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Re-reading Christopher H. Bidmead:
“Logopolis” mirrored by
I’ve been thinking some more about Christopher H. Bidmead. In the articles “Difficult Television” Parts 1 and 2 (O’Day 2010a, 2010b), I explored the way in which “Castrovalva” (1982) is a metafiction and can be seen as representative of Bidmead’s generic stamp, as both script-editor and writer, on Doctor Who. I argued that “Castrovalva” is an example of “Difficult Television” where, rather than television being watched with a glance (see Ellis 1982), one re-reads the narrative over and over again, trying to make sense of it, much as is done in the disciplines of English Literature and Film Studies, and that such a practice is often typical of “fan viewing”. This particular article re-reads Christopher H. Bidmead yet again and goes further than the previous two articles by looking at how “Castrovalva”, as metafiction, reflects on Bidmead’s “Logopolis” (1981) in detail, most specifically in relation to the genres of hard science and mystery discussed in the other articles, and therefore enables us to detect even more of a “Christopher H. Bidmead” signature. Looking for this type of authorial signature is a common practice in English and Film Studies. This will raise the question: ‘Why is the idea of mirroring scenes and notions so appropriate to considering metafiction?’. In other words, ‘Why is it so important to read the first narrative “Logopolis” through the second narrative “Castrovalva”?’
It is in Bidmead’s narrative “Logopolis” that the device which means the Doctor’s TARDIS should be able to blend in with its surroundings, is first called a “Chameleon Circuit”, although the idea that the TARDIS’ external appearance was meant to change was first raised by the Doctor (William Hartnell) upon the TARDIS’ very first journey on screen at the beginning of the second episode “The Cave of Skulls” (1963):
THE DOCTOR (to himself). It’s still a Police Box. Why hasn’t it changed? Dear, dear. How very disturbing.
But the idea of the chameleon can be seen as fitting in with Bidmead’s work for the programme. Peter G. Lovelady (1994) argues that it is in “Logopolis” that the Doctor (Tom Baker) attempts to fix the TARDIS’ “Chameleon Circuit” so that its external appearance will change and that this is a narrative which concludes with the Doctor regenerating and therefore changing his appearance. The narrative therefore deals with decay and change in these two different ways, as highlighted by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore, who look at the way in which the TARDIS is deteriorating and at the Doctor as a grim older figure and also note allusions to the past within the narrative (e.g. to characters like Romana and K9, and to narratives such as “An Unearthly Child” and “Terror of the Autons”) as well as the move into the future. It is no accident that the car driving Tegan Jovanka to Heathrow has a flat tire, just as the TARDIS is in disrepair. In this way, “Logopolis” also relates to other narratives of the 1980-81 season of Doctor Who, script-edited by Bidmead, including Terrance Dicks’ aptly titled “State of Decay” (1980).
Thresholds. Bidmead’s work concerns them. I will come to Bidmead’s thresholds between outside and inside, where the two are dependent on one another, soon. But in relation to this theme of decay and change in “Logopolis”, we have the threshold figure of the Watcher, who represents the in-between stage of the fourth and fifth Doctors. “He was the Doctor all the time”, states Nyssa, as the Watcher’s aged face takes the place of the fourth Doctor’s and turns into the youthful face of the fifth’s (Peter Davison). So the Watcher represents the threshold between decay and change and old and new. As noted on the “Production Notes” for the DVD of “Logopolis”, Paddy Kingsland’s incidental music accompanying the Watcher’s appearance had positive resonances to suggest birth rather than death, and the Watcher represents the transition between death and re-birth with death and rebirth corresponding with decay/change and old/new. This is also a theme that will run throughout “Castrovalva” where there are references to past Doctors and companions, and where the Master wishes the Doctor to be in a metaphoric coffin in the Zero Cabinet, but where the Doctor becomes active and ultimately rejoices in his new persona.
But now I turn to the ways in which “Castrovalva” reflects on “Logopolis” as constructed out of hard science, which is the first main part of this article, and a key way in which Doctor Who changed under Bidmead. As I have explored in the article “Difficult Television: Christopher H. Bidmead’s Doctor Who and the case for hard science fiction” (2010a), in “Castrovalva”, Castrovalva is revealed to be a “dwelling of simplicity” and appears externally, and, even for a time, internally, to be a fantasy-type of castle but that this is deconstructed where Castrovalva is ultimately revealed to be constructed out of hard science. Castrovalva has been created by an author figure and is revealed to be constructed through “Block Transfer Computation”. This reflects on “Logopolis”, created by Bidmead as author, where there is a difference between surface and realities. The Doctor’s TARDIS’ “Chameleon Circuit” is described as working through “Block Transfer Computation” (the area of quantum mechanics). Castrovalva, then, with its internal disorientating effect, is therefore like a TARDIS: one apparently simple thing on the outside and eventually another on the inside, but with knowing the inside depending on having first experienced the outside and moving through thresholds.
