|Dates||Feb. 15, 1982 -
Feb. 23, 1982
With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding,
Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse.
Written by Eric Saward. Script-edited by Anthony Root.
Directed by Peter Moffatt. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Co. detect the presence of an alien life form in 17th century England, who is controlling the minds of local inhabitants.|
A Review by Jen Kokoski 27/3/97
Back to the crew adventures, here we see Nyssa (recovered from her bought of exhaustion), Adric, Tegan and the Doctor trapsing around 17th century England. Who could these four strangers possibly meet, but the ecentric character of Richard Mace, actor turned highwayman. The combination makes for hilarious exchanges to lighten an otherwise predictable plot. Better than Four to Doomsday in the plot complexity and dialogue between the Doctor and villain. And the surprise ending added a nice touch to a classic Doctor Who moment.
Rather Hot by Dennis McDermott 26/4/97
Ah, a Doctor Who episode you can sink your teeth into (or should I reserve a phrase like that for The Two Doctors?) There is little in this program not to like. From the nicely-done prologue, which sets a rich scene, to the fiery end, this is a plot well constructed and executed. The Doctors finds and follows clues until he is able to overcome his adversary, just like a Time-Lord should.
It is well-acted to boot. Richard Mace, the actor turned highwayman, was as interesting as any Doctor Who character; in fact, probably would have made a better companion than any that Peter Davison ever had. He sure could have given Turlough some pointers or two on how to be a likeable coward.
But the Terileptils are the ones that make this program work. I'm generally not a fan of The-Doctor-keeps-aliens-from-taking-over-the-Earth stories, but in this case the villians make it work. Shipwrecked prison escapees, they are not without charm and depth. Lovers of beauty and art as well as fighting, they at times seem to feel some pain and regret, perhaps even guilt, over the holocaust they were about to unleash.
Nice ending too. I hadn't anticipated it the first time I saw it. This story is recommended.
A Review by Cody Salis 10/11/97
I must agree with both Jen and Dennis on their excellent reviews of this story. This is the one story of the Peter Davison Era that got me hooked on Doctor Who! The cliffhanger in part three kept playing in my mind the next day at work even though I would be seeing part four that night. It seemed forever until I got home to see part four and I was not dissapointed at all!
Richard Mace (played excellently by Michael Robbins) would have made an excellent companion. (Like Katerina in The Dalek Master Plan, he would have not understood everything that the Doctor and his companions were talking about, but with his wit and humor he would have enlightened things in the TARDIS.) Even in this story he did not understand everything, but was able to after the Doctor and the others showed him how the Terilleptil technology worked.
The three Terilleptils made excellent villains. Even though they looked ugly, it still seems that they could infest the earth with the black plauge. Even when the Doctor tried to reason with them, The Terilleptils still kept their plan going, and yes the finale is action packed but I did not understand the joke at the end of the story with the "Pudding Lane" sign just before the closing credits.
The Android was the scariest character for me. He did all of the Terilleptil's dirty work and reminded me of the robotic cleaners in the story Paradise Towers.
Peter Davison and company do excellent jobs in this story. Nyssa, who had not been seen very much in the last two stories is seen more here and is able to handle the Android all by herself. Adric of course gets into trouble, but does a pretty good job of flying the TARDIS to the house. Tegan gets her share of adventure too. Being captured by an alien and then forced to kill a friend would not be my ideal of a day, but Tegan makes it beliveable here.
Templates, Tantrums and Terileptils by Mike Morris 12/12/01
The Visitation is one of those stories. You know the type - no-one actually dislikes it that much, but no-one's all that bothered about it either. On this site, words that have been used include "bland", "lightweight", and "like eating cotton candy". I'm not sure that "lightweight" can be termed a criticism; Doctor Who's primary function was always to entertain its audience for twenty-five minutes each week, and The Visitation fulfils this function with a good deal of panache.
However, it also does more. There's more to The Visitation than a fun runaround, or as it was termed in The Discontinuity Guide "a stylish slice of pseudo-historical nonsense". Not only is The Visitation a wonderful and entertaining tale, it's also the first time that Eric Saward's version of the Doctor Who universe came to the fore. The Visitation is a template for the whole of the Saward era, and so it can't be termed lightweight. It's crucial.
Eric Saward's notion of Doctor Who was, in many ways, a noble one - albeit one that degenerated as his tenure progressed. His universe was a nasty place, a world full of mercenaries and grey morals. Kicking against this was an idealistic, selfless Doctor, a more approachable type than his predecessors who formed friendships and cared deeply about his friends. What makes the Davison era so interesting is the tension between the Doctor and the world he lives in, the sense that sometimes the coldness of the universe is beating him, the fact that many of his victories are somehow defeats - because of the things he's had to do to win.
Later, when Colin Baker came on the scene, the balance went - his Doctor just wasn't sensitive enough, and the moral tension became moral ambiguity. But during Davison's era it was a brief that worked very well, and it stems from The Visitation.
There's the question of friendship, for a kick-off. After the brilliant "prologue", where a cameraman attacks Fred Elliot from Coronation Street, the story opens with the Doctor admonishing Adric, while Tegan tells Nyssa about the Mara. This relaxed opening, concerned more with the relationship between the companions than storytelling, hadn't really been seen since the sixties and it's lovely - the TARDIS scenes of the era are often dismissed as "soap", but they're great. It's touching to see Nyssa and Tegan embrace and admit to a friendship, it's interesting to see Adric so disappointed when the Doctor criticises him - his muttering of "I try so hard" is nice.
There had been TARDIS scenes earlier on in the season, but previously the dynamic was more of the Doctor's gang of pesky kids, the planet-saving team of Alzarians and air-hostesses. In The Visitation they really feel like a group of friends, and some of the interplay is terrific. Even the chase-scenes in the forest are great. Then there's the dialogue - "you think they'll have left a forwarding address", "almost your old self", "I said empathise, not be silly", and "if you've quite finished lecturing me" are superb moments. Best of all is that scene in the TARDIS where the Doctor says he's searching for the Terileptil. "Do you know where he is?" says Adric. "Yes, yes, that's why I'm searching," replies the Doctor. Anyone who calls Davison's Doctor bland and boring hasn't seen this story - Peter Davison's understated comedy is beautifully played and the Doctor is very, very funny.
Tegan is brilliant, as always. Adric is annoying, as always, although he has his moments. Nyssa finds a niche in this tale - whereas Adric and Tegan are encumbrances, Nyssa is very much the Doctor's assistant, competent, his intellectual equal with a similar outlook; a fact emphasised when the Doctor only allows her to accompany him in Part One.
Then there's the cold nasty universe. What gives The Visitation its edge is the fact that everyone is nasty. The plague-setting creates a world where any strangers are threatening, where the Doctor can be beheaded for no reason at all. In Part Three Adric and Nyssa can't even walk through a forest for fear of being attacked. As Richard Mace states early on, the Doctor has little choice in anything. Everyone is hostile, he has nowhere to run - and is forced to associate with a dubious character. And what a character - Richard Mace is wonderfully theatrical, fine comic relief, and the fact that he's scared, confused and cajoled along against his will allows us to empathise with him. But lurking beneath the comedy value is something else: he's a looter, a robber, a vagrant with no aims beyond his own gain. Richard Mace is a heavily disguised version of that stock character of the eighties, the Eric Saward Mercenary.
Then there's the Terileptil.
Here's where the universe gets really nasty. The Doctor had never come up against a character like that Terileptil before. At first we're given a conventional Doctor Who alien race, lovers of art and beauty... and war. Standard stuff.
But this is no mere representative of an entire species. The Terileptil is a convict, an escaped prisoner with grievances against his own race. And as much as he attempts to justify himself, it rapidly becomes clear that he's no more than a thug. The Part Three confrontation between the Doctor and the Terileptil is wonderful - the Doctor reasoning with him, offering him help, safe passage... and the Terileptil turning him down. His attempts to justify remaining on earth are reasoned at first, but quickly degenerate into "a barren rock in space is not an acceptable alternative" - he's like a child, pretending he has a motivation but ultimately he wants to conquer Earth because he can. Later, the Terileptil makes a similar attempt to justify his genocide, but his reasoning is hollow. The scene in which the Doctor says that "this carnage isn't necessary" is marvellous, an understated raison d'Ítre for the Doctor's very existence... and when the Terileptil shouts that "it's not supposed to be an argument! It's a statement!" we are confronted with a similar summary of his villainy. That scene has been neglected for too long. It is brilliant, great, quietly and unfussily one of the best Doctor/villain confrontations in the series' history - if not the best of all. It's less melodramatic than Davros' rant in Genesis of the Daleks, more accessible and real than Sutekh's desire for "dust and darkness", and edgier than the Cyberleader's scenes in Earthshock. In a few words we are shown a monster and a hero, and there's no need for close-ups or death-threats; the Terileptils careless evil is more than enough.
The last element of the Saward universe is the Doctor's defeat-in-victory. And yes, that's there too. In the finale, as the Terileptil burns to death, the Doctor ushers everyone outside - and then lingers. And in that split-second glance back at the death of his enemy, there's an understated but definite regret. Subtle, but beautiful, that moment.
Understated. Subtle. These words are often applied to Davison's Doctor, and indeed Davison's era. They aren't often applied to The Visitation, but they should be. It pretends to be a runaround, and it works well on this level - but what makes it great is what's going on beneath that exterior. When we think about the great stories of the Davison era, we usually end up with Kinda and The Caves Of Androzani. Kinda is the great 'concept' story, and Caves is the great regeneration story. Then there's The Visitation - the great "straight" story. There's nothing special about it except its sheer quality. For that it deserves to be called great.
