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Christopher H. Bidmead’s Doctor Who
and the case for hard science fiction
In the first academic
book-length study of Doctor Who, published in 1983 to coincide
with the programme’s twentieth anniversary, John Tulloch and Manuel
Alvarado write that
the complexity and variety of
Doctor Who is the result of its use of a range of different
genres – Science Fiction/Historical Romance/Comedy/Gothic
Horror/Adventure, etc., which together with the regular phoenix-like
reincarnation of the Doctor himself…make…another aspect of its
uniqueness and another reason for its durability (1983: 5)
There are indeed metafictions in
the series which are representative of this tendency to mix science
fiction with other genres. In an article for the official Doctor
Who Magazine, Alan Barnes, for example, notes that in the
1976 narrative “The Deadly Assassin”, produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
and script-edited by Robert Holmes, at a time when gothic narratives
were prevalent in the programme, there are self-reflexive generic
markers: the narrative begins with the Doctor (Tom Baker) reading out
script which scrolls up the television screen and sets the scene much
as a manuscript is a feature of the gothic novel that is evident in
Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and Ann
Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794); and the villain in
the narrative is actually called “Chancellor Goth” (1999: 12). This
article, however, takes a different relatively short period in classic
Doctor Who’s history (1980-81), produced by John Nathan-Turner
and script-edited by Christopher H. Bidmead, when Bidmead’s influence
over the programme saw the appearance of a multitude of “hard” science
fiction narratives. Back in 1982, John Ellis argued that the
characteristic mode of watching television was with the “glance” as
opposed to with the “gaze”. Since then, however, other ways of
watching television have been recognised. Jeremy Tunstall (1983: 135)
defines “primary viewing” as being where one gives the television
one’s full attention, especially true of “fan” viewings where people
make a conscious selection of a specific programme that is viewed
faithfully from week to week and are engaged in, what Bob Mullan
calls, “ritualised viewing” (1997: 65). Academics such as Catherine
Johnson (2005) have indeed illustrated that science fiction is often
not watched with a glance and is particularly suitable for conveying
grand spectacle. But programmes like Doctor Who can also be
subjected to the type of close reading, traditionally found in the
discipline of English Literature, or even Film Studies, and made by
fans in publications such as Doctor Who Magazine and
In-Vision (though in those publications less tied into theory).
These fans not only watch Doctor Who with a gaze but also watch
the same narrative repeatedly. It is interesting that in the very year
Ellis was being published, 1982, we find an example of extremely
“difficult” television in Doctor Who: Christopher H. Bidmead’s
own scripted narrative “Castrovalva”. This article will subject the
metafiction “Castrovalva” to a detailed close reading to illustrate
that while the town is labelled a “dwelling of simplicity”, it is in
fact extremely complex where a fantasy façade is deconstructed to
reveal that it has been constructed out of “hard” science, reflecting
on Bidmead’s overall stamp on the programme as script-editor. This
“dwelling of simplicity” becomes even more complicated for us when we
consider all the techniques used to demonstrate this. In the context
of this discussion, “fantasy” refers to genres such as “Romance” and
“fairy tale” which are defined by recurring generic conventions. “Hard
science fiction”, meanwhile, relies on “cognitive estrangement”, where
we are taken to a different or transformed world (a novum) and where
this different world is treated with scientific logic within the
narrative. “Hard science fiction” refers to narratives which rely on
physics and mathematics as opposed to “soft” sciences like
anthropology or sociology (see Blish 1970; Suvin 1979). Furthermore,
while this piece of work touches on ideas which were intended by the
Doctor Who production team of the day, it provides a more
detailed reading of “Castrovalva” without relying on authorial
commentary and regardless of authorial intent.
Doctor Who: science fiction and fantasy
Embedded in Doctor Who’s format from its very beginning in 1963 was a doubling between science fiction and ideas deriving from fantasy. Viewers of Doctor Who often resort to describing the programme by both terms, without defining what elements are science fiction and what fit in with a traditional definition of fantasy. In the format, the Doctor’s TARDIS appears to be one thing, a Police Box, on the outside, and something completely different, a vast technological ship, on the inside. This dualism codes the programme as participating in both science fiction and fantasy. As Cecil Edwin Webber originally put it in his ideas for the programme, the Doctor’s contraption should be, on the one hand, “the dear old Magic Door” on the outside involving characters “passing through some common object on the street” (Gillatt 1998: 12). Characters such as Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright in the very first episode “An Unearthly Child” (1963), and Tegan Jovanka in “Logopolis” (1981), first pass through its doors without an inkling of what is actually contained within. This is akin to the children passing through a wardrobe into the world of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) (Gillatt 1998: 15). Similarly, in the children’s television series Mr Benn, a clothes store shopkeeper appears “as if by magic” and Mr Benn tries on a costume in the fitting room with the back door leading into an adventure. According to Webber, on the other hand, the Doctor’s contraption should be a science fiction “contrivance of quivering electronics” on the inside (Gillatt 1998: 12). Webber indeed says that with Doctor Who, the danger is in “science-fiction or fairy tale labelling” (Gillatt 1998: 12), just as Ulrike H. Meinhof and Jonathan Smith (2000) argue for an elastic classificatory notion of genre in texts generally. Also, the concept of regeneration is embedded in the programme’s format and this also echoes fantasy where characters can be renewed from a dying state.
