Timestamp #117: Castrovalva

Doctor Who: Castrovalva
(4 episodes, s19e01-e04, 1982)

Timestamp 117 Castrovalva

A new season, a new Doctor, but first, a recap. Behind the scenes, it had been a year since Logopolis, so we get a quick review of the Fourth Doctor’s final moments before it’s off to the races.

The companions try to get the new Doctor back to the TARDIS, but they are captured by guards at the Pharos Project. The Doctor is loaded into an ambulance as the companions are frisked, but Tegan and Nyssa steal the ambulance and escort the Time Lord to the TARDIS.

The Master arrives in his TARDIS, stuns the guards, and leaves Adric in a suspicious state. The ladies get Adric to the Doctor’s TARDIS where the boy pilots the craft away without even a word of thanks. Upon hearing Tegan and Nyssa talk about the Doctor’s quest to reach the Zero Room, Adric follows the Time Lord and finds him playing Theseus with his scarf and clothing. The Doctor is cycling through his previous incarnations and companions. Something appears to be wrong with the regeneration.

But why? Is it because the Fourth Doctor did whatever it was with the Watcher? Or was it the traumatic nature of his demise?

Actually, I blame the Time Lords. The first regeneration went perfectly fine with just a little bit of recuperation afterward. After they forced the Second Doctor’s regeneration, every one since has been dicey.

Tegan and Nyssa discover a “TARDIS Information System” and try to control the craft. When they discover that their flight is pre-programmed and that they cannot crash, they enter the TARDIS corridors and pursue the others.

As Adric wanders off on his own, the Doctor stumbles across a mirror, tries on a recorder for size, and finally discovers his new uniform. This incarnation fancies cricket. Upon hearing the Zero Room door cycle, he rushes off and finds Tegan and Nyssa. Together, they find the Zero Room, a place completely isolated from the universe where the Doctor’s brain can heal without interference. As he drifts into a healing trance, he explains each companion’s role as he heals: Tegan is the party’s coordinator, Nyssa is the technical expert, and Adric (with his badge for mathematical excellence) is the navigator who will help bridge the disconnect between the new Doctor and the old.

Adric appears to them and reveals that the Master has set a trap with him as the bait. The real Adric is… somewhere (I presume the Master’s TARDIS), and the one on their TARDIS is a projection. Nyssa heads for the Console Room, noting a rising temperature in the corridors. The Cloister Bell sounds and the Doctor tries to leave the Zero Room but he collapses. Tegan returns him to the room before joining Nyssa, and together they discover that the Master has set their course for the Big Bang. The Doctor arrives, but is thrown to the deck in the turbulence. A convenient roundel opens, emptying a first aid kit onto the Doctor, and an automated wheelchair arrives – both of which presumably acts of the TARDIS to help her companion – and the Doctor finishes his journey to the Console Room. With his companions, along with an adrenaline boost from the emergency at hand, he helps save the craft by reconfiguring the TARDIS interior to generate thrust.

The trouble is that he lapses back into a coma before explaining how to select which rooms to delete.

As the TARDIS flies closer and closer toward destruction, the companions delete a quarter of the interior at random and they are saved. On the Master’s TARDIS, Adric tries to conceal their victory, but the Master is able to burn through the boy’s mental blocks.

The downside to the companions’ solution is that the Zero Room was among the jettisoned spaces. The companions find a suitable substitute with Castrovalva, where Tegan (crash) lands the TARDIS on its side in the nearby forest. Nyssa helps the Doctor construct a Zero Cabinet and, after changing into a more functional wardrobe, joins Tegan in carrying the Doctor into the wilds of the planet.

Along the way, they lose the wheelchair and Nyssa’s ion bonder, forcing them to carry the Cabinet by hand. Unbeknownst to the ladies, they are being watched from the nearby brush. Tegan spots the castle of Castrovalva and the companions attempt to seek help. When they return to the Zero Cabinet, they find it empty with a small pool of blood nearby.

