Sunday, 1 March 2015

Story 119 - The Visitation

In which a shooting star spells doom for a Restoration household. A light is seen to descend near a country manor house and, soon after, the family and their servants are attacked. In the TARDIS, Tegan is starting to get over her ordeal with the Mara on Deva Loka and is looking forward to finally getting to Heathrow Airport to start her job. The ship materialises in a forest, and they discover that they are in the right place - but 316 years too nearly. It is 1666. The travellers come across some villagers who are building plague-fires, and come under attack. The are saved by the intervention of Richard Mace, an out of work actor who has taken to crime to make ends meet. In a nearby barn he explains that there is plague in the land, and the theatres have been shut down. The villagers fear all strangers. He tells them of the recent shooting star. The Doctor discovers power packs of alien design in the barn, and realises that what people saw was actually a crashing spacecraft. He determines to find the survivors and offer them help. They all go to the manor house and find it deserted. In the cellar, a holographic wall has been set up, and beyond lies an advanced laboratory. There is a quantity of gas stored - soliton. Suddenly, an ornately designed android attacks them. Adric and Tegan are captured whilst the others escape. The captives meet the android's controller, a reptilian bipedal creature called a Terileptil.

The Doctor, Nyssa  and Mace locate the crashed spacecraft, partly buried in a nearby field. They are attacked by a trio of villagers, who appear to be under some form of mental control. Nyssa returns to the TARDIS to try to construct some device against the android. The Doctor and Mace are captured by villagers. They are about to be executed when the android appears - disguised as the Grim Reaper. The superstitious villagers flee. Adric escapes and makes his way to the TARDIS. The Doctor and Mace are taken to the manor where the Doctor meets the Terileptil. It shuns his offer of taking it back home, as it and its companions are escaped convicts - fugitives from the tinclavic mines on Raaga. Mace is put under its mental control and, along with Tegan, made to load a cart with cages full of rats. These have been genetically modified to carry a virulent strain of plague. The Terileptils have a base in a nearby city, and plan to release the rats there to spread the disease - wiping out the human race eventually. To prevent his escape, the Terileptil destroys the sonic screwdriver. Tegan is ordered to release a number of rats in their cell if the Doctor tries to flee. The android is despatched to seize the TARDIS.

The Doctor is able to break the mental conditioning of Tegan and Mace, but they find they cannot get out of the house. Nyssa's improvised sonic device destroys the android when it enters the TARDIS - shaking it to pieces. Adric then pilots the ship to the manor house to retrieve the others. The Terileptil base is located to London. The Doctor pilots the ship there, materialising in the lane outside a bakers shop. The Doctor gives the aliens one final chance to leave Earth with him, but they refuse. A brazier is knocked over in a struggle and a fire breaks out. One of the alien weapons starts to overheat. The Doctor knows that soliton gas, on which the Terileptils thrive, is highly flammable - and the bakery is full of it. The time travellers leave the building as it bursts into flame - destroying the aliens and their rats. Mace decides to stay on and help fight the growing conflagration, whilst the others return to the TARDIS and depart. The ship's dematerialisation reveals the name of the street - Pudding Lane...

This four part adventure was written by Eric Saward, and was broadcast between 15th and 23rd February, 1982. The script was commissioned before Saward became Script Editor. Indeed, it was this story which got him the job. The roguish thespian Richard Mace had been created by Saward for a number of earlier BBC radio plays.
The story is significant for seeing the destruction of the sonic screwdriver. Producer JNT and previous Script Editor Chris Bidmead had felt that it was often used as an all too easy get-out-of-jail card, and wanted the Doctor to solve things with his ingenuity and wits.
The Visitation sees the return of the popular pseudo-historical story, of which there had been scarce few in recent years. We have a real event in history portrayed - the Great Fire of London of 1666 - and given a "science fiction" explanation.
It has a very traditional feel to it, considering recent scripts had included Warriors' Gate, Logopolis, Castrovala and Kinda. Nothing wrong with a bit of more conventional story-telling.
Mace is played by Michael Robbins - most famous for his role as Arthur, Stan Butler's long-suffering brother-in-law, in On The Buses. Amazingly, this snapshot of 1970's un-PC values is still repeated to this day on one of the ITV channels. Saward was reportedly unhappy with the casting, as this was not how he had envisaged the character that he had created for those earlier radio plays.
The lead Terilptil is Michael Melia - yet another of the doomed landlords of Walford's Queen Vic public house. The alien design is very good, and sees the first appearance of animatronics in the programme - used to give the face movement.
The only other performance of note is that of the squire. He's John Savident. I say, he's John Savident. Best known for his long-running role of butcher Fred Elliot in Coronation Street, he is rather underused, as the whole of his family get wiped out before the TARDIS arrives. I say, he's rather underused...
Episode endings are:
  1. His companions descend to the cellar and discover that the Doctor has disappeared...
  2. The Doctor and Mace are forced onto their knees as the villagers prepare to decapitate them. "Not again.." groans the Doctor.
  3. The Doctor looks on helplessly as the mentally conditioned Tegan starts to open one of the cages of rats...
  4. The TARDIS dematerialises, revealing the street sign - Pudding Lane...

Overall, a nice traditional Doctor Who story, with a good creature design. The Terileptils have a bit of back story - with their penal system and their love of beauty at odds with their ruthlessness. The Doctor and Mace make for a lovely partnership. Robbins may not have been who Saward might have wanted, but he is great in the role. Notice how Davison works best when shorn of the brats and left alone with the more mature guest artists?
Things you might like to know:
  • The original radio version of Richard Mace was actually a Victorian, rather than a Restoration era highwayman.
  • The Doctor was supposed to have picked himself up a new sonic screwdriver from the TARDIS, according to the original script. There would have been a cupboard full of them. As mentioned above, JNT wanted rid of it so the scene was scrubbed at an early stage. It would never return during his watch. Watching the new series, many would agree with JNT.
  • Director Peter Moffatt hated the incidental music.
  • Squire John and his family only appear in a lengthy scene at the start of the story - in what these days would be the pre-credits sequence.
  • This is one of those rare occasions where viewing figures rose steadily for each episode broadcast, with just over 10 million for Part Four. Generally during this period, the Tuesday evening figures (Parts Two & Four) were higher than the Monday ones.
  • Dialogue in Part One shows that this story follows immediately after Kinda, with the Doctor talking to Adric about the TSS and Tegan referring to her possession by the Mara. The Doctor's "Not again..." at the end of part two refers to the similar cliffhanger in Four to Doomsday.
  • The Terileptils have never returned to the programme, though the tinclavic mines of Raaga get a mention in The Awakening in two seasons' time.
  • When the Fourth Doctor talked about being blamed for starting the Great Fire (in Pyramids of Mars) he was, of course, joking.
  • The Target novelisation of this story was the first one not to have an artist illustrated cover. Peter Davison disliked the portrait of himself. You can see the original cover in David J Howe's The Target Book (Telos Publishing). It ain't that bad, and is much better than the rather bland photographic cover that did hit the bookshops.
  • The fact that the Great Fire broke out in a bakery often makes people think that the street name derives from this profession. The truth is not quite so palatable. The "puddings" in this instance actually refer to piles of reeking offal from slaughtered animals, being transported along the lane between the river and the butchery district.

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