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Andrew O'Day - Difficult Television Part Two

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Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone

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‘David Wickes’ Jack the Ripper and Telefantasy EXPANDED VERSION

History and Fiction in Doctor Who

Re-reading Christopher H. Bidmead

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Robert Holmes' "Carnival of Monsters"

Surveillance and Space in Doctor Who

Peter Ling's "The Mind Robber"

Difficult Television

Difficult Television Part 2

Philip Martin’s “Vengeance on Varos”

Terrance Dicks’ “The Five Doctors”

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Below: Text from Andrew's slightly revised but copyright © PhD.


Difficult Television II:

Christopher H. Bidmead’s Doctor Who

and the case for the detective genre

Andrew O’Day

The first article, which provided a detailed close reading of Christopher H. Bidmead’s Doctor Who narrative “Castrovalva” (1982), illustrated that while the town of Castrovalva is labelled a “dwelling of simplicity” in the narrative, it is, in fact, highly complex where a fantasy façade is deconstructed to show that the narrative is created out of hard science, and where one has to hunt for meaning. This close reading highlighted that “difficult television” cries out to being watched with a gaze rather than with a glance. This article takes the same approach to “Castrovalva” but in this case shows how the narrative can be read as a metafiction reflecting on itself as fitting into the detective genre, thereby illustrating that it is even more an example of “difficult television”. In keeping with Mark Currie’s (1995) definition of metafiction, not only is a narrative presented but it also reflects on its possible reception by the television viewer and on the reading practices of many Doctor Who narratives. It does this through the figures of reader characters negotiating a recursive trap, which has the same disorientating effect as a labyrinth, and through reader characters facing veils. In watching the narrative, there are different types of television viewer. For example, one type of television viewer is one whose interpretation, whose making sense of the mysterious, is guided by the Doctor, the surrogate reader. Another type of television viewer faces the recursive trap and veils but becomes analogous to a detective figure knowing more than the Doctor for a time. Furthermore, upon repeated viewing of the narrative, although the television viewer has foreknowledge of what is occurring, the idea of the recursive trap and of the veil stand as a model of the way in which the narrative moves forward. These different types of viewer encounter many Doctor Who narratives. “Castrovalva” was by no means the first narrative from the classic Doctor Who series to highlight the complicated nature of reading. The metafictional narrative “The Mind Robber” (1968) sees the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions, Jamie and Zoe, arrive in a Land of Fiction, and they must traverse an actual labyrinth of language, moving from a position of epistemological uncertainty to knowledge of the whole design of the world, symbolizing, what Wendy B. Faris (1988) would call, the complicated nature of reading. But “Castrovalva” serves as an appropriate case-study about the difficult nature of television viewing. Again, much of this difficulty was intended, and this piece draws on comments made by the Doctor Who production team of the time, but the aim of this piece is to draw out the difficult nature of reading Doctor Who regardless of intention.  

Unravelling “Castrovalva”

Doctor Who, generally, is a series of epistemological dramas about perception. The steady format of Doctor Who involves the Doctor arriving in a new terrain in each different serial. He is led randomly into these settings by his time and space machine, the TARDIS. Setting is a means of orientation. But in Doctor Who, setting at first frequently disorientates the protagonists who must learn to situate themselves. “Castrovalva” is a metafictional narrative which has as its plot a fictional world being interpreted by reader characters. The narrative resembles the detective fiction of Umberto Eco with its setting and characters. For example, a medieval castle replaces the medieval abbey found in Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1983). Unlike many typical medieval castles which contain lords and ladies, both narratives feature librarians. Therefore, its setting is like Eco's rather than Agatha Christie’s quiet villages or country manors.  

      Castrovalva” can be seen as divided into parts corresponding with outside and inside the town. An opposition is first set up between the complex maze-like design of the Doctor’s TARDIS, and Castrovalva as a friendly “dwelling of simplicity” in which the newly regenerated Doctor can recuperate. But Castrovalva is a geographical trap. As noted in the first article, the title of the town connotes a castle with a folding door. But as well as symbolising a generic entry point, the title represents the way in which characters enter the world and are entrapped within. Similarly, Bidmead noted that the web which holds Castrovalva in balance also connotes the idea of characters being caught within like flies in a spider’s web (quoted in Marson 1986: 9). The Master tells the imprisoned Adric that behind the trap of sending the Doctor’s TARDIS spiralling back in time to Event One, the Big Bang that created the universe, he had prepared another trap that would have been a delight to spring, and this trap is indeed sprung after the Doctor escapes the first.

      Unlike the natural environment outside, Castrovalva has the same confusing effect as a geographical maze. The Doctor seeks an exit from this world. Wiggins comments on “Castrovalva”’s being structured like an Escher print (1995: 9) and the set design is also based on these prints. Many of Escher’s prints serve to disorientate the spectator. As noted in the first article, these prints present binaries, as seen, for example, in Up and Down (1947), and Ascending and Descending (1960). But these binaries are paradoxically reversed where up is both up but also leads one back down. As the title of Wiggins’s article “Paradoxical Paradise” suggests, paradoxes are presented in “Castrovalva”. At the end of the third episode, the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan attempt to move down and out of the Castrovalvan world but in so doing arrive back up within the town overlooking the town square. Indeed, Shardovan obstructs the Doctor from continuing to seek a way out of the town. The Doctor ends up being taken by Nyssa and Tegan back to his Castrovalvan room. This is a way out of moving round and round and back to the square, yet it returns the Doctor to where he began. Also, the Doctor tells Nyssa and Tegan, as they rush downwards seeking the way out, that they cannot go to the trouble of carrying him in the Zero Cabinet which was used to bring him to Castrovalva, meaning that he experiences the journey through the complicated town. Yet the return to the Doctor’s room involves attempting to return him to the cabinet. In the fourth episode, the Doctor has Mergrave look out of the window and questions “And it all makes sense to you?”. The Doctor then has Mergrave draw a map on the back of the mirror. A map is a way of making sense of geography. But Mergrave’s map, on which he positions locations at numerous points, is a source of confusion.

