Defining the Doctor: The Visitation
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull continues his series looking at one key story from each Doctor.
“I feel as though you’ve just killed an old friend” – the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison).
The Visitation could be designated as the underdog of Season 19, a string of episodes littered with classics, ranging from the magnum opus: Kinda to the clinically underrated and praiseworthy Black Orchid. It is oftentimes overlooked as being irrelevant in the titanic universe of Doctor Who and I agree (in parts), The Visitation isn’t too significant but it’s still first-class at that.
As with the rather outré archaeologist, Professor Rumford of The Stones of Blood, The Visitation also features an idiosyncratic standout character in the form of eloquent bandit Richard Mace. He’s a highwayman who used to be a prominent thespian; it’s the base of a character that could only be produced in Doctor Who. Michael Robbins is delightfully camp, trumpeting out his lines as if Mace was still on a London rostrum. Meanwhile Sarah Sutton is severely under-utilized as the Doctor’s erudite assistant, Nyssa and Janet Fielding is insufferable as the grousing Tegan Jovanka. Matthew Waterhouse does a serviceable job as the child genius, Adric but like his colleagues, ejects nothing into role and merely fits in as the official role of ‘companion’. The main assistant is Mace who is a refreshing change from the regulars, although he doesn’t quite grasp the Doctor’s new, frenetic world. Robbins’ performance is second only to Peter Davison who really stands out as the Time Lord.
It is moments like when the Fifth Doctor faces up to the ruthless Terileptil Leader that you see his personality shine through. He is a man who wants equality and justice, and he will attempt to get this without using violence. I don’t want to sound like a pageant titleholder but the Fifth Doctor is the embodiment of what the Doctor stands for: equity, thriving life, and a harmonious universe. Peter Davison is utterly superb in the role – I don’t think there is anyone better to play the part – and the reason I chose The Visitation as his defining story is because he tries his very best to help the Terileptils. He takes a well-worn concept of the revived era (I’ll take you to another planet has become a recycled quote used by the Doctor when a foe refuses to compromise its evil-intentional plan) and does his very best to not to result to violence – unless in self-defence. When the Terileptils announce their plan to liquidate humankind then the Doctor realizes that the worst has come to the worst.
The Terileptils are a fantastic design – Who fact: they’re the first use of animatronics in the show – and to paraphrase Martin Backman, they’re a creation that could surely be replicated with the joys of modern technology, and the hefty budget Doctor Who currently has. The unseen crime that the group of Terileptils who rendezvous in Pudding Lane have committed is best unseen as it allows the mind to conjure up all sorts of sadistic possibilities. I would really like them to return (they were said to be involved in the Alliance in The Pandorica Opens) and although the triad seen in The Visitation perish, that is no reason for them not to make another appearance.
Eric Saward’s plot is the epitome of a pseudo-historical episode (joint only with The Time Warrior) and shows just how Doctor Who can take a chronicled event and mould it into something brilliant, with a level helping of sci-fi. The Terileptils’ gun blowing up, causing the Great Fire of London is genius, and what makes it even better is that the said aliens were using rats (which, at the time were widely thought (and ironically, still are) to be disease ridden) as plague carriers for their genocidal scheme. I can’t praise this story enough for its triumphant blend of historical events and science-fiction, something that makes Doctor Who so good.
The Visitation is one of those clinically unloved stories that really deserves a home in Doctor Who fans’ hearts. Its recent rerelease into special edition is simply magic; I implore you to purchase it. Find some way of watching it; it is paragon of the Fifth Doctor’s superlative era.