Another part of the programme’s format and fitting in with fantasy was the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, introduced in “Fury from the Deep” (1968). This involved an element of science (the sonic quality of the device) and of fantasy (the Magic Key enabling escape). The fantastic quality of the device is foregrounded in “The Invasion of Time” (1978). The Doctor (Tom Baker), trying to open a door, turns to the camera and, as if with a wink to the television viewer who is rewarded for knowledge of the programme’s codes, reveals that even the sonic screwdriver will not open it. It is this miraculous quality that caused producer John Nathan-Turner to write the device out in “The Visitation” (1982) (Tulloch and Alvarado 1983: 217).
In Doctor Who as a whole, fantasy is replaced by science fiction. For instance, in “The Daemons” (1971), the scientific Master is the Magister of Devil’s End and summons Azal, causing the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) to realise that he is not dealing not with black magic in a supernatural fantasy, but with the scientific Daemons. In “The Three Doctors” (1972-73), Omega controls a world that appears as a dreamscape. But Omega presides over a world of anti-matter to which the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is transported through the threshold of a black hole. In “The Deadly Assassin”, the Master governs the Matrix, a sphere of lawlessness, which the Doctor (Tom Baker) enters. The reflection of a clown cackles at him from beneath the sand and a masked surgeon wields a syringe over him in a more surreal type of fantasy that, although linked to an easily decipherable storyline, bears resemblances to avant-garde film-making as seen in Un chien andalou (1929) and Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). Because of the surreal nature of the avant-garde, its links with the fantastic can be seen. But in “The Deadly Assassin” the Doctor returns to the boundaries of the science fiction world. In the 1978-79 season, the White Guardian, a figure of law, sets the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his apprentice Romana on a quest for the pieces of the Key to Time. In order to detect the pieces, a Tracer is used which is like a sorcerer’s wand (Barnes 2000: 45). This quest takes the pair through the fairy tale worlds of castles, dragons, princes and princesses (Barnes 2000: 45). But the White Guardian initiates this quest so that the pieces of the key can be assembled to restore balance to the universe in science fiction. In “Time-Flight” (1982), the ruler of a domain at first appears to be Kalid, the Arabian conjuring magician who looks into a crystal ball, resembling the sultans of the Arabian Nights. But the ruler is the Master and psychotronics are in reality electronics. In “The Trial of a Time Lord” (1986), the Valeyard is literally a prosecuting attorney at the Doctor’s (Colin Baker) trial. In episodes 13 and 14, characters pass through a literal door into a land of lawlessness where codes of reality no longer apply. In a surrealist fantasy, a pair of hands emerge from a water barrel dragging the Doctor inside and the Doctor is pulled into quicksand by dozens of hands emerging from beneath the ground only to emerge unscathed. But the narrative ultimately returns to science fiction and the Valeyard’s attempts to destroy the court. In “Dragonfire” (1987) there is a search with a map for treasure guarded by a dragon but it is a scientifically-derived guard. Gary Gillatt notes that the programme has rules and logic which are occasionally suspended but always re-established (1998: 45).
noted, this emphasis on science was especially stressed in the 1980-81
season of Doctor Who, newly-produced by Nathan-Turner
and script edited by Bidmead. There were production reasons for this
change. That season was produced largely in deliberate reaction to the
previous years of the programme produced by Graham Williams (1977-79).
Change was firstly signalled by the introduction of a new title
sequence and particularly expensive “arty”…camera work” (Tulloch and
Alvarado 1983: 215). Change was secondly signalled through the shift
in characterisation of the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) from engaging in
slapstick, where, the Doctor would joke with monsters, to the
seriousness of an old figure nearing the end of his regeneration.
