Doctor Who: The Visitation: Special Edition

The Fifth Doctor four-parter The Visitation was previously released on DVD in 2004. As before with a Special Edition, I'll link back to the original review, by James Sampson, and then come back to discuss the new discs and the extras.

Review by James Sampson

The DVDs

The Special Edition of The Visitation comprises two dual-layered DVDs, the first encoded for Regions 2 and 4, the second for Region 2 only. Both discs have optional audio-descriptive menus.

The Visitation was shot on 16mm for the location filming and on 625-line colour videotape for the studio work, and was broadcast from two-inch Quad videotapes which still survive. These have been cleaned up and restored for this edition, and the results look very good, as good as they are likely to do, given the very much SD original materials. The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.33:1, which you would expect from a television production from 1982.

The soundtrack is the original mono, also restored. It's clear and well-balanced, with Paddy Kingsland's electronic-historical score showing up well. You have the option of playing this serial with an isolated score. Hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the feature and all of the extras except the commentary. (Hang on to your original DVD if you do want commentary subtitles, as they were included then.). The information subtitles this time are the work of Nicholas Pegg, replacing Richard Molesworth's subtitle track on the original release.

The extras on Disc One are carried over from the 2004 single-disc release. This begins with the commentary, beginning with Peter Davison (real name Peter Moffett) introducing his almost-namesake, the serial's director Peter Moffatt. Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse join in after a few minutes at the point where they appear on screen. An unmoderated five-hander commentary is probably one person too far, with Davison and Fielding dominating the proceedings and indulging in the kind of pisstaking of the events on screen (Michael Robbins's luvviness gets some stick) which tends to characterise their commentary tracks. Peter Moffatt does get to have his say, and Sarah Sutton gets overshadowed a little.

“Directing Who” (26:15) showcases Peter Moffatt, a somewhat undersung Who director, who still directed six stories between 1980 and 1985, clips of which are included. He had worked with Davison previously on All Creatures Great and Small. He was in his early eighties when this was recorded: he passed away in 2007.

“Writing a Final Visitation” (12:52) is an interview with Eric Saward, who talks about his previous career writing for radio. Then-script editor Christopher H. Bidmead asked the BBC Radio Drama department if they could recommend any writers for Who, and Saward's name was put forward. Itinerant actor Richard Mace (Michael Robbins in The Visitation), who functions as an additional companion for this serial, was a character that Saward had used in previous radio plays, though that version of Mace came from the 1880s instead of the 1660s. Saward had not watched the show for some years before he was approached to write for it, and hadn't realised that historical settings had become quite unusual since then. His original title was Plague Rates: "the Visitation" was contemporary slang for the coming of the Great Plague.

“Scoring The Visitation” (16:20) features Paddy Kingsland, filmed amongst the keyboards and synths he made use of in this serial, interviewed by Mark Ayres, himself a Who score composer. This will be of particular interest to musicians, though for others it may be a little dry. But, along with the recent two-part Dudley Simpson interview, it's good to see this aspect of Who being featured.

Also on the disc are some film trims (5:33) from the location shoot in Black Park, near Iver in Buckinghamshire, a favourite location for many films due to its being very near to Pinewood Studios and despite being in the flightpath of Heathrow Airport. Extras are completed by a self-navigating stills gallery (5:13). Click left from the stills gallery on the second page of the special features menu, and you will find an Easter Egg, continuity announcements from the original broadcast (1:28), including plugs for the then-current Doctor Who exhibitions in Longleat and Blackpool, and something called Distant Guns on the other side.

On to Disc Two, which begins with “Grim Tales” (45:10), a new making-of documentary. It begins with the TARDIS materialising in Black Park and Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton...and future companion Mark Strickson, who acts as a moderator while the other three reminisce. We also hear from Eric Saward, lead Terileptil Michael Melia and designer Ken Starkey, their interviews recorded elsewhere. Basing this round an extended four-way interview makes a change from the usual making-of format, and the banter between Davison, Sutton and Fielding helps a lot, but at forty-five minutes it's somewhat over-extended.

The Television Centre of the Universe – Part One (32:13) is introduced by another Fielding, Blue Peter presenter Yvette. It's a look at the iconic BBC building, opened in 1960 and now sold and closed, and home to many programmes, Doctor Who included. Fielding Y interviews Fielding J, Mark Strickson and Peter Davison in the car park, a place where former Doctor Patrick Troughton advised Davison to do just three years in the role, advice that the younger man took. The four of them walk around the Centre, including their former dressing rooms and a visit to the make-up department. Also interviewed is film traffic supervisor Neville Withers, who tells a story of meeting Jon Pertwee, in full costume and cloak, in the lift. Assistant floor manager Sue Hedden describes how cramped the typical dressing rooms were, particularly the larger ones which housed several supporting artists at once, and tells the story of an actor playing a Silurian who had an unfortunate reaction to his costume. As this is Part One, it ends with “to be continued”...on another DVD.

“Doctor Forever – The Apocalypse Element” (27:31) continues the series of looks at Who ephemera and spinoffery. Presented again by Ayesha Antoine, this looks at the show's existence on audio, beginning with sound effects records and Genesis of the Daleks on vinyl (TV soundtrack with Tom Baker narration) and sound effects discs, to original stories on CD from Big Finish, many of them featuring Lisa Bowerman (interviewed) as Bernice Summerfield, and many returning Eighth and Fourth Doctors Paul McGann and Tom Baker to the title role. Writers Gary Russell, Robert Shearman and Nicholas Briggs are interviewed, as is Russell T. Davies who describes how he prevented Big Finish's licence to Who being removed when the BBC began to make the show again. The last third of this featurette covers Audiogo, which produces audio versions of the Target print novelisations.

Also on the disc, in PDF format, are the Radio Times listings from the first broadcast, though only episodes two and three had credits listed, due to the current practice of broadcasting Who on two nights a week, Mondays and Tuesdays. Also in PDF format is the two-page BBC Enterprise sales sheet for the serial.

The disc ends with a Coming Soon trailer for the next Who DVD, the Special Edition of Inferno.



out of 10

Doctor Who

The long-running BBC TV science fiction series that started in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 2017 saw Peter Capaldi regenerate into the show's first female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season debuts in 2018, with Chris Chibnall replacing Steven Moffat as the current showrunner.

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