Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Serial 119: The Visitation

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companions: Adric, Nyssa, Tegan Jovanka

Written by: Eric Saward
Directed by: Peter Moffatt

Background & Significance: Tom Baker's reign (previously described as legendary) ended after seven years. It was legendary, epic, and gave the world easily the most popular and well-known Doctor from the classic series. When he left, the producers were left with a crisis:

How could they possibly follow up one of the greatest Doctors to date?

The answer, interestingly enough, came from casting something that was completely different from the previous four Doctors, who were all fine gentlemen, but the youngest at the time of casting was Tom Baker, and he was 40 when he got the job. So they tried something completely different: They cast 29 year old Peter Davison.

A radical departure from all of the previous Doctors, Davison was notably younger than all the actors had been when they took over (note that he was over a decade younger than Tom Baker when Tom Baker got the role) and casting him (and I believe he was quite the popular actor at the time) was a huge gamble. It was also an attempt to bring in a younger crowd, especially in the wake of Star Wars coming in and becoming a massive influence on all of sci-fi forever. The show went back to basics, focusing on classic stories, science fiction (as opposed to the goofy humour of Baker's era), and the return of old villains.

So part of the question is... did it work? Did the ridiculously young Doctor work?

The Visitation takes place halfway through Davison's first season, with Tom Baker's final companions (Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric) still hanging around, and for the first time on this blog, there is nothing special about it. No Daleks. No Cybermen. No Master. No multiple Doctors. No nothing. Just a classic Doctor Who story.

So let's get to it.

Commentary!: We start in 17th Century England, with a nice quiet evening of family time. The young maiden of the household looks outside and sees a bright shiny shooting star careen out of the sky. She gets all excited, but no one else cares. Such trivialities are womanly and thusly not to be cared about by the strapping brawn of the 17th Century "bro".

And that's when the weirdness starts to happen. Something with heavy, creepy mouth breathing lumbers slowly into the household. Someone sees and panics and the thing fires a laser. A real proper laser. But then, one of the household bros decides to get all Medieval on his @$$ and shoots him dead.

The house mounts for battle and war against the invaders. They even give the woman a gun (that means it's serious) and they all hold positions in the dining room, ready for whatever's facing them. An arm punches through the door and blasts it open, revealing--

A god damn android.

So that's awesome. Seriously. I was watching this, and like... I dunno. I was blown away by the production design. It feels like a PBS show now... All the production design, the camera work. It's the feel that they're on a set, but at least they try to make it not look like a set. It's ridiculously hard to define, but that's what I think. Anyway, seeing this android just burst into 17th Century England was fantastic. I loved it. Like, love love. It defined what I think about this show and how it functions from a production standpoint and tone and flavor and all that. And I love it.

And seriously. Look at the "Disco flava" of that android. Tell me that's not the greatest thing you've ever seen.

We cut to the TARDIS, where The Doctor is talking to Nyssa and Adric (we'll get to them in a bit) about the departure of Tegan, who just wants to go to her new job as a stewardess, so they're taking her back to Heathrow. The Doctor gets her there, but 300 years early, meaning the area is a vast place of trees and forest (as England used to be. So pretty). Tegan's REALLY upset that she can't just get home, so she storms out of the TARDIS.

Everyone rushes after her and, once they smell sulphur, decide to explore. They see that the world is full of sulfur and gunpowder and it's very quiet. Too quiet. After some quick exploring, The Doctor decides to return to the TARDIS, but they're surrounded by some angry villagers who talk about "the plague!"

Not ready to be taken hostage quite so easily, there's a skirmish, involving The Doctor GRABBING A GUY AND FLIPPING HIM OVER (it's awesome) and Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric all teaming up to take down one of the rogue villagers by pushing him (it works, I swear). They run through the woods some more. Adric trips for no reason.

They come across a chap named Richard Mace, an actor who is a bit of a traveling vagrant, and interested enough to help and provide some exposition about the villagers and the plague and the comet that apparently everyone saw as it fell from the sky. The Doctor (being an expert in all Earth's historical astronomy), says that's odd because there wasn't a scheduled comet around that time.

Anyways, Mace leads them off to a barn for safety and when they arrive, they look for clues to help them figure out what's going on. (Also, don't follow vagrant and unemployed actors to abandoned barns. That's where slaughterings happen. I mean, I know The Doctor can protect you, but he's not always going to be there.)