So that's what I'm going to do.
The Visitation is a Great story.
With a capital G.
Revisitation by Andrew Wixon 8/5/02
In season 19 as transmitted, Eric Saward's name appeared in the credits before The Visitation was shown (he script-edited Kinda, for one thing), but this story really marks the first real contribution of the man who was one of the defining influences on 80s Who. And it's a bit of a revelation (pun not intended, BTW) to watch it in expectation of another Earthshock or Resurrection of the Daleks.
Saward's scripts are notorious for their graphic (by DW standards) violence, their reliance on old enemies and continuity, their moral cynicism and their attempts to supplant the Doctor with the inclusion of hard-bitten gun-toting mercenaries whom the writer seems much more interested in. Well, The Visitation has none of these, with the possible exception of the lattermost - apparently Saward scripted Mace in a much 'harder' vein and was quite annoyed with Michael Robbins' rather marvellous portrayal of him as a blustering coward. He's the heart and soul of the story, a positively Holmesian creation - and this is significant.
The Visitation is a very retro story - it revisits a style of storytelling the series hadn't really utilised in five years. It's closer to the allusive suspense drama of the Hinchcliffe years than the lighter space opera of Graham Williams' tenure or the cerebral SF of JNT's first season. Other than the brief side-trips in City of Death, this is the first story since Horror of Fang Rock to visit historical Earth. The opening of The Visitation is virtually identical to that of Horror, or The Time Warrior - unsuspecting historical Earthlings see an ominous falling star - and their subsequent slaughter by unseen, alien forces is brilliantly staged. Then, though, we're bang up to date with the latest installment of the TARDIS soap opera, as Tegan gratuitously goes on and on about events in the previous story and shouts at the Doctor a lot.
You can sense the story straining to accommodate the unwieldy size of the TARDIS crew - where Horror or Time Warrior had half-a-dozen 'local' guest characters, this one only really has Mace - and there is the usual mixed bag of subplots to keep them all occupied. But it doesn't detract too much from a fun romp with some novel ideas, although as usual sloppy script-editing leaves a few gaping holes - what happens to all the Terileptil tech? And given that humans build humanoid robots, why does the Terileptil android look so un-Terileptil-ish?
The Visitation may well mark the dawning of a new style for DW, as the straightforward action drama of Saward was gradually to become the defining influence on the series over the next few years. But here at its inception that style seems fresh and fun - and hugely indebted to the work of - who else? - Robert Holmes. More of a rediscovery of old virtues than the pioneering of new ones, The Visitation remains a solidly enjoyable story.
Today I saw Death in a cellar... by Joe Ford 9/10/02
Imagine we could all rate Doctor Who characters on an irritability scale, lets say from 1-10 (1 being someone who is worth following, contributes to the action and is well acted and 10 being supremely annoying, pointless and as wooden as a whole forest!). People know I'm not too keen on the Davison era and generally I would probably put Peter Davison (or just the fifth Doctor) at about level 7/8 on the scale and Janet Fielding at a level 9/10.
You may wonder what on earth I'm getting at but you see this is the reason I like The Visitation so much is because this acidic combination level out about a level 2/3 in this story. And why? Well lets see shall we?
This is literally how Davison should have played the Doctor during his entire era. It is a perfect blueprint. I've always (in my head) compared him to that friendly Uncle you know who you try and avoid at all family gatherings because, well he's a little bland and unintertesting. The Doctor in The Visitation isn't... well... he isn't very nice is he? Davison plays up the role as an old man inside a young man's body so well, he is snappy ("I have no intention of doing so, now if you've quite finished lecturing me!"), arrogant ("Why are earthlings so... perochial?") and even puts his companions lives in danger ("Well I knew the booster would work in theory but..."). Okay there are points where he acts like a harrased parent but how can that be helped with all these irritating kids about! Even better is how rude he is to Tegan for all her sarcastic bites (I love the look he gives her after she says "Just like you got me to Heathrow..."). He's not perfect, his voice is still quite whingy like he was in Four to Doomsday but fascinating to watch. Truly an edgier fifth Doctor is something I would pay to watch and this is an excellent taster.
Even Tegan, who moans a lot (hey what's new) contributes enough to iron over any faults. Her scenes with Nyssa at the start are very sweet and her "perhaps I should go out, file a claim on the land, when they get around to building the aircraft I'll make a fortune!" could be her best scene in the show. Yes it is like an episode of Neighbours but it's all so entertainingly scripted who cares! Doctor Who is a versatile show... the soap element is merely an extension of the genres it has touched upon. And I've taken her several points down on the irritability scale just for how nuts she goes in episode four, beating up the Tereleptil with her gun. It makes me crease up everytime I see it! So another point for you pro-Tegan-ers out there!
Of course Adric is around trying to bring the whole story down but I think we can forgive him just this once because the scenery around him is just so damn interesting and he hardly appears anyway. Nothing could excuse "Why isn't he here, why is he never around when you want him!" and "Don't worry Tegan we Alzarians are different from you, we recover faster" which are easily two of his most cringe worthy lines! But he is attacked outside the TARDIS and shot too so let's not complain.
Nyssa is as wonderful as ever. Stealing scenes as usual. She just stands in the background reading her magazine in episode one and she manages to steal the limelight away from both the Doctor and Adric! Go Sarah! Unfortunately her scenes in the TARDIS building the booster are so blandly directed it is impossible to get worked up over them. The actual attack on the android is a lot better and her reaction ("It was such a beautiful machine") reminds me why I like her so much. And of course let's not forget "What would the Doctor do?" "He'd probably get angry" "I said emphasis not be silly!" Yeah you tell him Nyssa.
Ooh dear I haven't mentioned the story at all have I? That's because the plot is a little non existant, they arrive, they get chased, they fight, they run around, the bad guys tell them the plan, the Doctor foils the plan, they all leave. That's pretty much it. Yes I can see what people are saying when they call this a traditional story but what they forget are the incidentals. No the plot isn't up to much but who cares when there is so much atmosphere...
For history to return to Doctor Who (two stories in a row!) was not only a great relief but essential. I love good location filming and the forest and manor conjour up the seventeenth century so well. The sets too are exquisite, especially inside the manor and the escape pod. And god bless the music which highlights the action so well. The dialogue is very good, it sounds classical on purpose to drive home the historical element but many of the lines themselves just roll off the tongue ("There is the shot, there is the lock, a span seperates them both!" "I'm always looking to the hills and missing the treasures at my feet"). The production is so good it rises above the plodding script and the whole is very entertaining.
Lots of little moments that sweeten the pot. The TARDIS team fighting in episode one. The Doctor appearing through the wall. "I hope you realise this means I've surrendered!" Nyysa's astonished reaction to be allowed to work on her own. "He talks a lot about Guildford, I think that's where he's from!" The android attack on the barn where he grabs the scythe!
The last ten minutes are Doctor Who at its very best. The pudding lane scenes ae superbly shot on film to give them a authentic look and I just love all those multi coloured Terileptils! Watching his face melt is one of the best monster deaths ever and the Doctor's mysterious smile at not wanting to help stop the fire is great. The last shot is perfect. Dramatic and education, perfect Who.
The Terileptils were probably the best original villain conjoured up during the Davison years (the Tractators were better conceived but not as well designed). By having the 'monsters' as fugitives we are able to catach a glimpse of their culture we otherwise wouldn't. All the talk of art and beauty is perfectly encapsulated in the superbly designed android (cricket gloves and all!) and don't you just LOVE the way the face gills move?
The Visitation is one of those rare Doctor Who stories that seems to want only to entertain you. Not too deep, not too serious but a qualified success all the same. I use it to remind me how good the Davison years could be occasion, if only they pulled all the stops out.
The return of two traditions by Tim Roll-Pickering 24/3/03
This story is best remembered for the destruction of the sonic screwdriver , a wise move since it removes an all too convenient plot device and forces writers to produce more elaborate solutions to problems, but there is much more to this tale as well. For the first time in several years the series sees both a story with a historical setting and an alien invasion style story. At this point in the series' run both elements had been sorely missed and so it is welcoming to see them make a return in such a strongly crafted tale.
The historical setting is that of Restoration England, specifically focusing on the area that is now Heathrow Airport. As in Four to Doomsday the Doctor tries to get Tegan to the airport on time and this time he makes it to the right location but completely the wrong time period. The story avoids the more obvious Civil War or Common Wealth period of British history and instead focuses on a small community struggling with the Plague and deeply suspicious of outsiders. Most of the seventeenth century characters merely provide a well crafted backdrop to the story and are brought to life by fairly mundane performances, but Richard Mace is by far the strongest character. Michael Robbins gives an exceptionally strong performance in this difficult role of the thespian turned highway man and the character brings to life many scenes along the way. The use of the Great Fire of London at the story's climax is a nice addition which the story would have survived without but which serves to further tie the story in with history and remind us how strong a mark the Doctor can leave on his travels. All the period sets and locations are designed well and easily convey the impression that the story is truly taking place in the reign of Charles II.
