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The Visitation

story 120 | season 19 | serial 5x
Brian C Williams

The Visitation was a story I missed when I watched the series when I was younger and did not get the chance to watch it until it received its release on DVD. From that first DVD viewing though I enjoyed the story right off but that viewing was during a very busy day so I did not get to do my usual ready to enjoy a story ritual of something to eat, something to drink, and sit down with the lights down to enjoy. But even when my attention was elsewhere I could see that I was sorry to not have caught the story when broadcast on my local PBS station in Virginia. I revisited the story on a whim after reading a few comments on the web about how much of a dislike a few people had for the Davidson era of Doctor Who television stories. I totally disagreed with this but thought I should give those stories a look over again. Not having all the stories in my library at home I picked out The Visitation since I only viewed it that one rushed day and sat down with food, drink, and turned down lights and watched the story.

There are several things, lots to be honest that I enjoy about this story. Even the android with artistic style was cool as pasted in hints at the shades of crashed aliens to Earth who are not just war mongers but have different sides to their culture. The outdoor filming and the sets I thought where very well done. The famed word thrown at Doctor Who all the time I do not see in this story, that word being low budget. Even the other person in my life who came home while I was watching and laughed out loud at the enlarged rat in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang did not make her normal comments about those type of aspects with this story. I think that had more to do with the quality and creativity put into the film and design work of the story than even the story itself. Visually and with atmosphere it can appeal to viewers new and old to the series.

The actors all I think performed well to their characters. The Tardis crew at this time is packed yes by one too many members as just about everyone has said but I thought all put in little touches that worked for theirs characters. Three very young actors is not in my view the way to go in this type of series for many reasons and add another strong character and acting performance in this story in the form of a highwayman and you have companion overload reducing Nyssa to being in the Tardis to build a weapon just in case the android shows up there? And the others left being captured. Adric is the pain I have always argued the character is meant to be but with him just as with Tegan you have to wonder sometimes how anyone could put up with being around them for long periods of time, especially anyone as interesting as the characters of The Doctor and Nyssa. I never did not like the performances or the characters when it comes to Adric and Tegan I more than anything else hated the fact that such an optionally great companion like Nyssa never got to be used properly because of the companion overload.

The story in its basics is very simple and that is why I believe it works more than some other stories because it really lets you enjoy the atmosphere set up for you and gives Davidson as The Doctor moments to really work with. Beings from another world crash land on Earth and chaos comes from that which The Doctor must stop. Simple is not always wrong. My only real problem with the story of Visitation is why must we always have mind-controlled humans or primitives as they often end up being called? I think that is one of those easy outs my professors’ use to red ink me for in college. Plus am I the only one tired of them in science fiction? Besides giving extras work, and I’m all for giving extras work having more than a few friends working within the business at around that level, but I just think the plot could have been raised out from the normal into the best effort from the writer if this connivance would not have been used to travel a story from different points of story to other points. And if you are going to have a big Tardis crew I say why not just make them the brain washed slaves?

I have to single out some thoughts on the 5th Doctor in The Visitation. The 5th Doctor has always been my favorite. Though I grew up enjoying and loving the stories of Tom Baker it was the 5th Doctor and Peter Davidson’s performances which really got me into enjoying the character to the point of wishing to view stories from Doctor’s 1-3. I think in this story he shows that edge that The First Doctor had but mixed with the kindness that I think was within The 2nd Doctor. The 5th Doctor was limited in ways of not being able to delve as much into comedy as his 4th incarnation and with too many companions for most of his run and a lot of stories with loads of promise from which they failed to reach. I think many have looked past his contribution in ways I think are a misjudgment. If anything I look actually at the era of the 5th Doctor on TV as the one which had the most chances at being great but for whatever reasons seems to have fallen short a lot. But when I look back at all the Doctor Who stories it is The 5th Doctor who reminds me that this being is not another character calling himself The Doctor but the same man traveling the universe and inducing rage from lots of people along the way. That point I think is very important to the character to do that without throwing out two much canon facts or being dark and mysterious just to be dark and mysterious.

To end up I say I would give The Visitation a 7 out of 10 for Doctor Who fans and 4 out of 10 for new to the series viewers. Older fans I think will enjoy it if they get past some of the flows with the companion structure and the writer trying to figure out what to do with them. New viewers will maybe get cross eyed at references to Kinda and Tegan’s situation of trying to get home but I think everyone could enjoy this story for what it is and that is one of the best 5th Doctor television stories. If you like Peter Davidson’s acting as The Doctor or are a fan of the way The First Doctor was on screen for that matter give The Visitation a try.

Paul Clarke

After the multi-layered and rewarding 'Kinda', 'The Visitation' is a far more straightforward Doctor Who story and by comparison with its predecessor seems almost shallow. Nevertheless, it contains much to enjoy.

