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Art, Beauty and Darn Good Fun: The Visitation

I am a commentary junkie. This little black sheep is a sucker for anything where a bunch of people sit around and bitch the show: Now that, for me, is true Doctor Who fandom.

Although on a complete side bar - never watch/listen a commentary by Pierce Brosnan. He may be good looking, but he has the oral skills of a turnip. 'Yes, this was great scene. I remember it distinctly - I was wearing shoes.'

So when I saw The Visitation CD in my local ABC (BBC/PBS) shop and saw that little line 'commentary by Peter Davison and Janet Fielding (and some other people)' I forked over my money without hesitation. Is there anyone else who sees the words 'Peter Davison' and 'commentary' and goes WHOO HOOO!?

This is not meant to be a complete rave about the DVD aspects of the story, but I did laugh my pants off. Although The Visitation was my first Doctor Who book, I had never actually seen the story before. I have to admit that I first watched it with the commentary because, I am sad to say, that this was more a lure than the story. And for me five people (Pete, Janet, Sarah, Matt and Peter Moffat) sitting around taking the mickey out of something is my idea of comedy - and they were brill.

Sylvester and Sophie come up second in the commentary stakes, but they are still a bit too serious - they keep trying to actually talk about the show (except for The Curse of Fenric one with Nicholas Parsons. That was just scary).

However this lot are presumably rich enough that they don't give a hoot. They spend their time totally trashing the story and wondering just 'what the bejesus we were doing'? Janet Fielding has an unnatural obsession with purple eyeshadow, dodgy fashion and ragging on 'Pete'. She goes into complete Australian over the top hyperdrive and, while nothing she says has much relevance to the story and will annoy the serious fans, it's just worth it to hear the accent (I don't know anyone in Australia who can match her accent - and I live there). 'Pete' sounds as if he is on a total sugar high and the whole thing is a scream. But then these commentaries seem to unleash something wild in Peter and he too spends the entire time ridiculing the whole thing, but then again you must get a certain perspective when you are Doctor Daddy.

Quiet on set everybody: The director's here

Normally I loathe having the director in the studio for the commentary. The really irritating one was that bloke who did Peter Davison's really nasty Dalek story. That man could not have been further up his own jacksie if he had tried. He kept sushing everyone so he could admire his 'cutting edge shots' as he called them - 'oh look tracking'. I am sorry dear, but sticking the camera on a shopping trolley and pushing it around is an idea that actually had been mooted before 1984.

So Pete and Janet would be busy taking the mickey out of Mark Stricksen's ability to act and run backwards at the same time and then he would make them shut up to watch a shot of a blinking window while he regaled them with stories about until he came along windows were totally overlooked in serious BBC science fiction shows. It was the commentary equivalent (but not as funny) of that scene in Bridget Jones when she tries to have a conversation with Jeffrey Archer and Salmon Rushdie - don't even try darling.

By the end of it I was furious. I just wanted to say 'now listen darling - the bloody thing has come out on DVD. You can admire your 'shots' in the privacy of your own home to your heart's content, but don't do it near me - or on the blinking commentary! You could practically see the bloke unzipping his trousers!

But the director chappie of this one was just fantastic. They must have kidnapped him from the old folks' home for the day.

Actually I am not too sure he was the director. They may have just grabbed a random oldie. This guy had no recollection of the show. It appears that he had completely blanked the whole incident from his mind. Does that tell you anything or wot? Throughout the commentary he kept turning to Sarah Sutton and saying 'now who are you again dear'?

OK he didn't actually do that. But he didn't seem to have a schmick what was going on. This didn't matter, as he was delightfully camp and bitchy. He kept asking all these great question such as 'why are you wearing such a stupid outfit Mathew?' and 'what the hell are you all doing in this scene - were you on drugs?' They would then reply with 'how the heck should we know. You were the director luvvie'.

The Story bits

People seem to be very divided about this story - but it is a good one for Peter Davison fans and Mathew Waterhouse bashers. I watched it directly after the Tom Baker story City of Death and this did highlight how much good writing, directing and a supporting cast who can actually act can be important. In The Visitation there wasn't all that much acting going on. No wonder Peter Davison's Doc was such a petulant little teddy, and no wonder they started ditching/killing off companions as soon as they could: Dialogue scenes with seconds of pauses between the lines, 'emotional scenes' with Tegan, Adric trying to say anything that doesn't make you want to bash his head in with a shovel. Perhaps Davison thought if he ran around fast enough no one would notice, but if the man ever got his hands out of his pockets for long enough he might have realised that this just made him look like a slightly out of breath twat.

The fun bits.

  1. The wobbly TARDIS in the final scene: When the Doc leaves, after completely changing Earth's history by giving Mace a piece of alien technology as a 'keepsake', the entire TARDIS starts to wobble like a flashback sequence. Some people have said that Sarah Sutton woodenly wobbles in a similar manner during this story, but this is mere speculation.

  2. The Doc, Nyssa and Mace are heading to the TARDIS to create the sonic boom thingie. Then they decide to send Nyssa alone to the TARDIS while they go find the miller. However Nyssa goes back exactly the way they had come?