The Terileptils could so easily be just another race of monsters invading Earth but Eric Saward gives the Terileptil leader some strong charecterisation and establishes the aliens as escaped convicts seeking a new world and thus not bound by many on their race's conventions and morals. This makes them even more threatening than many invaders since they are beholden to no-one and will thus take whatever steps are necessary. The Terileptil leader's costume is constructed well and is highly memorable. Equally good is the Grim Reaper android, which doesn't just look similar to the popular notion of Death by accident but which is specifically dressed up as such to terrify and coerce the local inhabitants. The space capsule may have a simplistic design, but it is built for emergencies and otherwise design work is strong here as well.
The four regulars continue their practice of heavy squabbling with one another, reminding us of how few of them deliberately chose to travel with the Doctor for mere adventure. All four are strongly tested at times but the Doctor's resourcefulness wins through at times and Davison gets to deliver a strong performance in perhaps his most traditional story so far, finally casting off any doubts that his succeeding Tom Baker was a bad thing. With good direction and a brilliant Paddy Kingsland score this is a strong that only raises the question of why the Terileptils were never reused properly. 9/10
A Review by Bob Aylward 8/7/03
This was a good romp for Season 19. The story moves along at a nice pace, no real dull moments or padding so often found in Who stories. This rates just behind the popular Earthshock as far as I am concerned.
Ordinarily, I don't like the rubbery and incredibly phony monsters found throughout Doctor Who. The one exception is the Terileptils in The Visitation. The Terileptils mouths moved in conjunction with their speech, their thin lips peeled back when they were angry. The gill-like things on the side of their neck moved quite nicely. They were fairly bright, as far as monsters go.
Michael Robbins' Richard Mace steals the show. Davison would've been better served with Mace as his sole companion then proceeding on with the troublesome trio of Adric, Tegan and Nyssa.
A solid 7/10.
A Review by Gareth McG 30/1/04
Back in 1982 The Visitation absolutely blew me away and was easily the most exciting thing I'd seen up until that point. Between stealing into a house through an unlocked window, walking through secret passages in walls, finding an underground alien hideout - it was absolutely thrilling. It was everything that you'd ever imagined could be happening in an eerie old house like that. The beautiful forest locations gave the chance to breathe rather than get caught up in the customary claustrophobic studio atmosphere. The glowing soliton machine seemed magical to a young boy's eyes. There was Richard Mace, a charismatic, larger than life figure with a wonderful look and a wonderful presence who left an indelible impression, the only good guy outside of the main TARDIS crew to do so in those early days. There was some great use of lighting particularly the very striking red that forecasts the danger to come in the bakery. Then there was the nightmarishly frightening conclusion itself which was like one of those famed Public Information Films of the day, designed solely to scare the shit out of children so that they'll never again dabble with matches. The site of the Terileptil screaming desperately as he melts and bubbles in the flames remains potent to this day and it left you with that sick feeling which the Doctor later summed up with "there should have been another way".
Watched today the usual suspects drag down the show's strengths - badly choreographed fight scenes, childish incidental music and annoying TARDIS companions. Yes, it's unfair to get snooty about soap opera elements but the problem here is that there's just no quality to them. The companionship between the 1982 TARDIS crew now seems artificial and uninspiring and who can really be convinced by some of the atrocious acting even in instances such as this where some deliciously sarcastic dialogue is doing its very best for them? There are a couple of good scenes - it's touching to witness the crew empathising with Tegan's bitter disappointment at not getting home - but these are rare and otherwise it's not hard to see why both Tegan and Adric were on the verge of being ditched.
These things ensure that The Visitation falls short of classic status but, still, it's extremely good in its own right. The first great thing about it is that the historical setting does not affect the show's post-modern feel, thanks to the alien technology and the fact that the TARDIS crew retain their usual costumes. Contrast this to Talons, which really gets itself bogged down in a particular period in time. The opening scene gives the terrible impression that the same might happen here but instead it works to the story's advantage because it occurs a number of weeks before the Doctor himself lands, therefore giving the Terileptils a believable timeframe with which to set up base and brainwash the locals. The period setting continues to add spice by playing on people's fear of death (with the Grim Reaper) in an era when you couldn't overestimate the influence of folklore and the resulting superstition. It's a lovely touch and just one example of some very clever scripting, which continues by subtly (hence appropriately only being relevant to adults) relating fictional causes for famous historical events such as the Great Fire of London and the Great Plague into the story.
The fascinating interrelated topics of alien co-existence/rationalisation/good v evil/danger of power in the wrong hands/genocide provide the real meat of this story. I'd love to discuss theses themes but Mike Morris's review not only says everything that needs to be said but also expresses it with matchless eloquence. Just to add that Peter Davison and Michael Melia supplement it all with performances befitting of the writing, playing off each other wonderfully. The Doctor clearly got out of bed the wrong side and is finding it harder than usual to be nice but restrains himself admirably. However he works this tetchiness to his advantage in his confrontation with the Terileptil, his clever riposte to the creature's justification of war being the perfect example. Melia, without ever succumbing to ranting megalomaniac dross, blends tension with determination making the Terileptil Leader convincing in a way that Doctor Who monsters rarely were. I absolutely love that bit where, before the Doctor has even time to utter the last word of "That's hardly an argument", the Terileptil retorts him with a vicious scream of "It's not supposed to be an argument, it's a statement". The Terileptil's reaction of total disgust at Mace is also a joy. When he starts roaring "So much pride in something..." you're just waiting for him to start getting poetic like most Who monsters do. But no, he continues with "...so stupid. I could destroy you now". It's the simplicity of the reaction which expresses pure evil, far more effectively than any long-winded rant could ever have done.
And speaking of Mace, well it would be unfair of any review of The Visitation to ignore his powerful impact. I just feel that Robbins gives a lovely performance here. There's that impression that he's been around, yet he remains charming and mannerly despite all the toil and struggle and it's so refreshing to see the Doctor warm to someone who is essentially a rough diamond. It's final proof that this regeneration, in contrast to previous ones, doesn't favour superiority. In many ways the pair are on the same wavelength: both gentlemen with a love of culture, travelling and adventure; both dreamers; both vulnerable, both well aware of darker forces yet both well able to defend themselves against them at the same time. They make a great partnership.
For all its flaws Doctor Who remains timeless in the sense that it never fails to be thought provoking in its own witty little English way and The Visitation is the perfect example of that. Everything that gives a story depth - memorable performances, sparklingly clever dialogue and intelligent writing are all here. Perhaps most tellingly, and in contrast to the so-called classic of season 19, Earthshshock, The Visitation, whilst far from perfect, is the type of adventure that makes it a real pleasure to pull out the old feather quill and share your feelings. And, even though it could never mean as much to me as in 1982, most of the things that made it special then still stand out today.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 27/3/04
The Visitation is refreshing thanks to a mixture of excellent location work, a traditional script (which harks back to a simple invasion story) and the historical setting. The latter is particularly enjoyable as it doesn`t detract from the story, but instead adds an atmosphere and indeed is the first time since Horror Of Fang Rock that such a setting is used.
The regulars tend to be on better form here and the guest cast are largely excellent, although Michael Robbins does tend to overplay Richard Mace. The android is impressive in appearance, although the Terileptils vary, their costumes do the actors no favours. This aside, The Visitation is very much an average story, with plenty of atmosphere.
The Doctor visits the 'swinging 1660's' by Steve Cassidy 12/4/04
"Ummmm....what shall be the main plot of this one?...the great plague of 1665? Or the great fire of 1666?....I can't decide..."
And that seems to be the problem for me with this one. History.
I really couldn't decide which way this was going.
The now famous scene as the Doctor lets the fire grow in Pudding Lane is memorable enough. But grafted on to this one is the Terileptils trying to commit genocide by releasing plague infected black rats onto the world. Eh?
By 1666, half the known worlds population was looking into the mirror with an unhealthy purple zit staring back at them. Were the Terileptils feeling left out? Did someone get there before them? Did they want to release even more plague onto the unhappy world? I could understand it if the Terileptils were responsible for releasing the black rats in the first place. If they were responsible for the mass extermination back in 1665. But they seemed to want to continue the extermination. Is this what the writers wanted - them taking advantage of an already weakened population? If so why aren't we told?
It's things like that which make The Visitation not quite a great adventure but an average one. Dr Who-lite, if you like. In many ways it tries to be a Pertwee/Baker adventure and for that, and considering the dross that surrounds it, we should applaud it. The series in the early eighties was as far away from the Baker adventures as it could possibly get with the TARDIS family and a fuzzy wuzzy cuddly blonde Doctor. But I still think it should have more bite. The premise is utterly terrifying - a paranoid Restoration England already dazed by the 'black death' and teetering on the abyss of the 'Great Fire'. Of course we have the terrified villagers, who are more medieval then Restoration, who try and put the Doctor and Mace to death with a sycthe and there is lots of imagery of 'death' used by the Terileptils. But it just lacked substance. There was no hard underbelly in Saward's script that you would have got with Robert Holmes or Terrance Dicks.
I think a lot of it has to do with Peter Moffat's direction. On the DVD he talks about his time with Dr Who and he directed six adventures including the superb The Two Doctors. He says he rather likes a family-atmosphere around the set and encourages a good working relationship with his actors. Mr Moffat comes across as an amiable old duffer. This is fine, but I can't help but think he was too soft on the direction. There were action scenes in this adventure that looked flabby and amateur. Hadn't Mr Moffat ever heard of a stunt arranger? The fight in the cellar with the android was very poorly co-ordinated. And Tegan beating the Terileptal over the head at the end, well, let's be honest I've seen better acting on 'Footballers' Wives'.