      The geographical trap, which has the same disorientating effect as a labyrinth, parallels the Doctor being caught in a psychological maze where he is recovering from his latest regeneration in a passive state. Wiggins notes that most of the time in this story the Doctor “is an object rather than an agent: instead of doing, he is done by” (1995: 9). The Doctor is brought to Castrovalva in the Zero Cabinet by his companions following his regeneration, an inversion of the typical “Doctor saves companions” motif (Wiggins 1995: 9). In Doctor Who, regeneration is literally a way for the programme to continue. Regeneration means that the programme moves in a linear manner from one actor to the next, and in plot terms is a continuation of life after a symbolic death. “Castrovalva” begins with a pre-credit sequence, a recap from “Logopolis” (1981). This is of the Doctor lying at the bottom of the Pharos Project Tower on Earth having fallen as a result of a fight with the Master. The Zero Cabinet and Castrovalva are supposedly environments for recuperation. But while the Master has the projection of Adric tell Nyssa that “The Doctor must remain in Castrovalva until his regeneration is complete”, the Master does not wish for that type of completion. The Doctor has to return to the Zero Cabinet in a circular fashion. Bidmead notes the dual quality of the Zero Cabinet as being both a secure environment of rest and recuperation and a symbol of vulnerability (quoted in Marson 1986: 9), and Wiggins comments that the box looks unsettingly like a coffin (1995: 9). Therefore, the categories of life and death are blurred. The Master wants the Doctor to be brought to a state of death, rather than moving on with his regeneration.

      “Castrovalva” seeks to puzzle the television viewer, seeing the world at the same time as the Doctor. As director Fiona Cumming notes on the DVD commentary, there is a play with day and night, based on Escher: in the third episode, Nyssa and Tegan attempt to penetrate the castle at night while, in Castrovalva itself, the night-time scenes lend an aura of mystery. Relating to the idea of disorientation, the narrative is, moreover, filmed, especially at the end of the third episode, so as to give the television viewer the impression of the geographical and mental circularity which the Doctor experiences. At this point, we shall see what the programme’s then-producer states about the filming of the narrative but the concern here is not with authorial intent. As Nathan-Turner eloquently puts it, the filming of the narrative “echoed the feeling of Escher prints” (Nathan-Turner 2001). “The grammar of television” observes Nathan-Turner, “becomes Escher text” (Nathan-Turner 2001). 

      For example, towards the end of episode three, the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan at first move from the left to the right of the balustrade overlooking the Castrovalvan town square. But then there is a sudden cut to the Doctor walking from the right hand side of the frame into the town square, at which point the Doctor asks which is the quickest means of exit. The combination of these shots is odd since the three characters are no longer running from left to right, and also seem to have appeared in the square suddenly by magic. Nathan-Turner points out that this combination of shots is “deliberately wrong in television terms” and that, as a result, “the pictures do not flow” (Nathan-Turner 2001). “If somebody leaves one frame of the picture on the right hand side” explains Nathan-Turner “they should then enter the next picture on the left hand side” (Nathan-Turner 2001). This, states Nathan-Turner, “is the basis of the grammar of television” (Nathan-Turner 2001). The term grammar suggests that television has camera language with rules. Nathan-Turner is summing up the 180 degree rule. Furthermore, “The camera must see you move” (Nathan-Turner 2001). Nathan-Turner argues that “the average viewer who is not in the television industry would think that the shots in “Castrovalva” look odd but they would not vocalise it” (Nathan-Turner 2001). Nathan-Turner’s comment echoes Desmond Davis’s in his 1966 BBC training publication The Grammar of Television Production. Davis used the example of filming a horse race, stating that all cameras must be placed on the same line of travel and that there should not be alternation between a shot from cameras on the outside and inside curves since the effect of this would be grotesque (1966: 48-9).

      Just as left and right are played with through camera technique in “Castrovalva”, so too are up and down adding to the impression of being led around in circles. A low angle shot is presented of the Doctor and his companions moving down a stairway from the balustrade overlooking the town square on their journey out of Castrovalva. This is followed by a high angle shot of the town square below. This suggests that while the Doctor and his companions have moved down towards the town square, they are in fact back up on the balustrade above the town square, having made no progress on their way out of the town.

      Furthermore, adding to the impression of being led around in circles, repeat scenes are presented. On more than one occasion, the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan run down steps leading to the town square and supposedly out of Castrovalva. Following this, on multiple occasions, the trio are presented standing on a balustrade overlooking the town square, and have made no progress out of the town. 

      Moreover, the final shot of the third episode provides the sense of circularity. In this shot, the screen is divided up into several images, like a jigsaw puzzle. Closer inspection, however, shows that one piece provides an overview of the town square and that these details are magnified in another piece. Therefore, this puzzle cannot be neatly put together but rather is repetitive. This visually echoes the Doctor’s statement “Recursive occlusion. We’re caught in a space time trap”.

