The Visitation: DVD Special

Written by:
Eric Saward
Directed by: Peter Moffatt
Starring: Peter Davison
Year: 1982
Video Availability: Try

I'm writing this review straight off the back of news that The Visitation is to be the first DVD release of 2004. Quite frankly, for a choice of Davison release it surprises me: in the same season alone, never mind the whole of his tenure, then there are at least three superior stories. Okay, that's only my opinion, but if you didn't want my opinion then you wouldn't be reading this, would you? What do you mean, you don't? Go on, then - bugger off! See if I care!

For the story that got Eric Saward the job of script editor (big mistake) then it's also generic and uninspired. The plot? Doctor uncovers race of aliens trying to poison the Earth in 1666. Accidentally knocks over torch and burns them alive. The end. That's it. What a crap plot!

This opening episode starts off with some guff about a medieval robot and Fred Elliot from Coronation St.. It meanders about meaning well, and the set and lighting do look right, even if the performances are stagy. John Baker and Valerie Fyfer - you're not on the stage, you're on the f***** telly! Stop overplaying yer lines, you pair o' bloody fannies!

Worst of all, it's filled with the terrible trio of Nyssa (plank), Tegan (improving, but still ropy) and Adric (just don't get me bloody started). Yet even Peter struggles with the awful blocked in and set-up Tardis scenes. "Just because you get away with something, doesn't justify it." Quite right, Pete - that goes for your whole performance here. The awful Peter Moffatt struggles with the whole camera set-up in the console room, but on location he improves in terms of shots, if not portrayals. And in a worrying sign of Saward's later influence, he has the Tardis crew as an all-action, kick-ass combo, Adric instinctively crouching behind a man so the girls can push him over him, while Davison tees off the jab with another. Do they practise these manoeuvres or something? Maybe they get the SAS in to give 'em some tips? Before this exceptionally poor piece of stunt work we also get "Look, Doctor", which is the sort of thing that makes you wish it was made compulsory to give Waterhouse a kick in the bollocks.

I imagined this first episode would only warrant a short, establishing review but there's actually so much ineptitude on display here that I almost don't have room for it all. Adric's ankle twist is yet another low point, while I've yet to read a review of this story that doesn't make the "Richard Mace is Saward wanting to be Holmes" connection. Actually, even though I usually hate this kind of self-conscious character, it is quite clever. Michael Robbins plays a hammed-up luvvie, sending up the acting profession in front of a group of actors. And Matthew Waterhouse.

Things end on a "not really a cliffhanger but we couldn't come up with anything better" note when the Doctor is believed to have disappeared. I remember watching this as a ten-year-old boy and, were I a foul-mouthed cynic like I am today, then my thought would have been "who gives a shit?"
* * *

I have a headache at the present, so this is doing my blood pressure no good at all. I hate stock SF, the sort of programme like Voyager where relationships between the leads are encouraged not because they arise out of the situation, but because the makers feel they need them to satisfy a dynamic. That doesn't happen here, but instead we get another stock requirement (see Enterprise) - the "humorous" quips necessity. After Adric's devastating rejoinder to Richard Mace in the first instalment ("Hello?") here we get Tegan informing the highway robber that "we're not on a highway". It's the sort of thing that makes you question whether or not Noel Coward really died. Saward's writing is full of this, artificial requirements overriding the need for genuine narrative - he's the spiritual heir to the Nation throne. (And that's going to sound like I'm repeating myself if you read Earthshock after this - I wrote that first, and made the same point). If you think this sort of thing is an exaggeration, then bear in mind that this is the only episode of the series where the Doctor says "friendly neighbourhood axeman".

While the sets in this one are okay for the show, the Terribleleptils are appalling rubbery pap, alarmingly reminiscent of the similarly plastic Morlock in Timelash. Or is that the Bandrils I'm thinking of? No disrespect to Michael Melia who does a fine job with his ranty role (Imagine it done by Stephen Thorne), but the costume just makes it the cheapo monster show that the general public assume Doctor Who always to be.

The cliffhanger is another lacklustre piece, where the Doctor says "not again!" when he's about to be decapitated. As you would. This seems a particularly silly thing to say, actually, as by referring to the fact that he's been in a similar situation before (At the time I thought he meant just another regeneration, but looking back it's probably an anal reference to an identical predicament in Four To Doomsday) makes the audience realise how tedious it's all getting. What a great idea for a cliffhanger, eh? "God, this is repetitive shit" says the Doctor. How much better other so-called "classic" cliffhangers would have been if they'd followed the same suit. The Deadly Assassin, Episode Three - "If you're going to drown me then just get on with it, cos I really couldn't give a shit either way." The Daleks, Episode One - "So you're the Daleks, are you? Look, just do me a favour and piss off, it's my time of the month and I really can't be f***ed to tell you the truth." I'm a potty-mouthed heathen, aren't I? But there's nothing like a tacky 80s story to get the swears flowing - and this is every inch a tacky 80s story.
* * ½

Paddy Kingsland's music is good, if reminiscent of the Logopolis/Castrovalva themes. Anyway, this is the boring episode, a run around where the Doctor spends the episode trying to escape, only to be freed anyway… then locked back up. Then he gets released once more by the Terribleleptil… so he can lock him back up somewhere else. It's water-treading, and Matthew Waterhouse - who I normally stick up for - gives arguably his worst ever performance in this story. Blowing up the sonic screwdriver is probably a nice way to remove a lazy writer's device (ironic, that, in a Saward story), but what's to stop the Doctor just making another? Meanwhile, Nyssa spends the entire episode making a vibrating device so big it has to be pushed around on a trolley. Blimey - she must have a bucket!

