet, is an add-on by the production team, in order to do a straight season of monsters. (Quite logical considering Season 20's lack of them). Perhaps, because of the speed of writing required, or Holmes' standing as a writer, or the rounded nature of the initial script, there is little rewriting by Saward. It strikes me that Holmes wrote a complete, polished script for the production office, who instantly gave it the Okay.

Now that, these days, is a minor miracle. Most television scripts on the series have large elements of Saward's rewriting, or indeed, are merely submitted plots, fleshed out by the script editor, and sometimes an awful patchwork because of the conflict of ideas thus involved. The Twin Dilemma, radically rewritten because of the unsuitability of the original — and it showed it! The Space Whale, a Pat Mills plot apparently written up by Saward, and, it seems, not good enough. Even the Two Doctors, altered beyond recognition. So, if Holmes was respected enough at the time of Androzani to avoid being edited — _what_ happened to the Two Doctors (which originally boasted all the hallmarks of a first rate Holmes yarn).

I believe Eric Saward has very similar ideas to Robert Holmes, and that the former is really trying to learn a great deal from the latter. For Holmes, it's a sad state of affairs, because not only do his scripts get dissected and added-to out of this interest but Saward has begun an unholy fascination with the man's writing-style. Compare Revelation of the Daleks — we have lots of black humour, and attempt at in-depth chacterisation, the grafting on of Holmes-archetypes to Saward archetypes. (I ought to explain this point further: Holmes archetypes include the lovable rogue, the funny but dangerously stupid bureaucrat, and the naive young hero. Saward archetypes include the soldier of fortune, the pitiful traitor, and anyone else whose characterisation can be summed up by their only posessing a last name. in Revelation, we see Saward attempt to use stock Holmes characters as his own archetypes, especially in the case of the naive young hero Grigory — gets killed without meeting Doctor, a typical Saward trick, and loveable rogue / soldier of fortune, Orcini). This reverence towards the Holmes style infects Season 22, and nearly destroys it though over-editing. We'll examine each specific effect in turn…

Peri. It is in Androzani where we first see Peri being lusted after by the villain; a very clear-cut 'Beauty and the Beast' cliché, owing much to Holmes' love of gothic atmosphere, and a refreshing change, especially in the light of Christopher Gables' sympathetic villain. However, now, just about every villain whom the Doctor encounters has sexual urges towards Peri. For example; Shockeye, Tekker, Borad, Jobel, and even Sil! What Holmes used as a subtle undercurrent, Saward has thrown full into the limelight, stretching the envelope of Who a mite too far — the show survives by tradition and convention, and to mess with those is a dangerous thing, as the current production team have discovered to everyones' cost.

The use of real guns on Androzani has changed the direction of the show too. Perhaps in an effort to woo the 'A-Tots' of ITV, people in Doctor Who have started shooting each other with weapons every local arms dealer sells. Orcini, for example, was short of a good old space-gun, all the doomed characters of Attack of the Cybermen carried modern weapons — it was a treat indeed to see the Sontarans still used good old meson-guns!

There was no doubt that Androzani was full of violence, but it was purposeful violence. As far as I see it, violence on TV should be two things; it should be the violence of passion, not offhand slaying, and it should be seen to hurt. In Androzani, we saw the violence that greed and petty jealousy led to. We saw that it had terrible results, and we saw every combatant killed because of it. The Doctor avoids the violence, steps out in front of hostile robots, takes the path of defensive resistance, and finally does something non-violent and heroic by sacrificing himself for Peri. In the Twin Dilemma the Doctor is prepared to strangle, zap and explode his way to the top of the gory heap, and has been ever since. One of the reasons I could never enjoy Colin Baker's Doctor was his lack of morals — the Doctor would not, could not have suffocated Shockeye — and throughout the 22nd Season, instead of watching the violence go by, trying to stop or avoid it, the Doctor was often the centre of it! He dispenses 'Dirty Harry'-style justice to the Borad, many Cybermen, two unfortunate guards on Varos who meant him no harm (they thought they were handling a dead body!), a few poor miners, and numerous supporting cast are also victims of the Doctor's attitude.