      Another image, which stands as a metaphor for enigmatic narratives, is that of the veil. The “veil” is a term often used to describe the surface of the literary, film or television narrative which hides deeper truths. There are explicit veils in “Castrovalva”. One of these, which appears for the first time earlier in the third episode, is a tapestry upon which the Doctor reads his previous situation in the narrative. The tapestry is self-reflexive and here we are considering the way in which it shrouds the truth of the narrative itself from the Doctor. In this narrative, the tapestry is used as a covering. For example, the Portreeve keeps the Doctor concentrated on the surface of the tapestry. Literally, the Doctor starts to make a move closer to the tapestry but is gently held back by the Portreeve who warns the Doctor that “there is no doubt some complexity behind it”. The Doctor is therefore literally kept behind a barrier leading to knowledge. The Portreeve also keeps the Doctor concentrated on the surface image of the tapestry, with the villain responsible for erecting hermeneutic puzzles. Looking at the image, the Doctor realises that something is wrong with it, but, in his muddled state of mind, does not understand quite what. In this case, the ideas of the amnesiac, and of narrative progression work in tandem with the notion of the veil. The Doctor is suffering from amnesia and the amnesiac does not possess a sense of bearings, a knowledge of a whole design, and is not in control of narrative progression. The amnesiac does not possess an understanding of the past that allows him or her to understand the narrative present and move the narrative forwards. The past is veiled from the amnesiac and in “Castrovalva” the tapestry serves to veil that past yet further. In “Castrovalva”, the tapestry displays a true image from the past of the narrative of the Doctor’s two companions Nyssa and Tegan carrying him in the Zero Cabinet to Castrovalva, but without his third companion, Adric, who has much earlier been captured by the Master. While this image is truthful since the tapestry does not lie, it exists at the literal level of the narrative, behind which lie further levels. The plight of the Doctor will ultimately be to realise that reading can take place on different levels. Out of intuition, the Doctor comments to the Portreeve that it was an awfully long way for three people to carry him. Wanting to keep the Doctor focussed on the surface of the fabric, the Portreeve questions “Three Doctor?”. The Portreeve gives the appearance of not knowing why the Doctor has counted three when the surface of the tapestry displays two people bringing him to Castrovalva. The Doctor is only capable of remembering the names Nyssa and Tegan. Retiring to the steps of the town square, the Doctor sounds aloud the numbers one and two and continually has to return to one, not being able to remember the third member of his party. A small girl comes up to the Doctor and tells him that three comes after two and proceeds to count numbers. This causes the Doctor to remark that she should be given “a badge for mathematical excellence”. It is then that the Doctor remembers Adric, also a younger person, by the symbol awarded for his mathematical achievements that he wears.

      Mystery and the ideas of perception and the lack of it are associated with the tapestry through the image of the eye-glass. As noted in the previous article, the symbols which hang around the waists of the main Castrovalvan characters reveal their function in the narrative. There is a symbolic function to the eye-glass hanging from the Portreeve. Just as Mergrave puts his bottle of medicine to practical use, the Portreeve uses his eye-glass at a significant point in the narrative. This is in the third episode when he and the Doctor are examining the tapestry. The Portreeve’s use of the eye-glass is significant since he sees more to the tapestry than does the Doctor in his muddled state of mind. But initially the eye-glass just seems to be a natural device for an aged man to use. The Portreeve is, however, aware of what lies behind the fabric, of the solution to the mystery of the text. When the Doctor first arrives in Castrovalva, he is informed that the Portreeve is “a man of great wisdom” and this is significant since it ultimately turns out that the Portreeve knows a lot more than other characters. The Portreeve has told the Doctor that he “shall see the source of…great wisdom” which is the tapestry displaying images of the Doctor being brought to Castrovalva. But the Doctor does not see that this wisdom involves knowledge of how the Castrovalvan world is constructed, that this wisdom does not only pertain to textual surfaces but also to what lies beneath them. The Portreeve, at first, has authorial omnipotence. Wisdom is frequently associated with old age. This is seen in the case of Yoda in the film The Empire Strikes Back (1981). Inner sight is also often suggested through the lack of outer sight. For example, in Greek mythology the prophet Tiresias is literally blind but he is wise. Also, in the Doctor Who narrative “Kinda” (1982) Panna is an old blind wise woman. The word “Panna” means “Wisdom” in Buddhism, revealing the character’s allegorical function as one who understands that the Mara tempts souls. The Portreeve’s wisdom is presented, however, not through blindness but through his use of the eye-glass, also an important symbol of vision in Eco’s metafiction The Name of the Rose. While the Portreeve has insight, then, the Doctor has a degree of blindness, kept behind veils. The Doctor sees the narrative as saying one thing which will later be changed. The Portreeve is like the analyst with awareness, and the Doctor, in ill health, the patient, in a reversal of his title. But the Portreeve does not seek to cure the Doctor by allowing him to perceive the truth. These ideas of the veil further connect with the idea of geographical recursion since the Portreeve attempts to keep the Doctor’s mind going round in circles, fixing him on the past represented on the tapestry, and standing against teleology and the fixing of meaning. Although reactions to the fabric gradually lead the Doctor out of a circle, he is still left being unable to unveil Adric’s whereabouts.

