Doctor Who: The Visitation

"I have appeared before some of the most hostile audiences in the world. Today I met death in a cellar. But I have never been so afraid until I met the man with the scythe."

It's been a long time since Doctor Who did a period piece.

'The Visitation' was the first story written by future script-editor Eric Seward and it is standard Who fare with lots of running around and everyone getting locked up at least once per episode. The villains, the Terileptil, are disappointingly run of the mill baddies. All they want to do is conquer the Earth for one reason or another. As for their android minion, it is just too bright and sparkly to have any kind of menace.

The best thing this story has going for it is its period setting, the 17th-century, a time of plague, witch trials, frightening hair styles and hammy Thespians turned hammy highwaymen. If 'The Visitation' had been set in the present day or the future I don't think it would be as fun as it is. This is the first story since 'Horror of Fang Rock' in 1977 where the Doctor and his companions have visited Earth's past. I've always preferred stories set in the past, mostly because the show usually did them so well. The production staff, even with the limited resources available to them, were always more adept at recreating the past than they were at envisioning the future.

I liked the character of Richard Mace. This is the second story this season, the first being 'Kinda', where the Doctor has gained a temporary companion who is a lot more fun and interesting that his current companions. Mace's the kind of colourful, larger than life character we haven't seen in a while. He adjusts rather well to all the extraordinary things going on in this story. With Mace as the Doctor's primary companion throughout the story, the others are left to scramble for screentime.

Notes and Quotes

--The Richard Mace character had previously featured in three plays - The Assassin (1974), Pegasus (1975) and The Nemesis Machine (1976) - that Eric Seward had written for BBC Radio 4.

--Nyssa says Tegan will be returned to Earth only half an hour after she left and it will be as if nothing has happened. Err, are we forgetting the murder of her aunt? Oh, seems that we are.

--The explosion of the Terileptil leader's weapon is the cause of the Great Fire of London. At the end of 'Pyramids of Mars' the Doctor says that he doesn't want to be blamed for causing a fire as he had 'had enough of that in 1666'.

--The movement of the Terileptil leader's mask was achieved with animatronics, a first for Doctor Who, but it is very basic and doesn't sync up well with the voice of the actor, who is clearly trying to act his way through the costume.

--Nyssa goes back to the TARDIS and... makes her bed? Priorities, Nyssa! Your friends are being held prisoner. This is no time for spring cleaning.

--The Doctor doesn't seem at all bothered that he has inadvertently caused a fire that consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul's Cathedral and most of the buildings of the City authorities. The exact death toll is unknown since the deaths of many poor and middle-class people were not recorded. Then again, his reaction isn't really all that surprising. This is the face he made when he found out he (indirectly) caused Rome to be burned:

The Doctor. Closet arsonist. 
--The Doctor's sonic screwdriver is destroyed by the Terileptil leader. This was because producer John Nathan-Turner felt that it was too easy a way of solving the Doctor's problems.

Terileptil: "Where is this Doctor from?"
Tegan: "He's never told us. He likes to be mysterious, although he talks a lot about... er... Guildford. I think that's where he comes from."
Terileptil: "You're being a very stupid woman."
Tegan: "That isn't a very original observation."

The Doctor: "How do you feel now?"
Tegan: "Groggy, sore and bad tempered."
The Doctor: "Almost your old self."

Two out of four destroyed sonic screwdrivers.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.


FlopHairedWuss said...

Never seen this one but isn't it the one where The Doctor basically runs away and leaves the companions to fend for themselves?

While I love Peter Davison, I've never been a big fan of his Doctor. He's too nice, too much of pushover and occasionally comes across as a coward. The only stories where he's really come alive are Enlightenment and the last parts of Caves. He was excellent in Time Crash as well but that didn't really feel like this Doctor. Peter Davison said he would prefer to have played The Doctor when he was older and I think he was right.

Peter Davison is a great comedic actor and I felt the decision to tone down the comedy was a big mistake. Humour is an important part of The Doctor's character and without it he's a lot less interesting.

Great review

John said...

I can't watch this without thinking how much better it would've been if Robert Holmes wrote it. Mace would've had a wise-cracking manservant. The middle class family in the opening scene, instead of being massacred, would've been captured and hypnotized by the Terleptil, except for the prodigal son who hid away, and sacrificed himself at the end to save them. The cliffhangers might've actually been interesting.

I'll bet that Saward intended this to be set in 1666 London, but because of the budgetary problems involved, all but the final scene had to be moved to a suburban village with a population of five.

And this story got Eric Saward hired as script editor? What was JNT smoking?