5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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"That's the trouble with regenerations. You never quite know what you're going to get."
Well, here we go again. The king is dead, long live the... king? Um, no. More like the stable boy.
We might as well come right out with it. The Fifth Doctor is our least favourite. It's not that Peter Davison's not a good actor: quite the opposite. But he's said it himself: he was just too young. The Doctor's got to have a certain authoritah: without it, he's just some guy in a flying Portaloo. And whatever their other faults, all the other Doctors have managed it.
With Davison, though, it's just not there. He's just too nice. Sweet, even. And utterly lacking in that Doctorly je ne sais quoi. We'd like to see what kind of a stab he'd make of it now: we're betting that he'd probably ace it. But then? No. Just no.
It's unfortunate, too, that the plot of Castrovalva only underlines this, making the Doctor even more ineffectual. From the point of view of his character, it's a horrible start. It's not helped, either, by his having to do impressions of the other Doctors, which just make us cringe with embarrassment. Especially as some of them are terrible. All through the story, the Doctor is weakened, bewildered and on the back foot. Respect? Sorry. He's going to have to have a lot fewer naps if he wants to impress us.
It doesn't help, either, that the Doctor's absent for so much of the story, leaving us with the admittedly brilliant Nyssa but also with the horrendous one-two combination of Tegan and Adric. Adric is at least only present in small doses, but Tegan's bloody everywhere. Given that she can't sustain half a line of dialogue on her own, let alone several episodes, this is a serious millstone round the story's neck.
The plot itself's not a bad one, if riddled with logic holes. The problem is, though, that there just isn't enough of it. The whole Event One thing seems like a giant dead end, and there's far too much toing and froing around the TARDIS. All that stuff with the TARDIS computer is by turns dull and embarrassing (i.f. for index file? Gah!). Then when they reach Castrovalva, there's virtually an entire episode where nothing happens at all.
Things look up, though, once they get inside Castrovalva. It's a really ingenious idea that took us completely by surprise, with lots of fun misdirection from the pseudo-evil Shardovan. However, there's still far too much padding. What was the point of all that tedious stuff with the zero cabinet, for example? It's easy to tell they were short of plot from the length of the episode recaps: they rewind half the previous episode. Also, when you really think about it, none of it makes a lot of sense. If the Master created Castrovalva to destroy the Doctor, then why did he arrange it so that the Doctor heals while he's there? Nevertheless, the created society is a lovely idea with a powerful impact.
We like the way Castrovalva carries straight on from Logopolis: it adds a much-needed forward momentum. But unfortunately, it also means the story contains the Master. It's a really awful one-note portrayal here by Anthony Ainley: the character's all villainous chuckling and evil plans, with none of the depth Roger Delgado brought to the role.
The Castrovalvans are pretty cool, with some wondrously silly hats, and the Escher feel is very nicely evoked in the sets. It's annoying, though, to see yet another stereotypical society where the boys do all the brainwork while the girls get to do the darning.
One gobsmacking idea, but only enough plot for an episode and a half, a poor villain and a weak Doctor. Not an auspicious start.
MORAL: Don't send a boy to do a man's job.
Just after Peter Davison's mud pack cracks and his white hair appears, his hair turns to a darkish single shade of brown. Yet seconds later, when he and the gruesome threesome are struggling across the field, his hair is a much lighter blond and is streaked. (Many thanks to Roger Bright for perspicaciously pointing this out to us.)
The companions don't seem very fazed by the regeneration, do they? It's possible that Adric and Nyssa already know about that stuff, but Tegan at least you'd expect to be a bit more gobsmacked.
QUICK, HE'S CATCHING UP
Don't you love the way Tegan and Nyssa take off in the ambulance without waiting for Adric?
I THINK I LEFT THE GAS ON
What's all the rush to take off in the TARDIS? Surely once they're inside they're safe from pursuers?
Someone should have told Peter not to wear such dark underpants with those cricket trousers. In the scene where he's looking at himself in the mirror, it's less Visible Panty Line and more Visible Panties.
A HARD DAY'S WORK
Just what, exactly, is going on in Adric's trousers when he's in the Web? Clearly the director was disturbed too, because at one point the camera angles up, stopping when a strut covers his, er, gentleman's area.
HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
When they're carrying the zero box, Nyssa's hair thingy gets pulled out by a branch. She doesn't bat an eyelid, and Tegan also walks past it obliviously.
It's a bit feeble abandoning the Doctor right on the doorstep of Castrovalva, isn't it? You'd think they could have dragged him that far at least.
BADGE FOR GOEGRAPHICAL EXCELLENCE
Adric's supposed to be looking around for the exit, but when he says "Over there, the hillside!", he hasn't even looked in that direction.
If the Doctor knows that Adric had preprogrammed the TARDIS, why does he ask who landed it?
Just after the Master sends off the two Castrovalvians, they stop and chat for a minute, then move off. As they go, the camera, clearly on the same unsteady plinth, is tilted from side to side by their footsteps.