Oh, Anorak, that was just so crude…
* * ½

The final episode trudges towards its mediocre conclusion, and I'm all for letting people have their own opinion, but it does trouble me when people praise substandard stuff like this and The Three Doctors. You want to shake people and ask them to look with fresh eyes. Okay, The Visitation is average rather than dire, so I can appreciate some people liking it. But wanting it to be released onto DVD ahead of, say, Kinda or Snakedance? Crazy.

"I didn't realise their technology was so advanced" says Peter of the Terribleleptils' technology, despite the fact that it's just a few plastic panels with a white flashing light behind them. Nyssa finally finishes off her one-setting vibrating machine, which has taken her over 200 seconds of screentime to do. I know, I know - but I'm the Anorak, it's my job. And doesn't Adric fight like a girl? Nyssa's machine actually blows the android up, because he just can't take the movement. Plus, she's been dreaming all week - of changing his name, from android, to has been android. His name's has been android now.

I never noticed before how fake the long shot opitical illusion of 1666 London looks, but somehow the lighting and film stock do give a genuiine feel of the time. Rare in Who, you almost feel as if you have stepped back into the past. All, that is, until they step over into video for the final show down. Michael Melia's Terribleleptil underlings are so camp it's untrue - the most mincing aliens in Who history? One of them limps violently towards Richard Mace - who dressed her this morning? Another tries to rush the Doctor, but he's such an old queen that even Davison turns round and gives him a bitch-slap.

Questions abound - like why does the futuristic, high-tech Tardis have old maps on its scanner? Why does Nyssa's device start vibrating before she switches it on? And how does the Doctor drop a flaming torch on video, yet it lands on film? As if to paper over such dubious shortcomings, the story ends with Mace, now no longer needed, buggering off tenuously, and the Doctor making a smug little reference to having started the Great Fire of London, almost winking at the camera as he does so. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha - now f*** off!
* * *

If ever someone wrote a script to show the bare bones of how Who works, the The Visitation would probably be it. A standard four-parter, we get the requisite chases, cell conversations, thinly motivated aliens and pat resolution. It's average Who, so made to production line standards it barely has its own identity at all. Still, someone must love it.
* * *


Okay, so I bought this crap, but only because I knew someone who wanted it as a present. Peter and his wrecking crew have long been the daddies of the commentary set, but sadly here - and I'm not just saying this because I don't like the story very much - smug complacency has begun to set in. It's still amusing, in parts, but there's that slight coasting feeling, and the very real sense that the commentators aren't anywhere near as funny as they think they are. Peter even remarks "I always have to do these commentaries" which isn't a pointed statement, but does reveal much on a subconscious level. Keeping this psychological theme then much of their rowdy banter centres around slagging off Michael Robbins, which is a classic case of transference if ever I've heard it. It's still probably a top ten listen, but is a worrying sign of possible future decline from the team, with the number of times they reference previous commentaries a clear pointer to how indulgent it's starting to become. Thankfully bonkers director Peter Moffatt is on hand to liven it up, with off-hand remarks about Michael Jackson and the "turgid" music by Paddy Kingsland. Yet when the normally insightful Davison can't remember a thing about the story you do have to worry about the drop in quality control.
As for the info text, then I had my contacts out and was reading it with glasses, but is it just me or is it harder to read than normal? It's the usual standard stuff, though I must confess I'd never noticed the disappearing celery before.

Just under seventy minutes of extras on this one, the majority being specially created features rather than archival pieces:

Durecting Who - Peter Moffatt (26'12m)/Writing A Final Visitation (12'50m): A great idea this: mini-documentaries on the writer and director, Eric Saward and Peter Moffatt. Let's hope they soon release Silver Nemesis, so we can get features on that other great writing/directing team, Kevin Clarke and Chris Clough. Still, you do get to hear Saward making lots of queeny snipes at the production, and to be fair, while I don't rate Moffatt as a director his piece is fascinating.

Scoring The Visitation (16'18m): A wittering Mark Ayres questions Paddy Kingsland over his incidental score and occasionally lets him get a word in edgeways. Parkinson said to be "untroubled" by Mark's interviewing style.

Film Trims (5'31m): Making this a complete package are fourteen examples of additional shots and alternate takes, which is rewarding if tedious.

Photo Gallery (5'12m): More images (47 to be exact), more deeply, deeply irritating sound effects. Is there really anyone who buys these discs and actually likes a "boing!" noise over the top of the photos? They keep doing it, I'll keep moaning…

Easter Egg (Spoiler!, 1'27m): Six continuity announcements for the story, which are inessential but likeable. Lastly, I should also mention the "music only" option on the soundtrack.

I feel for DVD scores then on reflection I've been a bit too harsh with these Who discs. When you compare them to other DVDs on the market, then they're superb, but comparing the Visitation DVD to other discs in the Who range means it's slightly below par. So as a DVD release full stop then add an extra star, but for a Doctor Who disc then it's:

* * *