But there is also a lot to enjoy about The Visitation. Believe it or not I would commend the makers on the locale and time period. The BBC is at it's most comfortable when handling historical drama and all the old wigs and breeches were hauled out of wardrobe. I must say I did enjoy the scene at the beginning with the wonderful John Savident putting his all as the local squire. The music, atmosphere, lighting and historical aura at this point were terrific - it was a great hook to get you involved. And the production design of 17th Century Middlesex did look good with enough authentic costumes and Restoration properties. I especially like the square that the TARDIS materialises on in London. The overlooking hammer-and-beam houses looked very authentic.
A word must also go to Michael Robbins as Richard Mace. The highwayman/actor stole the show for me and I wanted to know more about him as he was definitely the best companion of the story. Michael Robbins plays him with the right amount of ham and humbug. And I love the fact that he was still enthrall to the gentry as he and the Doctor walked up the gravel drive of the Manor House. At that time the gentry weren't quite back in control, many had reclaimed their manor houses after the Civil War. But they were still held in contempt by the local population - the tug-the-forelock peasant was a long way off in Restoration England. On the DVD commentary Matthew Waterhouse states that Michael Robbins went around complaining that Dr Who was the worse thing he had ever appeared in. Matthew bit his tongue about "On the Buses".
Of course, it is also memorable for the Terileptils. These are probably the most interesting thing in the entire adventure and the costumes are very striking. The premise of Terileptil criminals escaping their terrible life on the prison planet and crash-landing on earth is a good one. Kudos must go for the costume designers for creating such colourful aliens and also the actors for pulling them off. Michael Melia (who I remember as the landlord Eddie in Eastenders) makes a good central villain. His rants to the Doctor are very entertaining. I also like the fact that they need Solotron gas and there is an enjoyable scene where the three Terileptils are grouped around an inhaler like a bunch of glue-sniffers needing their fix. But pocessing the minds of the villagers? Well, I can't help thinking we have seen it too many times before.
And the regulars? Well, we get the TARDIS family at full spate here. Four episodes of Nyssa, Adric and Tegan following the Doctor around. It becomes a little obvious that the writer struggles to accomodate them all - Adric wanders back and forward to the TARDIS while Tegan is pocessed yet again by the Terileptils. Where this Doctor still makes me gasp with incredulity is the lack of respect they show him. All three of them would have been in awe of the fourth Doctor and would fear the rare quick temper of the third Doctor but the Fifth just seems to be like supply teacher whose class ignores him. We do see flashes of a tougher Doctor here, one who may be reaching the end of his tether with his three companions. And with the exception of Nyssa, (who gets good scenes assembling the sonic disintegrator) they tend to try the audiences patience as well.
Adric is... well, Adric, I suppose. The actor and character are a throwback to seventies children's television. We were fed sort of 'famous five' type serials and the child actors all had plums in their mouths and earnest deliveries, and this fits as after all Adric is an alien. He also may imitate adult ways but I always felt Adric was the most childish of companions. A teenager who really hadn't grown up yet - hence all the petulance and sulks. However, he is a gem in this adventure compared with Tegan.
Here she is absolutely horrible, taking out her unhappiness on everyone else. She is the kind of person who in real life would come into an office and upset people within five minutes. A lot of this is the way the character is conceived, as I mentioned in my review of the character there really was nothing to work with so she becomes a complaining cypher - a millstone to the main action. I hate the way she is sarcastic about being a highwayman to Richard Mace. And it was interesting listening to her comments about the Manor house, an American would have found the place quaint and interesting while an Australian finds it gloomy. And with the famous 'just like the way you got me back to Heathrow...' line she is just mean. Sarah Jane would have put a twinkle in her eye so we knew she was joking - but not Tegan. Listening to the audio commentary Janet Fielding is hysterically funny especially about the awful costumes she had to wear and the lines she had to say - why couldn't they have introduced Fielding's humour into her character?
And that really is it about The Visitation. It has been released on DVD and people like me can see it for the first time. I was struggling with Doctor Who in the early eighties, dipping in and out, I missed Tom and the bunch of oddballs who now inhabited the TARDIS didn't really click with me. From a vantage of twenty years I can say it is an enjoyable romp with a lovely feel of time and place even if I feel the Terileptils plan of genocide was a bit, well, superfluous considering what was going on in 1666. There is depth there if you look for it, and good writing and characterisation, but I wouldn't put it amongst the classics.
For Peter Davison it is quite good - which should say it all really...
A Review by Brian May 5/8/04
To those fans who intensely dislike the "UNIT family" and all it stands for, let me tell you what is a hundred times worse.
The fifth Doctor family.
I'd rather spend my time with the patriarchal, domineering third Doctor, dippy assistant Jo, even the long-haired bumbling idiot that the Brigadier became in the later Pertwee years. Mike Yates was toffee nosed, but you could watch a rugby match and drink a pint with him, and Benton's a lovable, dependable but none too bright lug. And of course, the naughty Master, the black sheep, whose plans were always doomed to fail because they were just so silly.
I'd rather all of these than the "family" that filled the TARDIS in season 19. Grouchy, irritable fifth Doctor; the grumpy, whingeing older woman, Tegan; snotty nosed, arrogant and occasionally treacherous boy, Adric; and quiet achiever, nice, sweet girl Nyssa. (The distinctions outlining Tegan as a "woman" and Nyssa as a "girl" were clearly made in Four to Doomsday, so that the different female demographics in the audience knew who their role-model was meant to be. Wasn't that so kind of the production team?)
The ramming home of this sense of family is one of the first things you notice in The Visitation. To emphasise that all families are dysfunctional but deep down really love each other, we have the Doctor and Adric bickering at the beginning. Then Tegan and Nyssa share a tender moment (big and little sisters?). Then there's a sort of smarmy Enid Blyton feel - Famous Five in particular - as they grapple with the villagers attacking them; then Adric trips (the only subverted element being that the boy stumbles, not the girl). Then Adric and Nyssa whine "Is the man blind?" and "He nearly killed us!" after the Miller nearly runs them over.
If that's the first impression that comes to mind with this story, does that mean it's doomed? Well, not quite. The Visitation is one of those stories that made a lasting impression on me after its initial transmission. However, the law of diminishing viewing returns certainly applies here. With each viewing something else in the story pops up and disappoints, the enjoyment quotient dropping each time.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that the story is simple. It's too simple. The first pseudo-historical adventure for some time unfolds in a very straightforward way, with no plot asides, twists, or interesting developments. For a four-part story, it's way too long. The Doctor's decision to visit the Miller close to the end of episode two seems incredibly forced, leading into a similarly contrived cliffhanger; he then spends the entire third instalment as a prisoner. It also reveals the limitations of a four-member TARDIS crew. The only companion accommodated for is Tegan, in a traditional "captured by the enemy and made to turn against the Doctor" role. Adric is also captured, but escapes and runs back and forth through the woods between the manor and the TARDIS, whingeing about his impotence and getting waylaid by villagers and marched around the place for ages. Nyssa is sidelined to the TARDIS for the final half, which would also happen a couple of stories later (Earthshock). The story's resolution is as follows: android is destroyed, the Doctor escapes, tracks the aliens to their base in London and defeats them. Even if you've just watched Warriors' Gate, Kinda, The Ultimate Foe and Ghost Light in a non-stop marathon (possibly combined with Last Year in Marienbad and Mulholland Drive), you'd still want something with a bit more meat than this.
There's some dreadfully awful dialogue - once again, made up of tiffs among our lovable but dysfunctional family. For example, Adric climbing through the fanlight after Tegan:
Tegan: I was going to unlock the door for you!And some lines given to the companions seem to be included just to make them seem like idiots:
Adric: Now she tells me!
Adric: You know where he is?And, of course, poor Adric:
Doctor: *(sarcasm overload)* Yes, yes, that's why I'm searching.
"I try so hard!" (cue the violins)The Doctor seems to be more tetchy than usual, and not in a Hartnellesque way. His jibe to Tegan re locating the Terileptil base: "Because I wasn't looking for it until I found it!" is unnecessarily snide.
The continuity consciousness of the programme has come into its fullest element in The Visitation. The first TARDIS scenes discuss the events of the previous story, Kinda, in way too much detail. It's a new story, fellas, so let's get on with it. The music is rather insipid and intrusive, except for the opening scene, in which it fits perfectly. There is also a general lack of humour prevalent which, given the majority of the Davison stories, is not out of place. The best attempt at a gag is achieved by Mace, when he says to the travellers that he desires an hour's good conversation, which is immediately followed by an awkward silence as the companions sit there like stunned mullets. The humour is pulled off by Michael Robbins's body language.
However, if you think I hate this story, you're wrong. Some of the elements that lingered in my mind in the early 80s are still there. The location footage is sumptuous, the costumes great. The prelude is fantastic. The usual demise of a group of incidental characters, who serve no other purpose but to set up the story, is incredibly stylish. The first episode has some tingly suspenseful moments - unseen hands closing windows and opening doors, shadows moving across the floor. In part two, the scene where the android disguised as the Grim Reaper approaches the TARDIS crew and Richard Mace in the cellar is also gripping, especially as the black hooded figure is allowed to linger at the back for several seconds as the others remain oblivious, creating a great build-up.
Speaking of Richard Mace, he's wonderful! He certainly overshadows the Doctor (which, given Davison's subdued performance, isn't difficult). Such a memorable and flamboyant supporting character is a joy to watch. Michael Melia is also excellent as the Terileptil leader. Of a story lacking in memorable lines, the standout is the Doctor's "What's your excuse?" accusation after the alien's comments on war and civilisation. The Terileptils are an extremely well written race, with insights into their background and way of life that elevate them above the standard Who alien. Their design is also excellent, as is the android's.