  3. What was it with the writers of Doctor Who that they - consistently - want to cut off Peter Davison's head. I realise that is a dream of many people. Often I have said to myself - 'gosh, if I had one dream in life it would be to cut off Peter Davison's head. Now there is a head that really needs cutting off. Just hand me an axe and his address'. And how many times did this happen, nearly, in the series? They did manage to actually cut it off in that Big Finish story with the weird market music and the witches - but much to my chagrin, they stuck it back on again very soon after.

  4. Richard Mace (or Michael Robbins from On The Buses) consistently acts to the left. I am not kidding - it's like he has a kink in his neck. Everything exciting for him appears to be happening just a little to the left. Perhaps the hip flask was digging into his side?

  5. The Squeaky Doc: His high octave forays are just hilarious. Now I just wonder if McCoy could have got away with 'I am far more than 'squeak' - just another - time lord.'

  6. Somehow, during the android killing scene, all the ornaments on the shelf in the girlie bedroom disappear - this, I reckon was wot Nyssa made Adric do. That is why he was so annoyed - 'I'm a mathematical genius, not an ornament taker downer'.

  7. The bedazzled android: Sometime somewhere on late night TV someone invented the 'bedazzler'. This was a nifty little gadget that allowed you to stick beads/thingies onto anything. Now I wonder, just judging by the android, if the bedazzler might not have been invented by the Terrileptils?

    On the other hand - who in their right mind bedazzles an android? Who actually sits down and says: 'Oh look, I have just created this hideous weapon of death, but I think it needs a few plastic beads stuck to its chest to make it look pretty.' I do realise that the Terrileptils had a love of art and beauty, but jewel-encrusted android cricket gloves are just weird and kinky.

  8. Now this may be the oddest observation ever, but when the Terrileptil leader talks to Tegan he sounds all nice and friendly (well, as nice and friendly as a giant lizard gets). He was such a pratt to his android. He was always shouting at it and ordering it about. However he took the time to really take Tegan through the ropes of being a mind controlled slave - 'now don't drop that tray of rat plague stuff dear, or you will die horribly'. It was like he really cared for her in a 'I am a murderous alien being with designs of genocide on your race and you are a chick with too much eyeshadow' sort of way. Perhaps the Terrileptil's love of art and beauty extended to purple eye shadow?

  9. The Terrileptil leader's somewhat droopy crutch. I am not going there.

  10. Tegan's emotional scene:

    'Aiye knowe aiye haiv'ent beanne thee baist ov cormpainions, bait aiye weel meiss ew Neesa'.

    And there is Sarah Sutton with that inscrutable look on her face. I prefer to think that Nyssa was all torn up, but that her fairy princess training on Traken had taught her to keep it on the inside (just like the Queen). Actually - and this is just judging by the fact that Nyssa seemed just a tad too helpful during the 'emotional' scene - 'here's your coat, here's your bag - now get out'. Sarah was probably thinking 'actually I wish you would go so I don't get stuck in a coma or in the TARDIS creating sonic devices every episode'.

  11. Trance acting.

    Not only did Janet Fielding 'ave a daid rart nayled twu hair haird', but she also got to do a bit of 'mind control' acting or as it is called in the commentary - 'Trarwnce acting'.

    This appears to equate to that look you get when you are really really drunk and you suddenly realise you must lie down with a bucket - now. Michael Robbins also does some trarwnce acting, but it isn't much different from his normal stuff - just a little bit more centered.

The mind blowingly annoying bit:

Nyssa tells Tegan she will return half and hour after she left Earth. Tegan then says she still doesn't understand how this can happen:

Five, four, three, two, one.

IT'S A TIME MACHINE YOU STUPID STUPID WOMAN!

TARDIS: TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE. Even my poodle has a better grasp of the concept of a 'time machine' than her. In every fricken story she is always complaining how she will be late and lose her job. Did no one ever sit her down and explain how a time machine works? Didn't she ever notice - 'oh look now we are in a completely different century? I wonder how that happened'. How thick is this chick? For that alone Tegan deserves to have a Concorde fall on her.

The puzzling bits.

During some scenes there seemed to be a complete lack of interaction between the cast - and I am not talking about everyone thinking Mathew Waterhouse was a twonker.

It was like everyone was in a different plane of reality - Peter would say a line, then two seconds later Adric would respond with his line, but oddly enough it would be directed to a spot somewhere about three feet to the left of where Peter was actually standing.

Peter would then run around in a small circle and address his next remark to a knob on the console. Then Nyssa would walk in and announce something to the entire room, revolve on her axis and go back the way she came - rather like a cuckoo clock (just what was stuck up there?).

And then of course for Michael Robbins everything exciting was happening a little to the left - no matter where the actor he was meant to be addressing was. I have actually developed a theory about this. I reckon there was a good looking crew member chick that he fancied and he wanted to keep her in sight at all times - well either that or he had a bad neck.

Conclusion:

This one has something for everyone. If you are a hardcore purist Doctor Who fan who likes this era, buy the DVD, but don't whatever you do listen to the commentary - there are lots of documentary extras that will keep you happy. If you are one of those fans who love to know what was really going on behind the scenes this DVD will delight in so many ways. This is definitely one I will watch and rewatch for many years to come...