For in “Logopolis” the idea of the TARDIS as chameleon is key since the external appearance of the British Police Box assumes the function of a chameleon even though the “Chameleon Circuit” is malfunctioning. As not a scientific figure but one from nature, the chameleon is a threshold creature which collapses boundaries. There is a boundary between what it really is and its outside but for a time it becomes the “other” and is undistinguishable from the “other”. Here, like the chameleon, the TARDIS remains itself while being in the disguise of “the other”. Thus, like the chameleon, the TARDIS, for a time, here assumes the appearance of this “other” while never fully becoming this “other”. The chameleon is a creature that is and is not simultaneously.
In “Logopolis” the Doctor and the Master’s TARDISes are recognizable Police Boxes of a time and place and the Doctor’s TARDIS is mistaken as such by Tegan Jovanka, who thinks she is going to have a way of getting help to assist with her car’s flat tire only to be given another vehicle in disrepair. But the external and the internal do not coincide, just as in the episode “An Unearthly Child”, the character of Ian Chesterton finds his initial attempt at labeling the object frustrated: “But it was a Police Telephone Box. I walked all round it”. So in “Logopolis” there is that whole idea of mistaken perception that is present in Bidmead’s “Castrovalva”, and in relation to the Doctor’s TARDIS is only seen in other episodes like “An Unearthly Child” (1963), noted above, “The War Machines” (1966), “Black Orchid” (1982) and “Time Flight” (1982). For, as Tegan later states in “Logopolis” the TARDIS was “disguised as a Police Box”
Moreover, in “Castrovalva” the idea of the door is important. Castrovalva literally means a castle with a folding door, which, as would be the case with the TARDIS, is a deceptive entry point, and “Portreeve” means door-keeper, and he stands by the tapestry held in place by a science fiction web, the true generic threshold. In “Logopolis”, a joke is present about the idea that the TARDIS, in a new external shape, would need a door. Moreover, Tegan reads the sign “PULL TO OPEN” on the door of the Police Box but when the doors push open, remarks that this is strange, suggesting that there is a move through a threshold into the unordinary where the logic of the everyday does not apply. So there is the whole idea of thresholds at work again which was also evident between decay and change and the old and new in the case of the Watcher in “Logopolis”. So the way in which “Castrovalva” reflects on “Logopolis” highlights further the way in which Bidmead’s narratives play with thresholds including generic thresholds into hard science fiction.
In “Castrovalva”, the Portreeve’s title symbolises his true-function, as one who lets characters enter but keeps them entrapped, and in “Castrovalva” the Doctor, Tegan, and Nyssa are trapped in Castrovalva going round and round and back to the square, just as in “Logopolis” Tegan Jovanka is trapped in the TARDIS, with, for a time, no exit, while her plight is overseen by the Master. The description of going “round and round and back to the square” in “Castrovalva” reflects on Tegan’s assertion in “Logopolis” that she is going “round and round like a hamster in a cage”, and in “Logopolis” there are strange camera angles to suggest Tegan’s disorientation.
The similarities between Castrovalva and the Doctor’s TARDIS are also apparent since they both emphasise architecture. The inside of Castrovalva is based on the disorientating prints of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, with walkways that lead one around in circles, where, for example, moving down leads one back up. In “Logopolis”, and indeed in the first episodes of “Castrovalva”, the architecture of the TARDIS is emphasized. As noted on the “Production Notes” for the “Logopolis” DVD, Bidmead was fascinated by the TARDIS and wanted to explore its internal architecture, taking the device apart and finding out how it worked.
The idea of Castrovalva appearing to be a “dwelling of simplicity” which is deconstructed to reveal that the town is actually extremely complex helps us read “Logopolis” as a whole. Not only is the TARDIS simple from the outside but scientific and complex on the inside, but the Monitor describes the Logopolitans as leading the simple life. But Logopolis is a highly complex place for characters (as noted on the DVD “Production Notes” the Logopolitans have brains sticking out of the back of their heads), and for the television viewer, who is placed in a world of hard science. Quantum mechanics are present again where the language of numbers keeps the universe together; the idea of alternative universes is again featured; and entropy, the essence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, propounded by Rudolf Clausius in 1850, is present (see “Production Notes” for DVD of “Logopolis”), which returns to the theme of decay noted earlier.
