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The Visitation

Reviewed by Nigel Flockhart

Well after the irritating studio-bound fake jungles of Kinda it was indeed refreshing to get another location story - all so few and far between in these days of cost limitations.

The Visitation is one of my personal favourites of the Fifth Doctor's era, beaten at the post for top story of Season 19 by that general consensus classic Earthshock.

Penned by the then script editor Eric Saward, it had just the right blend of scenery, action, good supporting characters and impressive design to keep me entertained for four episodes.

Peter Davison's Doctor was finally at ease in the part and was given a good script that allowed him to fill out his character and add many sides to the personality. The cast performed well as the typical superstitious village rebels of 17th century Earth with particular credit going to the Richard Mace character. He worked well as the perfect foil of a sceptical, cowardly yet flamboyant highwayman to the Doctor's curious yet determined scientist.

The sets also showed good imagination on behalf of the designers - not only to get a slice of alien culture but also a glimpse of our own history. The Terileptils, commissioned from Richard Gregory's Imagineering company, were a definite plus. Although the bulky claws annoyed, the moving head and mouth parts and the beautiful magenta eyes more than made up for it to give them the unworldly feel they needed rather than the typical 'Man in a Rubber Suit' stereotype that has plagued Doctor Who for some time.

The lines exchanged between the Terileptil and the Doctor are pure brilliance and help to show the leader as more of a ruthless survivalist than a megalomaniac. E.g.:
Doctor: "That's not much of an argument."
Leader: "It's not supposed to be an argument, it's a statement."

The android I liked as Death the Grim Reaper, though I have a nagging feeling I have seen a similar design before. Remember Jedikiah, the shape-changing robot, in that terribly tacky TV show The Tomorrow People. (A programme in which Peter Davison appeared!).

For many fans this is known as the story where Davison loses the sonic screwdriver. Yes well, when it was blasted I did think 'sacrilege!' but there is a very good story reason why it received the chop, so to speak. Personally, I feel it was suffering from the 'K9 Syndrome' i.e. it was saving the Doctor far too often. (Used in all three previous stories, reinforced by Adric's reference to it in Kinda).

Irony was used again, to great effect, in this story, answering another unsolved question from our past i.e. the Great Fire of London. The only problem with this is that it can be used too much (as in the FASA role-playing game) and pretty soon every little strange thing that goes on is caused by extra-terrestrial influence. On the problems side was the fact that the alien labs and escape pod wouldn't just rot away and would tend to pose a few problems to the archaeologists.

Nyssa, I found, was a pain in the neck as the know-it-all i.e. soiliton gas, sonic booster. This doesn't last however (perhaps due to Adric's later demise) and she develops into the intelligent, impetuous young woman that she is, becoming more of a Romana type character (as in Arc of Infinity). The only other real quibble is the scene where Adric gets captured by the villagers in Part Four. This was a complete waste of time and the android could easily have gained access to the TARDIS when Adric first went back to the ship. Incidentally his usefulness is played down here and merely marks the path towards his termination two stories later.

Finally the book. Well what can I say - written by the author with gems of descriptive text to fill out the plot i.e. the fox at the start and the fleshing out of the characters who own the house and who are disposed of all too soon. The cover, although fairly plain, was the first of the fifth Doctor's and is far better than those awful Castrovalva and Arc of Infinity ones. Saward's dedication to Paula Woolsey, his girlfriend, is a nice touch (one of the few in Doctor Who novels) and merely reinforces the care and consideration that was taken when the story was written.

This item appeared in TSV 10 (December 1988).

Index nodes: The Visitation