      The idea of the double being is also connected to that of the veil. The double being carries with it connotations of duplicity. In “Castrovalva”, not only is the tapestry a veil for the narrative erected by the Master but for the third and most of the fourth episodes of the narrative, the Master veils himself as a character in what is revealed to be a fictional world from reader characters such as the Doctor. The Master visually assumes the guise of Portreeve, a seemingly virtuous character. Connecting with this doubling is the idea of surface and reality, where the character is one thing yet at the same time is another. As a double being, the Master is duplicitous. He breakfasts in his guise of Portreeve with the Doctor, who ironically refers to the friendliness of the town by contrast with old monsters such as Ogrons and Daleks to the very person who had worked alongside them in the earlier narrative “Frontier in Space” (1973). Therefore, the Doctor fails to read beneath the disguise and penetrate the veil.

      In “Castrovalva” the veil of the visual tapestry faced by characters is experienced by the attentive television viewer who either sees less on first viewing than the Portreeve or penetrates veils. The tapestry is a particularly appropriate image for the television medium. This is because a tapestry can display pictures just as the television viewer “reads” pictures. In “Castrovalva”, the tapestry is like the television screen, although its images are static dissolving from one to the next over time. However, the tapestry surface shows the television viewer simply what he or she already knows about the narrative. The tapestry images are therefore circular, reflecting on the past of the narrative, rather than the present or the future, standing opposed to teleology. But here there is a need to “read” behind surfaces. The television viewer has seen the Master plotting, with Adric ensnared in a web, but is not shown that this actually lies behind the tapestry and how the world has been created. The director Fiona Cumming presents scenes both behind and in front of the tapestry but does not show the move between them which would position things spatially. The television viewer, however, is given clues that some complexity lies behind the fabric by the Portreeve’s words. The television viewer knows more than the Doctor since the viewer understands why Adric is missing from the surface image on the tapestry, because he has been captured by the Master, but is only told so much. Indeed, while on subsequent viewings the television viewer has foreknowledge of what is to occur later in the narrative, the viewer is still only told so much at this particular time in the narrative.

      The television viewer also encounters the double being. Just as the Master is veiled from reader characters, an attempt is also made to veil him from the television viewer. Some television viewers’ experience of the narrative parallels that of characters, and while some television viewers will be able to see through the deception, they are still involved in a process of detecting what lies beneath false signs. The Master is an actor putting on a “show” of the character of the Portreeve in what is revealed to be a fictional world. 

      It is not only literal make-up which veils the Master, but also a series of conventional signs which, in this case, are misleading surfaces and do not signify the truth. Just as the Doctor was a reader of visuals, so too is the television viewer. “Castrovalva” presents a misleading semiotic experience. This has already been the case in the narrative. Castrovalvans observe the protagonists Nyssa and Tegan from behind a bush with menacing music playing. These Castrovalvans are apparently responsible for the Doctor’s injury on his way to Castrovalva but turn out to be peaceful.

      Later, the Master is veiled through the use of colour. Colour has familiar cultural associations which can be expressed by a particular character’s costume. Traditionally, white is a colour associated with virtue while black carries connotations of evil. In Doctor Who the White and Black Guardians appear in the Key to Time season (1978) and later in “Enlightenment” (1983), representing Good and Evil respectively, and the evil Master is usually dressed in black. The Portreeve is an elderly gentleman in white, inviting the television viewer to see him as virtuous whereas in fact he is the evil Master.

      The veiling of the Master’s identity within the Castrovalvan world is further presented through editing. A scene is presented of the Master in his normal form with Adric. Following this, there is a cross-cut to the scene of the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan breakfasting with the Portreeve. This may present the illusion for many that because the Master has just been seen in his normal form, he is not also seated with the Doctor and his companions. Logic dictates that the Master cannot be in two forms and in two places at the same time. Cross-cutting implies separation, so the television viewer is invited to see the Portreeve as virtuous.

      This veil is carried on through the cast list for the narrative which is a means of identification used in television which, like theatre and film, has performers. The end titles to the third episode credit the Portreeve as having been played by “Neil Toynay”. This is an anagram of “Tony Ainley”, a shortened form of Anthony Ainley. Ainley was the actor associated by the television viewer with playing the Master, having appeared in the previous two narratives, “The Keeper of Traken” (1981) and “Logopolis”. This was the first time that Ainley’s Master was disguised, and therefore that a pseudonym was used of this actor’s name. Therefore, many television viewers would not have been looking out for it.

      The television viewer is further invited to see Shardovan, the librarian, as the villain of the piece, and the narrative may therefore appear to be lifting one of its veils. However, the surface signs employed do not lead to the reality underneath but rather obscure the truth yet further, again drawing attention away from the Portreeve’s being the Master in disguise. Shardovan’s costume and facial features contribute to this. Returning to the idea of colour in narratives, Wiggins comments upon the fact that Shardovan is attired in black, frequently identified with evil (1995: 9). Wiggins further notes that although moustaches are a feature of nearly all the Castrovalvan men, Shardovan’s black moustache is styled in such a way as to suggest the Master’s saturnine features inviting the television viewer to believe that Shardovan is a tool of the Master’s (1995: 8).

      As the third episode draws closer to its conclusion, other techniques which have not mentioned by Wiggins (1995) invite the television viewer to perceive Shardovan as villainous. Earlier in the episode, the Master has a projection of Adric insist to Nyssa that the Doctor remain in Castrovalva. At the end of the third episode, Shardovan also seemingly assumes narrative authority, connecting him with the Master. A scene is presented of Shardovan and Mergrave standing outside the library where it is revealed that the Doctor is planning to leave the town. Shardovan tells Mergrave that they must intervene. There is then a cross-cut to the Doctor and his companions running in search of the exit to the town. The television viewer is invited to feel suspense as to whether the trio will be able to escape before Shardovan has a chance to stop them.

