CRRRRS 473 Doctor Who: Castrovalva

By Roy Mathur, on 2023-01-06 at 22:51:55--23:55:59 GMT, for Captain Roy's Rusty Rocket Radio Show, Listen

Revisit Journal

472 saw me a suffering the post-Christmas blues. I'm not over it. In fact, it got a lot worse, but I'm just about functioning.

I've since shaved the Robinson Crusoe beard and started working on this podcast. I am, however, exhausted, hence its later than expected release.


Fifth Doctor: Peter Davison
Companion(s): Adric: Matthew Waterhouse, Nyssa: Sarah Sutton, Tegan: Janet Fielding
Notable Cast: Our old Brit geek face Michael Sheard: Doctor Who: The Ark, The Mind of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Invisible Enemy, Castrovalva, Remembrance of the Daleks and, of course, the officer killed by Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. NB I knew him best as the miserable martinet Bronson, a teacher on Grange Hill, so his death in Star Wars was was not mourned by young British people my age.
Director: Fiona Cumming
Writer: Christopher H. Bidmead
Producer: John Nathan-Turner
Locations: Pharos is Sussex Police Training Centre, Crowborough and the Castrovalva forest is Buckhurst Park, and BBC Television Centre, Shepherd's Bush in 1981.
Broadcast: Season 19, serial 1, story 116, following Logopolis covered in 466, 4 x c. 25 minute episodes, first broadcast 4--12 January 1982.
Media: Logopolis and Castrovalva VHS with Escher's Relativity inspired cover art (1992), New Beginnings: Return of the Master: The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis, Castrovalva DVD boxset (2007), Doctor Who DVD Files Issue 47 2010, and The Collection, Season 19 Blu-ray boxset (2018) (not cited in Wikipedia, but this time I actually bothered checking with a Google image search). Target novelisation by Christopher H. Bidmead (1983).


Don't You Want Me by the Human League is number one and footballer Richard Logan is born in Bury St Edmunds.

What Happens

Arrested by Pharos project guards, Tegan and Nyssa escape with the fifth Doctor in the TARDIS when the Master appears and takes Adric.

A fake projection of Adric acts oddly in the TARDIS. He is actually imprisoned in a web-like structure within the Master's TARDIS, enslaved and weaponised because of his ability to perfom the block transfer computation he learned from the Logopolitans.

The partially regenerated Doctor seeks the restorative power of the Zero Room. While searching, he finds a cricket pavilion changing room in the TARDIS, where he dons an archaic umpire's outfit.

Tegan finds a display in the console with a manual, but it also tells them they are on crash-course to the Big Bang (Unbeknownst to them the TARDIS was sabotaged by the Master). The recovering Doctor ejects a large portion of the TARDIS, including the Zero Room, and uses the energy to escape. They build a makeshift Zero Cabinet from what remains of the Zero Room. With the help of the manual, Tegan finds a suitable place for the Doctor to heal and pilots them to Castrovalva. Actually, this is a prearranged destination programmed by the Master.

After landing, Nyssa and Tegan have difficulty moving the Doctor, so they leave him in the Zero Cabinet and climb a cliff to seek help in Castrovalva.

The Doctor is captured by a fearsome tribal war party, who turn out to be the friendly inhabitants on a hunting trip. The Doctor is cared for until Nyssa and Tegan arrive.

They find themselves trapped in the confusing maze of a "recursive occlusion" when they try to leave. The elder of Castrovalava, the Portreeve, is in fact the Master. He created Castrovalava to trap for the Doctor. He gleefully shows them the source of his power to physically change matter: Adric, still spreadeagled in the wire web behind a strange changing tapestry that shows real world events. One of the Castrovalvi, Shardovan, bravely swings from a chandelier into the structure. It is destroyed, Adric is freed, and the destruction of Castrovalva begins. The Master attempts to flee, but is mobbed by the angry townsfolk. Our friends and a recovered Doctor return to the TARDIS.

What I Thought

Thanks to the internet, I know Peter Davison (Peter Malcolm Gordon Moffett) sprang from humble beginnings, but on revisit his fake drama school poshness and floppy haired wetness rankles and I immediately hankered after Tom Baker. He is hardly helped by his new look of a vintage cricket umpire's outfit, and later a stalk of floppy celery as a boutonniere. It is an unfair criticism given I love the made-up Received Pronunciation/RADA-ish accent of many Beeb genre actors, like the late, and very Welsh in real life, Gareth Thomas of Blake's 7, but Davison's combination of youth, height, and floppy blonde hair really annoys me, even in the opening credits. Sorry Peter!

Saying I am, as an adult, much less of a fan of the Fifth Doctor is doubly hypocritical because Davison was a breath of fresh air for younger viewers and even for some teens like me, though Doctor Who was far from cool for my age group. At the time, I enjoyed this new, younger Doctor, played by an actor I knew and also loved from All Creatures Great and Small. In fact, at twenty-nine, Davison was the youngest Doctor until Matt Smith (twenty-six).

