Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Visitation written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Moffatt



 This story in a nutshell: Fishy aliens go to all the trouble of setting up a plan that will wipe out all of mankind and they only get to kill four people. Bless them.

Fair Fellow: As hard as I am on Davison’s Doctor at times he would enjoy sporadic stories where his Doctor was afforded some stirring material (other great examples are Kinda, Earthshock, Enlightenment and Frontios) and I really like how Eric Saward manages to capture the idea of a old man trapped in a young mans body through his general grouchiness in this story. Despite the wealth of embarrassing melodrama in the opening TARDIS scenes there is a wonderful moment where the Doctor talks awkwardly to Adric about peoples true feelings and flustered covers his discomfort by shouting at him. He really doesn't know how to handle all these hyperactive children. He’s absolutely terrified when he realises they aren’t at Heathrow, terrified of the wrath of the Air Stewardess a few metres down the corridor. The Doctor tries to explain that the TARDIS isn’t always reliable and accidentally snaps a control from the console, waving it about ineffectually to make his point. I really like how angry he is throughout; often snappy, impatient and hard on his companions (trust me they really need it) and it is a darn sight more effective than the brow beaten Time Lord from season twenty. He wonders why Earth people are so parochial? Like Four to Doomsday, he still gets squeaky voiced when roused as though he hasn’t quite hit puberty yet. He is magnanimous enough to skip over the fact the Tereleptil Leader has been to prison and simply wants to help him - I could imagine the sixth Doctor coming down much harder on him. There’s a couple of moments in part four where he really lunges at Tegan when she is being ultra irritating. I'm not demonstrating for the right to commit domestic violence in the TARDIS but I really wish he had kept this up. Oddly he saves the strangulation attempt for Peri. He is very quiet about their pivotal role in human history but I can imagine in years to come he will be boasting to all and sundry about his role in the Great Fire of London.

Screaming Harridan: There is a real feeling of season one in Davison's first year. Not just with the overcrowded TARDIS and lengthly domestic scenes but also with the running theme of trying to get one of them back to their correct time and place. The difference is that the first Doctor wanted his friends to stick around whereas the fifth Doctor cannot wait to boot Tegan from his life. Tegan is at her most shrill in this story, mouthing off to all and sundry and behaving in a generally pig headed manner. It seems to be a nervous response to feeling helpless but it's one I suggest she drops quickly because being rude to the people she meets on these adventures really isn't the way forward if she is going to stay alive (especially when they are usually accused of sabotage/murder/being up to no good). There is the suggestion that her bolshie attitude is her way of disguising her real feelings but it is not fed into the script well enough to come enough to make it convincing, I think she simply enjoys being awkward. Tegan is still haunted by her experiences sharing her mind with the Mara. I did like her quiet admission to Nyssa that she hasn’t been the best of travelling companions, a small moment of gratitude amongst all the volume. The Doctor comments that she always overreacts and is finding the idea of leaving the TARDIS harder than she thought. The fact that she is stupid is hardly an original observation, she admits. Her Guildford gag really tickles. Adric might be stronger (I don’t know if I buy that) but Tegan is more determined. A bet she's got the muscles of a horse. Something has gone pretty wrong with a character when I am pleased that she has turned into a zombie for simple reason that she has shut the hell up. She’s pretty bad at throwing punches, that's for sure. ‘Groggy, sore and bad tempered’ is Tegan’s character description throughout her tenure. The Visitation is the only story in which she says ‘G’day’ Tegan the Tereleptil Slayer! Watch as she psychotically batters one to death with a gun and try and control yourself. It is impossible. 

Sulky Brat: What a petulant cunt he is from the very first scene. Adric is at his most irritating at this stage. Gone is the actor who tried his hardest to act because his hero was the lead (Tom Baker) and in steps the arrogant sod who doesn’t bother to reign in his inexperience because he is now the longest serving member. They don’t even try and make him likable; having Adric stuff his hands in his pockets, turn his back on an argument and sulk for the majority of the time. Matthew Waterhouse has terrible trouble making any dialogue sound authentic and moves so awkwardly around the sets, we have never had such a character/actor that has worked so detrimentally against the series before or since. It's nice to see a male companion twist their ankle but it does only encourage more ill feeling towards the lad. When he fails to attack the android successfully in the cellar, Adric bizarrely flings himself across the room and lies stock still. He isn’t convinced that Tegan likes him, which is kind of sweet considering nobody likes him. ‘Why isn’t he here? Why is he never around when you waaaant him?’ - he stresses waaa like a big baby. Kicking the android up the arse and being clobbered is the funniest thing ever he has ever done, it's priceless. Adric bangs the console to get the TARDIS working properly but he just can’t pull it off like the Doctor. What kind of actor can’t even bang an inanimate object convincingly? Eric Saward has moved as far away from the original concept of Adric (a cosmic Artful Dodger) as possible and isn't even attempting any damage limitation (he could limit the infection of the character by cutting his screen time down to nothing). He'll be gone soon and the show can search for a new identification figure. There hasn't been one yet in the fifth Doctor's era.

