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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who


Author: Christopher H. Bidmead
Read by: Peter Davison
BBC Audio
RRP: £12.99
ISBN: 978 1 4084 2697 5
Available 04 March 2010

Still weak and confused after his fourth regeneration, the Doctor retreats to Castrovalva to recuperate. However, Castrovalva is not the haven of peace and tranquillity the Doctor and his companions are seeking. Far from being able to rest quietly, the unsuspecting time-travellers are caught up once again in the evil machinations of the Master. Only an act of supreme self-sacrifice will enable them to escape the maniacal lunacy of the renegade Time Lord...

Though closely linked thematically (both being penned by outgoing script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, both featuring the Master and notions of recursion, regeneration and renewal) and consecutive in the series chronology, the television serials Logopolis and Castrovalva were separated by a nine-month gap between their original transmission dates, from March 1981 to January 1982. A similar gap separated the publication of Bidmead’s novelisations of the stories, in October 1982 and June 1983 respectively. However, subsequent commercial releases of these adventures have endeavoured to unite them: both were released in the same month on VHS in 1992; both were released in the same box set on DVD in 2007; and now both novelisations have been released over consecutive months as unabridged talking books from BBC Audio.

As with the television original, the book version of Castrovalva picks up where Logopolis left off, briefly recapping the regeneration at the climax of that story. However, because the ending to the Logopolis novelisation differs from its televised counterpart by giving the newly regenerated Doctor a line of speech, the author is vague about this event in his recap, presumably in case his readers are more familiar with the broadcast version. Here the Doctor is said to utter something but his companions don’t catch the words.

The rest of the tale unfolds pretty much as it does on screen, though of course Bidmead is able to avoid some of the television production’s visual shortcomings, such as the lack of continuity between the seasons in which the location work for the two stories had been carried out (winter for Logopolis, early autumn for Castrovalva), the length and colour of Peter Davison’s hair (short and brown in Logopolis, long and blond in Castrovalva) and the Fourth Doctor’s footwear (boots in Logopolis, shoes in Castrovalva), as well as some less than entirely successful special effects for the Master’s hovering TARDIS and for the recursive occlusion. The rather sedate (one might, less charitably, even say sluggish) pace of the plot is improved by the insertion of some dramatic foreshadowing of the dangers to come as Tegan searches for Castrovalva in Chapter 6 and as Nyssa explores the town in Chapter 8. We are denied the visual splendour of designer Janet Budden’s Escher-inspired sets, though the author subtly and skilfully describes the incongruities of Castrovalva’s architecture.

Once again, Bidmead adopts the typical Terrance Dicks structure of three chapters for every episode of the television script (allowing the audio book to be split evenly across four discs, the ending to each one-hour CD coinciding with the episode endings), and this time he gives his chapters titles, including the suitably Dicksian “Escape from Earth”, “Jettisoned”, “The Quest for Castrovalva” and “The Web is Broken”. However, he still avoids imitating Dicks’s archetypal description of the TARDIS’s “wheezing, groaning” noise, instead opting to have the craft emit a “chuffing sound”.

Whereas the ending to the Logopolis novelisation gives an additional line to the Fifth Doctor, the conclusion of this book jettisons his rather vacuous final line about the situation being absolutely splendid.

As I mentioned in my review of Logopolis, both that audio book and this one sport new cover illustrations by Ben Willsher, presumably in order to give the releases a consistent appearance and to avoid Castrovalva’s dreadful original photographic cover (which can be seen, in miniature, inside the CD case).

With such efforts being made to bring uniformity to these audio books, it’s a bit of a shame that there’s no such consistency between the performers. Bidmead himself reads Logopolis, while Davison reads Castrovalva. Both are excellent in their own way, but it would have been nice to have either Bidmead narrating both or Doctors narrating both (with Tom Baker reading Logopolis). Davison does his usual sterling vocal work, providing a narrative voice that is easy to listen to, while drawing clear distinctions between the various characters. His voices for Tegan and the Master are particularly impressive.

While not as enjoyable as its companion title, this talking book is an effective introduction to the era of the Fifth Doctor.


Richard McGinlay

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Doctor Who: Castrovalva (Unabridged)
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