Originally shown in February of 1982, The Visitation is regarded by many fans as a high point in Peter Davison's run as the lead in Doctor Who. Directed by Peter Moffatt, it's a good mix of sci-fi, tension, odd history and even some effective comedy, the kind of mix that you find in the best of the series' storylines. Those who don't care for Davison in the role (he has his detractors) may want to give this one a shot regardless, as it's quite well done and a whole lot of fun.
The four part storyline begins when the TARDIS materializes and out pop The Doctor (Davison) and his companions: Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and Tegan (Janet Fielding). They were hoping to land at Heathrow, and they did, albeit three hundred years earlier than they'd anticipated. As they leave the TARDIS to explore they note the smell of sulfur in the air and are then promptly attacked by a group of seventeenth century villagers. Although they escape, they get separated. Shortly after, they meet a highwayman named Richard Mace (Michael Robbins) who squirrels them off to safety in a barn.
The discussion that ensues brings up a few points of interest that the Doctor takes note off, the first being that a comet supposedly crashed nearby. What the Doctor is more interested in, however, is the strange amulet that Mace wears around his neck. When an alien power pack is found in the barn, the Doctor ascertains that it wasn't a comet that crashed but something else entirely and they figure that there had to have been survivors. Their first course of action is to search the stately home on the property that the barn was built on, but it seems no one is home. They sneak in and find more evidence and then a holographic wall. When Tegan and Adric are assaulted in the basement by an android, it soon becomes obvious that all is not as it should be and the Doctor and his crew find themselves standing face to face with a Terileptil alien with a rather unpleasant disposition. Making matters worse is the fact that the android is terrorizing the townsfolk by dressing up as the Grim Reaper, playing off of the religious fears of the populace.
Taking The Doctor out of the future and putting him back on Earth and in the past no less is a throwback of sorts to the earlier historical stories that were so common early in the series, particularly when William Hartnell was playing the character. Here, however, we get enough sci-fi and monster insanity to provide for plenty of entertainment value and on top of that, we get decent production values too (at least decent by the standards of early eighties BBC productions). The camerawork in this serial is strong, the production designers make very good use of color throughout and if the aliens are as hokey looking as ever, there is at least some creativity on display in terms of how they've been brought to life. The costumes seen on the seventeenth century human characters in the story seem surprisingly authentic, the BBC did good work here, and the sets also add some welcome legitimacy to things which helps to balance out the fact that the aliens are obviously just men in rubber suits.
As far as the cast go, there's not much to complain about here. Davison does better than usual as the lead, doing well with some of the Doctor's more sarcastic dialogue and striking up and interesting back and forth with Robbins as Mace. Robbins is just as good, if not better, occasionally stealing the show and bringing some interesting quirk to his character, never above doing exactly what it is that highwaymen do. The companions are okay as well. Waterhouse as Adric is fine, he gets a fun fight scene towards the end, while Janet Fielding as Teagan really just isn't given as much to do as the other characters. Sarah Sutton as Nyssa is good, we can accept her as the brainy scientific type and it makes sense that the Doctor would want her around given her knowledge base and the potential for it to come in handy while travelling through time and space.
Ultimately this is one of those storylines that just works. Eric Saward's script is tightly written, the direction is well paced and efficient and the cast all deliver fine work. Time has been kind to The Visitation, it holds up admirably well.The DVD:
This installment of Doctor Who arrives on DVD in its original fullframe aspect ratio and realistically it probably couldn't look a whole lot better than it does here. While it does show its age and low budget roots, the image quality here is pretty much pristine, there are no issues with dirt or debris or any sign of color fading. The picture is stable and looks about as detailed as an early eighties television production can. Colors are bright and bold, skin tones look natural and black levels are nice and dark and show no signs of macroblocking or compression artifacts. Given how and when it was shot you realistically have to expect some softness in the picture, and there are moments where that's hard not to notice, but overall, fans should be quite impressed with what the BBC have delivered this time around.Sound:
The sole audio option on this release is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track that comes with optional subtitles available in English only. The quality of the track is fine in that it's always easy to understand and there are no problems to report in terms of hiss or distortion. There isn't a whole lot of range - this is an older mono mix after all - but the levels are well balanced and the feature sounds just fine. The score also sounds quite good, even a little punchy at times. No problems here at all, the audio is solid through and through.Extras:
Extras kick off with a commentary from cast members Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse and director Peter Moffatt carried over from the original DVD release. If you haven't had a chance to hear it before, it's a good one. There's a jovial sense of humor behind much of the talk but so too are there some interesting stories to be told about their collective experiences on this particular serial. There's some good natured ribbing as the actors discuss their characters and having to interact with certain props in ways that might make sense to the viewer, while Moffat discusses his dislike of the score and his appreciation of some of the characters and story twists. This is a fun listen, with the cast members and director obviously enjoying this stroll down memory lane and having a good time relaying some fun anecdotes.
