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22 January 2018 @ 07:51 pm
The Randomiser: Castrovalva  
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.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/479554.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 22nd, 2018 08:56 pm (UTC)
I like the stuff in Castrovalva. The first half I find dull. Davison holds the attention, but he spends most of part two asleep in a box. Oh well.

I think the 1980s special effects just weren't up to making Castrovalva look Escher-ey. I have wondered if they could do something like it now with CGI.
louisedennis: Who:Fivelouisedennis on January 23rd, 2018 03:28 pm (UTC)
I'm sure they could do something decent now. I mean Hollywood did it well in the 1980s in Labyrinth so you'd hope that the Beeb would be up to something equivalent by this point.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 22nd, 2018 09:42 pm (UTC)
Pedant's corner: Technically Bidmead had left the show - he was asked back a couple of months after leaving to fill the gap caused by Antony Root and Barry Letts rejecting Zeta Plus One as Davison's opening story while John Nathan-Turner was on holiday. It is very much his story structurally, though, with so much backended onto the second half, and an influence on Saward's copying of the same thing.
louisedennis: Who:Fivelouisedennis on January 23rd, 2018 03:29 pm (UTC)
Oh interesting! And I'd forgotten about Antony Root - it's easy to feel that the script editor job went straight from Bidmead to Saward somewhere around Kinda.
unfeatheredunfeathered on January 24th, 2018 08:43 pm (UTC)
I do enjoy Castrovalva, but yes, mainly the bits within the town itself, with the Master etc.

It's a bit like The Christmas Invasion - you spend half of it waiting for the new Doctor to wake up and show you what he's going to be like - and once he does, it's great!
louisedennis: Who:Fivelouisedennis on January 27th, 2018 10:44 am (UTC)
It's a bit like The Christmas Invasion - you spend half of it waiting for the new Doctor to wake up and show you what he's going to be like - and once he does, it's great!

Thinking about it, it's odd that the show has repeated this mistake several times, particularly if you include variants where the Doctor acts out of character for most of the first story before "settling down".
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 28th, 2018 03:15 pm (UTC)
Hmm, JNT didn't see it as a mistake here, but a deliberate decision to keep people watching past Castrovalva part four and into the rest of the season. At odds with this was his decision to film season nineteen's opening stories out of order, so you get a much more unfinished fifth Doctor in Four to Doomsday. Similarly with Colin Baker, The Twin Dilemma was deliberately intended to make the new Doctor initially unlikeable, but then it was broadcast at the end of season twenty-one, making it less likely that viewers would watch season twenty-two (although that was still the last season in the original run to get halfway decent viewing figures).

But I would broadly agree with this, which is why I find post-regeneration stories mostly dull. The Power of the Daleks, The Christmas Invasion and The Eleventh Hour are probably my favourites, but even then I think Power is probably the best and although the new Doctor is initially over the top compared with later stories, it is at least recognisably the second Doctor after the first episode or so and he is in it all the time.
unfeatheredunfeathered on January 28th, 2018 05:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, I mostly like post-regeneration stories, partly I guess because I love to see how they'll set things up for what's to come. I love Rose, I do love Christmas Invasion once it gets going, and I love Eleventh Hour. The only one recently that I don't love is Deep Breath, because Twelve is just weird in that, which I guess is an example of Louise's "Doctor acting out of character" above.

Before that? I adore Empty Child, didn't think much of Power of the Daleks but that may be because it's animated and I just don't seem able to feel engaged by animations, loved the Third Doctor Auton one, can't remember much about the Fourth Doctor one, comments on Castrovalva above, and haven't seen Six's or Seven's first ones. Guess those are some I should add to the wish list!
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 28th, 2018 06:01 pm (UTC)
The Twin Dilemma (the first sixth Doctor story) is consistently voted worst Doctor Who story ever! Considering that every poll seems to produce a different top ten, the fact that this is always at the bottom is saying something. Time and the Rani (the first seventh Doctor story) isn't considered much better, although I think it's slightly under-rated.
unfeatheredunfeathered on January 28th, 2018 06:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was aware they weren't generally lauded, which is why I haven't got them, but I do have a bit of a thing for 'first' stories so I think I'll have to get them eventually!

To be fair, I think I've probably got most of the *really* good ones now anyway! Two shelves' worth, at least! :-D
louisedennis: Who:Sevenlouisedennis on January 31st, 2018 08:36 pm (UTC)
Time and the Rani is pretty mostly pretty dire. It has a fun performance from Kate O'Mara as the Rani, a nice special effect, and someone (I think the director) put a bit of thought into alien anatomy and motion and how it would work but beyond that its plot and premise are stupid, much of what happens is equally stupid, it looks cheap, and is generally poorly executed.

The Twin Dilemma I enjoyed at the time but in retrospect it is difficult to say what was good about it. In my memory it is better than Time and the Rani, though suffers from many of the same flaws, but it is a lot longer since I've seen it.
louisedennis: Who:Sixlouisedennis on January 31st, 2018 08:30 pm (UTC)
I actually really liked The Twin Dilemma when I first saw it, though I strongly suspect this was influenced by liking what I had seen of Colin Baker in terms of convention (or possibly Blue Peter) appearances before that. I certainly soon regretted that it was the story from season 21 that I chose to keep on Betamax tape (pocket money was such that I only got to keep one story per season at that point) and I haven't watched it in years, in part because I fear the reality is even worse than memory vaguely dictates.

Time and the Rani is currently my least favourite story viewed as part of the Randomiser.
louisedennis: Who:Fivelouisedennis on January 31st, 2018 08:27 pm (UTC)
I think JNT made a number of questionable decisions about the show (though I'm probably more sympathetic to him than many). In hindsight I definitely think making people wait to see the Doctor was a mistake - either you have the confidence that he can carry the show and hold people's interest or you don't. On the other hand letting Davison settle into the part before the introductory episode doesn't seem like such an odd idea - there's certainly an argument to be made that a strong initial performance would fix the character in people's minds sufficiently to carry them through any missteps that might happen in the next couple of episodes.
Julian RichardsonJulian Richardson on January 30th, 2018 09:42 pm (UTC)
Bonus in BBC DVD
If you have the BBC DVD then one of the extras is a recording of the Multicoloured Swap Shop session with Peter Davison. If you play the phone in session then you might recognize the name of caller number 5 or so... :-)

Edited at 2018-01-30 09:42 pm (UTC)
louisedennis: Who:Fivelouisedennis on January 31st, 2018 08:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Bonus in BBC DVD
Oooh! I don't normally pay a great deal of attention to DVD extras (time being in short supply - or at least now The Teenager is a teenager and not a toddler) but I shall clearly have to check this out.