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.

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4 thoughts on “Timestamp #117: Castrovalva

  1. I admit that it’s been a while since I saw this one, but I thought that the implication was that Adric projected the TARDIS information file for Tegan and Nyssa to use.

    There’s a reason why Davison is often considered the “bland” Doctor. I think that’s doing him a bit of a disservice, but after Tom was larger than life it certainly is a huge gear change to get used to.

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