I shall now turn to the second main part of this article which concerns the way in which “Castrovalva” reflects on the way we can read “Logopolis”’ mysterious elements. Ideas of mystery are present in “Castrovalva”, a metafiction. It is noteworthy that the first shot of “Logopolis”, a fictional Doctor Who narrative by Bidmead, is of the British Police Box and this plays with the television viewer’s perception. Many viewers would expect the Police Box to be the Doctor’s TARDIS but this is, in fact, reversed. We see a policeman talking on the Police Box telephone and realize that this is actually an ordinary Police Box. Then, almost immediately, we see the Police Box shimmer and hear a noise and realize, as the policeman can no longer use the telephone to communicate, that a TARDIS has arrived. But the television viewer is invited to believe that this is the Doctor’s TARDIS. But the sinister laugh from its depths then reveals it to actually be the Master’s TARDIS in the same disguise as the Doctor’s. Perception is therefore played with differently from the first episode “An Unearthly Child” where the viewer has heard a strange hum come from the Police Box but comes to understand the unordinary nature of the programme better as Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright burst through the doors of the Police Box to the strange sight inside.
Bidmead’s inclusion of types of chameleon or shape-shifters generally is also of interest here: the Master assumes the appearance of a character in the Castrovalvan world, the Portreeve, until the revelation of his true identity. As I have explored in relation to “Castrovalva” and its connections with the detective genre (see “Difficult Television Part 2”, O’Day 2010b), the narrative concerns meaning being hidden by the tapestry, a symbol of textuality, and traditional binary oppositions being misleading, where one was invited to assume that the Portreeve, dressed in white was virtuous, while Shardovan, dressed in black, was the villain of the piece, with these traditional binaries needing to be reversed. The problems involved in fixing identity and meaning, though, informs us of how to read Bidmead’s “Logopolis”.
So back to the Watcher in “Logopolis” who can be read in relation to Bidmead’s overall trademark of creating narratives which are hard to fix: hard to fix with meaning, hard to fix generically and so on. It is significant that for the whole of “Logopolis” up to the ending, the Watcher remains a nebulous figure who is impossible to pin down with meaning: the Watcher is seen from a distance on the other side of the road, or from afar on a bridge with the Doctor by Adric, or unable to find in the streets of Logopolis, and, like most of the other characters, we are not told in the narrative the significance of the Watcher figure until its meaning is anchored by Nyssa at the end. The Watcher never speaks, and does not have a recognizable face, adding to its mysterious nature, and the Watcher appears and disappears without a fixed presence.
There is also, as in “Castrovalva”, the issue of where the Master is in the text. In “Logopolis” Adric mistakenly jumps to the assumption that the Watcher, dressed in white, is the Master, and is shown to be wrong in attempting to fix the Watcher’s identity. The Doctor indeed tells Adric never to jump to assumptions, and later in episode four Adric is seen in the TARDIS with the Watcher. Nyssa, meanwhile, mistakenly believes that the Master, dressed in black, although “so cold”, is her father Tremas, since at the end of the previous narrative “The Keeper of Traken” (1981), unknown to other characters, the decayed Master took over Tremas’ body. It becomes necessary for the Doctor to correct Nyssa. Unlike in “Castrovalva” the television viewer certainly knew that the Master was the Master, dressed in black, and not Tremas. Furthermore, as noted on the “Production Notes” of the DVD release of “Logopolis”, in January 1981, on Radio 4’s Start the Week, guest Peter Davison gave away the Watcher’s identity, but many would not have heard that programme and we see anyway Bidmead’s “signature” of creating narratives where identity is not immediately fixed.
It is interesting then how “Castrovalva” mirrors so many ideas present in “Logopolis”, pointing through structuralist analysis to a “Christopher H. Bidmead signature”, but also further emphasising the way in which “Castrovalva” as metafiction reflects on Bidmead’s other work. As noted in the first part of “Difficult Television” (O’Day 2010a), Bidmead’s “Castrovalva” includes mirrors: there is one in the Doctor’s Castrovalvan room and indeed also, in Bidmead’s novelisation, Castrovalva is presented through a shattered mirror, a warning of what is to come (1983: 57). So “Castrovalva” reflects both on its own construction but also through mirroring scenes of “Logopolis” on Bidmead’s work more generally. On top of the elements noted above to do with generic construction and narrative reception, and the similarity of the one word Greek and Latin titles of the narratives, there are other structural similarities. Both begin with an exploration of the TARDIS and see the protagonists arriving in Logopolis, and on the unnamed planet where Castrovalva is to be found, some way into the second episode. Both involve characters coming to their worlds in search of different figures. “Logopolis” involves Nyssa coming to Logopolis to find her father, while “Castrovalva” sees the Doctor coming to the town of the narrative’s title to find “the Doctor”. Both contain lyrical moments. As noted in In-Vision, episode four of “Logopolis” features a shot of dawn, emphasising