Again, Saward sees the symptoms of Holmes' style, but can't see the cause. Anyway, lest you think this article is purely an attack on poor ol' Eric, lets look to other areas of change for a moment…

Direction. Before the advent of Graeme Harper, there was little of Art Nouveau direction on the show. At any rate, Harper had great fun, and was very entertaining on both Androzani and Revelation. It's clear that JN-T knows a winner when he sees one, because the upwardly-mobile Harper was retained and encouraged to use such noticeable direction again. There is good direction that is beneath notice — the viewer will just feel good about what he/he's watched, without having dramatic effect thrown in at the same time. However, dramatic effect is in fashion at the moment on Doctor Who, and Matthew Robinson seems to be following this trend. It's a very nice one, because it shows and interest and commitment on behalf of the director, and box-in-the-corner direction now seems to be on its way out, as other directors see what's popular. We still get the occasional horror of a mobile actor dragging a still camera around the screen though — more power to you Martin Jarvis!

Holmes has always treated the Doctor as one character — only superficial changes to the persona, and a continuity of interests. So, it's perhaps surprising to note that in Androzani, he's responsible for the entire character of the sixth Doctor. The few lines given to the emergent character sum up his attitude exactly, and, in my opinion, have never been expanded upon. If all we had ever seen of Colin Baker was in Androzani, we would still have the same knowledge of the Doctor's persona. That's both a huge accolade for Holmes' skill, and a brickbat to the poor quality of the scripts thereafter.

Androzani had its effects on Fandom as well. It's truly a pity that The Twin Dilemma existed at all, especially following this story, since the season as a whole would have gone down better with both the fans and the public had it ended there. This particular serial gave the fans a bit more of their pride back. They could finally reveal their obsession to non-fans without embarrassment. It gave JN-T another snatch at fan popularity. It united Fandom, as, generally, everybody liked it. Unfortunately, all this good feeling was shot down in flames a week later. (Note to JN-T; How to be popular with everybody: COMMISSION FROM GOOD WRITERS, THEN LEAVE THEM ALONE TO GET ON WITH IT!). There was enough material in the serial for any number of good articles and reviews — fuel for Fanzines in its pure state! It increased Davison's popularity tremendously, and will do so in the States (not that, in this writer's opinion, such popularity would have been unjustified without the serial in question).

Apart from Davison, the actors needed it. Nicola Bryant got her teeth into a damn good part, and finally won over a great many people dubious about her talent. She's been wasted since. Under Harper, the entire cast had to take things seriously. and produced some beautifully subtle performances. The regeneration also gave a good excuse for a cast party — and any actor will tell you how vital those are!

What a regeneration it was, too. An affirmation of everything the Doctor was, an ending rather than a beginning, though, and possibly the best one yet. Androzani may have rejuvenated the art of the regeneration sequence, just as it reintroduced the cliffhanger. If there's one thing previous JN-T productions had not had, it was good cliffhangers, in Androzani we get a good one, followed by a marvelous one, and then a heaven's-to-betsy-that's-what-it's-all-about! one. I refer to the fantastic episode 3 finale: _"…and I'm not going to let you stop me now"_. It's about time Davison got to say that. I just hope Colin Baker will get to show some righteaous anger eventually. Anyway, I digress. The single cliffhangers of Season 22 were better on average than usual, from the super. _"Cut it… NOW!", to the prophetic 'Crushed by statue'.

To conclude: The Caves of Androzani had a profound effect, and, though it doesn't deserve the "Best Story of All Time' label, it's certainly powerful stuff, and a testament to what straightline plotting and traditional storytelling can do. If lessons have been learned from the story, I believe that, by-and-large, they are the wrong ones. The story's great strengths — morality, concise plotting, depth of character, simplicity and traditionality — have been ignored. Only the baser elements, those incidental to the story, have been used, in an attempt to recreate its success. Robert Holmes is a good writer — some would say a genius, but a good writer will always find his/her own style.

Doctor Who depends on a mixture of these styles, and not the obsessive following of one.

Copyright © 1985 Paul Cornell