The Caves of Androzani – still the best ever Doctor Who story

Peter Davison in The Caves of Androzani

Well, I mentioned it on Friday as part of new series “Liz Shaw’s Best Bits” and the lure ever since has been irresistible. So today, the best bit from the best Doctor Who story ever – the final fifth Doctor story The Caves of Androzani.

Written by Robert Holmes, directed by Graeme Harper, Caves is without a doubt one of the bleakest of all the Who stories, with the Doctor and new companion Peri finding themselves stuck in the middle of a war on a moon that holds the key to near eternal youth: a chemical called Spectrox. Unfortunately, in its unrefined state, Spectrox is poisonous to anyone who touches it – guess who touches it. Go on – and so the Doctor and Peri have to spend most of their time looking for a cure.

The joy of The Caves of Androzani is that it’s pretty much exactly what would happen if the Doctor did end up in the middle war: he gets captured, tossed around as a pawn, and stuck in front of a firing squad, while more or less everyone around him dies. In fact, of all the many, many characters in Caves of Androzani, by the end, there are only two survivors, and neither of them is the Doctor…

As well as Graeme Harper’s incredible direction, Maurice Roëves’ mercenary, Stotz, and the sheer brutality of the story, Caves is notable for a couple of things: the use of machine guns, rather than outer-space lasers to make everything just that little bit more real; and the breaking of the fourth wall, with chief villain Morgus turning to camera at a couple of points to explain his thought processes.

Nevertheless, it’s ironic that the best bit is the end with Peter Davison’s regeneration into Colin Baker – still the best regeneration scene of them all (unless you count the lead up to David Tennant’s exit, and guess what that was modelled on). Unfortunately, within about three seconds, you can see everything falling apart as possibly the worst Doctor Who story in existence, The Twin Dilemma, is cued up.

If you want, you can watch the whole ruddy thing on YouTube thanks to BBC Worldwide (which has, unfortunately, made the whole thing unembeddable otherwise I’d stick it on here for you!)


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.