Change was thirdly signalled by the deliberate move to serious hard
science. Bidmead, who had been writing for the magazine New
Scientist at the time, recently noted in an interview with
Doctor Who Magazine, that “They wanted to open audience’s minds to
the idea that science is a wonderfully viable way of getting a handle
on the world” and that “had been turned upside down and become magic,
which is the inverse of science” (Arnopp 2009: 43). By “magic”,
Bidmead here means bafflegab science, though this is actually still a
generic convention of science fiction. But Bidmead’s comment still
draws attention to the way in which he was interested in “hard”
science. Unlike the primitive savage Leela (1977-78) who had to be
educated in the new age of science, the programme’s stress on hard
science was signalled through the character of Romana, who posed an
almost scientific threat to the Doctor, and then by the introduction
of the companions Adric in “Full Circle” (1980), and Nyssa in “The
Keeper of Traken” (1981) who shifted between the two poles of being
children under the Doctor’s loco parentis care after the death
of their closest companion and being scientific (Tulloch and Alvarado
1983: 227). There was a need to introduce new companions to bridge the
gap between the fourth and fifth Doctors after Elisabeth Sladen and
Louise Jameson declined to reprise their roles as companions Sarah
Jane Smith and Leela respectively (Howe, Stammers, and Walker 1996:
17), but the choice of companions was also generic. In a time when
companions had symbolic vestments, Adric is defined by the badge for
mathematical excellence which he wears on his top. The programme’s
stress on hard science was evident in individual narratives. “The
Leisure Hive” (1980) concerns the concept of tachyons and cloning, and
the narratives of the E-Space trilogy, “Full Circle”, “State of Decay”
(1980) and particularly “Warriors’ Gate” (1981), probe the scientific
idea of an alternative universe. Both Doctor Who fans Matthew
Newton (1995) and Gary Gillatt (1998: 111) are right to emphasise the
hard science quality introduced by Bidmead. Newton is therefore
correct to note that the balance of criticism must be redressed since
fans of the programme, often with an Arts university degree, have
tended to neglect the series’ science qualities in their readings of
Bidmead’s “Castrovalva” was the first narrative of the 1982 Doctor Who season, and in the second part of the narrative involves the newly regenerated Doctor (Peter Davison) being brought to a locale to recuperate, only to discover that the world is a trap set by the Master. It is impossible to attribute a single influence on “Castrovalva” but the second half of “Castrovalva” at first situates the viewer in a realm that provides a feeling associated with fantasy. “Castrovalva” concerns generic parameters being established where setting is key, one of David McQueen’s (1998) criteria for identifying genre. The title of the castle, Castrovalva, for instance, is important in establishing the border that leads into the locale. The names of Bidmead’s other locales for Doctor Who narratives have thematic relevance. For example, Logopolis is the Greek for “city of words” (polis + logos), where the language of numbers holds together the universe. Frontios, meanwhile, from the 1984 narrative of that title, denotes the frontier planet upon which colonists, having left the dead Earth, have settled. “Castrovalva” is no exception. On the one hand, the title is borrowed from an M. C. Escher print (1930), based on a place the Dutch artist had visited in the Italian Abruzzi region. On the other hand, the word translates into “castle with a folding door”. The word castro derives from the Latin castrum, meaning “fort”. This was a common affix for Italian and Spanish place names since villages were often built around pre-existing castles. In Latin, a valva quite literally meant a “hinged door”. This is an idea still evident today where a valva is that which has the function of a valve, a threshold device which both opens and closes. The idea of the door is important to the narrative which deals with characters discovering that it is exceedingly difficult to exit the world. But the setting of Castrovalva also at first establishes that there is a firm entry point, a door in the cliff-face, into a fixed setting, that is difficult to pass through.
At first, this generic setting with a firm entry point, conjures up a feeling of fantasy. David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker have observed the narrative’s “slightly “fairy tale” quality” (1998: 407), but they have not probed how this is conveyed. Castrovalva’s presentation is important visually. The outside appearance of the Castrovalvan castle does not resemble the dark, decayed gothic castle. Rather, unlike in Escher’s print Castrovalva, it is an inviting creamy colour with coloured flags raised. Furthermore, the castle is surrounded by hunters dressed in coloured wool with bright multi-coloured feathers sticking up from their head gear. On the DVD release of “Castrovalva”, director Fiona Cumming has also stated that the mist surrounding the castle lends to it a somewhat mystical quality. After the initial night time scenes, the edifice is brightly lit and unlike in the gothic, shadows are not emphasised.
Also the setting is established as a realm like those of fantasy by the narrative involving a quest. Castrovalva at first appears to be a “dwelling of simplicity” cut off from the rest of the universe and a place for healing and convalescing. It is around the quest motif that much of the second episode revolves, although the hero does not embark upon a quest to prove his worth or save a heroine. Nyssa and Tegan bring the vulnerable, newly-regenerated Doctor to Castrovalva. This is echoed by Paddy Kingsland’s composition of long stretches of soothing pastoral music. Such music plays uninterrupted, for instance, for 43 seconds after the girls start to carry the Doctor and for a further 16 seconds after they leave the stream. The Doctor is carried in the Zero Cabinet, which is made out of the door of the jettisoned Zero Room which was a place of healing. Castrovalva is meant to be an alternative Zero Room and Zero Cabinet. The working title for the narrative was “The Visitor” (Howe and Walker 1995: 58) emphasising the motif of the quest for a locale of convalescence.
