My recent bout of enthusiasm for all things retro lead me to re-watch this classic Doctor Who story. I first saw it on DVD in about 2000 after a good friend of mine recommended it as being one of the series' best. He was not wrong. The story is a well-thought-out and well structured tale full of complex characters.
The Fifth Doctor (the fresh-faced Peter Davidson) and his assistant Perry land on the pink-tinted desert planet of Androzani Minor. The world is a 'hard sci-fi' setting and hosts a tale of state-sponsored drug use, gun running and android paranoia. There's a lot going on, but the writing is slick enough to ensure you never get lost. There is clever use of an infection sub-plot which gives the Doctor a reason to not just up-sticks and leave. The acting is tremendous and this is most notable with the story's villain. Sharaz Jek is a truly terrifying but flawed rogue dressed in what, for the time, was a daring semi-gimp suit (compete with Cat Woman-like stitching on the face mask).
There were two things that struck me about the story. The first is that some of the design is still very fresh even today. I rather like the mauve sky which can be seen in some exteriors and the cave interiors are nice and misty. Although clearly a bit bargain-basement, the android, mercenary and Jek's costumes are very convincing and menacing (the corporate troopers, on the other hand, are endearing but less realistic). However, some episodes are nearly ruined by some terrible camera directing and editing. I know the BBC was under strict time constraints and it was hard to move the studio cameras, but the story really falls apart when a monster appears. These episodes were shot nearly six or seven years after films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alien had been made. No one at the BBC seems to have learned that a nice wide shot showing a gribbly in all it's (slightly shitty) costume detail is a perfect recipe for guffaws and not shrieks.