03 Jul 2003Castrovalva, by Douglas Westwood
03 Jul 2003Castrovalva, by Gwyneth Jeffers
04 May 2004Castrovalva, by Paul Clarke

After the dramatic demise of the fourth doctor at the Pharos project on earth, there was much speculation on what his replacement would be like and an agonisingly long time in which to do so. Not since the recent abrupt ending of Blake's 7 had a tv show been so exciting. Castrovalva came along, finally, and it exceeded all my expectations by being so wonderfully different from any other dw show I'd previously seen.

The fourth doctor had been a part of my life for so long that he had seemed virtually indestructible. For seven long years it had been jelly babies, scarves and toothy grins, and we still weren't tired of it! But Peter Davison was everything the fourth doctor was not - polite, uncertain about things, generally befuddled, his voice tended to go a bit high when stressed out and I think he used to wag a finger at recalcitrant monsters. In short, a complete change of character and a welcome one. The 1980's were just starting, so why not start them with a new doctor utterly unlike the old one? Splendid! The programme was on a completely new track and I for one was captivated.

The Master came across brilliantly as well in this story, even with Anthony Ainley playing him. He wasn't for once into taking over the universe, there wasn't a doomsday machine or a Chronovore waiting on Castrovalva for him; he purely and simply wanted to destroy the Doctor. Nothing else. It was a marvellous idea, focusing his character on revenge and nothing more. And from Terror of the Autons onwards, the Master had a lot to feel vengeful about.

I loved the simple setting of the town, the cast, the forest scenes, the fact that almost half this story actually takes place within the Tardis itself (another innovative idea not used for some considerable time) and no, at the time I had no idea of the Portreve's real identity. I know it looks bloody obvious now, seeing the thing on video again. So this, the first fifth Doctor story, became my favourite one for a long time, even beating Earthshock as it was so groundbreaking. Brilliant!

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor

Although Season 19 is, without a doubt, a very criticized season due to a new young Doctor played by the extremely talented Peter Davison and young companions, Castrovalva is one of those stories that is very enjoyable and not a dark story, like some of Tom Baker's episodes were. The Master returns in this story, evil as usual, and trying to destroy the Doctor, like he always tried before; although he was the reason why the Fourth Doctor regenerated.

Peter Davison portrays all the previous doctors marvelously, especially the Second Doctor. Tegan is actually very mild-mannered in this story, and is written quite well. Adric may seem like he is against the Doctor by setting those traps on the TARDIS, but it is against his will, because it is actually the Master's doing, not his. Nyssa is well written as well, but she tends to show off her knowledge quite a bit. 

When seen, Castrovalva seems like a well-ordered place, and also seems like an actual place as well. But yet again, the Master has something to do with this...he built it using Adrics mathematical skills. 

The Doctor finally regains some of his wits towards the end of Part Three and is able to fight the Master and save Adric. Shardivan gives up his life by helping the Doctor by shattering the web the Master created so that the Doctor is able to jump in and grab Adric. Castrovalva, without the web, falls apart and at the end of the story, we see the Master is trapped...or is he?

This story had good acting by all, and the storyline is very good for Peter Davison's first story as the Doctor. It takes a lot of good acting and skill to replace Tom Baker, but Peter Davison did a wonderful job and he truly deserves the credit which few people do not give him.

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor

'Castrovalva' has of course much in common with 'Logopolis'. For one thing it follows on directly from Baker's swansong, and for another outgoing script editor Christopher H. Bidmead also pens it. More importantly, like 'Logopolis', 'Castrovalva' boasts a great central concept, but suffers somewhat from padding in Episodes One and Two. Unlike 'Logopolis' however, the padding in 'Castrovalva' is somewhat better.

