The Visitation was not only, I think, a cracking Who romp [a “Whomp”? – Ed.], but one nestled within that first year which made it all feel so fresh and exciting. When it was re-run just after Season 20, it became the very first bit of Doctor Who I’d ever recorded on my new-fangled VHS recorder. So to say I know this story well would be an understatement. And if any younger readers are wondering what a VHS is…, just ask your dad, ok?
Directing Who is a piece on the wonderful Peter Moffat’s sterling directing stints across State of Decay, The Visitation, Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors and beyond to The Twin Dilemma and The Two Doctors. In Who terms, that’s quite a run and a very iconic set of stories. It’s a delight, short, and to the point. Writing a Final Visitation is an interview with Eric Saward’s honest account of the background to the writing of the story and finally Scoring The Visitation is an interview with the wonderful Paddy Kingsland whose admission and concern that he may have over-scored his Who stories. No, Paddy! Where would be without the pan-pipe beautiful theme in Frontios, the wakka~wakka funky guitar piece as The Doctor and Master run across The Pharos Project in Logopolis, eh?
So, let’s cut to the chase – the extras on the second disc. Well it’s a curious one because the decision has been made to not present a standard “making of” documentary, but instead deliver a locations then and now, personal recollection and a sort of making of all in one (replacing several elements that would in themselves be individual extras on other releases).
Of course, those vampire routes proved useful when it was used as the setting for the Who story State of Decay, but it with Season 18, it had only just appeared in the previous story as Adric’s home Alzarius in Full Circle. In The Visitation it was used for where the TARDIS initially lands and its surrounding area was where we were introduced to Richard Mace, whilst a large patch of open ground was the landing site for the Terileptil escape pod, just outside the manor house.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, location number two, the Tithe Barn, where, in the story, the squire, his family and the servant Ralph all come a cropper at the hands the green fish fellah and his camp disco android. We take in the small exteriors of main door, the window in which Nyssa and The Doctor first gained entrance in part one and then the dove cote where Richard Mace and Tegan, under the control of the Terileptil, proceeded to load up the Horse cart with rat-infested goodies. The team eventually settle on a very pleasant veranda to find an amazingly detailed TARDIS, crew and Terileptil themed cake. Mark Strickson (no, don’t worry Peter has already pointed out that he’s on the wrong story extra) proceeds to question them further over the making of the episodes before they are allowed to finally tuck in and demolish the TARDIS quicker than a bombardment on Frontios.
I felt it could have been a bit tighter on the direction and had stronger researched questions to really get more from the participants. Of course, the ideal alternative would be to have a secondary weightier “making of” or other extras in addition to this piece. Possibly it takes on too much, trying to be all things and sadly, does fall between the cracks a little. But all the same, for what it is, it’s lovely.
But, whilst it does its best, I’m afraid I did find the results a little unfocused and slow at times. The somewhat bizarre choice of having Blue Peter and Most Haunted‘s Yvette Fielding on presenting duties does little to help the proceedings either. I was a bit perplexed as to why they took the participants to one of the few “star” dressing rooms at TVC, which doesn’t really compare to the normal standard dressing rooms, let alone ones found in 1980s. That merely allows the whole thing to languish in there far too long, with everyone continually banging on and on as to how “it was never like this in their day”…
And whilst the blurb promises “the meeting up of old friends and colleagues”, in reality, this ends up mainly being Carolyn Perry, the Make-up Designer (who was seen as a talking head in the previous piece). Part one of the doc does then seem to come to such a sudden and abrupt end, that you do question the need to strand something of this nature over several discs? I’m a little perplexed by the idea and it seems bizarre to have Peter and co. now turn up (presumably on a completely unconnected future DVD).
Whilst you can see what the aim of the documentary was, I’m sorry to say that I can’t help thinking that Who fans would get a great deal more from watching Louise, Katy and Janet on the recent excellent TVC docco by Richard Marson which aired on BBC4.
The Doctor Forever is the final extra and the latest installment from the documentary which has been across several of these “Special Edition” DVDs. Big Finish and the associated audios have long deserved a proper piece on them and it’s very nicely done (ignoring the painfully lacklustre presentation). It tells the story of how those fan audios, BBC records and audio plays gave birth to the companies who have become a massively successful and indispensable companion to the series. It brought back memories of those early fan-produced pre-Big Finish plays with Nick Briggs as The Doctor and the wonderful Genesis of the Daleks vinyl as a child.
It is to the point, and a very thorough and a welcome addition – although, in the context of what we do lack on The Visitation itself, it’s a somewhat odd choice. For me, the main point of new “SE” DVDs should surely be to offer new complementary material which is fun, imaginative and provides a fresh insight and a different focus on the story in question, or more broadly, that time on the show? But in all honesty, what we have here is too little, spread far too thinly over a couple of similar lighter pieces, whilst the rest of the disc’s space is oddly taken up by material, with zero connection to that era or particular story.
Is it worth a re-buy? The improved quality of the story and the fun of seeing the team chatting and having fun is almost enough in itself and for some may well be. But others will wish a more considered and detailed approach was taken instead. If you are as much of a fan of that era as me [And me! – Ed.], then you’ll still enjoy it immensely for what it is. But it may leave you with a somewhat mixed feelings and the thought that even more could and should have been had with a much beloved story and era of the show.