Though it was puzzling decision at the time, in retrospect, I see why the unpopular sociopathic sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker, may have been conceived as a counterbalancing reaction to the floppy haired nice guy. The scales were then eventually rebalanced with the mysterious, but pleasant Sylvester McCoy's seventh and final classic era Doctor.

The Master hatches a fiendish plan and then comes a cropper. Ainley's Master and Davison's Doctor begin their game of cat-and-mouse not seen to this extent since deadly dance of Delgado and Pertwee.

The TARDIS is in worse shape than ever, after the falure of the Logopolitans to restored it's dimensions and now the conversion to energy and ejection of parts of its structure to to propel it away from the Big Bang. Poor old TARDIS.

Poor young Adric too. The sadistic Master has him hung from wires in his TARDIS and he spends the whole of the story under the fiend's control because of his block transfer computation skills learned in Logopolis. That is, the ability to physically change matter through psionic mathematics. Try beating that, Asimov's psychohistory!

When I first saw the Zero Room back in 1982, I thought to myself, that's exactly what I need; a room to blank it all out. That should tell you a lot about how much I felt imprisoned by my environment back then.

Introducing... the TARDIS Databank! A fake product of the Master fiddling with the TARDIS's systems, it is still later referenced in NewWho by, er---Matt Smith?

Why are Tegan and Nyssa sodding about in heels, even short heels; hardly the footwear of mountaineers. No wonder they get stuck.

The Castrolvi (I'm using Tegan's word) hunters looked fierce. They wore furs, huge colourful helms, and wielded fearsome spears---oh do behave---though the sharp bevelled edges of the blades were very obviously achieved with tinfoil.

What is it about the senior Castrovavis and their moustaches? Why is Mergrave (Michael Sheard) in semi-brownface/(tanface)? Wait, are they wearing shiny crystal tilaka? Ah... borrowing from my culture again, are we? But then it all falls apart when we notice that most Castrovalvi males are wearing translucent plastic waste paper baskets as hats, like the one I have in my study.

The location of Castrovalva is based on a 1930 lithograph, by the surrealist Dutch artist M. C. Escher, of an Italian village of the same name he once visited. Like the Doctor Who's Castrovalva, it is apparently only accessible via a steep approach, as Tegan and Nyssa find from their abortive attempt to climb the cliff. Its fictional paradoxical architecture is based on other works by Escher, like Belvedre (1958). Was Christopher Nolan, who is roughly about the same age as me, influenced in the making of Inception by Castrovalva? Escher has always been a popular cult artist, especially in the 80s, and especially with us geeks. If you're old enough, you'll remember those hefty coffee table books of his art. I remember a picture of a male and female couple peeling into each other in Bond of Union (1956), which adorned my hardback copy of Christopher Hodder-Williams' psychedelic science fiction novel The Prayer Machine (1976).

I didn't put it together until a few minutes before podcasting that Castrovalva was entirely created by Adric using block transfer computation. Mind blowing! That means everyone existed only a short time before the Doctor landed, which explains the Castrovalvis' unreliable memories. It's all in the script, I just missed it. Well, you try doing a million revisits, writing about them, then podcasting... for years. I'm surprised I haven't gone right up the spout by now. Correction: even more up the spout.

It's a good and fairly short adventure, introducing the companions and the audience to a new Doctor. Castrolvava also looks nice, and I'm a sucker for Escher, so a win all round.


This was the first Doctor Who story not broadcast on Saturday, and also to broadcast two new episodes per week. Castrovalva first episode broadcast on Monday, between Nationwide and The Rockford Files, and the second on Tuesday.

Did you know, I as a child years before Castrovalva, I once wrote to Sue Lawley, my favourite presenter on Nationwide, and she (or more likely her PR) wrote back! And no, I have no idea where that letter is.

Even more tangentially, in the last few days I read that James Garner (Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files) and Steve McQueen were fellow bikers (I've developed an unhealthy interest in motorbikes lately), friends, and neighbours. McQueen would anonymously torment Garner by throwing beer cans onto his property. McQueen was a lobbing yob. A lob yob?

Note to potential commissioning editors: if you've read thus far because I've submitted this as a writing sample, then yes, I can be less meandering, but this is a difficult time. Besides, read my homepage. It says right there: "typomanical".

Revisit on Turbo

As I said in 471, let's try to finish this revisit of classic or OldWho this year.

It's a tall order because these revisits used to be about ten minutes, now they are closer to an hour. (I'm working far too hard, aren't I? So support the show!) It will mean many more revisit episodes than before, but we've been doing this too long; eight years at this point.

Also, let's start revisiting other classic media. I have films and books, and even games, I hope you'll want me to share with you.