Doctor Who complete reviews: Castrovalva
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
A new decade brings a new Doctor - and he's very confused...
Climbing Kilimanjaro. Getting a cat to speak English. Finding any merit in hideous squealathon Glee. All impossible, and all rank alongside having to follow Tom Baker as The Doctor.
To accomplish this daunting task was Peter Davison, a familiar actor whose career spans over 30 years and several roles. Familiar to many people who watch At Home With The Braithwaites, Campion or All Creatures Great And Small, Davison was a brave choice for the role back in 1981. For one thing, at the time, he was only 29 when announced as the new TARDIS incumbent, which - until Matt Smith - was the youngest age for an actor to play The Doctor. Davison was also the most familiar face to take on the role - at the time, he was well known from sitcoms such as Holding The Fort and Sink Or Swim (featuring Robert 'Salateen' Glenister), and also as Tristan Farnon, the vet from All Creatures Great And Small - in a sense, this arguably acted as a curse, since some viewers had preconceived ideas about how Davison would approach the part.
In the end, the fifth Doctor is an interesting one - he certainly keeps up the tradition of being as different as possible from the previous incarnation. Whereas the fourth Doctor was supremely confident, carefree and alien, the fifth is sensitive, unassuming and lacking in confidence. This has led to many jibes about how the fifth is no more than the Wet Vet In Space. It's a tricky thing, this. On the one hand, it's an interesting change of tack to take, making The Doctor fallible. The fifth Doctor never quite seems to win the day - events frequently spiral out of his control, as his reckless and naïve nature sometimes get the better of him. This makes for one of the most satisfying Doctor arcs in the series - the good man who's gradually ground down by an evil universe. This concept especially manifests itself in the latter part of Davison's run in season 21, where he constantly ends up fighting a losing battle against the good of the galaxy.
"For most of Castrovalva, the fifth Doctor's either sitting around wailing, trundling about in a cutprice Davros wheelchair or staggering around a fake city with the look of a small boy who's been told to go to his room without his tea"
On the other side of the coin though, you can't help but wish that The Doctor would just grow a pair. For most of Castrovalva, the fifth Doctor's either sitting around wailing, trundling about in a cutprice Davros wheelchair or staggering around a fake city with the look of a small boy who's been told to go to his room without his tea. This is meant to emphasise the extreme trauma that The Doctor's going through after falling umpteen feet from a radio telescope, but at times it becomes a bit wearing to see him either incapacitated or whining all the time. It's not just exclusive to Castrovalva either. Stories such as Arc Of Infinity and Snakedance also portray the fifth Doctor as a bit of a lightweight who can't be taken too seriously.
Another problem hampering the fifth Doctor is his comparitive lack of humour. Peter Davison himself has said that he would have liked to played The Doctor with a bit more humour, but again the new regime is putting obstacles in his way. By and large, the new Doctor doesn't really get the chance to show his sense of humour, apart from in one or two acidic barbs at his annoying companions. One or two stories near the end of his run do redress the balance, notably Frontios and The Caves Of Androzani. It's just a shame that this side of the fifth incarnation doesn't manifest itself earlier.
Despite that though, Peter Davison is never less than excellent, bringing a chirpy enthusiasm to The Doctor and a new lease of energy. That's one of the main characteristics of the fifth, all that mad running around, as if he's competing in an outer space olympic games tournament. Davison also successfully embodies the concept of an old man trapped in a young man's body. The fifth Doctor is frequently prone to angry, sharp outbursts when things aren't quite going his way, and this is a neat reminder of the first Doctor's crabby temper. Davison pulls this off very well, and altogether, he overcomes the limitations thrown at him by a sometimes less than clued-up production team - including a seriously bad mullet (more on this in the future).
"For reasons only known to himself, The Doctor decides to take on the look of an Edwardian cricketer"
It wasn't just the new Doctor that was the big change implemented by the production team. No, for the first time, Doctor Who was whisked out of its comfy Saturday teatime slot and plonked in the dreaded Monday and Tuesday slots - a great move for kids like me who had hated school and now had the prospect of Who to look forward to in the evenings. The ploy worked though, as it managed to bolster the ratings after the underperforming season 18 stories, which must have been a huge relief. Whether or not Castrovalva was the best choice of story to launch the fifth Doctor though needs a bit more thought.
So the poor old Doctor's suffering severe regeneration trauma - he's turning into a one-man Les Dennis and Dustin Gee act by impersonating past incarnations while unravelling his beloved scarf in the corridors of the TARDIS. And for reasons only known to himself, he decides to take on the look of an Edwardian cricketer - reactions have varied to the new costume, but it does sum up the naïve innocence of the fifth Doctor quite well. The problem is though is that there's no flexibility in the costume - in the past, the third and fourth Doctors always tended to vary their outfits. The fifth Doctor only alters his costume through necessity (either through heat or through getting chucked into a swimming pool), and so either he's got a secret stash of identical costumes, a secret long-lasting supply of strong anti-perspirant, or he goes through time and space with worse BO than a tramp in high summer.