      The use of the camera in this scene also invites the television viewer to perceive Shardovan as villainous. The camera follows the Doctor and his companions running across the town square to a stairway. Shardovan, with tall stature, stands on the stairway looking down at the Doctor, connoting dominance. While not a point of view shot, the television viewer is positioned with the Doctor looking up at Shardovan.

      Shardovan’s facial features and posture at this moment further increase a sense of his villainy. Shardovan’s expression is stern. As the Doctor collapses backwards, Shardovan folds his arms. This body language is a sign of control. This shows that Shardovan is not reaching out to help the Doctor. The Doctor therefore seems to literally and metaphorically become the patient, whereas really, as seen, it is the Portreeve who is the analyst who leads the Doctor no further in reading his predicament.

      Music also increases the impression of Shardovan’s villainy. Earlier, when Nyssa and Tegan leave the library, there is a shot of Shardovan looking on. This is accompanied by Paddy Kingsland’s melodramatic music with dissonant chords connoting threat. Again, towards the end of the third episode, Shardovan’s appearance in blocking the Doctor and his companion’s escape from Castrovalva, is accompanied by this style of music. The episode concludes soon after this pivotal scene that appears to be a dramatic turning point of the villain unmasked, inviting the television viewer to question what will happen next.

      Indeed, these plot and audio-visual techniques acting to code Shardovan as a villain do not cease at this point but continue into the final episode. The Doctor’s companion Tegan, an individual of integrity, mistrusts Shardovan. The end of the scene where Nyssa and Tegan reclaim the Zero Cabinet from the Castrovalvan women, parallels that of them leaving the library in the third part. In this instance, too, the scene ends with a shot of Shardovan watching the two companions leaving, singling him out as important. In this instance, too, melodramatic music with dissonant chords accompanies the shot. Therefore, these signs of Shardovan’s villainy are piled up, one after the other, during the third and fourth episodes to veil the truth of the Portreeve as Master.

      In many Doctor Who narratives, the Doctor moves from the position of powerless investigator to closing the narrative in the manner of an author who writes the end of a fictional tale with authority. In order to assume this position and bring order to worlds, the Doctor must be able to move out of the circular trap and see clearly through the veils that have been erected. 

        In “Castrovalva”, the Doctor, a reader figure, who sees the truth about the Castrovalvan world, comes out of a mental labyrinth and starts to become an active figure taking mastery of the narrative away from the Master within what is revealed to be a fictional world. The verb “to master” is of relevance to ideas of passivity and activity. The term is used to describe one’s being active and having a grasp over something or someone. One indeed often hears the phrase that a reader is mastering narrative through proper understanding. For most of the narrative, the Doctor is the subject who is quite literally mastered by the Master, in charge of the doing. Yet, the Doctor becomes the one who puts the verb “to master” into operation. He assumes the Master’s role of active mastery over the narrative. The Master, meanwhile, becomes the subject who is paradoxically no longer the Master over the narrative but is rather the mastered. The Master becomes caught in a circle. He believes that things have not developed from earlier in the narrative whereas in fact they have. As the Master reveals himself, he states “For the final meeting of the Doctor with his Master”. This indicates how the evil Time Lord sees his title, “the Master”, as charged with meaning and the Doctor as the subject of his mastery. Indeed, the Master at times hypnotises subjects to do his bidding stating “I am the Master and you will obey me”. Paradoxically at the point where the Portreeve turns into the evil Time Lord in a type of television superimposition, the Master ceases to be master over the constructed world and over the Doctor’s position in that domain. 

      The denouement of the narrative highlights this role reversal where the Doctor is no longer in a physical circle or mental maze. The denouement involves the Zero Cabinet being carried to the Portreeve’s dwelling. As noted earlier, the Master has attempted to blur the categories of life and death by keeping the Doctor in supposedly tranquil environments imprisoned in a state of death, rather than moving forward. The Master thinks he is being finally given the Doctor in ill health lying inside the Zero Cabinet. At this point in the narrative, the Master wants the Doctor to be lying down. The Master therefore wishes the Doctor to be occupying the same physical position that he was in following the fall that caused his regeneration and that he was in when being brought to Castrovalva. The Master wants the Doctor to have been led back to the object that he was forced to return to at the end of the third episode having been unable to find a way out of the town. This would suggest that the movement of the narrative has been arrested. The Master therefore reads the cabinet as serving the same purpose that it had earlier in the narrative, believing that events are continuing to move around in circles. He believes that the cabinet contains the Doctor as in the earlier image on the tapestry, showing how the Master believes himself to be in control of the constructed world. But things have actually progressed in a linear manner and the narrative is one of teleology. This teleology is brought on not by the Master but by the Doctor.  

      The Doctor’s supposed passive state is also communicated through audio-visual means. When commenting that the box looks unsettlingly like a coffin, Wiggins does not focus on the denouement (1995: 9). Contrasting with the earlier scene where the Doctor was being carried to Castrovalva in the Zero Cabinet, a box for recuperation, is the scene of the cabinet being carried to the Portreeve’s dwelling in an ordered march. But here that march resembles that of pall bearers carrying a coffin. This idea is also largely coded by Kingsland’s accompanying incidental music. Contrasting with the pastoral tones played when the Doctor was being carried to Castrovalva, this music is solemn and ceremonial.

