Doctor Who – Castrovalva

Doctor Who Story 116 – Castrovalva

Written By

Christopher H. Bidmead

What’s It About

On the run from the Master, the Doctor’s regeneration begins to go wrong. Nyssa and Teagan must find a way to save the TARDIS and the Doctor from the Master’s new plan.

Enough zap and you have your thrust
The Doctor tries to count to three.
Mr. Belvedere (Source:

I get the impression Christopher H. Bidmead enjoyed Latin. His previous story, “Logopolis,” gave a clue to the theme of his story. It takes a bit of work to get at the meaning of both the title and idea in “Logopolis,” but it is worth it to try. Conversely, “Castrovalva” is more straightforward in name and plot.

As near as I can tell, “Castrovalva” is derived from the Latin words castra (the plural version of castrum), meaning fort, fortress, or castle, and valva, meaning folding door. Valva is also where we get the word valve, which has multiple variations on a central idea of regulated flow. Thus we can posit that Castrovalva means a castle with regulated passages, folding passages. And this bears out in the story as Castrovalva is a city created by block transfer computation as a trap for recently regenerated Doctor. The trap is that the city has no exit, the passages loop back on one another as in M.C. Escher’s Relativity painting. Of course, he may have cribbed the title from another work, named Castrovalva, by Escher. This piece depicts a castle on a mountain, which is also connected to the Doctor Who story. Either way you look at it, the meaning is clear.

The plot, similarly, is not very complicated. The entire story centers around the Master’s attempt to kill the Doctor through two different traps: sending the TARDIS into Event One (the Big Bang) and when that fails, sending him to Castrovalva. Plots within plots. Bidmead sets these ideas up well, referring once more to block transfer computation, and even using it to create simulations of Adric. This plants the idea into the minds of the viewer so the ultimate reveal is not completely out of nowhere. But this story lacks the depth of “Logopolis.” In fact, I think the first two episodes are a bit dull. Peter Davison’s Doctor does more to deconstruct his previous lives, obscuring his personality through these two episodes. He is in turmoil, trying to define himself. By the end he has stabilized, but I don’t think I have a firm grasp of his character by this point. I look forward to the next story to see him in full form.

But where the first two episodes merely flit back and forth between the TARDIS and the Master’s hiding place, episodes three and four pick up with the exploration of the city of Castrovalva itself. It is a peaceful and pleasant society (unless you are a woman, in which case you do a lot of menial tasks and serve the men), and they seem to prize knowledge and wisdom—a perfect place to trap the Doctor, in other words.

The pieces are set up well, and the plot moves along fine once we reach the third episode. The directing provides some good shots to emphasize the Escher influence. However,his almost felt like a couple of two-parters rather than a single story. On the whole it works, but the resolution from “Logopolis” was a bit uneven, and I’m still waiting to get a feel for this new Doctor.

My Rating


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