The companions track the blood trails but are soon ambushed by the warriors who were pursuing them earlier. They spot the Doctor, who is also following the blood trail, but he doesn’t recognize his name. The Doctor is taken captive by one set of warriors while another retrieves the Zero Cabinet, but once inside the walls of Castrovalva, they are revealed as middle-aged intellectual hunters rather than warriors, led by a librarian named Shardovan. The blood trail was from a wild pig, the night’s main course. The Doctor is counseled by an elder named Portreeve, and is offered a meal, a tonic, and a place to sleep.

The companions scale the rocks to Castrovalva, taking the long way around, and are shown the Doctor before being seen to their own quarters. Meanwhile, as the Doctor sleeps, Adric emerges from the shadows and skulks about.

Come the morning, Nyssa directs the locals to take the Zero Cabinet to the Doctor’s quarters. There, she finds a projection of Adric who directs her to keep the Doctor in Castrovalva until his regeneration is completed. The image breaks up, and the Master is satisfied that his machinations will proceed uninterrupted.

Tegan and Nyssa are shown to the library to research telebiogenesis while Portreeve shows the Doctor important events since the Time Lord’s arrival. During the display, the Doctor realizes that he’s missing a companion, but he can’t remember who it was. A delightful young girl helps jog his memory, and the Doctor demands the story from Nyssa and Tegan. The Doctor tries to leave the town, but finds that he cannot as the space is folding in around itself. It’s a space-time trap, which is forcing the Doctor into a relapse, and someone has taken the Zero Cabinet.

The Doctor remains in his quarters while the companions search for the Cabinet. He finds a clue in a book and asks for more. He also asks the town doctor, Mergreave, to the describe the geography of Castrovalva, but is dismayed when the doctor locates his own pharmacy in four distinct locations within the town map. He tests another townsman and gets the same result, and coupled with the fact that the books appear to be forgeries, he determines that Shardovan is behind the events.

The companions find the Zero Cabinet, deliberately hidden by the townsfolk, and return it to the Doctor. He climbs inside and asks to be carried to the Portreeve, enlisting the assembled townsfolk. At one point, Shardovan is drawn away and confronted by none other than the Doctor about the nature of the civilization. The Zero Cabinet arrives in the Portreeve’s chambers, and it is revealed to be filled with the stacks of books by the elder, who is really the Master in disguise. Castrovalva is nothing more than a fiction entered in the TARDIS database by the evil Time Lord.

The Doctor and Shardovan sneak in through a back way and convince the other town leaders to help stop the Master. He pulls aside the tapestry to reveal that Adric wasn’t being held on the Master’s TARDIS but in Castrovalva itself all along. Shardovan sacrifices himself to free Adric, and the Master escapes into the fireplace, which is his TARDIS. Everyone tries to escape the space-time trap, but only Adric can see the way out since his mind created it. The Master, also unable to leave, tries to force his way out but is stopped by the townspeople as Castrovalva collapses in upon itself.

The Master defeated himself.

The Doctor and his companions return to the TARDIS, and with the revelation that the instructions Tegan used to pilot the craft were also a fabrication, they climb aboard and set sail.

Wait. What? The “TARDIS Information System” was a fabrication? So, how did the Master conclude that the Doctor wouldn’t finish configuration dump of the TARDIS and not delete the Zero Room?

The rest of the Master’s plan makes sense to me except for that one point.

As for the rest, I’m not totally sold on this Doctor. The story was okay, but nothing special, and I’m glad that the companions were able to carry the plot while the Doctor finished baking. Well, they carried it to a degree; Tegan and Nyssa were instrumental in saving the day and the Doctor, but the whole story was in exchange for effectively fridging Adric (and his badge for mathematical excellence) for the entire story.

Without the +1 bonus for a regeneration episode, this would be nothing more than an average story.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp Special #3: A Girl’s Best Friend

A Girl’s Best Friend
(1981)

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After closing out the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, it felt appropriate to spend another 1980s adventure with two of his iconic companions.

After a set of trippy opening credits, we come to a cult ceremony where two goat-headed figures are leading a chant against a heretic: Sarah Jane Smith’s aunt Lavinia. We last heard of her in The Time Warrior.

Lavinia is packing for a lecture tour in America, but has a box that arrived a long time ago addressed to Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane has been working abroad as a reporter and arrives too late to meet up with Lavinia, but luckily her aunt left the crate behind. She gets delayed by her aunt’s ward, Brendan Richards, and his surprise arrival at the train station. He reveals that Lavinia’s absence is awfully sudden. Suspicious, even.

