‘While you were enjoying 48 hours peaceful sleep in the delta wave augmenter, my mind was occupied. Taken over.’ Welcome, Eric Saward: one of the key creative figures of 1980s’ Doctor Who, making his debut with a script that demonstrates some of the most grating elements of his style (suddenly, everyone in the universe talks like they’re a bowdlerised Shakespeare character), but also some of the strengths.
The Visitation isn’t in any way original – the first (forgive me) “pseudo-historical” since Horror of Fang Rock opens in almost exactly the same way, with lights falling from the heavens. But rather than developing the family he introduces in the first scene, Saward kills them all offscreen. It’s brutal – but after 12 episodes of people chatting, it’s also punchy and might have made some of the audience sit up in their seats and start paying attention. For a show at risk of becoming “too cerebral”, or at least too bloodless, just throwing in some scenes from the monster’s point of view, having a killer robot, some immediately unfriendly locals and the Doctor learning things as he investigates rather than having them explained to him, is a nice change of pace.
It’s not great: some of the dialogue is atrocious (Tegan remembering the events of Kinda, especially), and there’s a clear sense that Saward cares more about Richard Mace than any of the regulars (his lack of interest in the TARDIS crew might suggest he was a peculiar choice for script editor). This was only the second Davison serial to be recorded, and some of his early uncertainty continues to be evident – his performance is more mannered than in Kinda, and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. Later, the image of the fifth Doctor is hands shoved in pockets – here, he and Adric wave them at each other like arguing Italians. But for all that, it’s the most instantly accessible story for a long time.
Next episode: The Visitation – Part Two