They find these things called power packs, and The Doctor (being Davison's incarnation) asks his Companions questions, actively involving them in the debate. And I really like that about Davison's Doctor. He's getting them involved, making them ask questions, and teaching them, but it's also done incredibly subtly (compare it to the early Hartnell years and you'll see what I mean) so that it's not annoying.

Also, Adric is magically healed. He says his race heals faster than humans. Great. So he's annoying and fast-healing and he thinks he's better than me. Did I mention I can't stand him?

And while we're talking about Adric and him being a ridiculously annoying companion, I guess this would be a great time to get to talking about these three companions of The Doctor's. I hadn't met them before this, but I know Adric's important to the fabric of the show (for reasons that I will illuminate in the coming months) and Tegan holds the record for the longest serving companion (beating runner up Sarah Jane Smith by a month or something) so she's kinda a big deal. And all three of these Companions were around to see Tom Baker die. So that's kind of a big deal.

Now here for the big thing.

All three of these companions are ridiculously annoying. Ridiculously. I can't think of companions I've disliked more (so far; I still have a bunch of companions to meet) because these three just run around and don't do anything. Tegan appears in next week's blog too, and while she's not as bad she just doesn't do anything. All they seem to do is complain and moan about The Doctor not being around. Maybe that's just this serial, but that's what I pull from this every time I watch it.

And Adric needs to just shut up. My lord. This is why Wesley Crusher didn't work (although I liked Wesley. Adric is just crazy annoying).

Back to the story! The Thespian (I'm just going to call him the Thespian because I can) shows them to the nearby estate. The Doctor and Nyssa break in through a window to investigate. He conveys to her, through evidence, discussion of the aliens who crashed and how they killed the people in the house and did some other stuff.

They find a staircase that the Doctor finds peculiar because there's a wall at the bottom, which doesn't make any sense. Why build a staircase if it doesn't lead anywhere? He tells Nyssa to let the others back in, and while she's gone, he disappears!

Everyone, now stuck in the stairway and confused are locked in by someone wearing Michael Jackson's glove.

And with the Doctor nowhere to be found and everyone locked in, panic ensues. They get hold of Richard Mace's guns, there's some chaos, and everyone dies.

You think I'm joking?

Yeah okay. You got me. The Doctor shows up before all that could happen.

He shows them that the wall is an illusion and leads them down towards the kitchens. They start to descend into an atmosphere laden with Soliton Gas. The Doctor tells the Companions to search for the people who are using it to create a suitable atmosphere. And because they fail as Companions, he loses his temper a little bit and tells them again.

See what I mean about them failing as Companions?

They head into the wine cellar and see a plague rat. Oh, and then this happens. Such fun.

With Tegan and Adric captured by the android, The Doctor, The Thespian (it's like a Time Lord name), and Nyssa all regroup to try to figure out what to do next in order to rescue the others. The Doctor explains that the power packs couple with these green ornament thingies (The Thespian has one around his neck) to control the minds of the people who wear them. So there's that...

And then this amazing little shot happens.


(Oh if only that were this story.)

Tegan and Adric, captured by the Android, are questioned by a fin-having mysterious character (bad guy). Adric (being incredibly stupid) tells the bad guy things about The Doctor and the TARDIS that he just... he just shouldn't. You're kidnapped by an android who's just tried to kill you, don't tell his boss everything you know about your one hope of survival.

[This has been another installment of "Shut up, Adric". Probably more to come]

The Doctor and Nyssa make theories about the android and how to stop it. They devise "a sonic disruptor" to take it out, but they'll have to get back to the TARDIS to make one. They leave, making the evil alien all giddy that his prisoners have been abandoned.

The Doctor and Nyssa decide to split up with The Thespian, but as soon as they do, they encounter a crashed space ship. The Doctor notices that a lot of the technology and the like has been removed and probably re-located elsewhere. There's also this great bit where the Thespian is wicked confused by all the crazy tech going on around him, and watching him just get blown away and The Doctor trying to explain it (or not) is just... so delightful.

