interview doctor who Taken from TV Zone #140

Graeme Harper
Directing in A-Minor

Graeme Harper directed two Doctor Who stories in the mid-Eighties, including what is often cited as being the very best story ever: The Caves of Androzani. Seventeen years later, as that story
re-emerges on DVD, Graeme recalls making one of the series’ masterpieces

Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable) and 5th Doctor Peter Davison

Also in this feature: The 'Restoration Team' on bringing Androzani to DVD...

... and our Top 5 moments from Caves of Androzani


Back in 1984, Graeme Harper directed his first full Doctor Who story. It was also quite a momentous tale, being the final story of the fifth Doctor. After three seasons in the part, Peter Davison had decided to move on, and The Caves of Androzani would mark his final appearance in the show. While Davison himself was leaving, it marked Harper’s return to Doctor Who after some time, Harper having worked closely with director Paul Joyce on 1980’s Warriors’ Gate. Also returning after a lengthy absence was prolific Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes.

“I think Robert Holmes was one of our great action thriller writers,” Harper states. “I can’t name all of his stories, but I worked on several projects of his which were not Doctor Who where he was the writer. He was a very visual writer. That’s the reason the story is so good. Yes, I had my little tuppence worth, saying, ‘Why don’t we do this?’, but I cannot say I contributed to the story itself, other than my interpretation of his story."

Perhaps Harper is being too modest over his part in the story’s success. The Caves of Androzani is widely recognized by Doctor Who fans as one of the best-directed stories in the show’s history. “Well, to my knowledge, he enjoyed my interpretation,” Harper continues. “He could see the enthusiasm and pace I injected into it, so that there wouldn’t be one dull moment. Robert Holmes and I got on very well, but I don’t know anybody who didn’t get on with him. He was just a great storyteller, and lapped up ideas. If you had an idea he thought was stunningly clever, he would use it. You’d be proud it had been taken on board.”

The Chase is On

In the story, the Doctor and Peri arrive on Androzani Minor, amid an interplanetary dispute. Rich businessman Morgus is waging a war against the rebel Sharaz Jek, who is skulking underground with a massive supply of Spectrox, a drug that holds the secret to eternal youth. But Jek has sworn revenge on Morgus, who betrayed him years ago, resulting in his disfigurement. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Peri are captured by the military and mistaken for gunrunners providing weapons for Jek’s rebel movement. The Time travellers have bigger problems when they realize that they are dying from an apparently incurable disease: Spectrox Toxaemia…

“Right the way through the Doctor is being chased, isn’t he?” Harper laughs. “He’s running! If you look at The Caves of Androzani – and it’s the same with my other story, Revelation of the Daleks – if you look at those two stories, I think you’ll find there’s less dialogue and more action compared to other Doctor Whos. They’re more visual, with more of a movie feel. The thing about movies is that you cut all the time; why say something when you can show it? It’s interesting, when I watched Caves again five years after it was made, I thought it was quite slow. But that’s because I knew it so well, so I could anticipate it. Now, I look at it and say, for the period and for what we were doing at the time, this is quite pacey, and there’s enough breathing space for you to enjoy holding onto a thought or a reaction at the end, rather than cutting away fast to the next scene.”

Shakespeare in Space?

In some ways The Caves of Androzani is quite a Shakespearean set-up, featuring characters out for revenge and power over their peers. Does Harper think that such themes are appropriate for Science Fiction series such as Doctor Who? “I think all Doctor Whos were like that to an extent. Shakespeare took the seven or eight great stories that can be told and mixed them all up into 26 amazing stories. I guess some Doctor Whos are going to touch on some Shakespearean aspects because they are very grand. Sharaz Jek is grand. He’s a big operatic kind of monster, isn’t he? I mean, he was based on the Phantom of the Opera. At first you think he’s evil, which he isn’t at all, he’s a desperate man.”

Jek’s lair also seems to owe more to the designs of World War Two, rather than alien technology. How had this look been decided on? “We consciously decided to do that,” Harper explains. “It was on another planet, but it was subterranean. It was bunker. It had this 1940s Science Fiction feel, didn’t it? Because [from the script] the whole feel of this place was mines and bunkers, we really went for that. I wanted to make it what young people would know from comics, from films and history lessons. So rather than make it another planet that was totally alien to everybody, the people were like everybody else. They were merely human beings on another planet...”


Harper on Doctor Who's future

“I’d like to produce Doctor Who,” Harper states. “My problem is I don’t ever want to stop directing, but if the opportunity came now I would probably grab it with both hands. What was wrong with it in our day – in the Eighties – was it was still shot on video and it should have moved to film. Now, I’ve changed my mind. I’d keep it on video because such exciting advances have been made. There is a way of bringing it into the 21st Century and making it exciting and alive. This cantankerous old bugger who’s up in Space with all his aggression and sarcasm and wit? I think the character of Doctor Who will live forever…” .

Tom Spilsbury


Graeme Harper talks more about Androzani, Christopher Gable, Revelation of the Daleks, Warrior's Gate and much more in the full nine-page feature in TV Zone #140


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