Fantasy motifs are carried through to the presentation of the inside of the Castrovalvan castle. There is a connection between setting and character, another of McQueen’s (1998) criteria for determining genre. Mergrave is a key figure. The name of the character, Mergrave is significant. The name resembles Merlin’s, who was a healer in Medieval Arthurian texts. Furthermore, Mergrave is the Master of Physic, a medieval Chaucerian type title. Like the other Castrovalvans, he is defined by a symbol hanging from his waist. In this case, that is of a bottle of medicine which he puts to practical use by, for instance, pouring a potion for the Doctor to drink. The colour of the potion is green which, as noted on the DVD commentary, was also a reference to Peter Pan. The colour of Mergrave’s robe is furthermore significant. Like the music, it is soothing. It is pink, making the inside of Castrovalva resemble the comfortable pink of the Zero Room. Pink is commonly coded in our culture as a soft feminine colour. The fantasy motifs of the quest and of healing and convalescing, then, are used partly to comment on Doctor Who. Here the newly regenerated Doctor must recuperate, who in his fifth persona is frequently associated with vulnerability.
But, at the same time as containing elements of fantasy, the inside of Castrovalva resembles Escher prints where up leads downwards and where downwards leads up (e.g. Up and Down (1947), High and Low (1947) and Ascending and Descending (1960)) and, as noted in the DVD Production Notes, pays homage to French chateau. In the DVD commentary of the narrative, director Fiona Cumming points out that Castrovalva has the architectural feeling of Escher, that there is a sherbert feeling through both the lighting and the costumes which enhances the architectural mood of Escher, and also that there is a circular feeling with no straight lines. The castle has firm boundaries. But the Doctor must also recover to find himself actually in a science fiction universe which is the normality of the programme and the narrative reflects on the surface of Castrovalva as being a façade.
The Castrovalvan world is revealed to be a fictional one. The world contains not the typical kings and queens or princes and princesses and the throne room that one would expect to find in say fairy tale, but a library and a tapestry, both of which represent the way in which this world and the Doctor Who narrative have been constructed. Metafictions commonly feature microcosms of the macrocosmic text, as seen through the medieval library in Umberto Eco’s later novel The Name of the Rose (1983).
In the Castrovalvan library are books purportedly chronicling the history of the world from a tribe of warring hunters to the present day. As Martin Wiggins notes, in the earlier Doctor Who narrative “The Mind Robber” (1968), the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) comments that history involves the writing occurring after events, while fiction sees the writing happening first (1995: 10). In “Castrovalva” stress is laid upon the idea of time to communicate the fact that the books are a fiction. As Wiggins (1995) notes, the old and the new are pivotal themes. The character of the Portreeve, a medieval figure, for instance, suggests that the town is old. And while the bindings of the books are old, the contents chronicle the present of Castrovalva, meaning that the contents, like the world, had to have been created before the events took place. As the Doctor later points out, the whole texts have been invented “from beginning to end”, and the end of the books is what we see on our screens. The library is a microcosm of the Castrovalvan world.
Further pointing to the fact that the setting is a façade is the tapestry which hangs on the wall in the Portreeve’s dwelling. The tapestry surface, like the architectural friezes in Eco’s The Name of the Rose, calls attention to the artificial surface construction of the world. Just as the narrative deals with the theme of linguistic and spatial recursion where procedures fold back on themselves, the narrative reflects on itself, with the tapestry being analogous to the mirror in the Doctor’s Castrovalvan room. A mirror, a common image of self-reflexive texts, reflects surfaces. In “Castrovalva”, the tapestry reflects the surface elements that have been presented on our television screens. These include the images of the castle and of the quest which, while it took place outside the castle walls, is part of the generic text. The tapestry is a visual equivalent of the books in the Castrovalvan library which are reflexive. Indeed the tapestry is first seen in extremely effective cross-cutting between Nyssa and Tegan being led to the library while the Doctor examines the texture. As Nathan-Turner notes, Bidmead was interested in technology, shocked that not every office at the BBC had a computer screen. Like the images on a television screen, those on the tapestry, while static, dissolve into new ones in sequence. Indeed, as director Fiona Cumming notes, the original intention was to show the tapestry “changing and updating”. But the practicalities of this would have been too time consuming so instead “you see the picture…look away, and when you look back the picture has changed” (quoted in Brown 1995: 14).
reflection on the façade of the Castrovalvan world is made possible by
the long history of the connection of the tapestry with textuality.
This connection exists etymologically. The tapestry is the ultimate
text. It is a woven (Latin: textilis) textile with a texture.