Alien Orphan: You have to give Eric Saward credit for at least giving every member of the crew something to do in his script even if it isn’t something terribly interesting. Nyssa has always been my favourite fifth Doctor companion. I know she isn’t the most dynamic of characters but she is being played by the glorious Sarah Sutton which means she is capable of moments of great depth and wonder. I love how firm Nyssa is with the Doctor, she really does lecture at him at times but she does it intelligently rather than wailing like Tegan. It is lovely to see Nyssa taking a pivotal role in the action (rather than being tucked away in the TARDIS doing nothing in stories such as Earthshock and Mawdryn Undead) but her scenes building the booster really are languidly directed. Her sadness at destroying the android rings true, she has murdered a slave machine. Given the general effectiveness of her character when paired solely with the fifth Doctor I can only imagine how this story (and others this season) might have played out had she been his only companion. Imagine no more, check out the prolific amount of Big Finish adventures that feature this duo and see how wonderful it might have been (Spare Parts, Creatures of Beauty, The Game and Circular Time are all phenomenal examples).

The Good Stuff: The opening attack on the manor is superb, well performed and atmospheric – why can’t the rest of the story be more like this? 17th Century terror told from the point of view of the local characters and not a sci-fi bit of fluff told exclusively from the point of view of our (frankly dull) regulars. John Savant deserved a much bigger role since he is such a terrific actor (go watch his unforgettable appearance as Egorian in Blakes’ 7). Obviously the Doctor has been teaching the crew a little kung-fu between adventures since their (judo chop!) skills come into play when they are attacked by a bunch of yokels. Richard Mace automatically becomes better acted and more interesting for the simple reason that he isn't Adric, Tegan or Nyssa. He's overloaded with unconvincing, overly theatrical dialogue...being a man of theatre I understand why he explains everything with a descriptive flourish but he lacks the polished loquaciousness of Henry Gordon Jago. The Miller nearly kills all three companions with one horse. I wish. The sets and locations are pretty but they are varnish on an empty script. Had it been shot with any care (at night would be the preferable options), the android's mask might have been really creepy. The few moments when the lights are turned down and Moffatt allows the story to be drenched in shadows (Tegan and Adric in the cells) the story automatically becomes far more atmospheric. I guess the Doctor is going to have to rely on wits rather than hardware now the sonic screwdriver has been destroyed. A shame they couldn't be so merciless in the new series. It’s so nice that something finally happens that is attempting to be dramatic that I applaud the android for infiltrating the TARDIS. The scenes shot on film are automatically more authentic than anything else we have seen so far it makes me wish that this whole story had taken place in London and filmed at Ealing. Imagine how polished this would have looked, how atmospheric. The Tereleptil face melts and pops like hot chip fat. Nasty.

The Bad Stuff: Prepare yourselves… The opening sequence is gagging to be a pre titles sequence and probably should be as it really doesn’t connect with the main plot at all and could do with the divide from the main action. Why couldn’t they cut the continuity between stories, it is always shoehorned so clumsily at the beginning of the story (‘I was trying to escape!’ 'In the TSS?'), the dialogue is unnatural and it makes you feel as if you have come in halfway through another story. You would be perfectly within your rights to think that this is episode two. In the sixties they managed to link the stories with a gripping teaser at the end of each story that made you want to come back next week…why couldn’t they do that? The cut to the gorgeously lit manor to the over lit cheap TARDIS console is like a slap in the face, switching from period drama to cheap SF so sharply you feel as though you have been slapped around the face. You really wouldn’t want to go travelling with this bunch of whiners would you? They remind me of a family fighting over the bathroom first thing in the more, except this is all the time and about everything. The homing device is such a crap 80’s gadget in a period that was polluted with fad gadgets. Why is it that some directors don’t know how to move a camera? At times it feels as though I am watching a piece of theatre but I have seen stage plays where the stage and the actors moves more often than the cameras in this story. Moffatt explains in the DVD extras that he likes to rest the camera and let the actors do the work but when your cast is as lacking as this you are stuck with no visual stimulation to distract you from their dismal efforts. ‘We’ve found yet another power pack’/’We Alzarians are different from you’/’Whilst you were enjoying 48 hours peaceful sleep in the delta wave augmenter’ – why does everybody talk in such affected, contrived terms? Eric Saward has some nerve criticising Pip and Jane Baker scripts when his own dialogue is hopelessly affected at times. I’m not convinced by the Tereleptil design; the face is quite nasty (and I really like the animatronic gills) but I think they might have taken the fish design too far because the scaly breastplate and tail look remarkably cumbersome and fabricated. And I wont hear any of that guff about the lack of time and money, especially not when they could design and create Draconians, Sontarans and Zygons with the same time and money. The forest backdrop from inside the escape pod is horrendous. One character is called ‘scythe man’ – would it really have killed Saward to call him Edward or something? Way to make these controlled yokels even more faceless. Even facing death the Doctor manages to slip in a continuity reference (‘Not again’). He knows what is expected of him in the JNT/Saward era. All the cliffhangers are remarkably bland and we reach the nadir with part three, which climaxes on Tegan fiddling with the catch of a cage. The sequence where Death turns up and holds his scythe to the camera would have been an ideal placing for a cliffhanger.

