Top critical review
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A good story but the drama is somewhat lacking...
on 13 May 2011
This is an important Doctor Who story in that it introduces us to the fifth Doctor and it is delightful and surprisingly modern in the scope and the importance placed on the companions to help the Doctor.
Firstly, the plot: the newly regenerated Doctor escapes with his companions back to the TARDIS. Suffering from post-regeneration trauma, he only narrowly manages to save the ship from destruction as it plunges back to Event One, the hydrogen in-rush that preceded the creation of the universe.
He then seeks sanctuary in the peaceful domain of Castrovalva, only to discover it is an illusory, dimensionally paradoxical trap set for him by the Master with the unwilling aid of a kidnapped Adric. The Doctor eventually wins the day by enlisting the help of the Castrovalvan people who, although also part of the Master's creation, are nevertheless able to exercise free-will.
The story is an interesting one and a rare introduction to a Doctor that allows for a stimulating and original story. Of course, there are issues with it. It follows directly on from Logopolis which saw the Master kill the fourth Doctor. Therefore, the Master had no way of knowing the Doctor would survive his fall from the radio telescope at the end of Logopolis, and yet he is already prepared at the beginning of this sequel to kidnap Adric and trap him within a web of power. Using Adric's mathematical skills, he then causes the Doctor's TARDIS to travel back to the very start of the universe, where he fully expects the Doctor to be destroyed. Even as the TARDIS veers away from Event One, Tegan however, discovers yet another trap - a reference to Castrovalva (a fictional construct by the Master) planted in the TARDIS's index file. This tends to suggest the Master actually expects each of his plans to fail, arguably diminishing the threat posed by him. However, in all fairness Christopher H. Bidmead, the author, has fashioned an interesting story and given the years the Master has been defeated by the Doctor it is hardly surprising he would consider backup plans for any eventuality.
Like the previous story Logopolis, Castrovalva is a complex, imaginative and thought-provoking story with very interesting concepts. Bidmead's writing style is incredibly engaging, blending absorbing and memorable ideas with strong scientific and philosophical concepts in a thoroughly entertaining manner. This is something most writers would balk at but Bidmead does this with fine aplomb.
The first half of the story is very self-contained, concentrating solely on the Doctor and his companions in the TARDIS and the effects of the Doctor's regeneration and while short on incident it benefits from giving a good insight into the characters and exploring the interior of the TARDIS. The element of focusing on the Doctor's regeneration and how the companions cope with this is remarkably modern and allows engagement with proceedings, which is a good thing given the concepts (entropy, recursion and free-will) which are certainly interesting but some will undoubtedly find rather dry.
The second half picks up the pace with the arrival in Castrovalva and the complex trap set for the Doctor. The way Bidmead describes the town of Castrovalva and the measured realisation all is not as it seems is very cleverly done and hugely satisfying.
All-in-all, this is a very good story to listen to and enjoy but Peter Davison's reading is astonishingly not as engaging and absorbing as Bidmead's reading of Logopolis. Bidmead really got into the drama and characters which allowed for a pleasurable listen. Although Davison does a good job his straight delivery does make the drama feel rather lacking.
If you are a big fan of Doctor Who then this is certainly for you, otherwise I would suggest getting another audio story as there are far more gripping audio experiences than this one.