From there we move on to the featurettes, the first of which is Directing Who: Peter Moffatt and, as you could probably guess, this is a piece in which the director's career is put under the microscope. We learn how he came on board to start with the series, what he did to stick with it for a while and what it was like working on the series. Of course, Moffatt himself is on hand to share some stories about the different actors that he worked with on the series, Colin Baker and Peter Davison in particular, and how he feels about his work on the show years after the fact. He comes across as a very relaxed, calm and nice man and he seems to look back on his work here with some genuine affection for it. Writing A Final Visitation is a talk with writer Eric Saward who talks about how he was brought on board to write this story and why. He makes some amusing observations about sequined robots, character twists and the fate of the sonic screwdriver. It's an interesting discussion and getting Saward's input on this particular storyline is something worth indulging it. Scoring The Visitation is a discussion between this serial's composer, Paddy Kingsland, and fellow musical contributor to the series, Mark Ayres. The two discuss Kingsland's style and what he was able to bring in terms of uniqueness to the series. They also make some interesting comparisons to the scores used in the James Bond films, how it was easy to go too far with the dramatic music used in the show without realizing it. Kingsland also has very complimentary things to say about director Moffatt and generally seems quite pleased with his legacy on the series' universe.
So that's already a lot of supplemental material, but there's more... a lot more - Grim Tales spends forty five minutes with Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Mark Strickson as they explore the locations used in this serial. Arriving by TARDIS, this is done very tongue in cheek style but it's quite interesting not only because it shows off the locations as they are now but because it's been edited in such a way as to allow for input from those not on location. So additionally we get input from Eric Saward and Michael Melia as well. After the locations are explored, those on location sit down for a discussion that revolves around their enjoyment of a special cake provided to them! It sounds kind of corny when you read it in text but it's a well done piece, a nice reflection back on this story and the friendships that evolved out of their working together. From there check out the thirty-two minute long The Television Centre of the Universe - Part One, in which Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and Yvette Fielding as they tour the BBC television center. It's interesting to hear their reactions to how things have changed around the building since the time they spent there together and a few surprise guests show up as they basically explore the whole thing. It's as much about the BBC as it is about Doctor Who but it's surprisingly interesting. Also worth checking out is Doctor Who Forever! The Apocalypse Element which is a twenty-seven minute segment in which we once again explore what was done in the Doctor Who universe between the time in which the series was cancelled and which it was revived. Colin Baker, Russell T. Davis and others chime in here about the audio stories that were being created with different characters.
Rounding out the extras are an isolated musical score, a few minutes of outtakes from the forth episode in this serial, a still gallery, trailers for a few other Doctor Who serials, and an optional information subtitles track - basically a fun trivia text track that plays out as you watch the episodes. Menus and episode selection are also included. For the DVD-Rom equipped, there are also some PDF materials you can dig around through if you like.Final Thoughts:
Doctor Who: The Visitation is a good one, widely regarded, and understandably so, as one of the better entries in the Peter Davison run with the character. It's a good mix of adventure, humor and suspense with some fun sci-fi trappings and a game cast. The BBC have really rolled out the red carpet for this one, loading up this two disc set with scads of extras and presenting the four part adventure in the best possible condition. Highly recommended.