      In an act of narrative authority, the Doctor then starts to become responsible for keeping the Master in a mental maze and behind a veil. The Doctor’s actions become inscribed on the tapestry, a traditional symbol of textuality, which represents the way in which the Doctor Who narrative progresses. The Doctor uses the Zero Cabinet to conceal. The Master believes that the Doctor is trapped within the cabinet and wishes to take “one long last look at” him before destroying him utterly. What the Master thinks he will be seeing is not the reality he will be given. Attention is once again placed on the idea of the tapestry. The tapestry surface reveals the truth of the Doctor making his way to the Portreeve’s dwelling but not in a metaphoric coffin. Therefore, the tapestry, a metaphor of textuality, reveals that the Doctor is using the Zero Cabinet in his own way to conceal. Tegan expresses to Nyssa of the fabric and Master, “That wretched tapestry. He’ll spot the Doctor any minute”. This is expressed so that the Master will not hear. Tegan’s anxiety is that the Master will see the events that are moving forward in the present and will try to stop them from occurring. But the Master does not notice the tapestry at first. Contrasting with earlier in the narrative, it is the Master who fails to read properly. When the Master does see the tapestry image, he refuses to believe it, since he sees himself as in charge of the Castrovalvan plot. He states “Enough of your deceptions”. As he brings the cabinet crashing to the ground, he realises that the deception was indeed that the Doctor was not in the cabinet. At this point, the Master shouts waving his arm aimlessly in the direction of the tapestry, as opposed to having authority, that he will find the Doctor wherever he is. The tapestry is therefore associated with vision and while previously it displayed scenes from the past, it now reveals what is occurring in the present of Castrovalva. This shows how the Doctor is seizing narrative control, moving the narrative forwards and leaving a mentally circuitous path.

      Whereas the Master has attempted to author the destruction of the Doctor, the Doctor seizes authority as revealed through the Doctor’s not giving himself in a passive state to the Master, but rather a symbol of the fabrication of the world. The inside of the Zero Cabinet contains not the dying Doctor but rather the volumes of the History of Castrovalva taken from the library. When the Master breaks open the Zero Cabinet, these books come crashing to the ground. The Master is given a symbol of the destruction of his created world which, from this point on, falls apart.

      The Doctor is shown to seize authorship and authority and to not be in a state of passivity in a coffin but to be active. The Master, as a parody of God, has created characters to fulfil his plot. For example, the Master has created Shardovan who maintains the library containing the purported history of Castrovalva. But there is a reversal in power between the Master and Shardovan since earlier in the narrative the Portreeve stands on a balcony looking down at Shardovan, with, as noted on the DVD Production Notes, “possessive pride”, while this is reversed towards the end of the narrative where Shardovan becomes the Doctor’s double, breaking the Castrovalvan world by swinging into the web from a top balcony while the Master looks up from below. Another character created by the Master is Mergrave. Mergrave was created to fulfil an active role of tending to the physically sick Doctor. Mergrave, at first, appears to be a double of the ruler of the town, the Portreeve, serving his wishes of helping the Doctor recuperate. In the third episode, when the Doctor is left alone in his Castrovalvan room having been poured a potion by Mergrave, the Portreeve tells the Doctor to drink. In the final episode, when the Doctor’s condition is beyond Mergrave’s power to heal, the Zero Cabinet is brought to the Portreeve. But Mergrave is not a double of the Portreeve since the Master in his guise of Portreeve is preoccupied with destroying rather than saving. For the Castrovalvans ultimately have free will, an idea made explicit by Shardovan when he states “You made us man of evil, but we are free”. This notion is also seen where the Doctor manages to bring Mergrave round as a character to serving his plot as opposed to the Master’s. The Doctor takes charge of the Castrovalvan character created by the Master, being active in making Mergrave tend to his wishes.

      The television viewer is similarly given a position of knowledge that the Master at first does not have. The television viewer knows that the Doctor is not inside the Zero Cabinet. The television viewer has seen the Doctor in his Castrovalvan room lying in the cabinet. The television viewer has heard him telling Nyssa that he has “One little suggestion”, and experienced the cut to those standing outside the room. When Shardovan later no longer leads the procession to the Portreeve’s dwelling, there is a scene between him and the Doctor. Nyssa whispers to Tegan that the cabinet holds the volumes of the History of Castrovalva.

      As noted, in Doctor Who narratives, the Doctor must uncover the truth in order to gain mastery. In “Castrovalva” the Doctor’s mastery over narrative is revealed by his removing the veils covering mystery and enabling perception of the truth. The Doctor therefore penetrates epistemological barriers. The first of these types of unveiling of the fictional world is assisted by the librarian. As noted, the Portreeve earlier had looked at the surface of the tapestry with an eye-glass which, as one realises later, signifies his wisdom of seeing behind textual surfaces. In a structural similarity, the Doctor wears spectacles, like a detective, and looks for clues in the literal books of the History of Castrovalva taken from the town’s library. As a result, the Doctor realises that there is something wrong with the History of Castrovalva. Shardovan, the librarian’s, role is not only one of physically arranging the books in the library, despite his comment that this is his only function. The librarian has annotated the volumes of the History of Castrovalva, a common scholarly analytical activity of attempting to make sense. Shardovan, who fulfils the role of the traditional librarian, helping the Doctor, the visitor, find the material he is after, reveals that the History of Castrovalva is a fiction. As pointed out in ‘The Mind Robber’, fiction is written in advance of occurrences, while events of history are written later (Wiggins 1995: 10). Therefore, were things in Castrovalva normal the books would be new and chronicle the past. But in “Castrovalva” the writing took place first since the books are old but chronicle the rise of Castrovalva to the present day. In a structural reversal of the Portreeve’s role, Shardovan helps the Doctor look beyond surfaces, beyond the words on the pages of books, to see the reality of the constructed world. 