The Visitation is indeed an impressive looking story. The high production values are its strong points. However, the more you watch it, the more it's clear that the plot is simplistic, in a typical style over substance way, and isn't sufficient to fill even four episodes. Eric Saward gives us an interesting race of aliens and a wonderful, larger than life character in Mace. But apart from him and the Terileptil leader, the rest are unengaging, with the regular cast suffering the worst: a childishly portrayed and overcrowded TARDIS family. Time for a pint with Mike and the Brig, I think. 6/10
Art, Beauty and Darn Good Fun by Kathryn Young 25/10/04
I am a commentary junkie. This little black sheep is a sucker for anything where a bunch of people sit around and bitch the show: Now that, for me, is true Doctor Who fandom.
Although on a complete side bar - never watch/listen a commentary by Pierce Brosnan. He may be good looking, but he has the oral skills of a turnip. 'Yes, this was great scene. I remember it distinctly - I was wearing shoes.'
So when I saw The Visitation CD in my local ABC (BBC/PBS) shop and saw that little line 'commentary by Peter Davison and Janet Fielding (and some other people)' I forked over my money without hesitation. Is there anyone else who sees the words 'Peter Davison' and 'commentary' and goes WHOO HOOO!?
This is not meant to be a complete rave about the DVD aspects of the story, but I did laugh my pants off. Although The Visitation was my first Doctor Who book, I had never actually seen the story before. I have to admit that I first watched it with the commentary because, I am sad to say, that this was more a lure than the story. And for me five people (Pete, Janet, Sarah, Matt and Peter Moffat) sitting around taking the mickey out of something is my idea of comedy - and they were brill.
Sylvester and Sophie come up second in the commentary stakes, but they are still a bit too serious - they keep trying to actually talk about the show (except for The Curse of Fenric one with Nicholas Parsons. That was just scary).
However this lot are presumably rich enough that they don't give a hoot. They spend their time totally trashing the story and wondering just 'what the bejesus we were doing'? Janet Fielding has an unnatural obsession with purple eyeshadow, dodgy fashion and ragging on 'Pete'. She goes into complete Australian over the top hyperdrive and, while nothing she says has much relevance to the story and will annoy the serious fans, it's just worth it to hear the accent (I don't know anyone in Australia who can match her accent - and I live there). 'Pete' sounds as if he is on a total sugar high and the whole thing is a scream. But then these commentaries seem to unleash something wild in Peter and he too spends the entire time ridiculing the whole thing, but then again you must get a certain perspective when you are Doctor Daddy.
Quiet on set everybody: The director's here
Normally I loathe having the director in the studio for the commentary. The really irritating one was that bloke who did Peter Davison's really nasty Dalek story Resurrection/Revelation/Resuscitation of the Daleks. That man could not have been further up his own jacksie if he had tried. He kept sushing everyone so he could admire his 'cutting edge shots' as he called them - 'oh look tracking'. I am sorry dear, but sticking the camera on a trolley is an idea that actually had been mooted before 1984.
So Pete and Janet would be busy taking the mickey out of Mark Stricksen's ability to act and run backwards at the same time and then he would make them shut up to watch a shot of a blinking window while he regaled them with stories about until he came along windows were totally overlooked in serious BBC science fiction shows. It was the commentary equivalent (but not as funny) of that scene in Bridget Jones when she tries to have a conversation with Jeffrey Archer and Salmon Rushdie - don't even try darling.
By the end of it I was furious. I just wanted to say 'now listen darling - the bloody thing has come out on DVD. You can admire your 'shots' in the privacy of your own home to your heart's content, but don't do it near me - or on the blinking commentary! You could practically see the bloke unzipping his trousers!
But the director chappie of this one was just fantastic. They must have kidnapped him from the old folks' home for the day.
Actually I am not too sure he was the director. They may have just grabbed a random oldie. This guy had no recollection of the show. It appears that he had completely blanked the whole incident from his mind. Does that tell you anything or wot? Throughout the commentary he kept turning to Sarah Sutton and saying 'now who are you again dear'?
OK he didn't actually do that. But he didn't seem to have a schmick what was going on. This didn't matter, as he was delightfully camp and bitchy. He kept asking all these great question such as 'why are you wearing such a stupid outfit Mathew?' and 'what the hell are you all doing in this scene - were you on drugs?' They would then reply with 'how the heck should we know. You were the director luvvie'.
The Story bits.
People seem to be very divided about this story - but it is a good one for Peter Davison fans and Mathew Waterhouse bashers. I watched it directly after the Tom Baker story City of Death and this did highlight how much good writing, directing and a supporting cast who can actually act can be important. In The Visitation there wasn't all that much acting going on. No wonder Peter Davison's Doc was such a petulant little teddy, and no wonder they started ditching/killing off companions as soon as they could: Dialogue scenes with seconds of pauses between the lines, 'emotional scenes' with Tegan, Adric trying to say anything that doesn't make you want to bash his head in with a shovel. Perhaps Davison thought if he ran around fast enough no one would notice, but if the man ever got his hands out of his pockets for long enough he might have realised that this just made him look like a slightly out of breath twat.
The fun bits.
On the other hand - who in their right mind bedazzles an android? Who actually sits down and says: 'Oh look, I have just created this hideous weapon of death, but I think it needs a few plastic beads stuck to its chest to make it look pretty.' I do realise that the Terrileptils had a love of art and beauty, but jewel-encrusted android cricket gloves is just weird and kinky.
'Aiye knowe aiye haiv'ent beanne thee baist ov cormpainions, bait aiye weel meiss ew Neesa'.
And there is Sarah Sutton with that inscrutable look on her face. I prefer to think that Nyssa was all torn up, but that her fairy princess training on Traken had taught her to keep it on the inside (just like the Queen). Actually - and this is just judging by the fact that Nyssa seemed just a tad too helpful during the 'emotional' scene - 'here's your coat, here's your bag - now get out'. Sarah was probably thinking 'actually I wish you would go so I don't get stuck in a coma or in the TARDIS creating sonic devices every episode'.
Not only did Janet Fielding 'ave a daid rart nayled twu hair haird', but she also got to do a bit of 'mind control' acting or as it is called in the commentary - 'Trarwnce acting'.
This appears to equate to that look you get when you are really really drunk and you suddenly realise you must lie down with a bucket - now. Michael Robbins also does some trarwnce acting, but it isn't much different from his normal stuff - just a little bit more centered.
Nyssa tells Tegan she will return half and hour after she left Earth. Tegan then says she still doesn't understand how this can happen:
Five, four, three, two, one.
IT'S A TIME MACHINE YOU STUPID STUPID WOMAN!
TARDIS: TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE. Even my poodle has a better grasp of the concept of a 'time machine' than her. In every fricken story she is always complaining how she will be late and lose her job. Did no one ever sit her down and explain how a time machine works? Didn't she ever notice - 'oh look now we are in a completely different century? I wonder how that happened'. How thick is this chick? For that alone Tegan deserves to have a Concorde fall on her.
The puzzling bits.
During some scenes there seemed to be a complete lack of interaction between the cast - and I am not talking about everyone thinking Mathew Waterhouse was a twonker.
It was like everyone was in a different plane of reality - Peter would say a line, then two seconds later Adric would respond with his line, but oddly enough it would be directed to a spot somewhere about three feet to the left of where Peter was actually standing.
Peter would then run around in a small circle and address his next remark to a knob on the console. Then Nyssa would walk in and announce something to the entire room, revolve on her axis and go back the way she came - rather like a cuckoo clock (just what was stuck up there?).
And then of course for Michael Robbins everything exciting was happening a little to the left - no matter where the actor he was meant to be addressing was. I have actually developed a theory about this. I reckon there was a good looking crew member chick that he fancied and he wanted to keep her in sight at all times - well either that or he had a bad neck.
This one has something for everyone. If you are a hardcore purist Doctor Who fan who likes this era, buy the DVD, but don't whatever you do listen to the commentary - there are lots of documentary extras that will keep you happy. If you are one of those fans who love to know what was really going on behind the scenes this DVD will delight in so many ways. This is definitely one I will watch and rewatch for many years to come...
A Review by Benjamin Bland 7/4/06
Peter Davison's first season in the role of the Doctor has been widely criticised and praised. Almost in equal measure. One of the stories to come squarely in the firing line is The Visitation. I disagree with the critics. This is one of my personal favourite Doctor Who stories. It isn't too complicated or confusing it just tries to be watchable and admirably succeeds. Although I now have my reviewer cap on I still find it very hard to criticise this story. It's solid if not spectacular and fully merits more praise than it gets.
The Tereleptils are good enemies for the Doctor, apart from their oh-so-obvious tights. Ridiculous. Janet Fielding does an incredibly dosey job of acting someone under mind control and Nyssa is shunted onto the sideboard. It doesn't matter though. The story is overall brilliant and what's more it's enjoyable. Michael Robbins' character of Richard Mace is also truly memorable. To the heck with the faults. 9/10.
A Review by Finn Clark 13/4/06
To my shock, I recently realised that Davison was my favourite Doctor. This surprised me because I only like the 5th Doctor as an exception to the rule and I think the show would have died long ago had all the Doctors been like him. Nevertheless Peter Davison's such a fine actor that all my childhood feelings about his time in the role have only strengthened when I come to rewatch his stories.
