The visitation (1982)
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This is a four-part serial, first broadcast between 15th - 23rd February 1982. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: when the Doctor tries to drop off Tegan so she can get on with her job as an air hostess, the Tardis arrives at the right place, Heathrow, at the wrong time, 1666. The Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric find themselves caught between aliens who intend to wipe them out along with everyone else on earth, and local yokels who simply want to kill them for reasons of their own. They do manage to save the planet, even if they start the Great Fire of London and the sonic screwdriver goes up in flames.
Out with the old, in with the new… When Eric Saward wrote 'The visitation' he knew that Peter Davison would take over as the Doctor, but he'd never seen him in the part. He had also received conflicting information regarding the number of companions he would be writing for, and he hadn't watched the series in recent years. Nevertheless, he would go on to become script editor for Doctor Who and to write several other serials for the Davison era.
The good news:
- 'The visitation' shows some of Eric Saward's qualities that would also be apparent in serials like 'Earthshock' and 'Resurrection of the Daleks'. The tone for the story is set in an excellent, intriguing opening scene. When the Tardis arrives on the scene the story starts to unfold at a steady pace, and even if not everything that happens in the story actually makes sense, there's rarely a dull moment
- the serial is a period piece, something that (forgive me for repeating myself once more) Doctor Who always does well, and the sets and the costumes look great
- in thespian and highwayman Richard Mace the serial has a highly entertaining supporting character who almost ends up - ahem - stealing the show
- the story makes an effort to give the bad guys a background and valid reasons for their actions
- there's a good incidental score, once again composed by a member of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
- the bad guys' android looks cool
The somewhat good news:
- the bad guys are clearly guys in lizard-suits. Then again, they're considerably better lizard-suits than the ones in 'The leisure hive'
The not so good news:
- the interaction between the regulars has a tendency to devolve into bad soap-opera. Unfortunately, this too would be a recurring feature in stories by Eric Saward
- Davison is clearly working hard here, but he seems still busy finding his feet in the part. Other performances seem to be somewhat one-note. Of the regulars, Adric whines a lot, Tegan emotes a lot, and Nyssa appears to be under the influence of strong tranquillisers. Richard Mace is a great character, but the actor delivers almost every line in exactly the same way which starts to grate after a while
- the companions aren't used well in this story, doing little more than bickering, wandering through the woods and getting captured. The exception is Nyssa, who builds a sonic booster and uses this to destroy the alien invaders' near-indestructible android
The puzzling bits:
- Nyssa, the android and the sonic booster. First, we see Nyssa serenely moving about in the Tardis, taking the time to rearrange her bedroom furniture before starting to tinker without any apparent sense of purpose or urgency. And then, at the exact moment when Nyssa has built the sonic booster and has just completed a successful test run, the android enters her bedroom and is duly blown up
- the miraculous escape. When, in part four, the Doctor, Tegan and Mace are locked up in a cellar, the Doctor decides to use Mace's gun to shoot out the lock of the cellar door. Although he clearly misses the lock, as is pointed out by Mace, the door opens anyway
Not a must-see serial, but pretty entertaining.
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