One of my favorite Tom Baker stories was Logopolis. I know when people talk Tom Baker, they talk about Weng-Chiang and City of Death as favorites, but for me it was Logopolis. I really enjoyed that, so when I saw it originally, I was quite thrilled that the next story would lead in directly from that. I got into Doctor Who originally at the tail end of Peter Davison’s era, so I didn’t have the long wait that folks who watched Who originally when it went out had to wait between Logopolis and Castrovalva.
At the time, the changing of the Doctor was a major deal. A new Doctor is always a big deal, but Tom Baker was arguably the most successful Doctor to date. He had become the role, and when he left (from what I can gather talking to friends who were watching at that time in England) it was a major thing when he left. In some ways the departure of David Tennant mirrors that. Tennant was enormously popular, he WAS the Doctor, and his departure had a lot of fan angst around it. So when Tom Baker left, it was interesting that the first story of Davison’s era (the fifth filmed overall, I believe) was a smaller, quiet story.
Castrovalva starts rather immediately from where Logopolis left off, that being the regeneration of the Doctor from his fourth incarnation into his fifth. We pick up with Nyssa, Tegan, & Adric trying to save the Doctor from the Pharos Project police. After the Master helping them out somewhat indirectly to do this, he manages to replace Adric with a duplicate. A pretty darned believable duplicate – which makes me wonder why the Master never tried this stunt any other time. Everyone bought the double, although had the Doctor not been in a post regenerative state, he might have noticed it.
Anyway, Episode 1 and a good percentage of Episode 2 are some of my favorite moments. Part of the reason is they take place exclusively inside the TARDIS (once they get in there). As I’ve said in another review (The Edge of Destruction), I love shows like that. We got to see a bunch of the inside of the TARDIS in this one. While a lot of it was corridors, and probably the same bit of corridor for production realities, you felt like you were seeing a lot of the TARDIS in this story, and I liked that. It felt better than the last time this much time was spent inside the TARDIS (Episode 6 of Invasion of Time). We got to see a few bedrooms, got to see a wardrobe room (briefly), and of course the Zero room, which had not much in the way of design. The Doctor wandered around the corridors himself quite lost, which he used bits of his own clothing to leave a trail. This included unraveling his scarf, and ripping his jacket, and even leaving a shoe.
While wondering around, we got some pretty good impressions of Doctors #1 & #2 from Davison (“What would I do if I were me, MMMMmmm?”) We also learned that the TARDIS has random wheelchairs just lying around in the corridors. I mean what other reason was there for the Doctor to find one towards the end of Episode 1? But all joking aside, I loved this “inside the TARDIS” stuff. It led to the big cliffhanger and the reason for the fake Adric, that being the fake one set the TARDIS to go into the “Big Bang” at the creation of the universe. Seeing all kinds of things to do with the TARDIS other than just being in the console room was quite cool, including what was behind several roundels, which up until that point I think were just there out of design habit than any practical function.
The resolution of the cliffhanger was that the Doctor had to jettison the zero room (accidentally) to save the TARDIS from the original Big Bang. When he went to return to heal there, it was found out it was gone. While noodling around in the TARDIS database (which was too likely a fabrication of the Master anyway), they found a place which was supposedly better than the Zero room for helping Time Lords, a place called “Castrovalva”. So due to info in the database, Tegan claims to have flew the Tardis and landed it. What’s funny about the landing is that I immediately thought of this at the beginning of Matt Smith’s first episode when the TARDIS crash lands in Amy Pond’s back yard.
The back half of episode two dragged I thought. Nyssa & Tegan had to carry the unconscious Doctor to Castrovalva, and this travel I thought was a bit slow. I wish the TARDIS would have landed closer. If it wasn’t for watching the story for this review, I would have skipped over that bit. The best part of it really was watching Sarah Sutton’s bum as she tried to go into a river to retrieve a wheelchair. Honestly, that middle part bored me. It extended into Episode 3 a bit until the crew finally arrived (separately, which was part of the Episode 2 cliffhanger, being separated) at Castrovalva.
