Doctor Who #578: The Visitation Part 4

"I have a sneaking suspicion this fire should be allowed to run its course."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.23 1982.

IN THIS ONE... By stopping the Terileptils, the Doctor inadvertently causes the Great London Fire of 1666.

REVIEW: So having gotten rid of the sonic screwdriver FOREVER, the program immediately blows its wad on showing all the more inventive ways the character might open a door in the future. We've got lockpcking, shooting at locks with guns and hot wiring in fast succession, which may show more resourcefulness than the old standby, but doesn't bode well for variety. We've already seen it all! I guess that's why "artful dodger" Adric must die (soon, I promise). In any case, escapes are just as quick as they used to be whatever the means, so it hardly seems worth it. To lump the program's OTHER sonic device into this discussion, we've also got Nyssa vibrating the android until it explodes, an effect that has absolutely no effect on the human body or the mirror in the room... I don't buy it, nor do I find Nyssa's sadness over such a "beautiful machine" getting destroyed in any way convincing. There's no real attempt to make this emotional transference from the loss of her father and planet either. This may be a Sawardism. His era will be filled with companions who clearly don't want to be there, which I think is an affront to the show's premise. Even time-lost Ian and Barbara took the time to enjoy the experience. No wonder the Doctor is snappish and impatient with them, though that's getting tiresome too.

Another Sawardism, though it's hard to lay this at his feet exactly because it's a production choice that goes well beyond the script, is the level of sadism. I'm talking about the Terileptil's death here, whom we see burning, melting, his flesh literally bubbling, while still alive and screaming. The effect is disgusting and extreme and unfortunately, a sign of things to come. Sure, Terry the Leptil was a bully, a soliton fiend, and about to commit genocide (though he doesn't even come close to succeeding so little time is spent on this element), but we don't need to see him die so graphically.

The fire being caused by a Terileptil blaster exploding is a script snafu, when it's already been established soliton gas is volatile and the dispenser is right there in the corner of the room. The last shot on Pudding Lane, to my young North American eyes back in the day, seemed to say the TARDISeers caused a famous fire from history. Today I know what the show was talking about, but I can't imagine the Doctor refusing to talk about a historical event like this in previous eras. Has the educational remit of the show been extinguished? Or are kids of the day more likely to look things up for themselves? As an adult viewer, I prefer this more subtle approach, which probably tells you how the program's target audience is changing. That's the second historical fire we can pin on the Doctor (see The Romans for the other). Why the Doctor gives Richard Mace a hi-tech "keepsake" is a confounding mystery, however. At least Mace is kept on a short leash in this episode. Fewer bon mots and more usefulness to the plot.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization presents the Terileptils' landing through the eyes of a local fox.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The violence is off-putting, but Richard Mace's quips are kept to a minimum, and I suppose that's a clever little ending (even if I've seen it before).

- Eric Saward's first story is historically significant and a perfectly adequate straightforward invasion plot, but perhaps more to show his era's flaws than its qualities - whiny companions, sadistic violence, mercenary characters showered with more love than the regulars, and producer interference (RIP sonic).


Anonymous said...

The demographics on the show have changed; initially the show was for children who wanted to see cavemen and robots, but by Davison's era it's more for teenagers who want to watch Nyssa vibrate the android. I imagine they feel their audience knows the significance of Pudding Lane already.

Siskoid said...

In Britain, I'm sure. They don't teach the Great London Fire in French-Canadian schools, I'm afraid.

Craig Oxbrow said...

For the record I did, UK-based and aged 7 1/2 at the time.

Looking at this screencap and the last one, it's a shame that the burning sonic screwdriver wasn't what started the Great Fire...

Siskoid said...

That would have been beautiful. Ah well.


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