I also think his era is underappreciated. Every decade has its own peculiarities to which you must adjust and the eighties have a superficial glossiness that can look cheap and fake compared to the 1970s or even the black-and-white era. It's rather plastic. JNT's companions also don't compare well with their predecessors, generally being ill-conceived and/or played by actors who afterwards rightly disappeared from the industry. (Some people even make similar comments about JNT's Doctors.) However on the other hand the eighties were almost revolutionary in their level of innovation and experimentation, more so than at any time since 1966. Personally I think that at his best JNT gave us some of Doctor Who's most intelligent, interesting stories.
Season 19 in particular is the only time between Hartnell and McCoy when the show wasn't working to a formula.
Even normally Davison's era was a struggle between its three helmsmen. Peter Davison fought to squeeze jokes and subtlety of character into Eric Saward's increasingly bleak and action-packed Whoniverse, while JNT gave us overlit Blankety Blank productions and celebrity guest stars. However in Season 19 even that wasn't true. Everything was up for grabs. 'Twas a transition period in which everyone but the producer was either resigning or a new kid on the block, and of course JNT always gave his script editors complete freedom.
Season 19 effectively has three script editors. It starts by ending Christopher Bidmead's Master trilogy that's basically the 1996 TVM but twelve episodes long and crafted by a genius. The actual script-editors were Antony Root and Eric Saward, but you'd never guess from their reputations who edited what. Castrovalva, Kinda and Black Orchid were Saward's! There's also a staggering range of stories. On the one hand there's Kinda and two stories by the always-interesting Terence Dudley, while on the other there's the more obviously Sawardian The Visitation and Earthshock. (There's even Time-Flight, but that's different from the others in a bad way.) The results perhaps should have been a mess like Season 24, but in fact produced a year that I find more intelligent and thoughtful in its diversity than Season 18.
The Visitation remains a unique experiment. JNT had been thinking of the Hartnell era when he returned to a four-man TARDIS crew, but never before or since did Doctor Who make such a faithful attempt at recreating the old-fashioned 1960s historical. Black Orchid doesn't come close. The Visitation has an authentically snail-paced plot and focus on the regulars, which is unfortunately its problem. Adric, Nyssa and Tegan certainly ain't no Ian, Barbara and Susan. It's almost a tragedy. It's a cliche to say that there isn't room for three companions in the TARDIS, but The Visitation gave them swathes of story space and then did absolutely nothing with them. It's just padding. Thanks to discussion of Kinda and saying goodbye to Tegan, it's ten minutes before the regulars even leave the TARDIS.
Ironically the story's best continuity is unintentional foreshadowing. It's hard not to make connections between the Doctor's fight with Adric and the one at the start of Earthshock. It's the same relationship on display.
The Visitation is a wafer-thin story giving huge amounts of attention to the TARDIS crew, but neither the writer nor the actors playing the companions are up to the job. Whoops. However there's also Davison and I'll always watch him. Despite everything I still enjoyed episode one more than the beginnings of some Hartnell historicals. If my computer allowed it, I'd try turning down the colour and seeing how the story looked in black-and-white. That's certainly a revelation with more than a few Pertwee stories.
Besides, I don't regard The Visitation as a completely failed experiment. Even given crap filler scenes and actors who aren't pulling their weight, I still like some of its character moments. A joke about Tegan's intelligence ("You are a very stupid woman" "That's not a very original observation") made me wonder about a line I'd thought was unintentional in part one. I also like Davison's short-tempered Doctor. He's sarcastic, snappy and rude. He bites the heads off all three companions at some point and you don't blame him either. His aghast reaction as the TARDIS strugges to materialise in episode four is a scream, while I laughed at his response to Adric whining that no one likes him. Even Nyssa doesn't get off scot-free, although it's noticeable that she's the only one he can relax with. With the argumentative Adric and Tegan he's always more on edge. I'm sure that's part of why Davison liked Nyssa's character best.
The 17th century is so lovely that my only complaint is that there's not enough of it. It looks so good! Why didn't we get more historicals? For example, it's full of animals for that rustic atmosphere: horses, donkeys, rats, rabbits... Unfortunately the script needed more characters and subplots. It's not as if there wasn't room! The pace could politely be described as stately. Imagine a version of The Visitation which gave the period more depth and complexity. Maybe someone shelters the TARDIS crew despite the hostility of the rest of the villager, or perhaps is struggling to come to terms with the changed behaviour of their hypnotised loved ones? Compare with Resurrection of the Daleks, which had jet-black fun with its Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe and the difference between humans and their duplicates. Here we assume that any locals are Terileptil fodder and forget that they might have points of view of their own.
Take the paranoid villagers, for instance. We see so many locals hypnotised by control bracelets that by the time we get "plague carriers, execute them" in the episode two cliffhanger, we've almost forgotten about it. When three yokels snatch Adric in the woods in part three, their next move is to let him go and run away on seeing the Deathdroid. Nice one, Eric. Frankly I don't think Saward was any good at story structure. This is too simple, Resurrection overcompensates and Revelation doesn't start until the halfway point. The best of them's Earthshock, actually.
Then there's Richard Mace. Saward had created him for some 1970s radio plays and wrote this as a crossover. (Has anyone listened to them?) Mace has two problems, the first being the lack of any subplot he can get involved in and make a meaningful contribution to. He just follows the Doctor around like a tourist. The other problem is Michael Robbins's performance, although it's not without a certain entertainment value. Richard Mace is an actor-highwayman, but Robbins is so busy playing an actor that he forgets about the "highwayman" bit. Would this man scare you? Could you imagine him being intimidating? If he held up your stagecoach, would you scream or laugh?
Essentially Mace is a one-story companion, which is bizarre in a story that's already struggling with a four-man TARDIS crew.
Nevertheless I still like The Visitation's recreation of its period. It begins wonderfully with the Squire, Charles and Elizabeth, even if things soon get overwhelmed by technobabble and silly aliens. As an aside, the 17th century could be argued to be Davison's period. Colin Baker had the 19th century (Mark of the Rani, Timelash, The Ultimate Foe), but Davison had this story (1666) and The Awakening (1643), with even a link between their alien races via the tinclavic mines on Raaga.
I should mention the SF stuff. The Terileptil is too stiff. It looks nice in still shots, but it's too obviously a costume even if I'm more tolerant of it now than I was in 1982. However I adore the disco glamdroid, only pipped for the title of Doctor Who's Wackiest Android by the loony tune in Timelash (and I love that one too).
In conclusion, I like everything this story's doing, even if the execution is frequently horrendous. It looks pretty and yet again Davison proves that he can make anything worth watching. In addition I love the basic idea of aliens exploiting the Black Death and then getting killed when the Doctor accidentally starts the Great Fire of London. (To mess with the heads of a certain kind of fan, put that alongside Tom's throwaway line at the end of Pyramids of Mars.) I can completely see why some people don't like The Visitation, but for me it has charm. In a retarded way, admittedly, but nonetheless charm.
"The Devil will make work for idle hands to do" by Thomas Cookson 23/7/17
With Anthony Root immediately departing for Juliet Bravo, JNT needed a new script-editor, and, based on this script, he offered Eric Saward the job. Given Saward's experience writing for radio's tight episodic format, he seemed a good guiding hand for structuring other writers' work. There seemed few other available candidates and little suggesting he'd be a disaster in the makings.
The Visitation's a very traditional story, with a grubbiness that heavily marked it apart from Kinda. After the jarring strangeness of Bidmead's odder commissions, this felt like a refreshing return to a normality not seen since State of Decay. It's sobering stuff. Almost sedate even. A story the viewer could comfortably sink into. It felt the show had finally settled into a workable niche, or at least was taking a pit stop to re-orientate itself.
As Philip Sandifer pointed out, Saward here utilizes the safety net of doing The Time Warrior redux. A pseudo-historical that carries more of the Davison soap element than the extravagance or culture shock of The Aztecs.
It's not particularly challenging or anything profound. It's certainly nothing magical or majestic. Like many Davison stories, it's parochial, slavish and predictable. There's certainly no surprise how this story ends anymore than there was to Mawdryn Undead or Warriors of the Deep.
The opening with the family is stagey and quaint but also warm, with characters you care about without feeling forced to. They face their death bravely, with spirit. The camera never has to dwell on the inevitable and doesn't. The cutaway mid-shooting feels intelligently, tasteful done.
If only Saward always wrote to that brief vignette's standard.
Sadly, the horrendously shrill TARDIS soap scenes follow.
Adric confesses to Davison that he fears Tegan doesn't like him. Which is maddening considering last week he was blaming her for the Mara's violation of her. Was she supposed to like him after that? Has Saward forgotten Adric's previous appalling behaviour - and if the writer doesn't recall it, did it actually count? Adric also contemptfully dismisses his wounding of Arris as "a flesh wound" like it's something to do. I'm sorry but no companion prior, even Leela, was this maladjusted.
When first introduced in Logopolis, I admired Tegan's fiery, gutsy courage, declaring of her alien abductor "Wait till I have a word with him!" But given the malicious Master had forced her to flee in the TARDIS, her blaming her predicament on the well-meaning Doctor instead seems vindictive.
The Doctor's inability to pilot the ship is an old joke by now. So I initially assumed Saward was overegging the joke until Tegan got increasingly hysterical at not quite being home. It left me gobsmacked, the scene wanted me to take her distraught tantrum seriously. Tegan here is an overindulged, spoilt brat, stupidly unprepared to wait for the Doctor to take off again and land her home properly (as he demonstrably did in Logopolis) if she'd stop hounding him.
