fifth doctor

Writer: Christopher H Bidmead

Director: Fiona Cumming

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Anthony Ainley (The Master), Derek Waring, Michael Sheard, Frank Wylie, “Neil Toynay” (The Portreeve)

Plot Summary

The Doctor’s new regeneration has proved more unstable than previously, and looks to recuperate with the help of Tegan and Nyssa.  Meanwhile, Adric has been captured by the Master, who has set a  recursive trap designed to destroy the new Doctor’s mind.

Behind the Scenes

The man who followed Tom Baker into the TARDIS was always going to face a tough task.  Baker had been the Doctor for seven years, through the reigns of three producers: Philip Hinchcliffe, Graham Williams and John Nathan-Turner.  Nathan-Turner had worked on the show on and off since 1969, but began working on the show on a more permanent basis during the reign of his predecessor as production unit manager.  He became producer of the show for Baker’s final series, where he changed a great deal – the costume, the title theme, and the introduction of the question marks on the Doctor’s clothing.

The new Doctor, Peter Davison, had worked with Nathan-Turner on All Creatures Great and Small, and had a growing fame as a result of his role as young tearaway Tristan Farnon.  Davison would be the youngest Doctor to play the role at the time, a record that would stand until the casting of Matt Smith in 2009.  The new Doctor’s TARDIS would include three companions, with Janet Fielding, who had debuted in the previous and Sarah Sutton, who had first appeared in the penultimate Tom Baker episode, The Keeper of Traken, joining Matthew Waterhouse.

The Fifth Doctor’s first story was caught up in production problems as the planned Project Zeta Sigma proved to be unworkable.  This perhaps worked in Davison’s favour, as Castrovalva was the fourth story that went into production and allowed for him to decide on how he was going to play his Doctor.

Castrovalva has a place in the history books as being the first episode to credit the title actor as “The Doctor” rather than “Doctor Who”.  This would continue until the cancellation of the show in 1989, and then would return after The Christmas Invasion, on the insistence of David Tennant.


The story would see the Master in disguise again as the Portreeve, and would be credited as Neil Toynay, an anagram of Tony Ainley.  This also marked a change from traditional broadcasts of Doctor Who to twice weekly, away from its traditional Saturday evening broadcast slot. Finally, this marked actor Michael Sheard’s fifth appearance in Doctor Who, having previously appeared in The ArkThe Mind of EvilPyramids of Mars and The Invisible Enemy, and he would go on to appear in Remembrance of the Daleks.


Castrovalva can be split into a story of two halves – the story of trying to find the Zero Room and the story of Castrovalva – which are both plans to unravel the new Doctor’s mind by the Master.  This is something quite unusual in terms of modern episodes featuring the Master, as run times tend to mean he has only has one plan.  Anthony Ainley’s Master here is really quite menacing, especially in the first two parts when he captures Adric.  The makeup on him is also pretty good and the reveal of his disguise as the Portreeve in part 4 is handled really well.

This is also the most turbulent regeneration story that we have seen to date – the Fifth Doctor seems almost completely unhinged and it is his hunt for the Zero Room to help stablise his new body that occupies most of the first two parts of the episode.  We get some fantastic quotes about regeneration in the beginning, especially:

That’s the trouble with regeneration.  You never know what you’re going to get.

The Fifth Doctor

There’s also the symbolism of the new Doctor unravelling the iconic scarf to enable him to find his way back to the console room, which symbolises the unravelling of his mind. We also get Davison revisiting his past incarnations, which is quite good fun and the first time this really happens in the ‘classic’ era of Doctor Who.

In the Fifth Doctor era, there is always a problem of the companions.  Many critics of this part of the show’s history claim that the TARDIS is too full and that many writers do not know what to do with all three companions.  To a certain extent, this is true of Castrovalva, however, I find the use of Adric to be quite creative and Bidmead does do a good job of giving Tegan and Nyssa something to do to help the Doctor’s regeneration along.  This does make sense too, as these are the Doctor’s newest companions, so they should be thrust almost front and centre with the new Doctor. Despite this, it does seem a bit bizarre that Tegan is so doting over a man she barely knows.  Whilst making my notes, I noticed a similarity between the trap the Master has Adric in and Ebony Maw torturing Doctor Strange in Infinity War…or maybe that’s just my mind in geek overdrive.

Adric trap

Another strong aspect of this story is the idea behind the recursion trap, in which Castrovalva folds in on itself to keep the Doctor entrapped.  This does so perfectly encapsulate the idea of Doctor Who dealing with science fact, rather than some of the ludicrous stories that became common in the late Tom Baker era.  All in all, most of Bidmead’s work here is good, despite the two earlier parts being less interesting than the second two parts.

Verdict: A good introduction to the Fifth Doctor, whose post-regenerative trauma leads to quite an interesting story.  7/10

Best Moment: A toss up between the Doctor looking at his new face in the mirror and the moment they realise the nature of Castrovalva’s trap.

Best Quote:

I’m the Doctor.  Or I will be, if this regeneration works out.

The Fifth Doctor


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