The Shallow Bit: I bet Adric stinks in that costume he never changes. Tegan looks ridiculous, popping up her hideous purple tunic time and again, face caked in too much make up and with a haircut a bird would happily set up home in. Think I'm being rude? Listen to what Janet Fielding has to say about the look in the DVD commentary. Mine is the more muted criticism. Nyssa looks gorgeous in contrast; light curls, subtle make up and decked out in crushed velvet. Famously she slips on some muff and builds a vibrator in her room.

Result: Doctor Who visits the 17th Century in the 1980’s, this is history at its most unstimulating. The period is only used as an atmospheric backdrop for the tale, rather than Saward getting to grips with the drama that is built in to this century. Whilst I do find Peter Moffatt occasionally underrated as a director it is stories such as The Visitation that lack pace and visual dynamism that make it hard to argue against that reputation. The only person who comes from this story with their reputation intact is Davison’s Doctor who manages to assert himself in a way that we rarely get to see. Rather than dashing about woods and farmhouses for four episodes, it might have been better to have used the time to build up the devastating historical event that takes place in the climax like The Massacre. The Hartnell tragedy gave the approaching riot considerable gravity so that when the fighting broke out the audience was on tenterhooks and breathless at the scale of the violence. The Great Fire of London in comparison is caused by a malfunction of technobabble and comes at the end of story that has absolutely nothing to do with the event. It feels like an irrelevant twist that comes out of nowhere when it should be the focal point of the entire story. It would be like The Fires of Pompeii being a dash around the streets of the city with no mention of the upcoming mountain blast and climaxing on the chimney being blown and the Doctor turning to Donna and saying 'let's get out of here, people are about to die...' Like the death of Nyssa's father that was never dealt with, like the loss of Adric that will be skipped over, Saward seems to avoid the emotional opportunities that are ripe for the picking. Superficially entertaining but never once fulfilling, The Visitation is a barely adequate Doctor Who invasion tale when it could have been something spectacular. The designers, musician and actors try and make of this what they can but with a script this dull and direction this languid they are fighting a losing battle: 4/10

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great reviews, all of them :)
I agree with your comments on Adric and I wonder what will BF do with the character in the next year when Waterhouse starts playing audios... Will they make him likeable? what do you reckon?

rumblebars said...

Dang, I actually bought the latest DVD release of this one! Mostly because I had somewhat faded/fond memories of it. Now you've ruined it all! No not really, I never had the level of hate you did for Tegan or Adric - but that might be because I was pre-teen when I watched them the first time.

Okay your comment about Nyssa: "Famously she slips on some muff and builds a vibrator in her room." totally made me laugh.

Oh, I dp remember thinking about what Adric would have been like had he actually gotten drunk in the cellars...

Joe Ford said...

Many thanks for the kind words about the reviews, that's really very kind. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Adric may undergo something of a Renaissance in the same way that Peri and Mel have with Big Finish. Perhaps Big Finish should change its name to Putting the Eighties to Rights...

Joe Ford said...

I really hope I'm not spoiling anybody's enjoyment of the series with my ramblings, rumblebars! There are so many disparate fan opinions out there and I'm sure most people, like your good self, realise that (mind you I have had some very amusing hate mail in the past when people have disagreed very strongly with me which made me chuckle).

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Anthony Pirtle said...

I give this story a 3/5 just because it gives the Fifth Doctor a bit of oomph, and because Richard Mace gives him someone to bounce lines off of other than his regular (awful) companions: the "gobby Australian," Adric the Terrible, and Hermione Granger in space and time.