Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Visitation - "Why are the people of Earth so parochial?"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Visitation - Details

Season 19, Story 4 (Overall Series Story #120) | Previous - Next | Index

GIFs via Tempus Aeterna
The thing people generally remember this one for is being the answer to a couple of trivia questions: which story did the sonic screwdriver get destroyed in, and in which story did we see the Great Fire of London start? (Strange that it happens at this point in the Doctor's timeline, since Four mentioned he'd had enough of being blamed for it at the end of "Pyramids of Mars," although we could probably make a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey conjecture like he's being blamed by Time Lords who know he's got a hand in it before he does ... )

There's another perspective from which this is an important story; it's the debut of Eric Saward, who will have tremendous influence as a writer, then script editor, for better or worse, or even worse, for a while to come. The best thing to be said for Saward is that he at least has the sense to aspire to being Robert Holmes. That he never lives up that apparent ambition -- if we agree with Dr. Sandifer, and it certainly makes sense to me, that "The Visitation" is a remake of "The Time Warrior" -- is a shame. We can console ourselves during his era of the show that he, despite his shortcomings, is not Andrew Cartmel. (Now, I know Cartmel has his defenders, and as I make my way through the last seasons I may have to eat my words, but I started this project with pretty strong feelings about John Nathan-Turner's stewardship of the program, AKA its strangulation, and Cartmel looks like one of his worst hires.)

Wolf Hall is airing on PBS as I write this, we're three episodes in, so I was primed to be delighted by the milieu of "The Visitation." Yes, it's set some hundred and thirty years later, but the candle-lit home a country squire looks very much like Cromwell's digs and the intrusion of the Terileptil into the home is dramatically filmed. We're off to a strong start until ... the TARDIS lands.

Tegan's status as unwilling companion, always trying to leave, miserable and cranky has gone well past tiresome by this point. We forgive her early in this story, since being mindfucked by the Mara ("Kinda") understandably unnerves her. But she burns through our empathy quickly. Adric is even worse. Nyssa should be the bright spot in this companion-crowded TARDIS, but Sarah Sutton is off her game here.

Luckily, Peter Davison is fun to watch. He appears to genuinely enjoy being in this episode, even if he can't make out quite how to play the dialogue he's part of in some situations. One of my favorite moments is when he has to make something out of this:
DOCTOR: Adric, look after her, I'll be back.
ADRIC: *is unconscious*
OK, that's not a favorite moment, but one that made me chuckle. My true favorite moment of dialogue is:
DOCTOR: Oh, twist their arms a bit to let me take them back to their own planet.
NYSSA: I hope they have arms to twist.
DOCTOR: I'll find something. 
By end of second episode, the pace has been lost. Scenes drag on too long. Action is muddled, only Peter Davison comes off well when pitching a yokel over his shoulder. Sue's comments about the direction in the Adventures with the Wife in Space post are spot on.

Had former thespian turned highwayman Richard Mace, Saward's stab at a Holmesian (Robert, not Sherlock) character, been a Robert Holmes character, we might be more inclined to remember the story fondly. But, he's not quite. Mace was a character Saward had developed outside the DW universe in a trio of radio plays, recycled here -- and moved a few centuries back in time for the purpose, so those plays don't enter into any discussion of possible canonicity.

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