Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews Vol. 5.2
After hitting the ground running the 5th Doctor finds himself involved in a murder mystery, a Cyberman attack and the Black Death.
In the latest attempt to return Tegan to her original life at Heathrow Airport the Doctor does get them back to the right location, just not the right time. They’re 300 years early and set out to explore. Spotting a cloud of sulphur they investigate but are attacked by villagers. A thespian highwayman known as Richard Mance encounters the group and leads them to safety in a barn. Inside the barn the time travellers find evidence that a recent comet that crashed nearby was an alien ship, and they would be survivors.
Further investigation leads them to a manor house where a holographic walls gives way to reveal a secret room manned by an android who takes Tegan and Adric hostage. While preparing an offensive the Doctor and Nyssa come across more villagers who are under the control of the aliens. Upon meeting the aliens the Doctor offers to take them off the planet but they opt to wipe out the human race and establish a colony. Before the Doctor can stop them he must contend with the android, who is terrifying the villagers whilst under the guise of the Grim Reaper, and locate where the aliens have established their base.
This episode, whilst narratively offering little in the way of uniqueness, does have plenty of noteworthy elements. The use of the setting is extremely well done, evoking the era that it is set in effectively. The enemy aliens, the Terileptil, are the first creatures in the show to use an animatronic mask to bring them to life, upping the production value of the show considerably. Overall it is a very good looking serial.
As with the best Doctor Who serials The Visitation does tie into historic events. The Terileptil’s grand plan involves imbuing the local rat population with a plague virus that would lead into the Black Plague. The android donning the image of the Grim Reaper is indicative of the poetic notion that “death himself stalked the streets”. During the final moments of the final episode the exploding alien weaponry leads into the great London Fire, something the Fourth Doctor commented on having been accused of starting. This serial also saw the destruction of the sonic screwdriver, which had been a regular feature in the show since 1968. This began a 14 year absence of the iconic gadget from the show prompted y the producers belied that it made the Doctor’s problems too easy to solve.
In an unusual turn of events the TARDIS arrives in the English countryside during 1925 where the Doctor seems to be expected by one Lord Cranleigh. The Doctor joins them for a game of cricket (fortunately he was dressed for the occasion). In the meanwhile something unusual is brought to the surface: Nyssa is the spitting image of Lord Cranleigh’s fiancée Ann. The crew of the TARDIS are invited to stay for the upcoming masquerade ball.
With Nyssa and Ann dressed in matching costumes they play and switching identities, much to the amusement of other guests. Meanwhile the discovery of a secret passage distracts the Doctor, leading to a strange figure takes the chance to steal his harlequin costume. The mysterious figure in the harlequin costume uses his guise to try and abduct Ann, leading to two murders for which the Doctor is the prime suspect. Eventually they discover that Ann previous fiancée had become severely injured while on a botany trip and in his madness tried to steal her back.
Unusually this serial only comprises of two episodes, unlike the usual four or six. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as some stories feel like they’re needlessly padded out for the sake of filling out the episodes. With the classic murder mystery set-up used for this story keeping it tight is a plus. Also unusual is the complete lack of science fiction elements after the arrival of the TARDIS. The entire serial takes place within the estate and the ‘monster’ is revealed to be a human.
It’s always nice to see the familiar characters in a different situation, even though for the crew of the TARDIS this means putting them into a normal situation. Tegan is the only one who isn’t out of her element for a change, whilst Nyssa and Adric are left floundering in the complicated etiquette of the era. Certainly plenty of fun to be had in this story.
Things are not well on board the TARDIS. Adric accuses the Doctor or ignoring him and being disrespected by Nyssa and Tegan, and wants to return to his home planet in E-Space. When the Doctor insists that this cannot be achieved an argument breaks out as Adric demands that he be given the chance to try to narrow down the co-ordinates. The Doctor lands the TARDIS underground during Earth’s future to walk off his anger (and find some buried fossils to boot) only to happen across a group of explorers who are looking for the culprits behind the deaths of their colleagues.
Once they all get on the same side the find the real murderers – a group of dangerous androids who can pass through the human detectors unseen. The androids are defending a strange hatch that, after a battle, the Doctor and the explorers break through to find that Cybermen are in the chamber along with a plan to destroy the planet. The Doctor recruits Adric to assist in defusing the bomb that is located on a freighter ship in orbit.
During the attempt to defuse the bomb the freighter starts barrelling back in time where it becomes the event that causes the extinction of the dinosaurs. At the last moment Adric stays behind to decode the logic codes that seal the bomb but when a Cyberman destroys the console Adric has no choice but to wait for the inevitable.
The death of Adric is a shocking moment. Whilst two companions had died a much earlier season they had only been short-term characters. Adric is first of the established and long running companions to be killed on screen, and there’s very little to pre-empt it. The final moments for the character do little to soften the moment as Adric stayed behind not as a noble sacrifice but because he could save the ship from destruction. After completing the logic puzzles the console is destroyed before he can even find out if he had solved them correctly – leaving his last thought one of disappointment at not finding out if he was right.
Putting aside the most striking feature of the episode there is still plenty to help this episode stand out. It’s the first episode in a long time to feature the Cybermen and the villains remain one of the scariest foes the Doctor has ever had to face. The story is extremely well paced with the reveals coming steadily, and tying the main story into the extinction of the dinosaurs is a clever twist. Easily one of the best of the new generation.