The tapestry is also a fabric, and the Latin word fabricator,
means “he who makes”. A tapestry is also produced with a yarn, a word
that is also used to describe the spinning of a narrative. These
connections were picked up by writers. Poems were seen as stitched
together. The poet was described as rhapsodos meaning “a
stitcher of songs”, as rhapton epeon aodoi, meaning “singers of
woven words” by Pindar in the fifth century BC, and in Ariosto’s
Orlando Furioso (1516) (xxxiv 81). In Sir Philip Sidney’s
The Defence of Poesy (1595), the poet was not only a
prophet (Latin: vates) but a weaver of rich tapestries. Ovid in
the Metamorphoses (AD1- ) described a tongueless Philomela’s
weaving her fate through words onto linen as a means of communication
(Book VI). These connections render natural Roland Barthes’s
The text, while it is being produced, is like a piece of…lace created before us under the lacemaker’s fingers: each sequence undertaken hangs like the temporarily inactive bobbin waiting while its neighbor works; then, when its turn comes, the hand takes up the thread again, brings it back to the frame, and as the pattern is filled out, the progress of each thread is marked with a pin which holds it and is gradually moved forward (2000: 160)
But the reflexiveness of the tapestry is particularly suited to the visual nature of television and there is a precedent for this. Homer, in The Odyssey (800 BC), presents Penelope weaving a visual tapestry. Even Lord Alfred Tennyson in the nineteenth century has the Lady of Shalott spinning visions of the world. Paralleling these weavings in the real world were the creations of linen, such as the famous Bayeux Tapestry which depicted the events both through Latin text and visually leading up to the Battle Of Hastings and hung in a medieval castle. Additionally, man’s life has been viewed as a fabric, as seen in Brian Daley’s A Tapestry of Magics (1983), Piers Anthony’s Crewel Lye (1984), and David Brin’s “The Loom of Thessaly” (1987).
The themes of origins and authorship are important to “Castrovalva”. As it turns out, the origins of the Castrovalvan world exist not with a tribe of warring hunters but with the creator figure. Wiggins writes that “Castrovalva is old, created…centuries ago” and that “its history, preconceived from the start, has unfolded down the years like a computer program” (1995: 10), so, as suggested earlier, a creator has put together the world as reflected by the fact that the books in the library have been written before events have occurred. Indeed, as mentioned on the DVD Production Notes, at one stage the Portreeve (in reality, the evil Master) stands on a balcony overlooking his creation with “possessive pride” while the sets, costumes and make-up are integrated since Castrovalva is the product of a single mind.
In keeping with Doctor Who’s format and Bidmead’s influence over the programme, ultimately, “Castrovalva” emphasises that the world fits in with the science fiction nature of this era of the programme. Writers including Malcolm Petu, for the journal New Scientist, note that the narrative is one of hard science fiction, but Petu sees the scientific jargon as “too mundane” (Gillatt 1998: 111).
The Castrovalvan world is created out of hard science, revealing how not only is a narrative presented but where it also reflects on its construction. It is behind the surface tapestry, a texture, that the Castrovalvan world is revealed to be constructed out of hard science. The boundary between the Castrovalvan world and its construction out of hard science is revealed through the Castrovalvan world’s having been constructed out of “Block Transfer Computation”. This is the term used in the previous narrative “Logopolis” (1981) to denote the creation of solid objects through mathematics. The Logopolitan Monitor appeared as a learned classical theorist, dressed in black robes. He declared that “structure is the essence of matter” and that “the essence of structure is mathematics”. This, writes Gillatt, is “a reductionist theory that all science can be reduced to the study of sub-atomic interactions and - if these processes are expressed as equations - pure mathematics” (1998: 111). This is the area of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics deals with the behaviour of matter at the subatomic level. Electrons, parts of atoms, are constantly moving their position and can be described by three dimensional equations. The language of Logopolis, characterised by the sound of the mathematicians chanting out loud, is one of numbers. The city has the appearance of a giant brain with individuals contained in cells contributing to its working. Since this theory of construction is put into practice in “Castrovalva”, the Master, as creator using Adric’s mathematical skill, assumes the role of the deceased Logopolitan Monitor, who literally dissolved, and creates a city out of the language of numbers. The Castrovalvan web, holding together the town, has been formed out of mathematics. Adric, a mathematical genius, is both held in place by the web and yet is holding it together. As Bidmead notes, the web is a science fiction icon (quoted in Marson 1986). It is, for instance, seen in the Star Trek narrative “The Tholian Web” (1968) and the Blake’s 7 narrative “The Web” (1978) but not used in the same way.
There is therefore a further play on the title of the narrative and of the edifice, Castrovalva, as translating into castle with a folding door. The true textual valva is not the opening in the cliff-face leading into a castle. Rather, the true textual valva is the tapestry which is a gateway between the fantasy façade and its true construction out of hard science since the web holding Adric and the town in place lies behind the fabric.
