Doctor Who #564: Castrovalva Part 2

"As a scientist it's easy to be tyrannised by facts."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.5 1982.

IN THIS ONE... To escape the Big Bang, the TARDISeers jettison 25% of the TARDIS, including the zero room, forcing them to head for Castrovalva, Tegan and Nyssa carry a zero cabinet through a forest to get there.

REVIEW: Though the Doctor still channels his past selves here and there - there's a fourth Doctor shush and a few references to the Pertwee era - his own personality is starting to come out. The fifth Doctor is manic to the point of anxiety, talks quickly and uses old-fashioned cheeseball/poetic expressions, and wears glasses we now know he doesn't really need. He's also much warmer towards his companions, inspiring some rather fierce loyalty for a group of people who, aside from Adric, can hardly be said to know him. And I'm mostly liking the companions here, even Adric who seems at his best caught in a painful metal web defying the Master with seething anger or insolence. Nyssa's actually the weakest link to me, a defeatist Tegan must continually counter with (perhaps naive) idealism. Nyssa lets facts get in the way of action, knowing for a certainty that things can't be done, having not yet discovered the laws of nature don't really apply to ANY of the environments she visits (the TARDIS, the Big Bang, Castrovalva). I'm not exactly a fan of her grimace when she falls in the river ("ewww") either. It's incredible how much this story informed my sustained opinion of her character. That's right, I've never been a big fan of Nyssa. Tegan drives the action here, she's the ideas woman. Would that they could have kept that up. At least Janet Fielding has already mastered the art of tilted TARDIS acting.

Though I've been critical of writer Chris Bidmead, I do like what he adds to TARDIS lore by viewing the craft's pocket dimension as a semi-sentient mathematical construct. There's a great use of openable roundels in this episode to gain access to various systems or to dispense first aid, and the ship nudges a wheelchair the Doctor's way. It's obviously reconfiguring itself to help its Time Lord. And to escape the Big Bang, they have to vent 25% of the interior into space, an intriguing idea (can rooms regenerate over time?) well-played for its inherent tension (will the console room and the characters to part of the purge? gulp). The console room doesn't go, but the zero room does, so they build a zero cabinet (not to call it a coffin) from its remaining panels so the girls can carry the Doctor through the woods (somewhat interminably) to Castrovalva, a place of quiet tranquility with the same kind of atmosphere as the zero room, which looks a lot like Escher's print of the same name.

The big weakness of the episode/serial, I feel, is the Master's plan (his dialog's pretty terrible too). Here it is: Expecting the Doctor to escape his Big Bang trap, he set a trap within the trap, leaving references and coordinates to a false place, Castrovalva, which we'll discover later is a mathematical construct and his creation. What he hopes to do to the Doctor there is immaterial. What's highly improbable is that, even if I believe Adric was his target since The Keeper of Traken (it all requires Adric's block transfer computation ability, so perhaps Adric is plan B, and a Logopolitan was plan A), and even if I believe he had time to infect the Doctor's TARDIS with a computer virus (transmitted from his own?), his plan hinges on his knowing 1) the Doctor would be not only regenerating but having a regeneration crisis and 2) the TARDIS would somehow lose its zero room. I can probably No-Prize all this, of course. Which rooms are vented (the only possible escape from the Big Bang?) might be controlled by the same virus (though why not vent the console room?). Or more likely, Castrovalva could be whatever is needed at any given moment (in an alternate universe, it might say it's a great place for a TARDIS to heal up from Big Bang trauma). You know, maybe I wouldn't be so hard on the Master if Ainley didn't play him as a such a loon. I suppose he can be both a mastermind AND insane.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The fifth Doctor and his supporting cast are forming nicely in a story that has clever ideas, nice locations and pretty music.


Zundian said...

Perhaps a control room was vented, but the wrong one was picked?

Also, what is 25% of infinity?

(For some reason I am actively hostile toward the Fifth Doctor's era. I can't explain it, because I like Peter Davison in other things.)

snell said...

Of course, besides being a mastermind and insane, the Master is also a time traveler, so he could have had weeks, months, even years to set up and react between seemingly consecutive portions of his plan, even though only hours have passed from the TARDIS crews' perspective.

There's no reason that he couldn't have set up Castrovalva after he saw the TARDIS survived the Big Bang and that the Doctor was having a regeneration crisis, and then bopped back in time to implement it. (The Master, being evil and insane, would be much less concerned with the Laws of Time and crossing his own timeline than the Doctor...)

Siskoid said...

Zundian: I know how you feel. I also have a love/hate relationship with the era. Much of it comes from thinking the fifth Doctor deserved better (there are highlights of course).

Snell: Maybe, but he's got Adric with him, and he doesn't seem to get any older in between scenes. I think they're in his TARDIS anyway. As soon as the Big Bang happens, he's talking about the trap behind his trap which sadly doesn't need to be sprung (but then has to be), so he had all this prepared it seems.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah ... the Ainley Master's stupid nefarious schemes. I had put them out of my head. Now they're starting to come back to me. Oh that's right, there was one where he was going to change the outcome of the Battle of Runnymeade to prevent democracy from happening and thus somehow control the universe. God damn it, I was happier before I remembered that.

Siskoid said...

NOT that the Delgado Master's plans were any wiser. He just carried himself better.

Anonymous said...

True. With Delgado you'd say "You're MAD! That said, you seem to have seized upon attainable goals and not completely implausible ways to achieve them." I'm pretty sure those would be my exact words.

Oh I think I just remembered another Ainley plot: to brainwash all the greatest minds of the Renaissance so that the Renaissance never happens. Somewhere in that story, the Doctor was hanging on for dear life while villagers were trying to kick him into a pit, and Peri was throwing lumps of coal at them to drive them away. I think I'm in for a rough couple of months.

Siskoid said...

Oh it's going to be quite a summer.


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