      The first literal unveiling is of the Portreeve’s surface appearance to reveal the Master lying behind. This is an unveiling of the surface of the Castrovalvan fictional world, since the Master had literally turned himself into a character in that domain in the position of magistrate. The Latin word magistratus is connected to magistir, meaning Master, just as the title which the Master adopted in “The Daemons” (1971), Magistar, means Master. The unveiling in ‘Castrovalva’ therefore reveals a hidden reality.

      The Master believes he is taking narrative authority through unveiling himself. He rises from his hunchback position as Portreeve to standing erect. This is a sign of control, just as his initial veiling gave him power through his possession of knowledge unknown to the Doctor. A visual technique of superimposition is used for the revelation scene. There is a flash of the Master’s face over the Portreeve’s until the Master’s face becomes fixed. As seen, earlier in the narrative, editing techniques provided the impression of the Master and Portreeve as different figures who could not be in two places at the same time. There was a cross-cut of the Master talking to Adric, and of the Portreeve at breakfast with the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan. But in this scene of unveiling, television techniques reveal the Portreeve and the Master to be the same. The body language of the Doctor’s companions Nyssa and Tegan at this unveiling suggests the authority which the Master seems to assert. Both Nyssa and Tegan move backwards with horror. While earlier at the end of the third episode, Shardovan’s standing on the stairway in the Doctor’s line of travel caused the Doctor to collapse backwards, in this later scene the Master’s unveiling causes the companions to move backwards. The Master had earlier been interested in arresting the development of the narrative, keeping the Doctor focussed on surfaces. Now the Master finally moves the narrative forward to a meaning, on, what he believes to be, his terms. 

      But the Doctor has already realised the truth that the Master is veiled as Portreeve which has indeed led to the Doctor’s assuming power of authorship and erecting his own veil, as noted above. The Doctor tells Mergrave and Ruther, who have been sent to find out what had caused the sound of breaking glass, that “This man you know as Portreeve is the most evil force in the universe”. The Doctor realises this without having been present at the literal unveiling. The Doctor has moved from blindness to insight. This is the case even though the Doctor’s difficulty in focusing on the Castrovalvan world has still been highlighted through a subjective point of view shot of a high-up window as blurry.

      Following the unveiling of the Portreeve, and the Doctor’s having placed a veil for the Master, the tapestry, a visual texture and metaphor for the fictional world, begins to reveal on its surface what literally lies behind it. This is the web entrapping Adric. What lay behind emerges to the surface. Things that the director had earlier not positioned spatially are given bearing through visuals. Whereas the tapestry had earlier simply revealed what was already known, of the Doctor being brought to Castrovalva in the Zero Cabinet, here the recursive cycle of images is broken. Ironically, this occurs at the point when the Master waves his arm around in the direction of the tapestry stating of the Doctor, “I’ll fetch you out wherever you are”. What is actually fetched out is not the Doctor, unveiled for the Master, but the unveiling of the tapestry for characters. The Doctor arrives in the Portreeve’s dwelling. As the Doctor pieces the mystery together, he literally rips away the tapestry, the metaphoric surface of the Castrovalvan world, making evident the reality lying behind that. The threads with which the narrative is woven are taken apart.

      The Doctor had earlier been kept concentrating on the surface of the textile. He puzzled over who his third companion could be, unseen in the images of Nyssa and Tegan transporting him to Castrovalva. Only later with the help of a girl had he remembered Adric. In this scene of unveiling, by peeling away the surface of the text the Doctor literally discovers Adric, who had briefly shown through on the tapestry surface immediately prior to this. The Doctor also literally discovers the truth of the Castrovalvan world, that it has been carefully constructed out of hard science. The Doctor therefore moves past the surface of the fabric, upon which the Portreeve had been so keen to keep him, and now sees as much as the Portreeve knew all the time. Therefore, there is a reversal between the Portreeve’s earlier seeing truth and the Doctor’s present ability.

      The idea of analysing, of interpreting, of making sense of a narrative has in literary criticism been associated with both peeling away surfaces and undoing threads as well as exiting a labyrinth. It is this tradition that enables one to make the association between the Doctor ripping the tapestry surface and textual interpretation. The idea of interpreting by peeling away the surface level of narratives has been examined in relation to allegory. Narratives have different levels. According to Michael Murrin (1969), in medieval sign theory, the veil was associated with the literal level of the narrative which when lifted revealed its hidden truth. Leonard Michael Koff notes that medieval approaches to a narrative involved the reader moving through the surface to the fruit, which is the moral message contained within (1988: 8). This idea is also raised by Giovanni Boccaccio in the Genealogie Deorum Gentilium (1374), by Thomas Nashe, and by Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Defence of Poetry (1821), who uses the metaphor of peeling off the outer bark of a nut.  But we are not looking at allegory here.

      Roland Barthes, however, in S/Z, where he examines Honore de Balzac’s novel Sarrasine (1830) in order to make points about narrative generally, discusses the meaning of the term analysis suggesting “to undo”. According to Barthes, the peeling away of layers, in this case of a female statue, is identified with attempted analysis (2000: 122). This, writes Barthes, providing a Freudian sexual reading, “is a via di levare, or clearing away” where one “tries always to get beyond, behind, according to the idealistic principle which identifies secrecy with truth” (2000: 122). In the case of Sarrasine, however, there is, as Barthes describes elsewhere, “a construction of layers” as with an onion “whose body contains, finally, no heart, no kernel, no secret, no irreducible principle, nothing except the infinity of its own envelopes” (1971: 10). “Castrovalva” differs since it does reveal a secret.

