Rubber-suited monsters, cheap special effects, some ham acting and a shoestring budget can mean only one thing - Doctor Who. This latest release is the fifth to feature Peter Davidson in the lead role, and is a rather run-of-the-mill adventure that has some good things going for it, and some not so good things, depending on who you talk to.
Opening a little differently to many Doctor Who stories, there is a rather lengthy introduction featuring a handful of characters that are not seen again after the opening scene-setter. Set in 17th century London, the crew of the TARDIS land at what will become Heathrow Airport after the Doctor fails to return Tegan (Janet Fielding) to her correct time zone, just hours before she originally boarded the TARDIS in error.
Besieged by some locals who are not too keen on these possible plague-spreading strangers about to enter their town, the Doctor, Tegan, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) attempt to return to the TARDIS and leave, but lose their way in the ensuing chase. 'Rescued' by Richard Mace (Michael Robbins), a highwayman and failed thespian, they seek refuge at the house once owned by the characters in the opening sequence, to find they are dead or missing, along with evidence of alien intervention.
Investigating further, the Doctor discovers that Terileptils and an android have 'crash-landed' on Earth after escaping from a prison planet. Captured by the Terileptils, Tegan and Adric spill the beans about the TARDIS, and the leader Terileptil decides that this will come in handy to replace the crashed vessel. But, failing that, they will use black rats to spread a new strain of the plague across Earth, thereby making the planet inhabitable for themselves. The Doctor's offer to transport them anywhere they choose, but away from Earth, is rejected.
Whilst the Doctor is finding a way to stop the Terileptils, Nyssa is charged with making a vibrating box-thingy that, when turned on near the android, will blow him up, giving them the upper hand. Adric manages to escape from the Terileptils and returns to the TARDIS, but Tegan is not so fortunate and becomes an unwilling accomplice.
The Doctor follows the leader Terileptil to central London where he is faced with the prospect of destroying all three escapees, preventing the rats from spreading the deadly plague and saving his companions from a fate worse than death. All in a day's work for the Doctor, really.
Written by Who veteran Eric Saward and directed by Peter Moffatt, The Visitation is very old-style Doctor Who with its linear storyline in four parts, period setting and the evil and dominating rubber-suited aliens. The regular cast is still relatively new, and there is some questionable acting from some of them, but guest supporting actor Michael Robbins is hilarious and most enjoyable as Mace. His performance belies the fact that filming The Visitation was a constant source of annoyance and a fairly unsatisfying experience if the commentary team are to be believed. His performance is one of the standout reasons to watch The Visitation.
The effects are as cheesy and as unconvincing as ever, and don't we love it, but there has been some effort put into the costuming and sets. Fight scenes are rather insipid and not overly convincing. There is an awful amount of filler too, consisting of captures, escapes and recaptures, plus lots of footage of Nyssa faffing around the TARDIS building her vibrator. The Terileptils are not overly convincing aliens either, but that's Doctor Who I guess, and at least the actor playing the lead, Michael Meira, does a good job. The cricket glove-wearing android however looks rather funky in his silver threads and numerous diamantes.
Fans of Doctor Who have their favourite stories, and chances are The Visitation will not figure too highly on many of their lists. Regardless, this story is entertaining enough and far from the worst that Doctor Who offered over the years.
Doctor Who DVDs have somewhat set the benchmark when it comes to restoration treatment for their release, and while this one is no different, the more recent they are the better condition they start in, so miracles are sometimes not needed. Again the image is full frame, this is the filmed and televised aspect ratio so there is no disappointment there, or in the fact that it is therefore not 16:9 enhanced.
The image is reasonably sharp, especially the studio footage that was recorded on videotape, but the location footage (of which there is quite an amount) was recorded on 16mm film and exhibits some grain and a generally less sharp look. Colouring and shadow detail is also a little less solid in the filmed sequences, with some very minor evidence of noise. Artefacts have again been painstakingly removed, and there is little in the way of aliasing or shimmer.
The layer change is placed between episodes and therefore is not intrusive.
There is not a lot to be said for the audio however, as the presentation is straightforward enough with all the basics in place and coming across just fine. The audio levels are good, and all dialogue is loud and clear, even the somewhat muffled dialogue from the rubber-masked Terileptil. There are no dramas with synchronisation.
The sound range is standard, with few deep bass sounds or sharp trebles. The few gunshots and sound effects are menacing enough in all their Dolby Digital glory, but there is nothing to be heard from the rear channels, centre speaker or subwoofer. In all, this has a standard audio release that fulfills all the requirements but nothing more.