The BBC is always reworking and re-releasing classic Doctor Who serials, including offering many Special Editions of previously released stories with better picture and sound quality, as well as a wealth of bonus features. One of the most recent to get this treatment is the 19th season story from February 1982, The Visitation, starring Peter Davison as The Doctor (the one with celery on his lapel).
The Visitation finds The Doctor and his companions, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and Tegan (Janet Fielding) in 17th century England. The Great Plague is on, but our heroes quickly deduce that there is more going on than meets the eye. They are right, as a Terileptil’s ship has crashed on Earth, and the alien, not one to leave quietly, plans on taking over the planet by releasing a disease to wipe out the native inhabitants.
Between the Terileptil’s plague and the Great Fire of London, which gets started at the end of the serial, The Visitation attempts to tie itself more into human history than most Doctor Who stories, providing a conspiracy theory-style explanation that blames the events shown here for great destruction. This is both whimsical and also depressing upon further examination, since the Doctor is allowing mankind to be harmed in a serious way by an alien race, as well as his own action (or inaction). This could be a hint of the darkness that will eventually, in the modern reboot, threaten to consume the Doctor, though only a hint.
Even more interesting is the impact The Visitation has on Doctor Who mythology. The Terileptil destroys the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, which will not be seen again for quite some time. The reason behind the scenes for doing this is that producer John Nathan-Turner felt that the tool provided too convenient a resolution to many a plot twist, though later keepers of the series figure out a way to use it without relying on it too much, so it eventually returns. Whether one agrees with the decision to take out the tool or not, it cannot be denied that the instrument is an iconic part of the Doctor Who character, and this serial is responsible for removing it from the universe for awhile.
Aside from that, though, The Visitation is a rather run-of-the-mill story. It does have interesting looking aliens and animatronics and androids, but the basic plot is that the characters keep getting captured and escaping. For awhile this was a common Doctor Who formula, but it comes across as somewhat lazy storytelling to anyone that has seen it done over and over again in other serials. Can no one adequately lock up one of the central characters; can the main player escape far enough way to not be caught again?
This is not to say that these episodes are not enjoyable. There is a warmth, charm, and humor to Doctor Who present in pretty much every installment, whether it is a special one or not. There is a reason why so many viewers have been drawn to the series over the years, and even in The Visitation, there are signs of this magnetic attraction.
This two disc Special Edition release has a ton of extras, to which fans of the series have become accustomed. The typical inclusions are the audio commentary with Davison, Fielding, Sutton, Waterhouse, and Peter Moffatt (who directed the story); a photo gallery; and PDF materials. Other additions are an isolated score and film trims.
On top of those, though, there are a couple of longer bonuses. The “Making Of” for this serial is 45 minutes long, with a lot of details discussed. Moffatt spends nearly half an hour discussing his time directing Doctor Who. There are relatively substantial featurettes on writing and scoring. “Doctor Forvever: The Apocalypse Element” is an examination of Doctor Who audio productions. And “The Television Centre of the Universe – Part One” brings Davison, Fielding, and Mark Strickson–a producer and actor–to the BBC Television Centre to look back fondly on their work.
In short, there is plenty here to make Doctor Who fans happy, even if the serial itself ranks in the middle of the pack among Doctor Who adventures. Doctor Who The Visitation Special Edition is available now.