Target novelisation
Doctor Who - Castrovalva

Author Christopher H. Bidmead Cover image
Published 1983
ISBN 0 426 19326 1
First Edition Cover Photographic

Back cover blurb: Still weak and confused after his fourth regeneration, the Doctor retreats to Castrovalva to recuperate. But Castrovalva is not the haven of peace and tranquility 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.


Dwellings of Simplicity by Jason A. Miller 15/10/13

"In the nearly eight hundred years of his being, much of that time spent in travel, the Doctor had arrived at the working hypothesis that experience is no substitute for books."
Has there ever been a sentence in a Doctor Who book which more closely summarizes my world view? In the world of internet memes, I'd type this quote in Comic Sans font over a picture of Christopher Hamilton Bidmead, post it to Facebook... and watch it utterly fail to go viral.

If there's one common theme running through the reviews of Target novelizations posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide, it's a general disdain for "straight" adaptations. While writers like Terrance Dicks and Philip Hinchcliffe for the most part adapted TV scripts wholesale, making only a few tweaks, fandom at large appears more interested in books that significantly add to or deviate from the TV presentation. Most of the novelizations of Season 25 and Season 26 stories fit this bill. So the works of Donald Cotton and Malcolm Hulke.

And then we come to Mr. Bidmead. "El bid", as he styled himself on rec.arts.drwho in the early '90s, novelized each of his three TV scripts. From a distance, these were simply straight adaptations. He'd add a few words to dialogue exchanges in the print version, and occasionally puff out a walk-on role (like naming two side characters in the Frontios novelization, Kernighan and Ritchie, of C fame). But you don't go to Bidmead novelizations to find new scenes, or restructured cliffhangers, or experimental writing, or additional mythology that couldn't have been presented on TV.

With that said, Bidmead's novelizations - particularly Logopolis and Castrovalva - are among my favorites from the entire Target run. Castrovalva the book is a straight-up scene-by-scene retelling of the TV production, but, instead of adding new scenes or narrative tricks, adds much wit and a literary sensibility. One of my favorite flourishes is a chapter title called "The World Through the Eyes of Shardovan," which is one of the few chapter titles in the Target line that sound like a one-man off-Broadway play staged by any British actor with white hair and a CBE after his name.

Bidmead digs deep inside the head of the Fifth Doctor; this was not the first Davison story to be novelized but, as an adaptation of his TV debut, it does better than its print predecessors in describing his essence. The very first description of Davison's body offered in the book cements the notion that he was playing the Doctor as an old man in a young man's body: "The body was stooped, like an old man, but the face under the mop of blond hair was the face of youth, with an open smile and an expression of complete bewilderment in his eyes." Later, as a not-quite-regenerated Doctor is slumped over in a wheelchair: "Somewhere in that heap of crumpled flannel were worlds of wisdom." When looking for new clothes, the Doctor reflects: "The coat was not altogether right for him, but then he had to admit he wasn't altogether right for the coat, either. He was on the point of arriving at the decision that they would give each other a try, at least for the moment." While lost in the TARDIS and failing to recognize Tegan and Nyssa, instead examining a stain on the TARDIS wall, we get: " 'Hello', said the Doctor, greeting the thin uneven red line with a courtesy he had denied the girls." We're told of the Doctor, when a rescue needs to be organized, that " 'improvised' would be a better expression where the Doctor was concerned". When the Doctor has trouble counting to three late in the story, Bidmead shows him as "intending to put up with no more of this nonsense from a mere string of cardinal numbers," and then, confused, "stared with the distant gaze of a man watching his departing train of thought from an empty platform". If you don't think these lines rank among the most note-perfect descriptions of the Doctor's essence, then we are probably reading different books.

It's been said, perhaps not unfairly, that Bidmead in Logopolis and Castrovalva was not exactly concerned with plot, with the first 40 minutes or so of each spent meandering around the TARDIS in circles. Neither story gets to the titular planet until late in Part Two, and begins the process of destroying that planet late in Part Three, killing off most of the guest cast in a blind rush in the process. The novelization of course is not the vehicle to correct these flaws, if they are flaws. But the book adds terrific flavor to the events, as they're unfolding at their own leisurely pace. To be honest, though, I'm convinced that Bidmead could have novelized the phone book and still made it a triumphal saga of the immortal human soul.

When Tegan decides that she can pilot the TARDIS herself: " 'We've found the data bank - we can learn to fly the machine.' The TARDIS seemed to have taken note of her bravura, because at that moment it gave another enormous lurch." As things start to heat up as the TARDIS approaches Event One: "The console room was like a Turkish bath in which someone was trying to light a bonfire." Later, the planet of Castrovalva, as seen from space, resembles "a mossy tennis ball." And that's even before we exit the TARDIS.

The native Castrovalvans, when they finally show up, are invested with as much dignity as you can ever give characters who were invented out of thin air by the Master, and Bidmead describes them in photo-realistic accord with the actors who played them. "The warrior called Ruther had by now removed his own mask to reveal the mild myopic expression of a man who might be a bank clerk." Shardovan says the words "Alas, no", in "a sardonic tone that conveyed no particular trace of regret". When Mergrave, played by Michael Sheard, an actor who expressed befuddlement better than any thespian has before or since, struggles to absorb the Doctor's lesson on recursive occlusion, "it was hard to tell whether he was merely eager to be polite".

I love Castrovalva on TV, too. I love the way the plot unfolds, literally, with its M.C. Escher-inspired images, and the way that each character speaks in his own unique language, even the characters, like Ruther, who get precious little screen time. I still hum or whistle Paddy Kingsland's score, at odd moments. But the novelization, separate and apart from the TV production, adds witty, insightful and philosophical prose, in a way that few Target authors ever achieved. It's one of my favorites, and if all the quotes haven't convinced you... well, again, I guess we were reading different books.