The first two episodes of 'Castrovalva' essentially serve to properly introduce the new TARDIS crewmembers, including the new Doctor. In order to do this, Bidmead effectively traps the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa in the TARDIS and puts them in an increasingly worsening situation; the Doctor's new personality unfolds as he explores the TARDIS in search of sanctuary, and Tegan and Nyssa's characters are really allowed to develop as they are forced to cope without him whilst he recuperates. This works reasonably well overall, largely because of Peter Davison. With the daunting task of replacing Tom Baker, in the eyes of many people perhaps the definitive Doctor, John Nathan-Turner's decision to cast a very different actor in the role is, in retrospect, the only sensible thing he could have done. The twenty-nine year old Davison is certainly strikingly different to Baker in appearance, and over the course of 'Castrovalva' he rises to the challenge of making the role his own. 'Castrovalva' is often criticized for being the first debut story in which it takes the entire length of the story for the new Doctor's personality to settle down; in fact, by the time the Doctor wakes up from a night's sleep in Castrovalva in Episode Three, his personality is pretty much established, the last side effects of his regeneration being occasional dizzy spells. The characteristics of the new Doctor are thus largely evident by this point; often described (often perhaps derogatively) as "nice", he seems to take much more wonder in his surroundings than his often cynical or flippant previous incarnation, and this is made nicely highlighted in scenes such as when he delights at finding celery in Castrovalva ("Definitely civilization!") and when the young girl inadvertently makes him remember Adric. This latter scene also demonstrates one of the other key characteristics of this Doctor, which his is ability to suddenly focus on a problem with considerable intensity; despite a brief lapse in his strength at the end of Episode Three, it is his realization that Adric is missing that prompts him to concentrate on the problem of Castrovalva, and he doesn't visibly relax again after that point until Castrovalva has collapsed and he and his companions are jogging back to the TARDIS. What is also notable is Davison's ability to create an air of fierce intelligence about the Doctor that gives an impression of wisdom far beyond his years, and this I think is the basis of the feeling that the Fifth Doctor is an old man in a young man's body sometimes ascribed to Davison's performance. 

The character of the new Doctor, whilst not fully established until the story reaches Castrovalva itself, is nevertheless developed over the first two episodes; initially hugely erratic, the Doctor's personality is undefined early on, with Davison getting a chance to flex his acting skills by briefly impersonating his four predecessors. Once the Doctor enters the Zero Room, we get the first proper glimpse of his new persona, and this is scene sporadically throughout Episode Two. By placing the TARDIS in danger, Bidmead creates a situation in which the Doctor is forced to struggle against post regenerative stress, and his almost frantic concentration on reaching the TARDIS control room in a wheelchair is an early indicator of the intense focus that he is capable, as mentioned above. But despite this, he nevertheless spends most of Episodes One and Two in a considerably weakened state, and with Adric a prisoner of the Master this allows Bidmead instead to focus on Tegan and Nyssa. Following the events of 'Logopolis', it is likely that Tegan and Nyssa would be suffering considerable grief, Tegan having just lost her Aunt and Nyssa having lost, well, everything. Rather than dwelling unduly on this and risking turning the series into a soap opera, Bidmead piles crises on top of the pair of them, forcing them to cope first with the Doctor's ill health, and secondly with the TARDIS' impending doom, thus giving them something to focus on. This brings out the best in both companions, and shows how effective they can be in the absence of Adric. Thrown together by really rather strange circumstances, they quickly become a team, Nyssa's gentle, analytical nature in sharp contrast to Tegan's more hotheaded, instinctive, and ultimately more confident character. The two thus complement each other surprisingly well. This becomes evident when it is realized that Episodes One and Two contain a vast amount of expository dialogue between the pair of them, especially at the end of Episode One, but the relationship between the characters is such that it seems reasonably natural for them to be explaining the plot to each other. With Nyssa's scientific knowledge and Tegan's natural tendency to take charge of a given situation, they thus carry the first half of the story between them.