      Also, Derrida equates texts with a fabric like a tapestry. In his short narrative “A Silkworm of One’s Own” (2001), Derrida connects unravelling threads with analysis and making sense of a traditional type of text. He states that “To understand…one must untangle the threads of more texts” (2001: 65). “It is above all necessary”, continues Derrida, “to analyze, undo knots, separate threads, prevent them from sticking to each other” (2001: 67). Derrida’s view, however, is that the threads of a narrative can never be completely unravelled. But Derrida’s language of unravelling threads is of relevance here. For while the creator of a literary narrative is one who weaves veils, the role of the reader is to attempt to pull things apart, to undo threads and to exit a maze. These ideas connect with approaches taken to mystery narratives where, as Collins notes, one often hears reference made to the “unravelling” of a mystery (1989: 62).

      “Castrovalva” also seeks to give the television viewer control over the narrative, although some viewers may have penetrated surfaces earlier, and on subsequent viewings viewers are aware of what happens in advance. At the point of the Master’s unveiling, the use of incidental music by Kingsland reveals that something significant is happening on screen. Just before the unveiling, harmonious sounds are associated with the tapestry. But as the Master unveils his true identity from that of Portreeve, there are mounting beats. Whereas the sinister incidental music associated with Shardovan had earlier not represented a reality, the use of music at the Master’s unveiling does. Furthermore, with the unveiling of the tapestry, the viewer also finds Adric and sees beneath a surface image. For the television viewer, however, unlike for the Doctor, what lies behind the veils is still part of the fiction.

      The Doctor’s becoming like an author bringing resolution to narratives means that there can be a return to the ordered ongoing format of the programme, just as Len Masterman (1985) wrote that the format of most television programmes creates order, an idea specific to television and series of films or books. Most narratives, except for hyper-texts, have a literal end but, as seen, closure is of particular importance to television’s ongoing form of the series of episodic serials since, unlike with the soap opera, one narrative must end for another to begin. Therefore, the circular pattern gives way to the spiral leading to the next narrative.

        “Castrovalva” involves the closure of the narrative where the circle leads to a spiral with order re-established. As Wiggins notes, the narrative cannot continue in a vicious circle forever (1995: 10). But Wiggins does not connect this with images of closure. Already noted is the way that the Doctor authors interpretative closure bringing coherent meaning through ripping the tapestry, a traditional symbol of textuality, to reveal what lies beneath. He puts an end to the fictionality of the Castrovalvan world. The idea of the Doctor saving his companions rather than vice versa is restored with the Doctor rescuing Adric from the web. This type of closure is common of the detective genre where villainy must be arrested (see Belsey 1970: 80 and Drummond 1976: 21-2) and is the end goal of the hermeneutic code (Mallioux 1990: 121). “Castrovalva” also has authored formal closure. Following the ripping of the tapestry, and the destruction of the web, there are images of further closure. At first, the world is depicted as circular and constructed, such as when there is rotational symmetry of Mergrave, the Doctor, and his companions running along a balustrade, showing how careful attention was given to the visual composition of the narrative. Adric eventually leads the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan out of the Castrovalvan world in a spiral manner. The world is presented as pixillated, which both suggests its collapse and the fact that it has been constructed. The world is also presented as breaking up through the arrangement of Castrovalvan scenes on the screen. In addition to these techniques, the door to Castrovalva closes after the Doctor and his companions leave. This entombs the Master within as opposed to the Doctor being entombed within the Zero Cabinet. Mergrave no longer serves the Master’s plot but instead of healing, with other Castrovalvans, attacks the evil Time Lord. The castle disappears, and unity is established. The Doctor jogs back to the TARDIS, structurally contrasting to his being earlier being supported outside the Earth Pharos Project, or carried in the Zero Cabinet to Castrovalva. With the disassembling of the Castrovalvan world comes the reassembling of the programme. The programme’s format stresses its on-going quality. The narrative ends with the Doctor standing by the TARDIS, a box in which he will be contained yet have more control over, unlike earlier when he was in the Zero Cabinet. He rejoices in his new persona. His regeneration has reached completion, against which the Master stood, and the programme continues linearly onto new narratives as opposed to being caught in a repetitious circle. 


While “Castrovalva” is by no means the only example of “difficult television”, what has been illustrated here is that television can be subjected to the same detailed readings as Literature or Film, as is often done by Doctor Who fans. It was noted in the first article that some of these fans are also academics from an English Literature background: Martin Wiggins was cited as one, whose work on “Castrovalva” for In-Vision has been discussed at even greater length here. What is so interesting about “Castrovalva” is that its town is labelled a “dwelling of simplicity” but that it is anything but. Images of “looking” attentively, as opposed to glancing, are also present in this particular narrative where both the Doctor and the television viewer are involved in a process of unveiling. While Ellis (1982) is correct that the characteristic mode of watching television is with the glance as opposed to with the gaze, this article has again shown that complicated television invites other more attentive modes of viewing, where the narrative is not only watched with the gaze but is watched repeatedly, time after time. Ellis also wrote that science fiction television can involve play with the composition of the image (1982: 129), and we can see that this is evident in “Castrovalva” where there is play with the 180 degree rule and with rotational symmetry, both used to emphasise that characters are caught within a circle, as indeed is the television viewer. “Castrovalva” fits in with the detective genre, which is also interesting because mystery television commonly involves the need for attentive viewing.  


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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. Updated Monday 2nd August 2010.