Doctor Who

The Caves is the Doctor Who Rock Opera You Didn’t Know You Needed

The Caves album cover

I’m a fan of Trock (Time Lord Rock), but as much as I adore bands like Chameleon Circuit I am hard-pressed to think of any that I felt really transcended the genre into being something greater. That all changes with The Caves by Minneapolis-based The Sevateem. It’s not just an amazing Doctor Who album; it’s just a plain amazing album period.

The titular caves are “The Caves of Adrozani,” a Fifth Doctor adventure largely regarded as one of the greatest Who stories ever told. The Doctor and Peri Brown land on Androzani and find themselves in a war between an evil corporate conglomerate and the disfigured madman named Jek who seeks the company’s destruction with his army of robots. It’s known for its high drama plot where The Doctor sacrifices himself to save Peri, leading to an emotionally-charged regeneration. There’s also a Phantom of the Opera subplot between Peri and Jek that is surprisingly moving. If you’ve only ever seen a single classic Doctor Who story this is the one you probably should.

The Caves is a retelling of that story with various singers filling in for the television cast. The music is firmly in the electropop range. In style I would compare it to Lights’ concept album Skin and Earth, and the music is along those lines. However, there’s a lightness to it that alleviates some of the grim subject matters of capitalism run amok and Shakespearean melodrama.

The songs flow short and sweet, hitting the high narrative notes well. Jeremy Messersmith and Angela Ducklisky shine as The Doctor and Peri. The latter in particular is a perfect audience stand-in, with an angelic voice full of longing for something above and beyond the human experience.

Surprisingly it’s a minor character that really has the best musical moment. Mark Mallman as Chellak on “Pay For This” is just mesmerizing. He lends a tortured conflict that instantly paints a picture of a scene in a listener’s head, and he’s helped by the incredible lyrics.

Lost so many friends, so many lives
Doing what we can just to survive
Don’t what we’re fighting for
But you picked the wrong side

I will admit that the album loses a bit of steam near the end. It never gets bad, but it does drop a little below excellent as it winds down to the conclusion. The lyrics remain solid, but the musical dynamics stop experimenting after “I Would Crash This Ship to Save My Friend.”

Overall, though, the brilliance of the record is undeniable. It just plays with so many themes as it dances through the caves. Timmin’s uber-feminist revenge song “I’ve Taken Everything,” the surprising pathos of “Look at Me” as Morgus and Jek meet, and the final goodbye of “Is This Death?” are all parts of a fantastic story that crafts an adventure that stands out even for a series famous for its audio stories.

The Caves is darkly playful, a solid pop record that is bigger on the inside. It approaches its subject matter with the simple sincerity of the old serials that inspired it, and delivers the package with a musicality that uplifts and delights. There’s so much to love about it I hoped it would never end. Maybe it's time the concept of the Doctor Who stage play got dusted off for a new musical.

The Caves is available now for a price of the buyer’s choice. All proceeds from streaming and sales will benefit Doctors Without Borders.