Good thing then that The Doctor has one or two healing sources at his disposal. One is a Zero Room, a soothing, minimalist spa-type room which allows The Doctor the luxury of not having to construct a flat-pack bed from scratch. When this room inevitably gets jettisoned in a state of emergency, fortunately, Teabag and Nyssa find a substitute healing dwelling called Castrovalva, although there's predictably more to this than meets the eye - especially when The Master's about.
It's a brave move to start off the season - and indeed the reign of a new Doctor - in such muted fashion. The first two parts are largely confined to the TARDIS, with the terrible trio trying to make some sense of The Doctor's regeneration and trying to escape from the clutches of The Master, who's turned the TARDIS into a mobile deathtrap by sending it to the biggest bang in history. The problem is though is that because the new companions are so awful, the first two parts are the equivalent of trying to wade through treacle. And what do you know? Teabag's shouting her head off and moaning a lot ("How can you be so calm? We're playing Russian Roulette with the TARDIS!").
"Mercifully, Adric is kept in the background, with the sole task of getting enmeshed in The Master's web"
Nyssa by contrast is reacting to the danger with all the emotion of a woman eating her packed lunch at work, although she does find time to inexplicably change clothes and lose her jewellery in Python-esque fashion along the way. Mercifully, Adric is kept in the background, with the sole task of getting enmeshed in The Master's web - although inevitably, he even makes a meal of this, with both dreadful acting and a rather unfortunate choice of stance. So the scene in which Teabag and Nyssa first spot Adric on a random floating screen in part one when he's sending a message from the Master's TARDIS is doubly painful for these reasons.
The Master's also a bit of a contradiction in terms. Having established himself as the Robbie Rotten of Doctor Who baddies in Logopolis, The Master cements this reputation in Castrovalva with even more screw-ups. What's worse is that he seems to know that every single one of his plans to destroy The Doctor once and for all is doomed. So after he's forced The Doctor to regenerate, he decides to capture Adric and turn the TARDIS into a deadly bomb. This of course succeeds with all the skill of a rhino doing synchronised swimming. So when that plan has gone belly-up, he implements a new plan which is to lure The Doctor to Castrovalva, which is of course, another trap. The revelation that Castrovalva is all a fiction and held together by Adric in The Master's web is actually a very good one - the problem though is that it's hard to take The Master seriously with so many of his plans falling down like skittles.
Anthony Ainley, though, is a revelation as the Portreeve, the elderly statesman of Castrovalva. Both the make-up and Ainley's subtle performance are so convincing that it's hard to spot the giveaway the first time. The role of the Portreeve allows Ainley to really show off his acting chops, which are otherwise wasted on The Master. Put it this way: the first shot we see of The Master in Castrovalva is a close-up of him going: "Heh heh heh". And by the end of the story, he's decided to atone for his sins by turning into Frank Sinatra and singing "My Waaaaaaaayyyyyy!" Oh sorry, it's "My Weeeeeeeeeeebbb!!!" Right, gotcha.
At least things do pick up in parts three and four with the arrival on Castrovalva. Christopher HAMILTON Bidmead delivers a rather lyrical piece with some great lines ("Not with my eyes but with my philosophy"; "One of us is deluded about geography!"), and the fairy tale-style story (with of course, roots in hard science) is well matched by Fiona Cumming's ethereal direction. Cumming had already worked on the lyrical Blake's 7 story 'Sarcophagus', and she's well suited to this type of adventure, given that Snakedance and Enlightenment run along the same lines. The location filming at Harrison's Rocks in Sussex is very good, while the lush forest of Buckhurst Park makes for a suitable locale too.
Janet Budden's interiors also look fabulous and take their inspiration (like the story itself) from MC Escher's art. The idea of space folding in on itself is quite a claustrophobic one, and the end of part three (the best cliffhanger of the lot) shows this dizziness well with some cool fuzzy-felt picture editing. The costumes are also well designed by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, even if Michael Sheard is trying desperately not to look too effeminate in his pink licqorice allsort getup. Sheard again gives a fine performance - this time as Mergrave, and shows off his versatility as an actor, especially considering the amount of times he's appeared in Doctor Who. Frank Wylie gives a spirited performance as Ruther, while Derek Waring threatens to steal the show as the bookish Shardovan, a man who's evidently smarter than he looks. Must be the silly hat - of which there are many.
Despite The Master's best laid plans, The Doctor still manages to jog back to the TARDIS in one piece - full of vim and ready for a set of new adventures.
It's a disjointed first story - if only we'd spent more time in Castrovalva than in the TARDIS with Teabag and Nyssa, and if only the production team weren't so hellbent on turning The Master into a cartoony villain. Altogether though, Castrovalva is a decent enough debut for the new Doctor, and looks forward to the future with optimism. Ah, if only The Doctor knew...
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.