As soon as Peter Davison had been announced as the Doctor there was speculation as to how he would play the part. JNT believed that he had cast a “personality” actor, similar to Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, so assumed that Davison would effortlessly inject his own persona into his portrayal.
Davison was less sure that he was that sort of actor and so went back to the tapes to study his predecessors. Castrovalva has some obvious nods to past Doctors (particularly in the first episode) but going forward what Davison seemed to mostly draw upon were elements from the Hartnell and Troughton incarnations.
Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s Doctors tended to automatically dominate proceedings, whereas Hartnell and Troughton might stay a little more in the background before emerging with the solution. Davison’s Doctor would also, like Troughton’s, be happy to play the fool in order to lull people into a false sense of security.
If elements of his portrayal harked back to Hartnell and Troughton, then having three companions was another link back to the 1960’s. However this worked better then than it did in 1982, for several reasons.
Firstly, as the 1960’s series ran virtually all year round, a larger regular cast helped to fill the gaps when one of the lead actors took a holiday. The stories also tended to be longer, therefore there were more opportunities to split the narrative between the Doctor and his companions.
But possibly the most obvious reason why the dynamic of the Doctor/Ian/Barbara/Susan worked so well was down to how each character operated within the structure of the series as it was during S1. To put it somewhat crudely, the Doctor provided the scientific know-how, Ian provided the practical know-how, Barbara was the moral centre and Susan screamed and needed rescuing.
Somewhat of a rough generalisation, but in essence that was how things worked. The S1 Doctor was mostly motivated by a desire to return to the safety of the TARDIS and if he helped anybody along the way it was often incidental. It was Barbara and sometimes Ian who most often tried to help others (or interfere as the Doctor would say, in The Aztecs for example).
Over time the Doctor would take over the characteristics of Ian and Barbara, so that by the early 1970’s the Doctor only needed a single companion – to ask questions, scream and be rescued (again, to put things slightly crudely).
The problem of the overcrowded TARDIS was obviously picked up during the scripting of S19, so in Castrovalva Adric takes a back seat which allows Nyssa and Tegan to take the lions share of the action. Nyssa then sits out Kinda so that Adric and Tegan can enjoy a more substantial role in proceedings.
Christopher H. Bidmead obviously loved the concept of the TARDIS and the first episode and a half are set within the ship. During this time we see flashes of the Doctor-to-be from Davison and Nyssa and Tegan’s friendship starts to develop.
Whilst the Doctor is weak and vulnerable for much of the story, particularly in the opening couple of episodes, there’s enough signs to demonstrate that Davison already has a good grasp on the part (although this story was actually recorded fourth). His character wouldn’t really emerge until the end of episode four, but it’s a confident enough performance.
Unlike Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker, Davison could never take a so-so script and turn in a performance that would help you to ignore the average material. But give him a good script and a well written character (Frontios, Androzani) and he would deliver the goods.
Once the TARDIS crew enter Castrovalva then the story really begins to motor. There are fine performances from Frank Wylie (Ruther), Michael Sheard (Mergrave) and Derek Waring (Shardovan) and the dialogue has a pleasing, lyrical nature. It’s maybe a shame that they didn’t pitch up here an episode earlier.
Michael Sheard was always such a dependable performer, both in Doctor Who and in general, and there’s a typically good performance from him in this story as Mergrave. This is complimented by Frank Wylie and together they make a nice double-act.
Most interesting of all is Derek Waring as Shardovan. There’s a clear sense of misdirection at play here as everything is directed to make the audience believe that he’s the villain (he’s dressed in black for example whilst the Portreeve is dressed in white) but he turns out to be a man struggling with the concepts of reality and illusion.
As for the Master, Anthony Ainley has a bit of a sticky wicket. In the first few episodes he’s stuck in a cupboard and forced to share numerous two-handed scenes with Matthew Waterhouse – a difficult task for any actor. He then gets to indulge in a bit of dressing up as the Portreeve. The Master’s love of disguises would reach a peak in The King’s Demons, for which I find it difficult to find adequate words to describe the full majesty of his performance. Once I reach that story I promise to try though!
He’s more restrained as the Portreeve, but it still begs the question as to whether it was designed to fool the audience or the Doctor and his friends. It’s hard to imagine that the audience wouldn’t have failed to notice it was Ainley dressed up, so let’s be generous and assume that the Doctor didn’t twig because of his post-regenerative state and the atmosphere of Castrovalva affected Nyssa and Tegan’s senses.
Apart from the Master’s dressing up games, it has to be said that this is one of the most bizarre and convoluted schemes he’s ever been responsible for. It’s therefore possible to posit that somewhere between The Deadly Assassin and The Keeper of Traken the Master went completely, totally, mad. This would explain the incredibly over-elaborate plan he’s concocted here.
Somehow he knew that the Doctor would die in Logopolis, knocked up a duplicate Adric with block transfer computation, switched him for the real one, got the faux Adric to programme the TARDIS to fly back to Event-One, and if that failed to destroy the ship then the TARDIS would journey onto the non-existant Castrovalva, as well as inputing information about the planet in the TARDIS data-bank. Faux-Adric only flicks a few buttons on the TARDIS console, but it’s enough to do all this. Clever, that!
Then the Master creates a whole world, down to the smallest details, in order for what exactly? His great plan seems to consist of nothing more than a wish to prise open the zero cabinet so he can take one last look at the Doctor before killing him. Couldn’t he have just killed him on Earth? It would have saved a lot of bother.
Ainley’s performance when the Master is attempting to open the zero cabinet with a poker is a little embarrassing, although maybe that was what they were aiming for, as it clearly shows the Master’s grip on reality has gone completely. But the final shot of the Master, as he’s pulled back in the city by the Castrovalvans, is very well done – it has a suitably nightmarish quality.
Overall then, Castrovalva is a decent opening story for Peter Davison with some good guest performances. It wraps up the plot threads from S18 and allows a fresh start for the further adventures of the new Doctor and his young group of companions.