Once they got there, they ran across a society of people who were very kind to themselves and to the TARDIS crew. They seemed quite eager to help the Doctor and his friends with the Doctor’s recovery. While there isn’t a ton to this plot, it mostly revolves around the Doctor coming to eventually and realizing something isn’t quite right with Castrovalva. The short of it is it turns out the entire thing is a trap set by the Master as a “backup trap” to the Event One trap that the Doctor got out of. It was rather well constructed, I thought. The Master (the Anthony Ainley one anyway) did his “hide in his trap in disguise” bit. I remember when watching this originally that I didn’t pick up that the Portreve in Castrovalva was the Master. Looking back at it now, you can see it, perhaps it was the younger more naive viewer in me who didn’t see that.
I’m cutting down Episodes 3Â and 4 into a bunch of small text here, but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. A lot. The “nice” feel of Castrovalva is something missing from a lot of stories. Everything is about the big monster, or the Earth being taken over by it’s own future residents, or the Universe about to explode because the Doctor is… you get the point. This has a smaller feel in scale, not a galactic catastrophe in hand, just a relatively small in scale story which allowed Peter Davison’s Doctor to “get his feet” so to speak. I VERY much enjoyed Castrovalva, but I wonder how will that feeling will carry to a new viewer having never seen it before. Most of what makes Castrovalva work for me is that it’s a great finale to the trilogy of Keeper of Traken/Logopolis/Castrovalva… It is a great story on its own, but it works best as part 3 of a trilogy of stories, I think.
The end of the story was one I enjoyed, as it involves time and recursion, and despite the confusing nature of these concepts sometime, the ending was surprisingly linear. But again, it wasn’t a story with a blaring soundtrack by Murray Gold with special effects all over the place. But the ending was just as satisfying for me. If you’re just a modern show viewer, I suggest checking this out, but it’s digested best with the other two stories that go with it.
Castrovalva was mentioned one other time that I recall, that was in Time Flight when the line “I guess he escaped from Castrovalva” was uttered. That seemed consistent with the Ainley portrayal of the Master where they’d reference his last appearance in the next story.
One other amusing bit. In Episode 1 when the Doctor is tearing apart his outfit to leave a trail, he leaves a shoe on the ground, which is quite ironic, as the Fourth Doctor was wearing boots. Obviously this regeneration affected the clothes, too. It wouldn’t be the first time. For the brief second we saw Jon Pertwee in Patrick Troughton’s outfit, it seemed to fit him. It should not have. Likewise, Sylvester McCoy spent almost all of his first episode in Colin Baker’s outfit, which should have been like a floppy clown outfit on him due to the size. Anyway, check out the shoe regeneration here:
Overall Story Information:
Story Title: Castrovalva
Production Code: 5Z
Writer: Christopher H. Bidmead
Director: Fiona Cumming
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Length: 4 episodes (25 minutes)
Peter Davison – The Doctor
Sarah Sutton – Nyssa
Janet Fielding – Tegan Jovanka
Matthew Waterhouse – Adric
Anthony Ainley – The Master
Micheal Sheard – Mergrave
Derek Waring – Shardovan
Specific Episode Information:
- Episode 1: Broadcast Jan 4, 1982. Viewership: 9.1 Million
- Episode 2: Broadcast Feb 5, 1982. Viewership: 8.6 Million
- Episode 3: Broadcast Jan 11, 1982. Viewership: 10.2 Million
- Episode 4: Broadcast Jan 12, 1982. Viewership: 10.4 Million
External Links of Note:
Ordering this story:
Castrovalva was released on DVD in 2007, and is available for purchase a couple of ways. You can either buy it individually, or as part of a larger set entitled New Beginnings, which also includes The Keeper of Traken and Logoplis. In the UK, it appears to be available individually, but I’m unclear if that release was the same disc that’s in the New Beginnings box or not. It was released on VHS back in the mid 90’s, but given the death of that format, I won’t get into that here. Here are some links for all this:
- Castrovalva (US)
- Castrovalva (UK)
- New Beginnings Set (US)
- New Beginnings Set (UK)
- Castrovalva Novel (US)
- Castrovalva Novel (UK)
- Castrovalva Audiobook CD (UK)