Monday, 22 August 2011

Re-Watching The Fifth Doctor - The Visitation

A 37 year old man and an 8 year old boy set out on a viewing journey 29 years apart...

August 2011. I love The Visitation. Always have. Always will. Not only is it my favourite Fifth Doctor story, but it is on one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, full stop. The reasons why are many: It’s a cracking story, it has a lovely historical setting (as we all know, Auntie Beeb have the knack when it comes to historical dramas), it has a good, solid alien monster, an android dressed as death, Michael Robbins’ wonderfully fruity performance, the death of the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor being responsible for the Great Fire of London…

But above all, the character of the Fifth Doctor is at his very best in this story.

Here we see a much gruffer, edgier character than the one he would eventually become by the end of his first season. Short tempered, sulky and sarcastic, this is the closest we get to the ‘old man in a young man’s body’ we were promised at the beginning - with definite shades of the Hartnell Doctor sprinkled throughout.

Of all the Fifth Doctor stories, The Visitation is the one that has stuck with me the most, thanks, in no small part, to Alan Road’s marvellous book Doctor Who: The Making of a Television Series, released the same year, which uses this story as an example of how a typical Doctor Who story is made. As a Doctor Who fan this was my bible growing up and I must have read it from cover to cover a hundred times. Luckily it’s still in good shape and remains a valuable and much loved part of my book collection to this day.

February 1982. This is really exciting. This is the first time the Doctor has gone back in time for years and years*1. Usually he goes to alien planets or fights monsters in the present day or lands on spaceships in the future. It’s great to think that the TARDIS landed on Earth hundreds of years ago and had exiting adventures long before I was born.

I love the Terileptils too, they’re just like how proper alien monsters are supposed to look - big, green and scaly. They remind me of the Marshmen*2 - I loved them too!

I play Doctor Who with my best friend Shaun Cowley every dinnertime at my house; I’m the Doctor and Shaun is Adric and we use my mum’s laundry basket as the TARDIS console – the tall basket with the pointy lid that ends in a handle that looks like the time rotor.

I sometimes play it in the school playground too with a load of my friends. Down on the tarmaced yard that has the while lines marked out on it, we pretend that these are the room layouts for the TARDIS. There are 6 boxes marked out altogether. The Console Room, Adric’s room, Nyssa & Tegan’s room, the Zero room, the Cloister room and the Boot Cupboard.

Sometimes I take my Doctor Who book to school, the one that shows how they make the Terileptil story and show the teacher. She likes Doctor Who as well.

In the Mighty 200 poll in Doctor Who Magazine in 2009 The Visitation charted at a quite respectable No.77, placing it the 6th most popular Fifth Doctor story after Caves of Androzani, Earthshock, The Five Doctors, Kinda and Enlightenment. Not a bad sprinkling of stories to be beaten by (although, having said this, it was also beaten by the Second Doctor story Fury From The Deep, a story that no longer exists AT ALL in the BBC archives. I’ve always been baffled by how something no longer available to watch can score higher than something that is. But, that’s Doctor Who fans for you!). My affection for this story is so strong that, if I were ever invited onto Desert Island Who (should it ever be invented one day), this would be my choice for the Fifth Doctor entry.*3


- 1: Last time was Horror Of Fang Rock back in 1977. Stories like Androids Of Tara or State Of Decay don't count, as they're set on alien planets.

- 2: Full Circle again. It was one story that really left a lasting impression on me. Plus, around this time, I had it on story discs for the View-Master.

- 3: If you're interested the others are; The Daleks, The War Games, The Mind Of Evil, The Talons Of Weng-Chiang or Logopolis (I'm undecided), The Trial Of A Time Lord (I love it, so there!!), Curse Of Fenric, Bad Wolf/Parting Of The Ways, Stolen Earth/Journey's End and Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.

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