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I do reviews of Doctor Who from 1963 to present, plus spin-offs. As well as this I do non-Doctor Who related reviews of Grimm, The Walking Dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Blake's 7, The Crown, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Sherlock, Firefly, Daredevil and many more.
There are also reviews of more than 400 films.
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Doctor Who: Castrovalva
“I was forgetting, Nyssa- bioelectronics is your strong point.”
I think this is our first ever pre-titles sequence, and very nice it is too. Unfortunately there follows a lot of dull scenes involving running, security guards, irritating incidental music and Adric being particularly annoying. Suddenly, with a new season and a new Doctor, he’s become a lot more annoying. And then the Master gets him but leaves him on the ground in a trance to be collected by the others, Considering what happens later I can’t see the point of that scene.
With everyone aboard, the new Doctor disappears into the depths of the Ship while Nyssa and Tegan chat. It’s notable that Nyssa doesn’t seem at all bothered by the traumatic recent events, calmly dispensing technobabble as though she hasn’t a care in the world. Meanwhile the Doctor, perhaps recalling The Horns of Nimon, slowly divests himself of his scarf by turning it into thread to guide him through the labyrinth. Ooh, how very symbolic for our new Doctor!
There’s a brief conversation with Adric where it becomes clear he’s confused and has to be reminded that Romana’s gone. I think this is the first time we ever hear the phrase “console room”. There follows what might well be Tegan’s first ever exclamation of “Rabbits!” and our second look at the TARDIS BBC micro, which looks as if it’s now a permanent feature. Still, just as people today have digital radios that look like old wooden radios from the 50s, no doubt the Doctor is just using technology that looks retro in style but is in fact incredibly advanced. Er, right?
Peter Davison does a rather good Hartnell impression and a rather less good Troughton one, although it’s good to see the recorder again. All entertaining enough, but surely we ought to be getting round to quickly establishing this new Doctor? He gets a lot of screen time this episode but we still have little or no impression of what he’s going to be like.
Nyssa and Tegan discuss recursion, which foreshadows, of course, what’s to come. Nevertheless it comes across as awkward, un-naturalistic dialogue, something I’m picking up as a general feature of Bidmead’s scripts.
The TARDIS is apparently even more huge than we’ve previously imagined, so much so that the Master manages to kidnap Adric while he’s lost in the corridors. Happily, this means we won’t be seeing much of him for a while. Meanwhile, Nyssa and Tegan lead the doctor to the “stark simplicity” of the Zero Room- more foreshadowing. The episode ends with Nyssa consulting the TARDIS Wikipedia…
“We’re playing Russian Roulette with the TARDIS!”
At last we get a small sign of Nyssa reacting naturally to the terrible things that have happened to her as she expresses her revulsion at the Master and switches off the monitor. Not much, but it’s something.
It’s notable that throughout the whole story, not just those featuring Castrovalva itself, the Master is essentially in control of reality itself as far as the TARDISeers are concerned. His control, through Adric, of block transfer mathematics (for which read magic) allow him to literally reshape reality. The surprising thing, if anything, is that his ambitions are so limited, pretty much focused only on his rivalry with the Doctor. This tells us a lot about his obsession with the Doctor, something which has gone to such lengths that it can hardly be considered rational. And it’s also a little odd that we will never see him using this power again.
“I’ll have to explain how to vent the thermal buffer” states the now bespectacled Doctor. How appropriate that this line will eventually be echoed in a much later appearance by this Doctor! And then we have the expected Pertwee impression. There are some great ideas in this scene, mind- the architectural configuration of the TARDIS can be redesigned from the control room, and rooms can be deleted to provide extra “thrust”.
Finally we get to the countryside outside Castrovalva, which looks strangely similar to the South of England. Odd, that. It’s amusing to hear Nyssa advising Tegan that “There’s a whole room full of clothes if you want to change.” Tegan won’t be following this advice for some time but, on the other hand, pot, kettle…
Oh, and I see Eric Saward’s name appearing in the credits as script editor. That’s surprisingly early. Still, I suppose it makes sense given that this was the fourth story of the season to be made.
“I’m beginning to feel quite my old self. Or my new self.”
I very much like the gradual introduction of Castrovalva, and the gradual way it’s revealed that they are in fact friendly and apparently harmless. It’s good to see Michael Sheard again too. We get a nice series of scenes introducing us to the setting, marred only by the fact the Portreeve is so obviously played by Anthony Ainley- “Neil Toynay”, indeed! I particularly like the early signs of friction between Shardovan and the Portreeve- yet more foreshadowing. And, of course, the way everyone is instantly intimidated by Tegan!
“I know so little about telebiogenesis” admits Nyssa. I sympathise- I can well remember Wednesdays at school. Maths, history and physics in the morning, then double telebiogenesis in the afternoon. It never was my favourite subject.
The sequence leading up to the cliffhanger is brilliant (“Yes, well that’s democracy for you!”) and the concept of recursive occlusion is brilliant. It even hits you at the end that the sets actually look like the Escher sketch, which is great design.
Incidentally, I wonder if anyone at the time ever did an etch-a-sketch of an Escher sketch? Sorry…
“With my eyes, no. But in my philosophy…”
It’s a nice touch how Shardovan seems so sinister right up until the moment we realise his secret is that he shares the Doctor’s suspicions. Appropriately, he ends up as the hero. And I love the scene where the Doctor uses the mirror and some chalk to demonstrate to Mergrave and Ruther that their entire world is a lie. It really is a great concept- space folding in on itself, the same point in space having multiple locations, and the inhabitants of Castrovalva being part of it. The revelation of the forged history is also brilliant.
I had to raise an eyebrow at Shardovan’s line “Why are all these women here? Is this a holiday?” Along with the fact that all the women in Castrovalva seem to be performing some sort of domestic task whenever we see them it seems that feminism has yet to catch on here.
The Master is unveiled and we get a suitable conclusion, although sadly the Doctor once again addresses his rival as “Master”, something he should never ever do, at least by choice.
Now, that’s more like it. The story takes almost two whole episodes to get going, but the final two episodes are superb. Finally Bidmead is able to turn his brilliant concepts into effective drama. 3/5 overall, but the average mark reflects the fact (well, opinion!) that it’s a story of two halves. Peter Davison was fantastic, but now I’d like to see a story with him actually playing the Doctor!