So. Just how do you set about Fan Editing what is widely regarded, according to the readership of DWM at any rate, as The Greatest Doctor Who Story Of All Time? Well, you can cut out the Magma Beast for a start! Of course, it’s not TGDWSOAT, that’s Genesis of the Daleks. Or possibly Blink. Or probably Talons, depending on your point of view. It’s the fact that it’s the first story in years where the buggers got it right that makes it stand out so much against, well, pretty much everything since The Leisure Hive. This is Old Skool Who done the New Skool way and the fact that the former still works only serves to highlight the deficiencies of the latter. The real reason Androzani is so highly regarded is that it is clear evidence, if any be needed, that there is a right and wrong way to do Who. And now we can tell which is which.
The great thing about Robert Holmes is that he proves beyond any doubt that the “let’s do X as a Doctor Who story” approach is still valid. Androzani is a story that has been done before, not least by Holmes himself as one of the elements of the ultimate in storytelling mash-ups that is The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Sharaz Jek is another iteration of Magnus Greel, he’s The Phantom of the Opera, only this time he’s skulking about in Androzanian Caves instead of hiding out underneath a Parisian Opera House.
The performance given by the wonderful Christopher Gable is about one notch below melodrama but I think it actually works slightly better than Michael Spice’s Magnus Greel. Gable is the pinnacle of a guest cast that, unusually for Classic Who, doesn’t have one duff performer in it. But the most amazing thing about Androzani is that somehow Saward and JNT didn’t end up ruining it. Mostly that’s down to the script and the director, and the fact that the writer of that script was a better script editor than the person who was meant to be editing his script. The fact that the worst they could do was inflict the Magma Creature on the script tells you all you need to know – “the memory cheats”, my arse!
So, although it does have its – minor – flaws, the reason it stands head and shoulders above anything else from the JNT Era is down to three things – Robert Holmes’ Script, Graeme Harper’s Direction and the fact that, for once, everyone else was pulling in the same direction. In many ways the reasons for its success are that it evokes The Way Things Used To Be, for long-term viewers like me at any rate. The Golden Age of 1974 – 1977 set the benchmark for how Who should be done, and it’s that Hinchcliffian Tone that helps set it so far above everything else that came post-Graham Williams. Except that, of course, the whiff of Hinchcliffe you think you can detect is really the heady aroma of Holmes.
And since it’s the genius of Bob Holmes we’re dealing with and not that talentless twat Saward, Part One only loses a Magma Beast scene and a few scenes with Stotz and his crew to keep the focus on the Doctor, Peri & Morgus. Part Two, as you might expect, again loses the aforesaid Magma Beast, the token monster Holmes was forced to include that we can easily exclude as not only is it a but naff it has no bearing whatsoever on the resolution of the plot. It doesn’t even get in the way of the Doctor trying to get the bat’s milk to save Peri’s life.
Part Three loses the resolution of that non-cliffhanger and Morgus killing the President. It’s a lovely, darkly comic scene but we don’t really need it – we already know what a rotten egg Morgus is and we’re more interested in the Doctor getting back to save Peri. Chellak’s death gets tightened up a bit in Part Four, as does Five’s quest for the queen bat. And then, after one hour and twenty-odd minutes it’s all over and time for the regeneration, free of all those swirling heads but still with that distracting cleavage!