Jan. 22nd, 2018

purplecat: Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor (Who:Five)
Castrovalva is famously inspired by an Escher print (though, frankly, one of the less interesting ones). However, given that starting point, you would expect weird geometries, staircases and arched colonnades to be a prominent part of the story from the start. It is perhaps surprising therefore that it takes a long time to actually reach Castrovalva. The first two episodes feel more like an extended prologue than part of the story proper. In fact, one almost wonders if this would have worked better split into two linked smaller stories - the first the tale of the Fifth Doctor's troubled regeneration and the TARDIS's flight into Event One at the hands of the Master, followed by the more elaborate trap at Castrovalva itself.

With the Doctor and Adric absent for much of the story, the burden of carrying the action along falls on the shoulders of Sarah Sutton's Nyssa and Janet Fielding's Tegan who are pleasingly resourceful and irritatingly feeble by slightly inconsistent turns. This is nevertheless one of the better stories for both of them and allows them to actually build up a relationship with each other which it would have been nice to see more of as the series progressed.

Castrovalva itself reveals both the strengths and the weaknesses of the 1980s BBC. It looks great. The costumes which nod towards the early modern Dutch outfits (as do many of Escher's prints) could have been laughable but actually work and evoke a distinctive character for the place. However, the effects when Castrovalva starts to break down are woeful. On the page this is clearly supposed to be an Escheresque nightmare of endless staircases and distorted perspective - instead we get swirling images - oh well.

I felt with Logopolis that Christopher H. Bidmead was a little too enamoured of his pseudo-science (and possibly thought it was rather less pseudo- than I did). Castrovalva is a much stronger script, particularly the sections in Castrovalva itself, giving us a real sense of place and incidental characters who we care about. It's a shame Bidmead was about to leave the show because I would say Castrovalva is one of the better realisations of his vision for the show and, had he stayed on, he might have become surer footed and produced more stories that were actually strong yarns as well as interesting ideas.

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