The plot of 'The Visitation' is very simple; an alien spacecraft lands in an historical period of Earth, and its small number of occupants decides to exterminate the population so that they can have the planet for themselves. Rather like a cross between 'The Time Warrior' and 'Terror of the Zygons' in fact. Add to this one android, only a single supporting character of any real note, and some mind-controlled locals, and it all adds up to pretty standard fair. Nevertheless, this standard fair immediately evokes a feeling of traditional Doctor Who, and setting any kind of story produced by the BBC in a period setting virtually guarantees decent sets and costumes. 'The Visitation' is no exception, and whilst it lacks the depth of 'Kinda', it benefits from looking far more impressive, with an authentic looking mansion house, convincingly scruffy peasants, and some fine location filming.

With very little characterisation of the various villages on display, the only real character of note aside from the principle villain is Richard Mace, a thespian come highwayman who almost steals the show. If I was feeling uncharitable, I might suggest that writer and new script-editor Eric Saward should have found the character easy enough to write for, as he apparently appeared in three BBC Radio 4 plays also penned by Saward, but the fact remains that he is a hugely entertaining character. Michael Robbins plays Mace with aplomb, bringing out the characters various characteristics (an amusing combination of alternating cowardice and courage, wit and bemusement) to great effect. In particular, Mace almost forms a double act with the Doctor which is great fun to watch, the former a man out of his depth and struggling to cope, the latter increasingly impatient with his new friend's struggle to grasp concepts new to him, including aliens, androids, and spaceships. The problem with Mace however, is that Saward seems so interested in writing for him that this has obvious repercussions for three of the regulars…

'The Visitation' is the first Davison story in which, for me, the excess of companions is painfully obvious. In 'Castrovalva', Adric's abduction by the Master sidelined him and allowed the story to focus more on Tegan and Nyssa, whereas in 'Four to Doomsday' and especially 'Kinda' Nyssa was to a greater or lesser extent kept in the background to allow the story focus on Adric and Tegan. Here, with Mace effectively acting as an additional companion and stealing some of the limelight, Saward juggles Tegan, Nyssa and Adric more or less equally, which actually makes it more obvious that he doesn't really know what to do with them than actually having one of them sleeping in the TARDIS for the duration of the story would. Nyssa admittedly gets to show off her scientific background by assembling the TARDIS' sonic booster and destroying the android, but for the most part the three of them take it in turns to either run around in search of each other and the Doctor, get captured, or follow the Doctor around so that he can explain the plot. On the other hand, whilst none of them get the chance to shine, none of them especially annoy; Adric inevitably comes close, but it goes without saying by this point that his character is childish, petulant, and obnoxious. Waterhouse is at least better here than in 'Kinda', although points are deducted for his unconvincing stumble when Adric sprains his ankle. In addition to all of this, the more irritating aspects of Saward's writing are on display here, although perhaps because Anthony Root is script-editor on this story, they are kept to a minimum; nevertheless, the early scenes in the TARDIS in which the Doctor and his companions recap plot elements from 'Kinda' for no good reason create a horrible soap-opera feel that will become increasingly evident during Saward's tenure as script editor.

The main villain of 'The Visitation' is the Terileptil leader who is reasonably well scripted and who is convincingly acted by Michael Melia. The Terileptil leader is pretty aggressive, bad tempered character, and Melia conveys his short temper very effectively. Unfortunately, he's also a bit one-dimensional; Saward attempts to flesh out Terileptil culture by scripting lines about their dual obsession with art and war (the Terileptil leader objects to the idea of a life without grace and beauty) and he also makes it clear that the leader is an escaped convict who probably doesn't fairly represent all Terileptils, but it all feels like a bit of a token gesture. Having said that, the Terileptils' appreciation for art is reflected in the design of the android, which makes for a nice touch. It probably doesn't help that nowadays any alien race that it is ruthless but obsessed with honour automatically reminds me of a certain race from a popular American science fiction franchise that I'm none too fond of, but that is hardly Saward's fault… Despite all of this however, the Terileptil leader makes for a suitably nasty and ruthless villain, and he also benefits from a great costume, which makes early and effective use of animatronics in the series. Since I've mentioned the android, it also works well as a silent and impassive enforcer and its costume is impressive, save for the cricket gloves, which always look like exactly what they are.

Finally, I should mention Peter Davison, whose performance here is one of my favourites in the role. He is increasingly frustrated and irascible throughout, which really gives the impression that all of the authority of most of his previous incarnations, plus a great deal of knowledge and experience, is trapped in too young a body. Unlike the Fourth Doctor, the Fifth seems to find it more difficult to inspire trust in his companions, possibly because he appears to be not that much older than they are. This is especially true in Episode Four, when he obviously grows tired of being constantly questioned by Adric and Tegan and frequently snaps. It is an interesting interpretation, and one that will remain in evidence throughout much of Davison's tenure in the role. Moreover, it is another reason why 'The Visitation', for all that it feels largely inconsequential, remains thoroughly pleasant to watch. And if none of that convinces you, it's worth watching for two other things: the Doctor starting the Great Fire of London, and the destruction of the sonic screwdriver!