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Castrovalva ★★★

Peter Davison's confident debut as the fifth Doctor, who must escape a convoluted trap set by the Master

Published: Sunday, 15th January 2012 at 11:00 pm

Season 19 – Story 116


“Welcome aboard. I’m the Doctor. Or will be if this regeneration works out” – the Doctor

Weakened by his latest transformation, the new Doctor is reliant on his companions to get him aboard the Tardis. The Master ensnares Adric and tries to destroy the Tardis by sending it back to the dawn of time. It’s down to Nyssa and Tegan to convey the Doctor to the restorative tranquillity of Castrovalva. But could this idyllic society be another trap laid by the Master?

First transmissions
Part 1 - Monday 4 January 1982
Part 2 - Tuesday 5 January 1982
Part 3 - Monday 11 January 1982
Part 4 - Tuesday 12 January 1982

OB recording: September 1981 in East Sussex at Crowborough Wireless Telegraph Station, Duddleswell; Buckhurst Park, Withyham; and Harrison’s Rocks, near Groombridge
Studio recording: September/October 1981 in TC3 and TC6

The Doctor - Peter Davison
Tegan Jovanka - Janet Fielding
Nyssa - Sarah Sutton
Adric - Matthew Waterhouse
The Master - Anthony Ainley
Head of security - Dallas Cavell
Shardovan - Derek Waring
Mergrave - Michael Sheard
Ruther - Frank Wylie
Portreeve - Neil Toynay
Child - Souska John

Writer - Christopher H Bidmead
Designer - Janet Budden
Incidental music - Paddy Kingsland
Script editor - Eric Saward
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Fiona Cumming

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
In an age when all new Doctors are youthful, it’s hard to recall the shock some 30 years ago at the casting of Peter Davison – 29 but still preppy, with his demeanour of freshly churned butter. It was a radical departure from whom we expected the Doctor to be and a bold choice by producer John Nathan-Turner. The paternal/avuncular Time Lord ceased to be, replaced by an older brother/head prefect persona, which 25 years later would pave the way for the likes of David Tennant and Matt Smith.

At first Davison smacks of a lager shandy after Tom Baker’s full-bodied merlot, wet flannel in place of multicoloured scarf. But with an already high profile in TV drama and sitcoms, and arguably the programme’s first reasonably good-looking lead, Davison brought an upsurge in ratings – several more million viewers than the previous year, with part four of Castrovalva peaking at 10.4m. It would seem JN-T had successfully revitalised Doctor Who for its third decade.

Part of his formula is the plethora of colour-coded companions, each keying into a share of the audience. I know my dad (a very casual viewer) perked up at the charms of Janet Fielding. As snappy ball-breaker Tegan, she’s the most overtly alluring sidekick. Perhaps lost little boys related to Adric. Matthew Waterhouse isn’t at all bad here, though you may spy more graft than craft, and he remains hampered by his camp perma-pyjamas.

Little girls no doubt cleaved to Nyssa. The step-by-step simplification of Sarah Sutton’s costume (dumping her veiled skirt and velvet jacket, a bush removing her “tiara”) is amusing to follow during the leaden part two, but for me Nyssa still comes over like Tinkerbell on tranquillisers. All three have the texture of undercooked dough. Knead them together, add more spice, reheat, and you might have yourself one half-decent companion.

This new-recipe Master is also indigestible. Now, we know he’s deranged, but really! Creating an entire society with a 1,200-year history, opulent architecture and a terribly erudite populace not averse to plastic-bucket hats? Dressing himself up as the decrepit Portreeve? And all this powered by Adric’s supposed computational skills..? There had to be a less convoluted means of ensnaring and disposing of the Doctor.

Fiona Cumming, the first woman director in ages, imposes some style, colour and pace on Christopher Bidmead’s narrative, which lurches uneasily from incident to tedium. Last season’s script editor, he’s delivered a peculiar set of scripts that exemplify his lofty ambitions. In an unstable compound of scientific artifice and artiness, Castrovalva’s “recursive occlusion” strives to echo the warped dimensions of MC Escher’s illustrations but is beyond the video technology of the day.

The Doctor (as he would henceforth be named in the closing credits and in Radio Times after 19 years as “Doctor Who” or “Dr Who”) is enfeebled for much of the story. Yet Peter Davison gives a confident performance. He delightfully mimics his predecessors in episode one, and shows the first flash of his new persona once within the sanctuary of the Zero Room (a pinkish-grey vault deep inside the Tardis that’s spectacular for the time).

By the end of the story the fifth Doctor has solidified, at times fogeyish in his reading spectacles, but also chummy and energetic, exhorting his companions to jog back to the police box. “Got to be fit to crew the Tardis. Trim time-ship and a ship-shape team.” The future of Doctor Who looks youthful and zestful.

Radio Times archive material

In 1982 we ran a full-page article introducing Peter Davison

RT billings


RT mailbag (30 January 1982) – there was a mixed reaction to Davison, while BBC1 controller Alan Hart responded to complaints about Doctor Who leaving its Saturday night slot.

[Available on BBC DVD]

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