Doctor Who #566: Castrovalva Part 4

"There is something we're all overlooking." "Yes? What, Doctor?" "I don't know. I'm overlooking it, too."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.12 1982.

IN THIS ONE... Castrovalva is destroyed when Adric is sprung from the Master's web.

REVIEW: Though recursion is one of those mathematical ideas Chris Bidmead is so fond of, he makes very good use of it in the finale, as the Doctor attempts to awaken the Castrovalvans to the facts of their falsified existence. Like their world, they tend to describe themselves recursively (using naive sophistry) and are troubled when they're able to position a single house four times on the same map (which reminds me of the Doctor's trouble naming his companions, going around Adric each time). To create this world in such a short time and using only Adric's noggin to make the calculations, the Master's had to make the space fold in on itself, limiting detail. Mistakes have still cropped up, and Castrovalvan history is proven false because the books are older than the events written in them. Most intriguingly, the people are not puppets and have free will, as Shardovan shows when he sacrifices his life to save Adric and destroy the Master's plans. If their history (even what happened only a few days ago) is false, they are nevertheless real people, which makes their non-existence at the end rather tragic. You wouldn't know it from the Doctor's reaction, feeling "splendid" in his new skin, but tragic nonetheless. They were rather sweet.

The only one who wasn't "sweet" was Shardovan the librarian, on whom some suspicion is thrown, but since the Portreeve was obviously the Master, you'd have to wonder why make the effort. For the companions if not for us, I suppose. As it turns out, he's the only man in Castrovalva who's interested in questioning the truth of his world, and a ready and serious ally for the Doctor. I like the secret meeting the Doctor arranges by stuffing the zero cabinet with books. A bit symbolic, eh? Fake histories acting as a fake Doctor. Ironically, they fool the Master, the creator who doesn't deserve his creations, foolishly trying to open the cabinet with his rude little wand, screaming and ranting all the while. I'm already so done with this version of the Master (alas). More shouting as Castrovalva comes crashing down around him. (Speaking of which, is it me or are there conflicting effects to represent this? Either it's all going bitmap with people running in a panic, or it's the wretched broken mirror effect with people just going about their business. Maybe they're in the wrong order.)

Now, it's difficult to give the regulars as much characterization in a story's finale, when it's all a rush to wrap up the plot (plus this is the shortest of the episodes), but we can at least appreciate Tegan's forceful nature, quick friendship with Nyssa, and both pride at having landed the TARDIS and disappointment to learn it was all done by Adric remotely. No surprise that we're focusing so much on her given that Bidmead essentially created the character, and she's the first Earth-Present human to board the TARDIS since - geez! - Sarah Jane Smith!? That's pretty amazing when you think about it. We WANT to follow her because she's us, and there hasn't been an "us" in a long time. Obviously, the Doctor gets some good coverage too, entertaining us with his energy and cleverness. Maybe that's why we don't mind him feeling splendid at the end. I think he may just be.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization has no major differences I am aware of.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Despite the rush to finish and an understated callousness to the Castrovalvans' fate, the finale has some fun with its central premise and the regulars are never anything but watchable (even Adric, but he's not given a lot to say).

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - The fifth Doctor's first story is one of my favorites of his. Clever, witty and charming, it's an excellent showcase for Peter Davison's abilities and creates a neat little world for him to explore. The companions do pretty well too, especially Tegan. Ainley's Master can't rain on THIS parade.


snell said...

I like to think the "books older than the events written in them" was a deliberate clue placed by Adric when he was forced to create everything. Probably not, though...

Siskoid said...

I'd have liked that too, but since they never mention it, it's probable Adric didn't do it on purpose.

Jeff R. said...

And, if I'm not forgetting anyone, there hasn't been a single non-present-day-Earth companion since Nyssa. (Well, Turlough and Ace are sort of half-present-day-Earth, half-something else, but still.)

I am really ready for a companion who hails from a different century than ours. Even one from the late nineties would be a change from the current, extended run.

Siskoid said...

Turlough's an alien, even if picked up on Earth Present. Just like I count Ace as Earth Present even she was picked up on Iceworld.

As for New Who, it depends on how you count your companions, but it's true of the ones that spend a whole season with the Doctor. I tend to count Captain Jack, but that's me.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I tend to see Jack as in the same category as the Brigadier, really. I like the 'name in the credits' rule on principle, but having to count each dies-in-the-xmas-special and including the Master as a companion clearly reducto ad absurdium that rule in practice.

I suppose that Kamelion is also an exception as well, but the less said about Kamelion, the better.


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