the poignant idea that this could be Earth’s last dawn since all the lights like Traken are going out, while “Castrovalva” features a scene of Nyssa at daybreak which highlights the supposedly peaceful nature of the town. Both, as noted before, also have similar endings. In “Logopolis” the Doctor falls from the Pharos Project Tower after swinging on a cable and is forced to regenerate in an act of self-sacrifice as he saves the universe from the Master. In “Castrovalva”, Shardovan (the word “shard” suggesting breaking-up) meets his demise as a result of swinging into the web in an act of self-sacrifice of having to save the Doctor from the Master. This ties in with the notion that Shardovan becomes the Doctor’s double and that while the Doctor is last seen in a passive state at the end of “Logopolis” Shardovan’s self-sacrifice helps the Doctor into an active state at the end of “Castrovalva”. Furthermore, both involve the theme of collapse. As noted, in “Castrovalva” the town breaks up (and is presented as pixillated) after Shardovan breaks the web, while in “Logopolis” Logopolis literally collapses to pieces. On the DVD “Production Notes” for “Logopolis” it is revealed that the Monitor’s demise was intended to be “like a jigsaw puzzle” shattering into pieces, and there are similarities there with Castrovalva, which is presented as broken-up pieces on screen, even though the theme of “Castrovalva” is more of textual collapse while that of “Logopolis” was entropy. There are even further similarities between Bidmead’s novelisation of “Castrovalva” and the televised version of “Logopolis”. For example, Bidmead’s interest in foreboding, present in “Logopolis”, is also to be found in his novelisation of “Castrovalva”. The shattered mirror showing Castrovalva in bits and pieces is a warning of what is to come (1983: 57), just as in “Logopolis”, the Cloister Bell gives a warning of imminent catastrophe, and the Watcher’s presence gives the Doctor a dip into his future. All this points to Bidmead’s mirroring “Logopolis” in “Castrovalva” generally.
Mirroring, though, is especially important to metafictions. The title of one of Linda Hutcheon’s books (1980) raises the issue of metafictions as “narcissistic narratives”. In the narrative of Narcissus in Book III of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (AD1 -) he becomes detached from the “other” and becomes preoccupied with the self looking at his reflection in a pool. Narcissus is inward looking and does not form outside connections. Metafictions contain features which are distinct from other narratives, such as the presence of constructed worlds and explicit author and reader characters within the narratives. Metafictions, like “Castrovalva” where the mirror reflects the town, can therefore appear to be abnormal and isolated. However, metafictions can in fact be representative of a whole body of fiction because they reflect on the way in which fiction is constructed and possibly received. This is the case with literary metafictions that call attention to fiction generally. But it is also the case with series television metafictions. These form particular episodes in larger programmes. The metafictions call attention to the creation and possible reception of many of the programme’s fictions. So they are also normal and fit in with a community of narratives, which points to the idea that studying a television programme’s metafictions can be a useful way of gaining an insight into the programme. It is also always important to read texts by the same author, like “Castrovalva” and “Logopolis”, in relation to one another to detect an authorial signature and this also becomes doubly vital with one of the texts being a metafiction, with ideas about the authorship and readership of fiction.
to the square. What a great title for a future piece on “Castrovalva”.
“Castrovalva” highlights the notion that every time we re-read a text we
find something new in it. We have to go round and round and back to the
square in puzzlement. For a time, based on Christopher H. Bidmead’s own
comments (see Marson 1986), the narrative was read as concerning the
existential issue of man and his place in the universe with the idea of
man as created but having limited perception of this, and of man as
having free will being present. So it means this, and in that way also
ties in with “Logopolis” (see Stevens and Moore), but it also means what
I have written, looking at it in a number of ways (here and in O’Day
2010a, 2010b). And there is deconstructive work to be done on
“Castrovalva” looking at how different readings may conflict with one
Bidmead, Christopher H. (1983), Doctor Who: Castrovalva, London, Target.
Brown, A., ed. (1995), In-Vision 55 Castrovalva, Banbury, Jeremy Bentham.
Ellis, John (1982), Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Hutcheon, Linda (1980), Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox, Methuen.
Lovelady, Peter G. (1994), ‘It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for’, in In-Vision 52 Logopolis, Banbury, Jeremy Bentham, 16-7.
Marson, Richard (1986), ‘Interview – Christopher H. Bidmead’, Doctor Who Monthly 109, 6-10.
(2010a), ‘Difficult Television Part 1: Christopher H. Bidmead’s
Doctor Who and the case for hard science fiction’’,
(2010b), ‘Difficult Television Part 2: Christopher H. Bidmead’s
Doctor Who and the case for the detective genre’,
Ovid (1998), Metamorphoses, trans. A. D. Melville, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Stevens, Alan, and
Fiona Moore, ‘Season 18: Change and Decay Part 7: Logopolis’,
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 Monday 2nd August 2010.