Doctor Who #575: The Visitation Part 1

"Well, they've certainly let the grass grow since I was last there." "Well, actually, they haven't built the airport yet. We're about three hundred years early." "That's great. Perhaps I can go out, file a claim on the land. When they get round to inventing the aircraft, I'll make a fortune."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD in both standard and Special Edition. First aired Feb.15 1982.

IN THIS ONE... A falling star brings aliens to 17th-century England. The Doctor and friends meet Richard Mace, thespian and highwayman.

REVIEW: One change John Nathan-Turner brought to the series is coming into focus in this episode and manifesting as padding. JNT wanted more continuity between stories, so it's now standard for a serial to start with references to the previous story. In this case, the episode must have been under-running because there's a LOT of it. Adric gets scolded for trying to use the exoskeleton in Kinda and Tegan reflects on her experience with the Mara while looking into a mirror (a set-up?). We're even told what Nyssa was doing during her absence (sleeping, just sleeping). The upside is that it gives the characters a chance to interact socially. Adric mopes about Tegan not liking him, and the Doctor tries to cheer him up while managing to appear not to like him either. Tegan is on her way out (or so she thinks), but is ambivalent about it, having forged a strong bond with Nyssa. She's obviously on an emotional roller-coaster and I can't blame. She's leaving, then she isn't, and the Doctor's excuses are pretty weak. She's still the better companion because we can connect with her. Not so much with the two tech-heads who point at things a lot.

The fact this is written by Eric Saward, the script editor for the 5th and 6th Doctors, gives us a chance to see what we can expect from the next few seasons. It's an early example of his Doctor Who work, so not quite as mercilessly violent as it will later become - there's a brief fight showing the 5th Doctor knows judo and the companions team up to knock a peasant over - but his style is unmistakable in the character of Richard Mace. Saward has been accused of loving guest characters (often, mercenary types) more than he does the regulars, and Mace is certainly an indulgence on his part because it's a character he'd created for some radio play. With Mace, he's angling for a Falstaff type, a coward who speaks with false courage, and the wit is certainly there on the page. In execution, I'm far less enamored of the character than most fans, I think. Michael Robbins just doesn't do it for me. Seeing as the character used to be an actor, a certain theatricality is expected, but Robbins comes off as mannered and a little oblivious, using the same basic delivery on every line, more a comedy period character only allowed to speak in quips than an actual person.

As for the plot, it seems fairly straightforward, a pseudo-historical about aliens (and a bejeweled robot) on Earth 300 years ago. Structurally, it's got its problems. We open on a family, pretty specifically characterized as if they were going to play an important role in the story, but aside from wounding the unseen alien, the only thing they contribute is a house set for the story to take place in and are gone by the time the TARDIS lands. I don't begrudge these victims their characterization, but it does feel like a waste. More to the point, we find out just enough that an entire episode of the Doctor investigating the situation means we're in a holding pattern. He's only discovering what we already know! There are new mysteries, of course. The missing family, dangerous peasants after the heroes, a wall in the wrong place. But between the over-long TARDIS scenes, lots of running around in the forest and the slow exploration of the house, the episode is much too slow. That one can be laid at the feet of director Peter Moffatt. Hopefully, the next three episodes will pick up the pace.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's fine, and I know a lot of people like Richard Mace, but it's a little limp.


Eric TF Bat said...

Peter Moffatt is the director? Isn't that Peter Davison's real name? It must have gotten a bit confusing. Add Stephen and Georgia into the mix and it's pretty clear there's one royal road to getting a job in Doctor Who, and it's not who you know but what you're called!

Siskoid said...

No relation, of course. They do joke about it on the DVD commentary tracks where it's relevant. Moffatt also directed State of Decay, Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors, The Twin Dilemma and The two Doctors.

Craig Oxbrow said...

The long journey through Who has reached the point I really remember. Now I feel old.

(Amusingly, one of the Captcha words for this post is "hath" - both a word heard in Ye Olden Times and another aquatic Who monster...)

Siskoid said...

I love it when that happens.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Amusing Captcha, or making me feel old?

Siskoid said...

Seeing as my clearest memories if Who are third and fourth Doctor, who's the old one here?

Granted, I'm in North America, so I saw those stories in syndication after the fact. I guess my first exposure dates from the early-to-mid-80s... I was between 12 and 15, which means 1983 to 1986...

The Visitation aired in 1982... You decide who's older.


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