Some argue that Tegan voiced a refreshing kernel of frustrated, realistic honesty about how the Doctor might genuinely try his companion's nerves. I don't see how it speaks to his fans to have the companion blame him constantly. I'd hardly call Tegan's attitude groundbreaking. She makes you long instead for the warmth of Sarah Jane or Romana.
It's like when my meet-up with a friend was gatecrashed by someone I'd recently fallen out with, and before long she was digging up her grudge again and slagging me off to my friend. Did her words strike a chord with him about my annoying flaws, or did they just sour the day's mood? I'd argue Tegan did the latter to the show.
The makers seemed so desperate to draw attention to Davison's distinctive fallibility, they used Tegan as an obnoxious megaphone for everything he's supposedly done wrong. It's depressing seeing Davison having to accommodate Tegan's hissy-fits with grovelling passivity. Her relentless disrespect makes it difficult for us to respect him either.
Fortunately, we then meet Richard Mace. A more family-friendly Orcini who abstains from shooting to kill when he can shoot to scare and deter. He steals the show quickly, exposing the regulars for the plastic mess of blandness they are, exhibiting the flamboyance, personality and spirit that JNT had surgically removed from the Doctor.
Although commissioned before the Toxteth riots, the outdoor scenes almost reflect that civil unrest's aftermath. The irascible mood in the air. The disquieting hushed paranoia, like a boat waiting to be rocked. Frankly, it conveys a paranoia and agoraphobia, more coherently and directly than Kinda did.
Unfortunately, when Davison incessantly tries reasoning with the Terileptils, Saward begins pandering to that angry, working-class zeitgeist that often regards the most deplorable criminals as folk heroes against the oppressive system. This will recur under Saward with Lytton and the Silurians. Indeed, one might even sense Varos' prison world being in gestation here.
Davison offers to accommodate and rehouse these fugitives where they'll be free of justice, even though it means they'll go unpunished for the innocent family they slaughtered. The Doctor's often been a compassionate liberal hero, stuck in a very retributive series. But that moral conflict was about to become far more rancorous and vacuous.
Eric initially seems to bring enthusiasm to the job. Perhaps seeing promise in writing an atypical hero who would resolve problems and crises in a different, more diplomatic way. Here Davison's reactive morality is at least the main point of interest. The villains are characterised as stagnantly arrogant and foolishly obtuse. But Eric will soon become disinterested in Davison's stagnancy.
It's also clear Saward doesn't understand how to write good, coherent interactional dialogue. Davison's preachy attempts at mediation are met with the irritation they earn, demonstrating no clue how to negotiate or to know his cue to. He only knows to try in the most annoying way that convinces his opponent he's a tedious bore. Perhaps that misanthropy is why this doesn't come alive as an historical. Mace aside, the humans here are faceless drones, existing to be looked down upon and dismissed as savages that the Terileptils claim to be no worse than, which even the Doctor concedes.
The problem is it's a diminished version of The Time Warrior, with diminished momentum and less memorable villains, who are only formidable via the contriving of a weaker Doctor. The Doctor's lost his grandeur, his magic. He's lost all that once made him compelling. He's admittedly fairly spry in the opening brawl. But he later abandons Tegan unconscious at the robot's mercy so he can pursue Adric, painting the Doctor as a cowardly liability in ways he never was before and sadly will frequently be again.
There's also the infamous destruction of the sonic screwdriver. Initially intended as a one-off, with a replacement spare revealed later, JNT decided to make it a permanent fixture, because apparently he hadn't neutered the Doctor enough.
JNT's regime was depressingly political, based on empty, ineffectual, arbitrary policies implemented to promote himself as separate to his reviled predecessor, not actually progressing anything. His fan zealots praised everything he did to get the show away from the Williams era.
Nonetheless, the moment's played fairly light and dignified, without fireworks or funeral trumpets but a quiet "as though you've killed an old friend". Supposedly removing the Doctor's magic wand plot device would force him to rely on his wits more, had JNT not removed them too.
Now Black Orchid could waste more screentime on Davison locked in the Cranleigh house's inner chambers. Besides, Davison inevitably becomes recompensed with abundant fix-all plot devices like Movellan plague or Hexacromite gas instead. So what's the point?
Even here its loss only forces more story contrivances and further withdrawals into the TARDIS innards, where Nyssa builds her amplifier weapon, despite having no clue the android would come into the TARDIS of all places. Likewise, Davison later uses the TARDIS map scanner to trace electricity in use. Is that really making the Doctor function independently of his tools of convenience?
JNT's most disastrous policy was decreeing Davison's Doctor be fallible, and even lose and get it wrong occasionally. Replacing the Doctor's natural instincts with puppeteered idiocy without point. A complete insult to past writers who'd spent seventeen years prior developing and building the Doctor as a capable hero. Those viewers who remember him being so deserved credit to not be treated as so stupid they'll just accept the Doctor being incapable or insensible in ways they know his character inherently never was.
The Doctor is the show's constant heart. By negating or reducing him, you create a knock-on effect on everything else. Make the Doctor weaker, the show becomes weaker. Make the Doctor flounder indecisively, the show flounders and becomes aimless and confused. Make the Doctor a failure, the show becomes one.
Making the Doctor weak and vulnerable destroys the companion's faith in him and their trust that he'll protect them. That's essential in making us believe their willingness to live that dangerous life with him, trusting he's up to the task of keeping them from harm or at least making their sufferings and sacrifices worthwhile in fighting for something worthy. (Warriors of the Deep would sell that down the river.)
If you make the Doctor weaker, you make his principles weaker or at least so out of balance with the realistic as to be a sad and unfunny joke. Therefore you weaken the series' moral purpose by weakening the Doctor's actual fight against the amoral.
However, fandom, weary of Tom Baker's invincibility, didn't care. Their connection with the Doctor was forged long ago and was unbreakable. They didn't care about putting to the sword the qualities that made him so compelling, intriguing and championable to viewers in the first place.
The balance used to be maintained by showing the formidable Doctor against lethal, invincible Dalek armies, towering, hungry leviathans, the Drashigs, Skarasen or Metebelis spiders. Here the opposition feels ordinary and banal. The Doctor never gets to soar majestically against it.
We also see tendencies of JNT's production that weren't refined or curbed early on, which later got him in trouble. Namely the lingering upon burning Terileptils. JNT believed in putting the expense onscreen, showing off his team's technical, practical effects. Hinchcliffe once described Magnus Greel's make-up involving painstaking work for the sake of a few seconds' film. Knowing the visual effect would have better impact for its snappy brevity.
JNT seemingly believed such effects deserved maximum film time, so the camera lingered on repugnant visuals. The show almost developed a leery, pornographic treatment of gory death. Warriors of the Deep certainly adds no creative worth of its own to Hulke's work except scab pickings at his tragic ending.
JNT's mishandling of violence and gore was perhaps emblematic of his being in the wrong genre. But Saward was stuck with him. He couldn't work to his best because JNT demanded he waste time vetting stories for fan approval and avoid using accomplished writers who might undermine JNT's authority.
Saward gradually went from writing to simple radio play discipline and structure to the freedom of writing high-octane sci-fi action. With that freedom came a blurring uncertainty that sapped his enthusiasm, with the only sure impact he trusted being in the downbeat and nasty.
Saward's bitter interviews reflect his being forever stuck on how as a writer he was never vindicated. In easier circumstances, could he have done better? Was he kept from discovering his hidden talents? Sadly, this story demonstrates the core problem with Saward. He lacks the knack for transformative writing. All his Time Warrior-redux transforms about the original is to diminish it into something less animated.
Maybe Saward thought writing Doctor Who's children's entertainment was something easy he could relax into. Likewise, he thought he could make stories more 'adult' by just maximising body-counts. I don't think he ever learned the show was far harder work, needing far more care, love and attention. But when the resultant stories turned out terrible, all Saward could do was pass the blame.
Trouble at the Manor by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 11/5/20
Peter Davison's first season is of variable quality, but, despite this, it remains highly likeable. Even Time-Flight, despite my rather damning review of it, I find impossible to truly, genuinely dislike. The Visitation is one of the more straightforward stories of Season 19. It doesn't have the responsibility of introducing a new Doctor, killing a companion, being the first purely historical story in years or trying to think of a new way to disguise the Master and consequently coming up with yet another bonkers anagram of Anthony Ainley in the credits. As such, it is pretty successful if you take it on its own terms. It falls into the category of 'Aliens in an Historical Setting' or a 'pseudo-historical'. I often feel that these stories work quite well; indeed, setting the alien amongst the familiar is something that Doctor Who has always been very good at, not to mention the BBC's expertise in recreating historical eras. Despite its faults - most notably a truly excruciating performance by Matthew Waterhouse - it remains a fairly strong outing for the Fifth Doctor.
The Davison era has, depending on how one counts them, three stories that have an historical setting: The Visitation, Black Orchid and The King's Demons. Indeed Black Orchid is notable as the first purely historical story since The Highlanders. We could add The Awakening as a fourth as, although it is actually set in the 1980s, the evocation of the past is a central part of the plot. Davison's Doctor does seem completely at home in the past, his gentle manner particularly well-suited to simpler times, and we see that on display here. It's not that he doesn't at times run around, breathlessly telling his companions that he'll explain later when in an historical setting, it's just that this particular milieu seems to highlight his serenity when he isn't running around like decapitated poultry. And you know, by this point in the season Peter Davison is completely the Doctor. Not that he ever wasn't; barring a few subtleties in his performance in Four to Doomsday, he was more or less the Fifth Doctor that we've always known right from the start.