Sarah Jane retrieves Brendan and returns to her aunt’s house to meet Bill Pollock, Lavinia’s partner in a local market garden who lives in the east wing of the house. The man is awfully standoffish and rude toward Brendan, and their discussion is interrupted by a suspicious call from Juno Baker, a friend of Lavinia’s. Pollock leaves shortly afterward, leaving Sarah Jane and Brendan a chance to open the crate.

Inside is K9. Mark III to be exact.

And since K9 joined the Doctor after Sarah Jane’s departure, she has no idea what it is. Luckily, K9 fills in the details: He was sent by the Doctor as a gift in 1978 with his fondest love. So, he’s been in the crate for two or three years.

I’d wonder where the Doctor found time during the search for the Key to Time to build and send K9, but he’s a Time Lord. He has nothing but time.

 

 

Brendan is very curious about K9’s workings and origins – “Who is the Doctor?” followed by the only logical response, “Affirmative” – and Sarah Jane follows the leads on her aunt. Lavinia was disliked in town because of her outspoken views on local witchcraft. While Sarah Jane talks with Juno, Brendan runs an analysis on the local soil and K9 thwarts an abduction attempt on the young ward by George Tracey and his son Peter, both of whom are tied to the coven. Of course, Tracey is Lavinia’s gardener, and he arrives the next morning to inspect the resultant damage in the garden. Later that night, Peter succeeds in abducting Brendan and cutting the phone lines.

Sarah Jane is suspicious of Tracey and hides K9 in the gardener’s house. The robotic dog overhears plans to sacrifice Brendan for the coven, forcing Sarah Jane and K9 to investigate. Of course, she is unable to involve the local police because she cannot explain her actions or K9’s presence, and none of the locals believe her story about witchcraft. While she continues to investigate, Peter is inducted into the coven, and K9 explains that they have only a few scant hours before the winter solstice occurs.

In the nick of time – the countdown was more annoying than tension-building – K9 and Sarah Jane save Brendan and unmask the cult members, revealing the leaders as Pollock and Lily Gregson, the postmistress of the village. The reason that Sarah Jane never got her aunt’s telegraphs was that the two of them stopped them from getting out, fueling Sarah Jane’s suspicions about Lavinia’s disappearance. Luckily, Sarah Jane gets a Christmas call from her aunt to sort things out while K9 learns how to sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

So, it’s not a terrible story, but not a great one. It was nice to see Sarah Jane once again and K9 one last time in the classic era, and it was a good way to close out the Fourth Doctor’s adventures. I think the stories would have gotten better if the series had been picked up, but as a pilot, this tale was cute but weak.

 

As with the other specials, this rating won’t count toward anything since this isn’t an official Doctor story, though it does provide me things to think about when I move into the multiple spinoff television series at some point.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Castrovalva

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp: Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor Summary

Doctor Who: Eighteenth Series and Fourth Doctor Summary

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Doctor Who pulled out all the stops to say goodbye to a legendary lead.

The Eighteenth Series bounced back from the doldrums of the Fourth Doctor’s last three years, and it bounced high. It started well with The Leisure Hive, carried well through the E-Space Trilogy (Full Circle, State of Decay, and Warriors’ Gate), and then hit the gas with The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis.

In fact, the only low point was Meglos, and that was still an average performance.

This series was a combination of tying off threads while setting up the weavers of the future with Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan. I already discussed my feelings on Romana in the Timestamp for Warriors’ Gate, and I’m okay with the three new companions. I love Tegan’s brashness so far, but I’m apprehensive about Adric and Nyssa. My biggest fear is that they are included on a “children’s show” in order to engage children, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Adric seems to be out Wesley Crushering Wesley Crusher. In the first and second seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, child prodigy Wesley Crusher often saved the day by figuring out a problem that a ship full of trained professionals couldn’t reason out, many times by subverting the command structure in a blantant statement that adults are too locked in their ways.

It certainly wasn’t the first time Gene Roddenberry played with that trope, but I digress.