The relative merits of an actor are largely down to subjective opinion; I've never had a problem with either Janet Fielding or Sarah Sutton, but I can only agree with Matthew Waterhouse's detractors, and it is here that he really starts to grate. Waterhouse is diabolical as Adric from start to finish, his angst whilst trapped in the Master's web embarrassing to behold. He is utterly unable to successfully convey either anguish or rage, and he is cringe-worthy throughout; the scene in which he tries to convince the Master that he has switched side is woeful and it beggars belief that the Master would fall for it. Anthony Ainley meanwhile is variable here; after the destruction of the Master's credibility at the end of 'Logopolis', the character partially redeems himself here, his obsession with destroying the Doctor through the most elaborate and humiliating means entirely in keeping with the Master's past motivations. Yet Ainley is given some dreadful dialogue, mostly when talking to Adric ("I'll burn through your barrier, boy!") and although he tackles it reasonably well, he's often horribly tacky in the first two episodes, especially his ghastly pantomime cackling on the scanner screen at the end of Episode One. He is far better in the last two episodes and plays the Portreeve rather well, again demonstrating, as when he played Tremas that his shortcomings as the Master are partially due to interference from the production team. Once he unmasks in Episode Four, he's quite good, his gloating and his desperate need to see the Doctor one last time before he destroys him played with reasonable conviction and an air of suppressed frustration. His final moments in 'Castrovalva' however are simply awful, as he repeatedly bellows "My web!!!" in over the top fashion. Nevertheless, he's far better than he was in 'Logopolis', his ludicrous malevolent chuckling kept to the barest minimum.

The real strength of 'Castrovalva' is the concept of the town itself, a continuation of the idea of Block Transfer Computation first scene in the previous story. The ending to Episode Three is superb, as the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa start to discover the truth about the "dwellings of simplicity", and the M. C. Escher inspired nature of the town is revealed by a shot through the Doctor's window. The real strength of the concept however lies in the supporting characters, as the Castrovalvans are gradually convinced of their true, artificial nature. The Castrovalvans get some great lines, most notably Derek Waring's Shardovan; his understanding of the problem with the history of Castrovalva is a key moment and the character's realization of his origins is a powerful moment, eventually summarized by the great line "You made us man of evil, but we are free!" and his ensuing sacrifice. By making Shardovan, Michael Sheard's Mergrave, and Frank Wylie's Ruther such well realized and likeable characters, Bidmead is able to increase the impact of the discovery that they have all been created by Adric and the Master. The scene in which the Doctor asks them to point out specific locations on a rough map of Castrovalva works very well, because their unsettled responses to what he is trying to show them begin to demonstrate that for all that they are fictional creations of a madman they are people in their own right. This makes the truth about Castrovalva all the more poignant. 

The direction of 'Castrovalva' plays a large part in its success. Fiona Cummings wrings an impressive amount of drama out of a rather wordy script, and the cliffhanger ending to Episode One is very dramatic despite the fact that it consists of Tegan and Nyssa explaining what is happening in raised voices whilst the Master guffaws on the scanner screen. The realization of Castrovalva's collapsing space at the end of Episode Three is decently achieved, although it does look rather dated now. Paddy Kingsland's incidental score helps considerably, enhancing the tension when required but also creating a relaxed atmosphere during the initial scenes on the planet housing Castrovalva. The costumes of the Castrovalvans also look great, be they the elaborate hunting garb of Mergrave and Ruther or the day-to-day clothing of the townspeople. Having said that, the Portreeve's hat is absurd and could be taken as far more conclusive evidence of the Master's lunacy than anything seen in 'Logopolis'. The sets used for Castrovalva are impressive, and surprisingly well lit to resemble natural light, something of a rarity during Doctor Who in the eighties. This means that the studio sets feel more in keeping with the location footage than usual, although on this occasion the location footage is perhaps not the bonus that it usually is; whilst it looks nice enough, the scenes of Tegan and Nyssa transporting the Zero Cabinet across the landscape feel like an excuse to pad out five minutes of air time and make Episode Two drag somewhat. 

In summary, 'Castrovalva' is flawed and occasionally feels like it is treading water, especially during the first half, but manages to impress nonetheless. As an introduction for the new Doctor and as a means of tying up plot threads from 'Logopolis' it works perfectly well and prepares the way for the new season.

Filters: Television Series 19 Fifth Doctor