Mad Max: Fury Road is taking the world by storm, and with good reason: It’s balls-to-the-wall action wrapped around an elegant, high-stakes race for survival. It deliberately keeps things simple, but crucial... just like one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time.
“Whaaaaaaa?” you ask. It’s legit! Mad Max: Fury Road and Caves of the Androzani have a lot in common:
Our Hero Lands In A Fight He Had Nothing To Do With
Both Max and the Doctor arrive in hot water by accident. Max is abducted by Joe’s War Boys, and the Doctor... well, got the date wrong in his time machine.
Max is cleaned and trussed up for a Blood Bag before being dragged off for a fight he knows nothing about, dressed as the world’s heaviest hood ornament. The Doctor and Peri are arrested on sight, and almost executed at once.
The Villain Is A Deformed Lunatic, Obsessed With Beautiful Women
Fury Road gives us Immortan Joe, an ex-military despot who only cares about two things: power, and continuing the family line. To that end, he’s kept ‘breeders’ prisoner to impregnate on the regular.
At the start of the picture, he has an army of War Boys, bred and raised to do his will. It’s reasonable to assume most of them are his own sons. When his Wives are stolen out from under his ‘nose’, Immortan Joe drops everything and sends his entire fleet of road warriors after them.
Caves of Androzani features Sharaz Jek, a profiteer who’s isolated himself with power and greed. He hasn’t touched a woman in years, and is... eager... to spend quality time with Peri.
Said Villain Maintains Power By Controlling A Valuable Resource
In both cases, the bad guy has stayed in power by monopolizing control of something vital. In Caves, it’s a rare substance that... well, it’s basically the Spice from Dune. It can extend your life indefinitely, and powerful people are willing to kill for it.
In Fury Road, the resource is water. ‘Nuff said.
The Setting Is A Remote, Arid Wasteland
To help cement the stakes, even the background can kill you, if you’re not careful. The last thing anyone wants on Fury Road is to get stranded in the middle of nowhere. If you don’t have wheels, you’re toast.
The Doctor and Peri stumble through the titular Caves, and trip over a tacky substance that will kill them both in a matter of hours, just by touching it.
The point is, there’s no cavalry. There’s no help on the way. Our heroes have to get themselves out on their own, if they want to survive.
Our Hero Doesn’t Actually Affect Much Of The Story, And Is Lucky To Get Out Alive
One of the best moves Fury Road made was to put Max in the shotgun seat. The story is never about him, he is an ally to the protagonist. This is ridiculously brave for an action picture with his name in the title... but it works. It just fucking works.
It puts him in a vulnerable spot, and highlights his weakness: if he’s not even strong enough to drive the action forward himself, how good are his chances of survival?
When the Doctor arrives on Androzani Minor, he steps into a war. Brilliant as the Doctor is, he’s still just a man. If you throw him in handcuffs and drag him to a cell after he’s been poisoned, there’s not a whole lot he can do about it. The Doctor makes a noble go of it, but his goal is never to stop the war, or avert disaster. He just wants to get Peri out of it alive, which is really all we could expect of him, given the circumstances.
The Scale Is Small, But The Stakes Are High
The thing these stories both get exactly right, is establishing the stakes right away, and holding to them. In Fury Road, it’s the lives of Immortan Joe’s five ‘wives’ at the heart of the conflict. All the action and devastation is just over those five. In Caves of the Androzani, it’s just the Doctor and his companion, Peri, trying to survive.
Doctor Who has frequently showcased conflict on a massive scale, where galaxies hung in the balance. With Caves, there’s very real tension because it’s all localized. We get to know a bit about the people that are all going to die.
The same can be said of Fury Road. It centers around only a handful of people, and their plight is clear.
Which is another deceptively simple point: Furiosa’s desperate race for freedom (for her and the Wives) never needs much explaining. It’s immediately clear what’s happening, and what’s at stake if they fail. Get away, or Immortan Joe will drag you back home for continued abuse. In Doctor Who, it’s every bit as simple: Get away from these crazy people and find the antidote, because if they don’t kill you, the poison will.
Urgency is a beautiful thing, and there’s plenty of it in both stories. It’s not enough to establish your important goal, you need to get it done now.
By keeping things simple, Fury Road delivers one of the best movies of the year, and one of the greatest action flicks in several years. In doing the same, Caves of the Androzani remains one of the greatest Doctor Who serials ever made.