The VisitationBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 March 2004 - Reviewed by 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 regularsÂ…

'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 faultÂ… 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!