Chapter 76. Doctor Who – Castrovalva (1983)

Synopsis: The Doctor is struggling after a particularly distressing regeneration. He seeks rest deep within the TARDIS, but an external force sends the time machine racing towards the Big Bang. A narrow escape brings the travellers to the quiet town of Castrovalva. The locals are friendly and offer the Doctor room to recuperate. But there’s something strange about the town; how can the local chemist be in four places at once? Who is exploiting the Doctor’s weakened state and for what purpose? And where is Adric?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Escape from Earth
  • 2. Towards Zero
  • 3. Destination: Event One
  • 4. Russian Roulette
  • 5.. Jettisoned
  • 6. The Quest for Castrovalva
  • 7. Within the Walls
  • 8. The Dark Reflection
  • 9. The Occlusion Closes In
  • 10. The Clue of the Chronicle
  • 11. The World through the Eyes of Shardovan
  • 12. The Web is Broken

Background: Christopher H.Bidmead adapts his own scripts for the 1982 serial.

Notes: We’re told that the ‘apocalyptic events’ of Logopilis led to the previous and future Doctors overlapping in the form of the Watcher. We’re drawn to consider the new Doctor’s ‘strangely smooth and vacant face’, while  Adric has a ‘strange smile and wicked black button eyes’ and Nyssa possesses ‘a remote, aristocratic quality that was somehow unEarthly’. Based on the scant hours he’s spent there, Adric considers Earth to be a ‘planet of fools and bullies’. We’re reminded of Adric’s former home on the starliner on Alzarius. Tegan is said to have ‘once been lost in that maze of white corridors during her involuntary first trip in the TARDIS’… which took place… yesterday? She also utters the mild expletive ‘strewth’ a couple of times.

Nyssa tries to explain recursion to Tegan by discussing family trees (and Tegan feels awkward as she realises Nyssa’s family and everyone she knows has been wiped out by the Master). The Doctor’s new coat is ‘a cream coloured garment that was too summery to be a morning coat but too long to be a sports jacket’. As Tegan and Nyssa look at the scanner to see the Master waving at them, they can see Adric behind him, trapped in the electronic web. The TARDIS has a surgery and a trolley laden with medical supplies rolls out of it towards the Doctor during the Event One incident.

Apparently, ‘the Gallifreyan temperament tends to see the world from the other person’s point of view’, so the Doctor feels empathy for a roast pig. There’s also an ‘official Time-Lord strategy’ that’s taught to small children that… :

… in circumstances of near-defeat you take stock of the forces that are working on your behalf, your assets, and then separately assess the forces working against you, your liabilities. This leads directly to the next stage: devising a logical plan that will increase the former and diminish the latter. 

The Doctor views this ‘arid, abstract and artificial’ edict as ‘typically Gallifreyan’ – he prefers ‘blind panic’. He is said to be ‘nearly eight hundred’ years old, while Castrovalva was created by the Master as a trap 500 years ago. So was this created in the Master’s distant past and he’s only just come back to it? Did he set it up and then jump forward 500 years? Did he play at Portreeve for half a millennium while Adric was held in stasis in the electronic web?! (Or is this just not actually true and he knocked it up yesterday in between wrestling with the Doctor on a gantry and choosing a nice hat for his Portreeve cosplay?). On the jog back to the TARDIS, Adric is ‘still a little pallid after his long ordeal’ – a real-world cheeky dig at actor Matthew Waterhouse’s overindulgence in the bar the night before the filming of that sequence for TV. The Doctor opts not to dampen Tegan’s enthusiasm by telling her she didn’t land the TARDIS after all and it was all Adric’s doing.

Cover: Somebody clearly resents being made to work on these as the cover design is woefully lazy – a photo of a smiling Peter Davison against a starfield backdrop. Alister Pearson’s reprint cover from 1991 is predictably better, to be fair, with an almost identical picture of Davison (which makes him look old) next to a beautifully realised, geometrically impossible walkway from the Castrovalva town square.

Final Analysis: ‘Euclidian topology’? Really, Bidmead? We’ve come a long way since the days of writing these books for eager seven-year-olds, but there really is no concession for the child reader here. It all fits together rather neatly, especially the way so much of the dialogue is there to underline the theme of recursion, but as with Logopolis, there’s also the suspicion that the author’s making himself a little too visible in the text by showing off.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 76. Doctor Who – Castrovalva (1983)

  1. Loved this. One of the first novels I ever owned and still have it. It’s my “go to” comfort target book. My chicken soup for the soul!!
    The opening sections do convey the panic and excitement at Pharos, and it calms down nicely for Castrovalva.
    Incidentally, I won the reprint in a DWM comp, but it’s my original copy I always go to…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s my favourite Target novelization. Is it a contemporary of the same range that produced Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen? Probably not, but it’s a novel with dazzling prose and an ambition to do actual science fiction instead. I still think the passage where the Doctor is on the rocks and Bidmead writes “His mind was filled with subliminal images of other dizzying heights; flashes of girders and gantries shaped like a giant bowl in the sky from which someone he had once known well was swinging on a single cable that stretched and snapped strand by strand.” is one of the best moments in any Target book.

    Liked by 1 person

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