Review: Doctor Who - The Visitation (Special Edition) / Cert: TBC / Director: Peter Moffatt / Screenplay: Eric Saward / Starring: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse, Michael Robbins, Michael Melia / Release Date: May 6th 2013
1982‘s ‘The Visitation’, Peter Davison’s fourth televised serial (but one of his first recorded to allow him to bed into his new role at the Doctor before taping his debut), plays to the BBC’s traditional strengths in producing atmospheric, authentic period drama. The period in question here is the seventeenth century as the TARDIS pitches up in the English countryside as the Great Plague is spreading fear and terror across the land. The Doctor and his chums - mouthy Aussie air stewardess Tegan (Fielding) and bland teens Nyssa (Sutton) and Adric (Waterhouse) - team-up with colourful highwayman Richard Mace (a fruity performance from On the Buses star Robbins) to investigate a nearby mysteriously abandoned manor house and some strange alien artefacts. Eric Saward’s script isn’t hugely sophisticated or well-populated; the dialogue is frequently clunky and laboured, Mace is the only real supporting character and he’s drawn in simplistic broad strokes with none of the flashes of wit and extravagance a writer like Robert Holmes might have brought to the character. But it’s colourful and fast-moving, enlivened by lots of atmospheric location footage and in the Terileptils (creaky man-sized reptiles based on tropical fish) the show is at least trying to create an iconic new Doctor Who monster even though they’re probably best remembered these days as a very early example of the show dabbling with primitive animatronic effects techniques. Davison is in fine testy form (and looks suitably aghast when the legendary sonic screwdriver is blown up) and when the action shifts in the final episode to a bakery in Pudding Lane it turns out that the Doctor is, yet again, fundamentally responsible for triggering a momentous and well-documented historical event.
Newly-commissioned special features include ‘Grim Tales’ in which Davison, Sutton and Fielding, along with Mark Strickson who played Turlough in the following season, yomp about Black Park in search of the serial’s filming locations before settling down for a slice of TARDIS cake at the manor house location. Contributions from guest cast and crew are interspersed amongst good-natured chat between the core cast. The topical ‘Television Centre of the Universe - Part One’ sees former Blue Peter presenter Yvette Fielding (no relation) take Davison, Fielding and Strickson on a down-memory-lane trip of the by-now largely abandoned Televison Centre as they recall (complete with slightly maudlin background music) their time together on Doctor Who. ‘Doctor Forever - The Apocalypse Element’ is a bizarrely-named feature which looks at the history of Doctor Who on audio and how the Big Finish range has thrived despite the return of Doctor Who to TV.
‘The Visitation’ may not be one of the Doctor Who greats but it’s one of the few stories from the troubled 1980s which bears revisiting (yes, I know…) and the crisp remastering of the episodes and the meaty new special features are likely to be enough to encourage Doctor Who devotees to dig deep and double-dip.
Extras: Commentary, Directing Who - Peter Moffatt, Writing a Final Visitation, Scoring the Visitation, Grim Tales, Television Centre of the Universe, Doctor Forever, Gallery, Production subtitles, Trailer.