Timestamp #120: The Visitation

Doctor Who: The Visitation
(4 episodes, s19e13-e16, 1982)

Timestamp 120 The Visitation

 

The franchise takes a step up with a couple of reset buttons.

Some 300 years before Tegan’s final destination, the adventure opens on a scene dressed straight out of The Three Musketeers. A light show like a hundred shooting stars decorates the sky, but the single witness is dismissed by her father. And then the murders begin.

Approaching at the scene at the speed of time, the Doctor (thankfully) chastises Adric over his actions on Deva Loka and Nyssa helps Tegan prepare to leave as they will surely reach Heathrow this time. Unfortunately, they don’t, and this revelation prompts Tegan to furiously storm out of the TARDIS.

The team finds a group of people burning sulfur and are attacked. During the altercation, Adric drops his homing device before twisting his ankle, and as they run they find a highwayman named Mace who takes them to sanctuary. He tells the tale of the previous night’s comet, and the Doctor puts the clues together: A prisoner control bracelet and a handful of power packs point to alien survivors. The Doctor leads a search of the nearby manor, which was the setting of the opening scene. During the search, the Doctor is separated from Mace and the companions, and when he disappears behind a wall, they are trapped behind a door locked from the other side by one of the aliens. The Doctor rescues them by revealing the trick: The wall is a holographic energy barrier. The travelers explore the cellar, which contains caged rats, soliton gas, and the visitor. Tegan and Adric are stunned by its beam, but Nyssa, Mace, and the Doctor escape.

The Doctor recognizes the visitor as an android, as the trio plans a rescue, another being interrogates the captives. This lizard-like creature with an obvious rubber mask interrogates the companions about the Doctor, a man he recognizes as being not from this time and place. It uses the local villagers, whom it has fitted with the control bracelets, to apprehend the trio as our heroes explore the crashed spacecraft. Based on the machine, the Doctor recognizes the survivor as a Terileptil, and the trio escapes the craft through a back door. The Doctor sends Nyssa ahead while he and Mace search the nearby mill.

Tegan engineers an escape for her and Adric, but sacrifices her liberty so the boy can flee the manor. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mace find a group of free villagers, but they mistake Mace’s crystal for the “plague” that has affected their neighbors and order the odd couple’s execution. The execution is stayed by the village leader, who is also under the Terileptil’s control. Coincidentally, so is Tegan with the application of a control bracelet.

Adric arrives at the TARDIS and reluctantly (and petulantly) helps Nyssa set up the sonic device. Adric later leaves the TARDIS to search for the Doctor, but is captured by the Terileptil’s gang. In the mill, the Doctor and Mace free the village leader and a villager from their bracelets, but the villagers collapse. Luckily, it sends a signal to the Terileptil, and the lizard orders the android to fetch them. When the villagers awaken, their control is mistaken for witchcraft. As the villagers build a fire to burn their demons, the android arrives as the Grim Reaper and frightens them all away.

The Doctor and Mace are escorted to the cellar, where Tegan is laboring away on vials of chemicals and they are introduced to the Terileptil. The lizard reveals that he plans to commit genocide and take over the planet. Mace is fitted with a bracelet, the Doctor is placed in isolation, and the sonic screwdriver is destroyed. The Doctor’s “old friend” has been killed.

The Terileptil plans to use a genetically engineered plague to destroy humanity with rats. It leaves the Doctor in the cell with the controlled Mace and Tegan to loose infected rats on him, heading for London where he plans to begin the massacre. The Doctor disables both bracelets and frees the humans, and Mace tries to pick the lock before the Doctor shoots (!) the lock with Mace’s firearm. They search the lab but come up empty.

The android finds Adric and the gang, scaring the bandits away before following Adric to the TARDIS.  The android enters TARDIS but is destroyed thanks to Nyssa’s sonic device. Nyssa and Adric move the TARDIS to the house, and the Doctor uses the scanner (after a jab at Adric’s dense questions and a bit of “Dad” reasoning for Tegan) to locate the Terileptil. They arrive at a London bakery and encounter all three Terileptils. A fight and a fire break out, and the heat causes the Terileptil weapon to overload. The resulting explosion destroys the bakery in a blazing inferno, which proves the perfect crucible for the plague serum. The travelers depart, leaving Mace to fight the fire, and the Doctor muses about the historical implications of this adventure: He just started the Great Fire of London, even though he previously denied any involvement.

So, it’s also a (partially) historical serial, which we haven’t seen for 15 years. That’s minor reset #1.

Minor reset #2 is the destruction of the sonic screwdriver. It’s been 14 years since it was introduced by the Second Doctor, and even though future Doctors seem to simply regenerate the device when they lose one, this loss is more semi-permanent. It will be interesting to see the Doctor working without it just like the First (and partially Second) incarnation.

Character-wise, this is a major step up from the last few adventures. I am happy to see the Doctor and Nyssa working well together, and equally happy to see Tegan and Nyssa both prove their worth against Adric’s continued disparagement. Tegan is still upset about not getting home, which is understandable, but she’s not being crippled by this. Instead of being a detracting characteristic, it’s a defining one. The Doctor himself continues to be a patient fatherly character, both in disciplining and guiding his companions.

Finally, Mace was a fun secondary character who left no scenery unchewed.

Overall, it was a fun adventure that, despite minor quibbles with the creature practicals, kept me engaged for the duration.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Black Orchid

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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One thought on “Timestamp #120: The Visitation

  1. I had a feeling that you’d like this one. For me this is where the fifth Doctor’s era finally begins. You can see them trying to vary up the dynamic of One Companion with the Doctor that defined so much of the 70’s and they’re looking to the show’s roots. Tegan’s quest to get home mirrors Ian and Barbara’s and to a lesser extent Polly and Ben’s. Also, as you mentioned they ditched the sonic screwdriver as a deus ex machina. You won’t see it again in the classic series.

    This story also gives us our new script editor. Although Eric Saward didn’t script edit this one, he was the writer. Based on his performance he was given the nod and it’ll be his vision that steers much of the series through season 23. While Saward wasn’t a fan of Doctor Who or science-fiction in general that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s keen on interesting characters like Mace and he’s interested in bringing back stories that take place in history. The Visitation’s combining of historical and SF elements is somewhat reminiscent of Robert Holmes stories like The Talons of Weng-Chiang, so I don’t think it’s a reboot to 15 years past, but it’s at least a reboot to the early Tom Baker run for a similar kind of story.

    The next story, Black Orchid, is a true historical. There are no sci-fi elements at all other than the presence of the Doctor and his friends, although it’ll be the last ever in the television series.

    Looking forward to that next review.

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