Doctor Who #563: Castrovalva Part 1

"Seems the old doc is coming unraveled in more ways than one."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.4 1982.

IN THIS ONE... The fifth Doctor has problems with his regeneration and seeks the zero room. Meanwhile, the Master kidnaps Adric and sends the TARDIS hurtling towards the Big Bang.

REVIEW: With the fifth Doctor's arrival, we're finally at a place where John Nathan-Turner's ethos can be seen. Tom Baker was the last member of the old guard to leave. Slick visuals. Titles that have gone so far from "Something of Something" that they don't appear to make any sense (Castrovalva is the title of one of Escher's works, though not a recursive one, so it has nothing to do with Part 1). All the regulars in clothing that can truly be described as "costumes", for ease of marketing and action figure manufacture. A well-known actor in the title role. And a move from Saturday tea time to twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which is sure to change the way they make the show. With less time between episodes, the show is free to follow a more modern aesthetic, with less repetition of information and the ability to meander and underexplain without preying on viewers' patience. At least, that's the theory. It's also a move from Doctor Who as family tradition and towards niche programming. You might even call it the beginning of the end, even if that end is 8 years away. But 8 years that include an 18-month hiatus and from now on, much shorter seasons (not in number of episodes yet, but in number of weeks).

Whatever JNT's future promises, Peter Davison is immediately likeable as the Doctor. After Tom Baker's long stay, it's a good idea to spend so much time focusing on him as an actor. His Doctor isn't fully-formed yet, he's going through a bad regeneration, but how great are his Hartnell and Troughton impressions? They make me wish he'd had a Pertwee and a Baker in him. As his mind unravels into former personalities, he unravels the iconic scarf, deconstructing the Doctor that was. He's wandering deep into the TARDIS, which is an extension of himself, shedding Four in search of Five. And though it's a little featureless down there (just like the nascent Doctor's personality), it's a heck of a lot more convincing than the inner TARDIS from The Invasion of Time! And the zero room looks nice. The cream-colored cricket uniform suits this fresh-faced Doctor, while keeping the character's usual Edwardian fashion style.

Another important if more subtle change is that the Doctor gives each of his companions a role, for the first time treating them as a CREW (the new computer database they have access to does make this more like a space opera show). Tegan is to be coordinator, keeping the team together and motivated. Nyssa is a technician, someone who understands the whole science aspect. And Adric is to put his highly mathematical mind to work as navigator, and it's true the TARDIS lets him set coordinates and dematerialize. The Doctor's regeneration crisis means the companions do get a chance to show what they've got. Tegan is the one who steals the ambulance and rescues the Doctor from the Pharos Project guards, and once the crisis begins, she's definitely a contributor. Nyssa is required to supply tech talk, which really isn't the best of roles. I'm afraid this is a precursor to all those "Nyssa stays in the TARDIS" episodes I seem to remember. As for Adric, it's not clear if he's a projection all along, or if the Master snatched him from the TARDIS in flight, but he's once again in a position to betray the Doctor. It all starts with him getting nabbed by the guards, which is what happens when you've got one hand awkwardly stuffed down your pocket, you stupid kid!

Now, it's a new season and there are new script editors in the house (Anthony Root and Eric Saward), but it's still Bidmead's show. He wrote this one to follow directly from Logopolis, and he was involved in the commissioning some of the season's early scripts. We're done with entropy (sort of, the failing regeneration speaks to that), and now Bidmead's interested in mathematical recursion. Geez, Louise! The guy has a one-track mind. At least recursion has some more interesting story applications, both in terms of time travel and general story structure, but having Nyssa explain it makes me want to take a power snooze. I can't wait for the maths element to take a rest. Give me the Buddhist allegory of Kinda over Bidmeadisms any day.

THEORIES: The way the cricket uniform is displayed is rather suspicious, isn't it? Was it perhaps something the Watcher set up while he was in the TARDIS? This might indicate that he wasn't just an echo from the Doctor's future, but specifically an echo of the fifth Doctor (ergo, the template overlayed on the fourth's during the regeneration). Might that echo even have been born from the zero room experience? In other words, the regeneration is about to fail, the Doctor goes into the zero room, and to heal himself, it sends the echo/Watcher back in time to strengthen that regeneration, retroactively stabilizing the Doctor in the present time frame. It's stated the zero room is cut off from the outside universe, so maybe not, but I'm so desperate to give the Watcher meaning (and explain why he's not usually part of the process) that I'll obviously say anything. Still, it could be why he lays out his clothes for himself to find.

REWATCHABILITY: High - The fifth Doctor's first episode is a stellar showcase for Peter Davison's abilities, and full of symbolism. There's also a certain move towards embracing Doctor Who as an ensemble show again after more than a decade of leading men chewing up the scenery.


Anonymous said...

Davidson does indeed channel Baker. Its when he is still in Baker's costume right after he regenerates. Davidson delivers his lines as Baker would. Or so it seems to me.

Jeff R. said...

And here we have my first episode of Who. (For some reason that beggars comprehension, our local PBS introduced Dr. Who with this serial during a pledge marathon, and then, next week, jumped back to 'Robot' and went a story-a-week for almost a year before ever showing the first two parts of this 'trilogy'...)

Siskoid said...

Between you comment and those I got of Twitter, Jeff, this seems to be a lot of people's first Doctor Who story. How odd.

Jeff R. said...

I expect that it was the start of the newest season the Beeb were making available to US PBS stations when they started aggressively selling Dr. Who to PBS stations...

Siskoid said...

Anonymous: He does do a fair bit of rude shushing.


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