‘Try and think what the Doctor would do if he were here.’ Possibly the most “basic” Doctor Who story so far, it’s all perfectly adequate without ever giving the impression that there’s anything going on beyond the edge of the TV screen. In that sense, it’s the polar opposite of Kinda, which implied a whole society we never really see. The Visitation reduces the 17th Century to a few old-fashioned houses and a forest; one fruity local, and a punchline that’s like something from a World Distributors Annual. It succeeds because it’s mostly aiming to achieve the bare minimum. It’s less dense and complex than one of the new series’ celebrity historicals.
There are bits that contain worrying hints of things to come: the death of the Terileptil leader, face bubbling and melting in lascivious close-up, is a bit more horrible and sadistic than the show normally went for. The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver gets zapped, and he swaps it for Mace’s gun, admiring it before taking a shot. ‘I never miss,’ he declares proudly, like James Bond. Yuck. Past Doctors have carried guns, but usually with evident distaste. I suspect regardless of actor, Saward writes the Doctor very much the same: bad tempered and sarcastic. Here, the Doctor nearly loses it with Tegan when she asks about the Terileptil’s forwarding address, then brusquely dismisses Adric’s TARDIS-piloting skills. This is pretty much the next Doctor’s approach too.
That said, Davison’s increasing confidence in the role, in only his second recorded serial, is warming. ‘How do you know that [I’ll be all right]?’ asks Mace. ‘I’m the Doctor,’ he replies. And he is. He gets in his first great joke at Tegan’s expense: (‘How do you feel, now?’; ‘Groggy, sore and bad-tempered.’; ‘Oh, almost your old self.’). His use of Mace and Tegan’s heads as props to climb down from a windowsill is great. I wish this one had been shown after Castrovalva instead of Four to Doomsday, as it’s much better.
Other than Mace, though, no-one else makes an impression. Nyssa and Adric are shunted into a side plot that goes nowhere. A chunk of time is spent on Adric piloting the TARDIS into the manor house when all the script needed was a cut to the Doctor and friends arriving at the Ship in the woods. The Terileptil looks good in his cloak, or riding a cart, but turns out to be the inept leader of even more inept minions – one of which tries to rugby tackle Mace and is shot, the other bashed over the head by Tegan while it’s giving the Doctor a massage.
The ending, an “I’ll explain later” wink to the audience like something from The Chase, is mildly amusing – which sort of sums up my feelings about The Visitation. There’s not much to it, but what there is is mostly fine.
Next episode: Black Orchid