Saturday, August 3, 2013


Doctor In A Box!
“That's the trouble with regeneration: you never quite know what you're going to get.”

1) And here we formally begin the Peter Davison era with this final leg of the introduction of the Master--and it’s indicative of the Davison era in how it feels like two separate stories welded together, seems to be truly stretched out and features some moments where the TARDIS Crew seems...ineffectual.  And yet there are large swatches of the serial that works and works well.

2) This is, of course, Davison’s first full serial as the Doctor and let’s give him credit--he gives it his all, especially during the first half’s failing regeneration.  I appreciate how Davison works hard to give all the shout-outs to previous Doctors some weight even when it’s obvious they were shoehorned in as a game of Husker-Du.  He’s going to struggle throughout his three years to find out what his Doctor is like (something that’s not entirely his fault), but even here there are glimmers of what could make him unique.

3) Maybe it’s because Adric is more or less credibly out of the picture (although he’s in the picture in another sense), but this serial actually, you know, gives Nyssa a lot to do.  Even though Davison assigns to Tegan the role of ‘Administrator,’ Nyssa pretty much is in control of things.  She’s the one who keeps the team together, she’s the one who figures things out, and she’s the one that’s key in doing lots of the science-y stuff.  Granted, after this she falls asleep for a serial, and...well, not all that much after that.  As someone who (like Davison) felt Nyssa was the best of the three companions, it’s a little heartening.

4) Look, I get that the Nathan Turner conception of the Master is that he’s always in disguise manipulating things from behind the scenes...but Ye Gods, how come no one figures out which one of the Castrovalvas is him?  Putting powder in your hair and stooping over does not make an effective disguise.
"You're not fooling me, Anthony.  You look like an old

5) Of the two parts, I vastly prefer the first part, where our companion corps have to work out how to stop falling into (what will become) the sun.  There’s a definite sense of urgency and pace that seems to dissipate once they reach Castrovalva.  That being said, I do very much appreciate how Bidmead is able to make the first half significant to the second, setting up factors that will dominate once everyone gets to the titular area.

6) Watching it now, I’m sort of puzzled by all that’s made of how sinister Derek Waring’s Shardovan is in the third and part of the fourth chapter.  It’s almost as if they want him to be a red herring, but they try too hard, from dressing him in black unlike the other Castrovalvans, having him look on in an enigmatic way, at one point interposing himself between the escaping crew and pretty much glaring, etc.  If the intent was to throw us off the scent of the Master, it fails because it’s trying too hard....

7) But then, this might be why the serial seems so disjointed throughout; in trying to establish how different the first Doctor he has complete stewardship of is, Nathan Turner seems to overcompensate...which is weird, given how so much of Nathan Turner’s last Baker season was built on simply good stories and not on the deck-chair-changing exercises.  But then, last season was story edited by this story’s writer, Christopher H. Bidmead, while this season (and so many others after it) was edited by...grumblemutter...Eric Saward.

You will learn much of my dislike of Mr. Eric Saward and his dumb-ass Buster Brown haircut in the coming months.

8) I do like the design of Castrovalva, which--like the serial--was inspired by Bidmead’s interest in M.C. Escher.  I like the way he furthermore extrapolates on Escher’s design asesthetic to create a trap for The Doctor.  However, the effectiveness of 1982 special effects does blunt the impact of the trap being sprung at the end of the third chapter.
There are some who would say being trapped in an abstract
web was the best use of Matthew Waterhouse's time...

9) I have to be honest--I’m still a little hazy as to the nature of the Castrovalvans.  If we accept what the Master says about them as gospel (and I see no reason why we shouldn’t, given that The Doctor and Nyssa pretty much confirm the fact), then the Castrovalvans’ ultimate fate doesn’t quite make sense.  It makes for cool visuals, sense.

10)  Even this early in the Ainley Master’s career, the man is beginning to degrade into the cackling goofball that he becomes toward the end of the classic era.  There’s some moments in particular, like when he’s gloating about creating traps within traps, where he seems to get too pantomime-y and disrupts what Nathan Turner is trying to do with his quieter, more human Doctor.

Overall...even though it has its shaky moments, this is still a good serial, and a decent ending to the ‘Return of The Master’ trilogy.

But enjoy this good story while you can, because a lot of what follows....ugh.


  1. While I don't agree with everything you said, you make some good points. And most importantly, I'm impressed with the amount of restraint this probably took as you were fairly complimentary. :)

    1. What do you mean? I have many time talked about how CASTROVALVA is a good serial (I even cited it--as part of the 'Return of The Master' trilogy--as one of the best WHO episodes ever) when we get to the next serial, FOUR TO DOOMSDAY....oi....