Adric is being painted as an incredibly lucky or intuitive boy. He has come to the right answers before the Doctor (and Romana) multiple times, and often because of taking a random action instead of reasoning out the solution. He pilots the TARDIS (a baffling act to begin with) by the flip of a coin.

I hope that aspect of his character mellows in the Fifth Doctor’s run, or is at least mitigated by Nyssa and Tegan.

Out of the Fourth Doctor’s legendary run, this series was the highest rated, barely beating out the first of his seven-year set. In terms of the franchise so far, this one ties the Fifth Series at third, coming in behind the Eleventh and Ninth Series.

The Leisure Hive – 4
Meglos – 3
Full Circle – 4
State of Decay –  4
Warriors’ Gate – 4
The Keeper of Traken – 5
Logopolis – 5

Series Eighteen Average Rating: 4.2/5

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We have had the Wise Grandfather, the Sly Jester, the Secret Agent Scientist, and now we have the Whimsical Warrior. In fact, the Fourth Doctor is summarized in something he told Sarah Jane in his first adventure:

There’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.

The Fourth Doctor was, in part, an evolution of the Second and Third Doctors. He was playful and capricious, but also fueled by righteous anger at injustice in the universe. The last seven years (mostly) ditched the James Bond tropes and focused on making each story an adventure, adding fun back into the mix by dialing back the Jon Pertwee seriousness. The character kept the arrogance (and some of the rudeness) from the past two incarnations, which brought us closer to the trope of the Doctor being the smartest man in the room.

For better or for worse, of course. It gets annoying when each story is solved by the Doctor pulling out a fact that only he knew – preventing the audience from being able to solve the mystery on their own – but it makes the stories like Logopolis where the companions actively drive the adventure so much more sweet.

But there are caveats in my joy with this incarnation. Frankly, I think he overstayed his welcome.

Back in the Third Doctor’s Summary, I discussed the balance between longevity and consistency in television series. Doctor Who has obviously been evolving in its eighteen years to this point, often at the sake of consistency with canon and tone. What’s interesting with that in mind is taking the Fourth Doctor’s run as a subset and watching how it mirrors long-running television series. It started strong in the first three years, changed things up, languished as it struggled to get back to the golden days, hit refresh, and then ended on a strong note.

Just like how Doctor Who had to evolve (regenerate) leading into the Third Doctor’s run in order to survive as audiences grew, it had to do so again. The results weren’t so good as the years went on. From some of the classic Whovians I’ve spoken too, the road to recovery from here was long and arduous.

Some even claim that the show never really recovered before classic Who ended.

In terms of pop culture, Tom Baker’s run left a significant mark. These seven years were a starting point for many people, and the combination of the TARDIS, jelly babies, companions, and that iconic scarf are touchstones that link with the barest thought of Doctor Who to this day.

I even have a handmade scarf in the process of being knitted for Dragon Con.

Even despite the drop in quality over the years, the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who was fun and exciting. I see a lot of myself in the Fourth Doctor, and even though he’s not my favorite, he made a distinct impression on me. It’s easy to see why he has a spot in so many hearts within fandom.

That said, I’m ready for a change of pace.

By the numbers, the Fourth Doctor ties with the Second Doctor in second place. By overall gut feeling, he’s at third. Patrick Troughton is just that hard to beat in my heart.

Series 12 – 4.0
Series 13 – 3.8
Series 14 – 3.8
Series 15 – 3.3
Series 16 – 3.2
Series 17 – 3.3
Series 18 – 4.1

Fourth Doctor’s Weighted Average Rating: 3.67

Ranking (by score)
1 – Third (4.00)
2 – Second (3.67)
2 – Fourth (3.67)
4 – First (3.41)

Ranking (by character)
1 – Second Doctor
2 – Third Doctor
3 – Fourth Doctor
4 – First Doctor

Okay, I know, I know, we’re in the middle of a loose trilogy. I’m interrupting the flow by doing this, but now is a great time to close off this era of Doctor Who by visiting Fourth Doctor companions Sarah Jane Smith and K9 one more time.

After that, it’s back to the mission to defeat the Master with a new Doctor.

UP NEXT – Special #3: A Girl’s Best Friend

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.