Sunday, 4 October 2009

Doctor Who: The Visitation

Part One

“Poor old Adric- always in trouble!”

We’re plunged straight into the seventeenth century, which instantly feels very comfortable. It looks excellent, of course- one thing the BBC’s always been good at is historical drama. There’s rather a long prologue featuring some death rays and some doomed Restoration type people with great clothes and great hair.

We get another new writer in Eric Saward. It’s always hard in this Marathon to try and ignore everything from after the story you’re watching but in the case of someone who would become so controversial. Still, this time round his story feels very traditional Who, although really it shouldn’t- Doctor Who doesn’t actually do alien invasions of historical periods very often. In fact, the only previous straightforward example I can think of is The Time Warrior.

Anyway, The Visitation. Our initial TARDIS scene has, by now, obviously become part of the show’s format, with an obligatory reference to the previous story (how the authors of the Missing Adventures and PDAs must have hated this) and a bit of inter-crew conflict. Worryingly, it’s already starting to feel tired at this early stage. It’s not yet getting to the point where you suspect the TARDISeers don’t actually like each other thatr much, but that’s something the writers need to watch.

Tegan wants to leave, and is very upset that the Doctor’s three centuries out from her own time. There’s also dialogue indicating she’s now beginning to realise the Mara effectively raped her. None of this is written with any particular depth; such things are simply mentioned once to give the illusion of character but not developed in any way. This doesn’t really work. This dysfunctional TARDIS crew doesn’t compare at all well to the original from back when this Marathon started, and this seems down to the lack of a David Whitaker to oversee the development of the characters.

That’s a shame, as there’s a lot going on between the characters which could be developed interestingly. Tegan and Nyssa seem to have struck up a friendship, fior example, whereas Adric seems to have difficulty relating to both Tegan and the Doctor. None of this really goes anywhere.

The whole situation with Tegan wanting to get home is problematic; the TARDIS is not what it was in Hartnell’s day. Recently the Doctor’s been able to control it perfectly most of the time, it’s been stated that he’s getting better at “short hops”, and at this point the TARDIS is often shown to be completely accurate when the plot requires it. It’s just not plausible any more for the Doctor to be unable to get Tegan home. Still, the situation has one saving grace; Tegan’s still wearing the same clothes because she expects to start work at Heathrow. What excuses have the other three got then?

Our heroes leave the TARDIS and are attacked. This new Doctor seems to handle himself well ion a fight, showing some almost Pertweeish combat skills. And oddly, he’s still referring to humans as “Earthlings”. Adric drops his homing device in the struggle, a nice bit of continuity- presumably this is the same device from Full Circle.

Obviously, what we need most of all at this point is an extra companion for this story, as four is clearly too few. And we get Richard Mace, who is admittedly pretty cool, but there’s no depth to him whatsoever. Still, I admit he’s entertaining- I love his “I would risk anything for an hour’s good conversation”, followed by an awkward silence.

We finish with a “haunted house”. Much as I may mock, this is admittedly quite entertaining.

Part Two

“Why are Earth people so parochial?”

There’s an early bit of tiresomeness as the TARDISeers have to convince Mace that they’re from outer space, but there’s plenty to entertain us here. We get to see the alien, and Tegan, captured alongside Adric, deflects his questions about the Doctor by claiming that “He talks a lot about Guildford” in a nod to the work of a certain former script editor.

The most shocking thing in this episode, of course, is that the Doctor and Nyssa actually have bit of a falling out! It wouldn’t have surprised me with any other combination of TARDISeers, but those two…! Oh, and the Doctor’s a bit harsh on Richard Mace too.

The Terileptil looks good, if a little obviously latex, with his animatronic mouth and his scar. It’s nice that he’s a criminal who’s escaped from prison, and not just a bog standard alien invader.

I love the Doctor’s “Oh no, not again!” as he’s about to be beheaded…

Part Three

“I feel my mind slipping into a bottomless pit of gloom and despair.”

We get to see Nyssa’s room in the TARDIS! How very domestic things are getting these days. Sadly, an escaped Adric arrives and immediately proceeds to act like an utter twonk. These last couple of stories have ensured the character is not at all likeable.

By now it’s clear that, although enjoyable enough, this story is essentially a bunch of set pieces stitching together a rather basic plot, and even with the presence of Richard Mace it’s all rather humourless. At the same time, though, there’s nothing particularly bad about it either. There’s a real threat- especially with the revelation that other Terileptils are waiting in London- and some nice backstory with the Tinclavic mines. It’s just that the story never really catches fire. And the historical setting is somehow not evoked well by the script, probably because all the seventeenth century characters- even Mace- are little more than superficial plot functionaries.

Adric, meanwhile, continues to be an arse. This is the first story which gives me serious concerns about the handling of such a large TARDIS crew- none of the companions come out of this story at all well. There are too many characters to follow (yes, I know, not a problem in the 60s, but there are problems here) and there’s too much bickering. Still, with Tegan mind controlled that’s one less character for Saward to keep track of.

Ooh- the sonic screwdriver’s been destroyed! Hardly surprising given the changed tone of the show since JNT took over. I’ll miss it, though. It was a harmless piece of silliness that added to the fun of the show, and I never bought any of this guff about it being a magic wand to get the Doctor out of scrapes. Sometimes a good narrative shortcut like that can avoid putting some tiresome stuff on screen.

Part Four

“I like long walks!”

Nyssa manages to destroy the android, the TARDIS arrives in the house, and everyone (including Mace- there’s been a disturbing recent trend for every Tom, Dick and Harry to be invited aboard the TARDIS taxi service) is off to London for the climax.

It’s a nice touch that the Terileptils are all multi-coloured and all look so different. The Pudding Lane ending is nice too, although it sets up a bit of a paradox.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Everything worked, I can’t really pick holes in it, and aside from ongoing concerns about the characterisation of the regulars I can’t find much fault with it. The plot and structure worked very well. But all the same, it seemed to lack charm. Perhaps a bit more humour, local character would have been nice. The epitome of average, I suppose: 3/5.

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