the web is broken by the librarian Shardovan. Like other of the
Castrovalvans, Shardovan’s name is symbolic. A “shard” is a piece or
fragment of a brittle substance, suggesting the breaking of the
constructed world, as emphasised in the novelisation:
The geography that had
been…deceptive before was now blindingly baffling. A shuffled mosaic
of the Castrovalva they knew, fractured into tiny shards of
space, scintillated in front of their eyes. This was not some
confused picture, a viewer screen gone wrong, the image in a mirror
pummelled into fragments - it was the very space they occupied
(1983: 115; my italic)
In the television narrative, once these textual rips have occurred, visual techniques are used to present the collapse of the world. For example, scenes from the Castrovalvan world are presented as a broken-up jigsaw and the screen is displayed as pixillated. Therefore, the theme of building and collapse is central. While the world appears to have been a castle built out of bricks and mortar, it is in fact a science construction held together, as the Master reveals, by the web which is bound through mathematics. When the web is broken, the castle disappears and there is a shot in episode four with no castle that structurally contrasts with that of a castle presented in episode two. Since the world is a constructed one held together by science, the earlier elements cannot exist independently without this foundation. Building can involve the erection of solid boundaries but in this case the borders are dismantled where genres exist in relation to each other. The issue of generic fragmentation works in this narrative, then, where one genre is fragmented without solid boundaries and is supported by elements from another genre.
But the narrative reveals how science fiction must be read in relation to the fantasy façade. The narrative reflects on its construction out of divided yet unified genres. The tapestry, a metaphor for the constructed world, is a literal threshold and a generic dividing point. But the two sides of the fabric and the genres must be read in relation to each other and are therefore unified without there being a solid barrier. The television viewers eventually realise that the tapestry is generically two sided. But, at this point, they are already positioned in the surface genre, existing in front of the woven texture. What lies behind the tapestry is therefore read in relation to what is already known as lying in front.
In “Castrovalva”, then, the type of metafiction being examined is complicated. The narrative takes fictionality as its theme, fitting in with Patricia Waugh’s (1984) and Mark Currie’s (1995) classification of a type of metafiction. The Castrovalvan world is revealed to be a fictional construct held together by the “reality” of hard science. At the same time, through the connections between tapestry and textuality and through the way that the Doctor’s situation of being brought to Castrovalva appears on the tapestry, we are invited to see the narrative as reflecting on Doctor Who. We can therefore read the narrative as reflecting on the way in which more fantasy elements are superseded by science fiction in the programme Doctor Who, with science fiction being the “reality” of the programme, yet still a fiction. But at the same time, in the plot of the narrative, the central protagonists - the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric - and the central antagonist - the Master - are made out to be real since, for example, it is the Doctor who exposes the world of Castrovalva as a fictional construct suggesting that he is “real”.
In his essay “The Law of Genre” (1980), Jacques Derrida argued that such a law is that texts participate in numerous genres simultaneously. In keeping with the format of Doctor Who and other narratives of the programme where fantasy elements are superseded by science fiction, an important theme in “Castrovalva” is that the law of the land is one of hard science. In “Castrovalva” this idea is represented by the presence of a creator who is a literal figure of law. As seen, the central Castrovalvans are defined by their roles. The Portreeve is established as “a type of magistrate”. The magistrate of a town oversees its smooth running. Indeed, the title of this magistrate, Portreeve, is of importance. The word “Portreeve” literally translates as “door-keeper”, composed of the words “porte” (door) and “reeve”. Originally, in Norman England, the title referred to the chief magistrate of port towns such as London, as did the titles “Portgreve” and “Portgrave”, before the position was abolished, as made clear in Eden Phillpotts’ 1906 novel titled after the figure. Therefore, the Portreeve is in charge of what appears to be boundaries around the narrative which contains elements from fantasy.
But the Master, as creator, is in fact in charge of overseeing a different law to Castrovalva. He is the gate-keeper to a world of hard science. He stands not by the castle door but by the tapestry, the true generic opening area. The Master has created Castrovalva as a trap which is a “delight to spring”. With authority, he has had Adric enter the reference to Castrovalva in the Doctor’s TARDIS Data Bank, has had the TARDIS programmed to arrive on the planet containing Castrovalva, and has had the Doctor kept within this realm. He states “My Castrovalva” suggesting his ownership over the domain.
There is indeed a juxtaposition between the Master and Shardovan as figures in charge of the law of the domain. As librarian, Shardovan is in charge of the smooth running of the Castrovalvan library, a microcosm of the Castrovalvan world. He sees to it that all the books are carefully ordered on the shelves. The books seem to indicate that Castrovalva is a world that to us partly resembles those found in fantasies. But it is the Master who, in reality, has scripted the contents of the books and presides over the law of the Castrovalvan world, one of hard science.
The issue of genre doubling has already been noted. But it is worth looking at theoretical ideas of the double and how these are vital to a consideration of metafictional reflection on multiple genres. Doubling has long been examined by literary critics. These scholars include Ralph Tymms (1949), Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979), Fred Botting (1996), A. Ballesteros Gonzalez (1998), and Helen Hanson (2000). To a lesser extent, doubling has been probed by television critics such as Lenora Ledwon (1993), and Helen Wheatley (2006). All of these critics focus on the notion of the psychological double in the gothic. Tymms, for instance, notes that characters can either project an element of their soul from which they struggle to be free, or repressed desires (1949: 115). Gilbert and Gubar examine the psychological double in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre (1847), arguing that the protagonist projects her repressed desires onto the mad woman in the attic. Both of these ideas concern division and unification where characters project elements (dividing them) of a part of themselves (which are therefore unified in one being).