They head outside, but are soon chased back into it by some of the mind-controlled minions of the space invaders (whom The Doctor calls Terileptils; also, one of the mind-controlled minions has a degree in archery, so that doesn't suck). The Doctor, Nyssa, and the Thespian escape out the back door and to safety. They split up, The Doctor telling Nyssa to go to the TARDIS to create the sonic disruptor while he and the Thespian head off to find the Miller.

"The Object of the Thespian's Desire"

While at the Miller's, The Doctor finds The Miller's cart full of those caged rats he saw earlier. He also takes note of the mind-control bracelet on The Miller's wrist... Connections are made. All that.

Also, Adric and Tegan attempt to break out. Adric gets out, Tegan doesn't.

The Doctor and the Thespian, still camping out at the Miller's for some reason (I really don't know why they're there anymore) decide to leave, but as they are, the plague-paranoid townsfolk show up, ready to kill them for their plague-carrying ways. The Doctor insists that there is no plague on them and they're there to help.

But the dude with the scythe will have none of that.

Seriously. Dude with a scythe. Awesome.

Luckily, they are saved at the last moment by a dude with a bracelet (which is funny because the cliffhanger was right before their death, meaning that if they had kept the camera rolling for just five more seconds ALL tension would have been gone) who deus ex machinas and tells them to stop.

The Terileptil attaches a bracelet to Tegan's hand, thereby gaining control over her mind then orders the deus ex machina character to bring the Doctor to the house.

Meanwhile, we get some footage of Nyssa, back at the TARDIS, working on creating the sonic disruptor.

Know what I realized about the TARDIS? Cool. Look. Sleeping arrangements. But my god there is NO personality in any of this. Someone post some posters or alumni pennants or something because this place could use some character. It's just so bland and generic. Would you want to sleep there? Hell no. Make the place more homely. Adric could put up pictures of fun math problems on the wall or something. It'd be delightful. But no. For right now, it just looks like a prison. A great big Time Lord prison.

Tegan is told to do some work for the Terileptil, so she goes and does that, but he tells her not to drop anything or she'll be dead really quickly. (Is it bad I really hoped she would?)

Adric shows up at the TARDIS and starts blah blahing about something or another (really he's so annoying sounding even here that I never think anything regarding him really much matters...) and he comes to almost tears because The Doctor's not around.

Seriously, dude. Tears. Adric, please at least try to act like you have some self-respect.

The Doctor and The Thespian try to raise a daring escape from the barn they've been detained in, but it only culminates in the Village-Master's release from Terileptilian control (and the Doctor obtains a power pack, but more on that a bit later). They try less daring escapes, from trying to unply the boards with a knife, but really that's just more wasting of screentime.

But now that the Village-master is un-mind-controlled, The villagers are free to do what they want with their prisoners. In this case, that means setting fire to the barn. (Which is only ever a tremendous amount of delight.) Just before they're about to do it, though, the android shows up! Dressed like Death! (This isn't the first time it's happened, but it's effective here because everybody freaks the frak out.) And he's here for the "plague carriers"!

That's right. Dude grabbed a scythe and upgraded to "Death Android". How awesome is that?

And now that they've been captured by the "Death Android", The Doctor and the Thespian come face-to-face with the Terileptil. Which still looks rather nasty. Also, if you look close, you can see many places of wrinkled skin and crinkled costume. I'm just saying.

There's a buttload of exposition, revealing that the Terileptil wants to steal the TARDIS and fly it around after they exterminate the entire population of Earth. Really, I just saved you about seven minutes of discussion.

Meanwhile, back at the TARDIS, Adric gets antsy and restless (as all pubescent teens do) and decides to go out looking for The Doctor (I would have guessed it would have been for something to make out with (and he can impress the ladies with his love for challenging science and his taste in yellow clothes), but I guess The Doctor is just as good). Unfortunately he is captured by hillfolk and roasted and eaten while Nyssa watches from the safety of the TARDIS.

Which would have been fantastic. But alas. He is merely eaten, not roasted. The hillfolk in 17th Century England like themselves some Adric sushi.

The Terileptil loads a bunch of what he reveals to be plague rats onto the Miller's wagon and heads to the nearest city to unleash his virus. He does this at the same time as he locks The Doctor in a room with Tegan and The Thespian and destroys the sonic screwdriver (which is a bummer. The producer of the 1980's, Jonathan Nathan-Turner hated the idea of the sonic screwdriver, thinking it was a crutch the writers would lean on to prevent good stories; the sonic screwdriver wouldn't appear until the movie, some 15 years later...), although there is a nice touch where The Doctor says "I feel as though you've just killed an old friend."