The story opens beautifully with a prologue of sorts, introducing the Squire and his family and their subsequent extermination at the hands of the Terileptils. It sets the mood for the remainder of the story, due in no small part to Paddy Kingsland's incidental music. In fact, let's take a moment to venerate Paddy Kingsland... He gave us, in my opinion, some of the show's best scores, notably Full Circle, State of Decay, Logopolis and Castrovalva. I wouldn't put The Visitation in that group, but it is still a very strong score, by turns atmospheric, beautiful and haunting, and Kingsland imbues it with a period quality to evoke Restoration England. Music plays a greater part in our perception of visual media than many people realise; take it away or alter it, and film and television doesn't have quite the same effect, for better or worse.
From a character perspective it has a few problems. Peter Davison is firing on all cylinders, and his breathless enthusiasm makes him seem as though he never stands still. He doesn't command the screen authority that Tom Baker did, but that was never a part of his character anyway, preferring instead an easy charm in contrast to Baker's hair trigger alternation between gravity and jocularity.
The companions, however, are a different kettle of fish. Nyssa for the most part just hangs around until episode four, when she gets to blow up the android. Well done and all that, but it's a bit late in the proceedings to suddenly start being proactive. It's nice to see her getting to use her technical skills, but it does feel like the last time she was actually of any use to anyone was in Castrovalva. She is often the spare part of this particular TARDIS team, which is a shame when one considers that she is both more likeable than Adric (not difficult) and more skilled - and therefore more useful - than Tegan. Tegan is stroppy, as usual. She constantly goes on about losing her job and not seeming to understand how a time machine works... I mean seriously, it's almost a running joke by this point. Part of Tegan's personality is that she lays into the Doctor for just about everything he says and does, but it seems more noticeable in the earlier stories. Despite this, she remains the most engaging of the three companions in this story.
Which brings me to Adric... Bashing Adric is not so much a case of shooting fish in a barrel as harpooning humpback whales in a teacup. But I do have to wonder: is Adric supposed to be a genuinely unlikeable character (mission accomplished) or is he actually supposed to a sympathetic character ("I try so hard") that Matthew Waterhouse just didn't have the acting skill to pull off? But then it doesn't really matter does it? Whichever it was, the end result is still the same - petulant, arrogant and conceited. He grins when the Doctor is telling him off in the first episode, then he casually dismisses the fact that he shot Aris in Kinda and then later on he has his little tantrum about the Doctor never being around when he's needed. It's almost tragic when he says that he's not entirely sure that Tegan likes him. Oh Adric, nobody likes you. In fact I'm not entirely convinced that they weren't tears of joy that Tegan and Nyssa were shedding after he was blown up in Earthshock. There's no getting away from the fact that Adric is one of the major faults of every story he appears in. Take Season 18 for example; it's one of the finest seasons the series produced, with some absolutely classic stories to be found therein, abounding in great ideas, fantastic dialogue, wonderful musical scoring, iconic imagery, some stellar performances from Tom Baker... but it has Adric in it and therefore I automatically have to deduct points. And in stories such as The Visitation or Four to Doomsday he is by far the biggest problem. Speaking of Four to Doomsday, let's just take a moment to fondly remember that scene where Tegan knocks him out. Happy days...
The three companions setup is often going to necessitate one of them being unconscious/locked up/staying in the TARDIS/hanging round the Doctor like they've nothing better to do, due to there being only so much plot to go around on a per-character basis. This is not something especially endemic to this particular TARDIS crew; it happened during the 1960s also. Take The Web Planet for example, where Ian and Barbara get to do all the interesting stuff and Vicki basically just has to hang around with the Doctor and do very little. It does, however, make certain questions unavoidable such as which of the three of them could we do without? It often feels like Nyssa is the one who is sidelined; in Four to Doomsday she is frequently kept out of the way, she spent the entirety of Kinda asleep off screen and seemed to be confined to the TARDIS for a good deal of Earthshock. She isn't exactly kept out of the way here, but she doesn't feel particularly useful as a component of the plot until she is packed off to the TARDIS to build the android-killing machine. Tegan may be the least accomplished in terms of scientific skill, but she always automatically feels like the lead companion. Personally, I'd get rid of Adric; he has certain skills but he isn't remotely likeable. Nyssa is just as capable as he is from a scientific point of view, and it'd give her more of a chance to blossom, so to speak.
Thankfully, the companion issues are offset somewhat by a very enjoyable guest character in the form of twinkly eyed rogue Richard Mace to bump up the charm quotient. He's a sort of romanticised version of the highwayman archetype, how we all like to imagine Dick Turpin and his cohorts were; charming, silver-tongued and just a little dashing, as opposed to the probable reality of selfish, murderous thieves. Aside from the Tereleptil leaderm he is the only substantial speaking guest character, but Michael Robbins pulls it off quite nicely. We're not quite into Professor Rumford territory here, but he is one of the more memorable guest characters of the Davison era.
The Tereleptils themselves are unfortunately less interesting as a concept than they are as a visual creation. They are supposedly lovers of art and beauty, they build androids rather well, they think war is honourable, blah de blah, yawn, yawn, yawn... We've heard these things said of countless races in the show, and it isn't a particularly interesting or engaging evocation of any alien race. It isn't quite Sensorite-level dullness, but it doesn't hold my attention. But as a piece of design work, they are quite impressively realised, if not altogether elegant in their mobility. The three of them each have a slightly different colour scheme, which is helpful for us to tell them apart, something that isn't particularly necessary, considering the three of them share about two minutes of total screen time at the end of episode four, but it remains a nice touch nonetheless. They also appear to have taken a leaf out of the Silurians' book by attempting to kill humanity with a plague. Maybe it's a reptilian thing? Michael Melia does a decent enough job, which is actually quite a compliment when one considers that he essentially had to rely on his voice alone to carry the part.
Their android makes an effective henchman, silent and pretty implacable for the most part. He is used best in his Grim Reaper disguise, and it's a shame that he wasn't shot in darker lighting in this guise. He is somewhat less effective when he removes his cloak, being just a bit too sparkly to convey much sense of menace. It's almost as if the Terileptils, for reasons that can only be attributed to the subtle idiosyncrasies of the reptilian mind, decided that a crucial part of his construction process was for them to raid a box of costume jewellery.
For an Eric Saward story, The Visitation is much less inclined towards the violence and cynicism that marked his later works. As a writer, he does seem to have a fondness for violence and people with guns, be they soldiers or mercenaries; the troopers in Earthshock, Lytton and the army soldiers in Resurrection of the Daleks, Lytton's gang in Attack of the Cybermen and Orcini in Revelation of the Daleks. Richard Mace fulfils this role, although his potential rougher edges are hidden under a layer of charm and likeableness. But Saward was essentially script editor for the entirety of the Davison and Colin Baker eras, barring a few stories from Season 19, and his rather grim, pessimistic style can be seen right across this time period. There are certain allusions in The Visitation to some of the tropes that informed his later work but only superficially; the virus theme of Resurrection of the Daleks for example. The Visitation is set against the backdrop of the Black Death, and, although this constitutes a significant plot point, the actual presence of the disease is implied rather than seen.
Linking the resolution of the story in with actual historical events - the Great Fire of London - is a neat touch but I'm in two minds as to how I feel about the way it's done. Depending on one's opinion, it is either a subtle and clever twist about which no fuss is made, or it's a hastily tacked on afterthought about which not enough fuss is made. Watching The Visitation again made me lean towards the latter school of thought, and I couldn't help but feel that the final shot of the Pudding Lane street sign catching fire was far too off the cuff. But having had time to calm down and reflect... You know what? Maybe it is a clever little move that doesn't patronise the audience by lingering on it. A quick nod to actual historical events thrown in as a final twist, cue theme music, roll credits. I'm feeling generous enough to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Atmosphere is a very important aspect of storytelling for me. It's why stories such as Horror of Fang Rock, Image of the Fendahl and The Stones of Blood rate very highly with me. The Visitation has this in part but unfortunately doesn't manage to sustain it for very long. Their are moments when Paddy Kingsland's music almost evokes State of Decay but unfortunately the mood doesn't last. Everything centred around the manor house in part one does the job brilliantly but it all fades away with the beginning of part two. A shame...
The Visitation works well on the whole, but it has its faults, and at times it feels like it isn't quite equal to the sum of its parts. Some of it should have been edited a little snappier; for example, the scene in the cellar with the android at the beginning of part two. I find myself feeling this way about a lot of 1980s Doctor Who, but perhaps that is maybe one of the downsides of viewing it with modern eyes: we automatically expect everything to be edited on a knife edge. It's based around one of the classic Doctor Who tropes, the aliens in an historical setting trying to alter the course of human history for their own ends. The historical setting is not as effective as, say, The Masque of Mandragora and the attempted perversion of human history is not as well done as, for example, The Time Warrior, but it remains serviceable enough. It suffers from a case of too many companions and not enough guest characters, and some of the dialogue is a little unwieldy, but still it remains a fairly engaging story from a pretty strong season. If there was some way to remove Adric from the equation, then it would automatically go up several notches in my estimation, but, alas, we must work with what we have been given...