In the grand scheme of things, regenerations do not occur very often in Doctor Who, and new performances should be savoured and enjoyed while they last. In many respects, the writers seemed to agree here, as Castrovalva explores the nature of regeneration more than any previous story. This isn’t even really a story ABOUT anything else. It is just about the Doctor trying to find a place to recover (the Tardis’s “Zero Room”, and later the peaceful city of Castrovalva), and the Master using all the tricks at his disposal to finish him off while he’s at his weakest.
So, Peter Davison. He has some big shoes to fill. On the face of it, he seems perfectly pleasant. A clean cut nice guy, but lacking that dark undercurrent that Baker had. To be fair, it’s really too early to pass any sort of judgement. I will say that, early on, he does a fantastic job of impersonating Patrick Troughton while, in a confused state, he relives his earlier years. He even calls his companions Jamie and Victoria at one point, a lovely touch. But he is quick to attain a sense of identity, casting aside the recorder, unravelling his scarf, and picking up some new clothes and a cricket bat. As he says, he’s not feeling himself anymore, he’s feeling whoever he is now, and it’s “absolutely splendid”.
With the Doctor out of action for much of the story, it falls to the companions to push the plot along. Unfortunately, these characters are weak and there hasn’t been enough time to establish them yet, so it doesn’t work out so well. Tegan displays a protectiveness over the Doctor that betrays the fact that she’s only known him for a day. Not to mention her Aunt was recently killed by the Master and she doesn’t even bring it up again. As for Adric, getting captured by the Master was probably for the best, but how exactly did that happen from within the Tardis?
The entropy theme has been ditched completely (recursion seems to be the new thing now!) and events just seem to conveniently “happen” as the plot demands, rather than naturally forming. The Master’s plan just comes out of nowhere and stretches believability. Still, he gets what was coming to him. Some of the concepts are great, like the recursive structure of the city and the perception filter on its inhabitants. The Tardis being sent backwards to “event one” and having to eject a portion of its own mass is also a cool concept. And, ultimately, I did enjoy the new Doctor struggling to find his feet and come to terms with his new identity.
On the whole, there’s some good stuff here, but I did find it a bit underwhelming. It’s early days, and there’s a lot of potential ahead. I only hope I don’t spend the next three seasons thinking “well, he’s good, but he’s no Tom Baker”.