50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #41

The story that sits at number 41 in our countdown does so because it had an almost impossible job and yet somehow it succeeded. It needed to introduce a new Doctor to a world that didn’t really want to say goodbye to the old one. The previous Doctor was regarded by many as the “best Doctor ever” and it had to win over a skeptical audience that included many people who had written off the “new guy” before he had even started. It somehow needed to reinvent the character and yet not alienate those people who had made the show the hit that it was.

And it succeeded thanks to brave writing and a flawless performance from the young actor who was stepping into the rather large shoes he was following.

David Tennant left an indelible mark on the role of the Doctor and Matt Smith had the dauntless task of……wait a minute! I seem to have jumped a time track here. Because although my opening two paragraphs could easily (and almost certainly will, hint, hint!) apply to The Eleventh Hour I am actually referring to it’s much earlier cousin, Castrovalva. So let’s try that again, shall we?

Tom Baker left an indelible mark on the role of the Doctor and Peter Davison had the dauntless task of following on from that, somehow trying to make the role his own and yet still being recognizable as the same man.

And Davison , the then youngest actor to play the part, skillfully shows us a more vulnerable Doctor, far less brash than his predecessor, with a youthful vigor that had drained away from Baker’s portrayal towards the end of his tenure.

We’d seen previous post-regeneration Doctor’s have a bit of a tough time, but none of them lost the plot quite like the Fifth Doctor did. The writers knew they had a difficult task following on from the Fourth Doctor and so they cleverly decided to literally dismantle him, unraveling his trademark scarf and ripping apart his waistcoat. The Fourth Doctor was literally taken apart in front of our eyes. And then the masterstroke was having this new Doctor actually “become” his previous selves at times, with some clever impersonations by Davison, absolutely showing us that this was indeed, the very same man. Apart from when Matt Smith took over from David Tennant, there has never been better post-regeneration sequences. And because Castrovalva did it first, I would argue that Steven Moffat knew just how effective these scenes were and drew on them for The Eleventh Hour.

Castrovalva also gave us some other gems, like seeing so much of the TARDIS interior, including the ingenious Zero Room, something I wish they would bring back actually, as it’s such a clever concept. Plus, it set up the idea that the ship could jettison rooms, something that the post 2005 series has used frequently. And we had some wonderful character acting from Anthony as the Portreeve. Not exactly a perfect disguise, as I’m sure most of the audience realized he was the Master, but still a fantastic performance none the less.

True, Castrovalva has it’s faults. The story itself isn’t that interesting and serves merely as a vehicle to introduce the new Doctor. And the concept of the impossible architecture of the city of Castrovalva itself wasn’t realized that effectively. A prime example of the concept being beyond the scope of either budget or technology, something the Classic series suffered from on many occasions. And it had holes in it’s plot logic, like why the Master would kidnap Adric when he no way of knowing that the Doctor had survived his fall from the radio telescope at the end of Logopolis. And the less said about Adric’s erm….trouser problems whilst in the Master’s web, the better…

Through a few brave decisions, some skillful writing and a masterful performance by Peter Davison, this opening story of the Fifth Doctor’s tenure does everything it needed to do and by the end of the final episode, we’d all but forgotten the brash Fourth Doctor and were welcoming this new youthful, vulnerable and decidedly likable Fifth Doctor to the TARDIS control room. — Steve

Alan’s #41 – The Dæmons
Andy’s #41 – Asylum of the Daleks
David’s #41 – Vengeance on Varos

The first ten selections in 50 for 50 are now complete.  We soldier on next week with #40.