More recently, Jonathan Bignell and Andrew O’Day (2004), providing political readings of Terry Nation’s science fiction work for Doctor Who (1963-89), Survivors (1975-77), and Blake’s 7 (1978-81), and noting the recurrent themes of autocracy and racism present, argue that the “body politic” is represented by the physical body where an attempt to join two bodies into one may represent the unification of the body politic, while splitting off the unworthy part of the self in order to leave a unified body may also stand for the perfectability of the body politic. This, argue Bignell and O’Day, is a development of the common theoretical principle of creating unity by eliminating the double’s duality. But what has not been probed is the importance of the double being to an examination of metafiction and reflection on multiple genres.
Doubling is important to an examination of metafiction alone. Metafiction presents a narrative and reflects on its construction, making the boundaries between the two permeable. Metafictions are “narratives of doubling” which present characters within the fictions who are both these characters yet are also simultaneously author-like figures or figures driving the narrative. Generic mixing in texts also involves a process of doubling where genres are multiple and therefore divided by a boundary yet also work in unison.
In the metafiction considered here, there are two notions of doubling. Whereas in metafiction characters are commonly creator-type figures, in a type of duality, here a character within the fiction is presented as actually having been formed by a creator figure, where the narrative concerns the way in which its scenario is constructed. Furthermore, we see that this creator figure is presented in one genre while the “made-up” character is presented in another. The presence of the creator in one genre and the character in another reflects on the construction of the narratives out of multiple genres which are divided yet unified.
For the Master is a creator who has projected himself as a character meaning that not only is a narrative presented but also that the narrative draws attention to its construction. We see that the Master stands as creator in one genre and has turned himself into a character in another, reflecting on the narrative’s multi-generic construction. The Master is, like the setting, a fragment, a character in fantasy, yet scientific creator holding this element in place. He is at once the Portreeve, a character dressed in white, in the fantasy sphere, which has been created, and, in reality, the Master, dressed in black and a scientific creator. Both are played by Anthony Ainley, with Odile Dicks-Mireaux and Marion Richards having supplied costume and make-up respectively. The shape shifter was a common figure of magical narratives, appearing in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (see Archimago in I. I - II and Duessa in I. II: 44), but here reflects on the multi-generic construction of the narrative out of both fantasy and science fiction.
Encompassed in Doctor Who’s format is the opposition between generic surfaces and realities. As we have seen, the TARDIS appears ordinary but behind the façade of a Police Box lies a scientific contraption. As noted earlier, just as in other Doctor Who narratives where fantasy is superseded by science, in “Castrovalva”, there is the appearance of fantasy elements behind which lies hard science. As also seen earlier, this is represented by the textual surface of the tapestry behind which lies a web making the narrative reflect on its construction. But the double being also epitomises this. The two sides of the Master parallel the two sided tapestry, whereas in narratives such as “Time-Flight” (1982) and “The King’s Demons” (1983) the two sides of the Master do not correspond with such an object. On the surface side of the tapestry in the realm that resembles fantasies lies the Master in his surface guise of Portreeve, a character in the Castrovalvan world. On the other side of the tapestry lies the fact that the Castrovalvan world has been created out of hard science, and this corresponds to camera shots presented of the Master, a scientific constructor rather than a character in an illusory world.
In “Castrovalva” there is a division and raising of generic borders between science fiction and fantasy elements yet simultaneously a unification and dismantling of boundaries. While opposites, the genres are combined, creating a distinctive type of science fiction which is read by negation of the rules of fantasy narrative. This idea is also reflected on through the double. The double itself is a figure of division yet also of unification, of being two things at once synthesised into one body. The double is therefore a figure of permeability. The double being of Master and Portreeve suggests the permeability of generic boundaries between science fiction and fantasy elements. While opposites, these two sides are unified to create a distinctive type of science fiction read in relation to what it is not. Even when presented as Portreeve, the Master still exists behind that surface.
The Master’s role as gatekeeper to the Castrovalvan world, where he is in charge of the narrative is important here. The Master is at first a gate-keeper to a sphere that we see resembles that of fantasies and then one created out of hard science, policing generic boundaries. But a gatekeeper is also a mediating figure between two sides. The Master, as creator, mediates between the fantasy type of locale and his appearance as Portreeve, and science and his true nature as the Master, although ultimately becoming associated as a scientific constructor. The genres of fantasy and science fiction are opposed but through the bringing together of the genres a distinctive type of science fiction is created, of importance even when the Master casts off the skin of Portreeve.