The Terileptil reveals that he is merely doing what humans do: killing those beneath him that he might survive. And then there's this really great exchange that goes:

The Doctor: "That's not much of an argument!"
The Terileptil: "It's not supposed to be an argument! It's a statement!"

And the way he says it is so fantastically great. He's so incredibly annoyed it's amazing.

So he leaves and The Doctor tries to convince Tegan to cover the cage again so the plague rat won't get out and unleash plague on him. Fortunately, he discharges a power pack and manages to disable their bracelets. But they find themselves trapped in the house with no way to get out.

Also, The Doctor breaks them out of the door by using a pistol to blast open the lock that involves him saying "I never miss."

Nyssa tests her sonic disruptor. It works. (There's not much more to say about it.)

In the forest, Adric (being carted away by the progressive, cannibal-sushi-loving hillfolk) are confronted by the Android who still looks like death. They panic and run away, letting Adric go. Not being terribly smart, he heads back to the TARDIS, clearly followed by the Android.

And guess what happens next?

Adric approaches the TARDIS, Nyssa comes out to greet him, and then-

Nyssa races the Android into the TARDIS and wins, but not in time to lock him out. The Android bursts inside. You know what that means! Nyssa needs to bust some kickin tunes.

Nah, just kidding. Sonic disruptor. Android does some crazy disco dance. But Nyssa's beats and sonics are just too much for it. So Android goes boom.

Poor Disco Android...

Now that they've stopped the Android, Adric and Nyssa need to go save The Doctor. Do they walk to go save The Doctor? Hell no! Adric doesn't walk! He has walked enough! He decides to fly the TARDIS. Nyssa asks him if he's sure he can do it. He says yes. But that's like asking a twelve year old if he knows how to drive his uncle's Ferrari.

And somehow it works. Personally, I think this is really stupid. It just takes away the magic of flying the TARDIS and makes it so that any kid with clumsy hand and annoying face can do it. That's not the way it works, man. Not for me, anyways.

And yet, this is canon.

Seriously, does he even LOOK like he knows what he's doing?

But he manages to land it and The Doctor is pissed (it's like Robin stealing the Batmobile) but proud of Nyssa for doing good work. He tracks the signal to London, which is where the rest of the Terileptils are and heads outside, ready to track them down.

(I love this shot)

The Doctor and company track the Terileptils to a... location? And there's the big epic!

Unfortunately, they've started a fire. Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric all want to help, but The Doctor says "we've interfered enough!" and they TARDIS away. When they all complain, he tells them he'll explain one day why they didn't need to help put it out even though they started it.

And why didn't they need to put it out?

Because they were on Pudding Lane, the location of the start of the Great Fire of London.

But what about The Doctor?: Peter Davison is awesome. Let's just get that out of the way right here. I love Peter Davison. I was really looking forward to him and he did not disappoint. Easily, he was the greatest thing about this story. That's not even a contest.

It's also really interesting that... It's hard to explain this exactly, but, having found my way to the Doctor through Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, seeing Peter Davison is like a breath of fresh air. He's young, energetic, and exciting. Very bouncy, very classic, and extremely likable. You can even see a lot of David Tennant pulling directly from Peter Davison (which makes sense, because Tennant has said that Peter Davison was his favorite Doctor).

It just re-affirms my love of a younger Doctor. Not that the older Doctors are bad (I still love Troughton and I can't wait for more Tom Baker in a few weeks), but I love Doctors who can bring energy and excitement to the show, younger Doctors simultaneously establishing a double message: I'm really old, but look at how much energy I have. And Davison totally captures that. He said he didn't find himself a good Doctor (or not so much awful as tremendously uncomfortable and wished he had a few years under his belt before he got the gig) but I find that so totally unfounded. He's a brilliant Doctor and I can't wait to see more of him. Definitely one of my favs.

Next Time!: Five Doctors! Five Companions! A Time Lord Dungeon Master! and the Tomb of Rassilon! Also Cybermen, The Master, and a Random Dalek! "The Five Doctors!" Coming next Tuesday!

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