The Serial (4.5/5)
The Visitation is the fourth serial of Peter Davison's first season as the Doctor, and was one of the first serials he shot as the new Fifth Doctor (He shot his debut Castrovalva later in order for him to be more comfortable in the role.) The Visitation takes place in Rural England supposedly at the future location of Heathrow Airport in the year 1666. In the previous year, Plague had ravaged the land, and the locals are still in a paranoid frenzy about a potential reoccurrence. This paranoia being fueled by a Grim Reaper-esque figure wandering the countryside, as a harbinger of death.
The Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric end up landing the TARDIS in this scenario, and due to the scent of gunpowder coming from nearby they begin to investigate. This leads them to meet highwayman Richard Mace who will assist them in uncovering a plot involving fugitive aliens, and an android in the first sci-fi historical adventure that Doctor Who had seen since the Horror of Fang Rock.
The Visitation is one of the most perfect serials of the Davison era. It takes the Gothic atmosphere that Who was known for in prior iterations, and brings in some post Star Wars action sci-fi (albeit on an 80's BBC Level), and injects with a nice sense of dread. It is almost as if the atmosphere was taken from the aforementioned Horror of Fang Rock or the Brain of Morbius, and injected with some of the action and excitement of the later serial Earthshock. This is a true Doctor Who historical for the 80's (I like to disregard Black Orchid on that front, I do like the King's Demons).
The performances across the board are excellent with Davison really fitting well by this point in the role of the Fifth Doctor. Janet Fielding as Tegan who quite normally gets on my nerves, seemed to tone it down a bit for this serial, and turn in quite a good performance, and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa offers more of the same subtle acting that she became known for during her time on Who. Of course, the late Michael Robbins must be mentioned for his fantastic turn as Richard Mace, the highwayman who assist the TARDIS crew during this adventure. I have now seen the entire run of Davison serials, and have to say that outside of the main cast of companions (possibly including considering what we were given here) that the character of Mace as portrayed by Robbins is possibly the finest character of Davison's run. He plays the part equally parts charming, captivated, and confused, and his charisma through the 4 episodes is contagious. If the role of the companion is for the audience to identify with, even as a 17th Century gentlemen he manages to do this in spades.
The Davison era is a slightly uneven beast as far as Doctor Who is concerned. There are many classics within the 20 or so serials he did during his tenure as the Doctor, but there were a good many stinkers. In between the established classics (Kinda, Caves of Androzani, Castrovalva,etc) a good many excellent episodes were crafted. The Visitation is one of those oft forgotten entries that offers an excellent atmosphere, action, great writing, and even a little bit of humor at times. It is an absolute blast to watch, and if you haven't seen it this is a great time to jump in and check it out. if you've been waiting for a rewatch now is the time.
The Doctor Who Restoration Team in conjunction with BBC Worldwide have done a fantastic job restoring The Visitation for this special edition. It is, of course, presented in it's original 1:33:1 aspect ratio. Now, having watched the Visitation's original DVD release within the last year, I will say the increase in quality is certainly here. The colors are much brighter, blacks are more solid, and although there is still a bit of softness I find that it is a much stronger transfer in that department as well. There is also a pretty decent increase in fine detail.
The audio as usual is presented in a Dolby Digital Mono track in English. This as per usual does the job quite well. The dialogue comes through nice and clearly, as does the music and sound FX. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks ,or hissing on the track.
The Doctor Who Restoration Team in conjunction with BBC Worldwide have put together a nice slate of extras for their special edition re-release of The Visitation. The main extra on the first disc is a commentary track featuring the primary cast of the episode Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, and Matthew Waterhouse. There is the newly commissioned Grim Tales which follows Mark Strickson (Turlough) Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, and Janet Fielding through the locations for this serial. It runs about 45 minutes and is both informative and entertaining, but mostly the latter. We then get to the Television Centre of the Universe Part 1, which takes Davison and some of the cast back to the BBC TV centre to go over some of their history with the iconic building. We then have Doctor Forever, a piece on Doctor Who audio adventures which interviews the people who make them and others associated with Who. We get a new edition of Directing Who this one centered on Peter Moffatt. We then get one piece on writing the Visitation, and another on scoring the serial. Finally, we get some shots trimmed from the final episode, trailers, production notes, PDF Radio Times extras, an isolated music score, and a coming soon trailer.
The Visitation is an absolute blast of Who from the Davison era. The A/V restoration is brilliant, and the DVD's come loaded with extras. Doctor Who - The Visitation Special Edition comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.