Classification is not firm. Meinhof and Smith argue against “the most inelastically classificatory notion of genre” (2000: 12). The format of Doctor Who reveals the dangers of labelling where the TARDIS cannot be defined simply as a contraption of fantasy. As we have seen, “Castrovalva” reflects on the narrative’s construction out of multiple genres, symbolised by the presence of the double, a creator in one genre and a character in another, and the narrative probes the idea of labelling which is associated with genre. To name something is to immediately impose a label, and therefore a limit, a boundary, on it; to define something is to know it. “Castrovalva” involves the fluidity of naming, where what appears to be known is actually at first not comprehended and mastered except by the Master. Upon first seeing the Portreeve, the Doctor says “You’re the Portreeve”. Once the Master has unveiled himself, Mergrave asserts “You are not the Portreeve”, a line immediately re-emphasised by Ruther. In addition to indicating how Mergrave and Ruther start to see what the Castrovalvan world is, these later remarks structurally contrast with the Doctor’s much earlier observation, showing how the initial imposition of naming was a mistake. The very act of defining the Castrovalvan world is shown to have been a futile exercise. For us, definition becomes a process of identifying generic fluidity when the unveiled Master becomes known by what he is not, which is the character of the Portreeve, existing in a locale seeming like one from fantasy.
Derrida’s “The Law of Genre” (1980), because texts - such as novels -
participate in more than one genre, they cannot fully belong to one
individual genre. Steve Neale adopts Derridean language stating that
“texts of all kinds necessarily “participate” in genre, and…are likely
to…in more than one genre at once” (2001: 2). In Doctor Who,
there are reflections on the law of generic permeability where
narratives participate in, but do not wholly belong to, a genre. In
“Castrovalva” the constructor, the Master only participates in the
Castrovalvan world as the Portreeve. This is further emphasised by the
Master as Portreeve standing somehow apart from the other
Castrovalvans. For example, at one point he remains in the Doctor’s
Castrovalvan room unseen until the other Castrovalvans have left; he
does not attend the feast, which being a social activity is a sign of
belonging to the Castrovalvan community; and he looks over the balcony
upon Shardovan in the main hall. Similarly, the Master is, as well as
is not, the Portreeve, since he takes on this disguise. Ultimately,
the Master is presented as scientist but it is the multiple genres
combined which create a distinctive type of science fiction. Like the
Master, the narrative participates in fantasy but is not solidly
While the town of Castrovalva is
labelled “a dwelling of simplicity” within the narrative itself, then,
one can see that it is in fact incredibly complex, both for the Doctor
and his companions and for the television viewer. Not only are
appearances deceptive where, for example, the fantasy façade is
replaced by a reality of hard science, reflecting on Bidmead’s brief
stamp on the programme, but analysing the narrative (without always
relying on authorial intent or commentary), and not just the elements
of “hard” science, can be an extremely difficult task where one looks
for meaning. While Film Studies is largely populated by those with a
background in English Literature, Media and Television Studies is
largely populated by sociologically minded academics. As noted in the
Introduction, television like Doctor Who, however, can be
subjected to the same type of detailed readings made in the
disciplines of English Literature and Film Studies, and made, to a
degree, in fan publications like In-Vision, interestingly
sometimes by academics from an English Literature background (e.g.
Alec Charles and Martin Wiggins, whose own work on “Castrovalva” is
cited here). Like the texts studied in English Literature and Film
Studies, Doctor Who is a narrative form (in this case, a
fictional one) and many of the techniques found in English Literature
such as the significance of character names (as seen in medieval and
Renaissance allegories such as Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene),
and symbols, are present in the programme. “Castrovalva” is by no
means the only example of “difficult television” or indeed of
“difficult Doctor Who”. Close readings can be made of Doctor
Who narratives generally. Attention has, for example, already been
paid to the way the narratives “Kinda”, also from 1982, and
“Snakedance” (1983), written by Christopher Bailey, a university
lecturer in English Literature no less, feature planets and
characters with allegorical (in this case, Buddhist) names which
assist one in reading the narratives (see, for instance, Tulloch and
Alvarado 1983, and Benjamin Cook 2003, Doctor Who Magazine
Issue 327), as indeed does “Ghost Light” (1989) by Marc Platt (see
Barnes 2004, Doctor Who Magazine Issue 348). Furthermore, the
significance of naming in Terry Nation’s Doctor Who work has
been drawn out (see Bignell and O’Day 2004): in “Genesis of the
Daleks” (1975), the name “Sevrin” suggests the autocratic aim “to
sever” the unworthy part of the body politic and therefore functions
much like the word “Exxilon” (exile) in “Death to the Daleks” (1974).
In “Castrovalva”, and in other Doctor Who narratives, there is
also intertextuality at work - allusions to written texts, for
example. There is also room for more work specifically on
“Castrovalva” such as the way in which the narrative fits in with the
detective genre which will serve to further highlight its status as
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Text © Andrew O'Day and used with his kind permission. This page was compiled by Tim Harris.
This page was first published to the internet Friday 2nd July 2010.