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Season 19 of Doctor Who had reached the mid-point and Peter Davison had settled into the role of The Doctor, dispelling the "Wet Vet" criticism that some had launched. After having one or two futuristic adventures in outer-space, the TARDIS would venture into Earth's past for an adventure that would yet again see The Doctor directly involved with a key event in history...

Mark our words - they'll start singing "I Know Him So Well" in a minute...

In the skies of seventeen century Earth there are lights in the sky and soon after, the occupants of a Squire's house are massacred; with plague sweeping across the land, The Doctor, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) materialise in the middle of things and discover that the Grim Reaper walks abroad and there is an alien presence that seeks to destroy the entire human population to suit their own selfish means...

Written by Eric Saward, The Visitation is a Doctor Who story that squarely falls into the pseudo-historical category, meaning that whilst it has a period setting, there are science-fiction elements that dominate the story. Situating the story in the middle of two moments of English history that were of great importance and managing to marry the two elements into the story is not only very smart, but also manages to go towards fulfilling the original remit of the show, in that it should educate and entertain in equal measure.

Saward throws in the odd dry quip, even allowing Adric to score an amusing reply about what to say when knocking on a stranger's door ( "hello?" is his reply); when Tegan is quizzed as to where The Doctor is from, her reply is "Guilford" and along with other little asides, it keeps a fairly grim storyline from getting TOO morose.

Speaking of all things grim, having the fabled Grim Reaper inhabiting a period story is a without doubt a great idea, as having an android turning up dressed as Death itself in front of a bunch of deeply-religious people during a particularly deadly period of English history would be enough to scare pretty much anyone into doing anything. The fact that the plague just also happens to be ravaging the country only adds to the sense of panic and chaos that would have undoubtedly terrified the general population.  Control by creating phoney terror - the old ways never have gone out of style, have they?

Davison is still finding his feet with the characterisation (this was the second Fifth Doctor story to be shot) and employs his occasional mimicry of Hartnell and Troughton, especially the former, as Davison's voice goes all high when he gets defensive under questioning by his companions. It's a welcome nod to past Doctors - certainly the former Mr Moffat has been the only actor to consciously do this - but a little more subtlety would have made it less self-conscious.

Nyssa always was a tricky character to incorporate into a story; she spent a long period of time stuck in the TARDIS in Earthshock, she was almost entirely absent from Kinda and having two other companions, both of which were loud and/or annoying, to compete with, Nyssa frequently seemed to get lost in the shuffle. When Sarah Sutton IS allowed to shine, she's great and the scientific intellect that her character possesses makes for a great pairing with her and The Doctor, but sadly, she had to compete with an precocious wee shite and a mouth-on-legs.

Speaking of whom, Janet Fielding doesn't get much of a look-in during this story - she just interjects sarcastically now and again and gets angry, weepy and slightly hysterical at the start of the first episode - as all three companions really take a back-seat to Peter Davison and a certain guest star...

There's no question that the stand-out performer in this story is Michael Robbins, who instils the perfect balance of bravado, bluff and outright cowardice in Richard Mace. Robbins was a solid, dependable actor who had been trapped in sitcom hell for several years and was probably more than eager to show what he could do on a programme as widely seen and as loved as Doctor Who - there's not a hint of his Arthur character from On The Buses (which is pretty much the lowest sort of Music Hall-style sitcom - if you haven't seen it for a long time and want to revisit this "classic", you'll discover that it really WAS bollocks), and the vulnerability that Robbins displays makes you ultimately root for him when he finally is able to summon up a degree of courage. Robbins' comedic stock-in-trade is firmly on display here, as he weaves in many wry utterances into his decidedly "lusty" performance and he plays off Davison in a wonderful way, as Mace's thin veneer of Thespian bravado rapidly peels away in the glare of The Doctor's 900 years of accumulated knowledge.

"You stupid great lump!", "Don't talk wet!", "What a lot of rot you do talk!", "Have you gone raving mad?" - there, that should cover them all...

Adric is Adric and Matthew Waterhouse is still very much Matthew Waterhouse, but at least he does get to essentially kick Death up the arse during a brief scuffle. In an amusing - and probably conscious on the part of Eric Saward - twist, Adric does his ankle in during the first episode; this gender-reversal of the classic Susan-doing-her-ankle-in... sorry, we meant female-companion-doing-her-ankle-in could be looked upon as fairly progressive for the time, as it was one thing for women in Doctor Who to wave the feminist flag now and again (Janet Fielding was in the cast at this time, for Christ's sake!), but it was another to have male companions fall victim to the same sort of trivial plot contrivances that usually happened to the female ones. There are those out there who will doubtlessly cheer when Adric comes a cropper, but not quite as loudly as they would if watching the end of Earthshock, of course...

The villains of the piece, the Terileptils, are good in concept and writing, but are let down a little in execution, with the harsh lighting that was favoured during this period of Doctor Who not doing them any favours. There are times when they are seen in shadow, and the look much better, but seeing them in daylight or the aforementioned harsh lighting, it robs them of any menace, as they look like men in suits. The Terileptils are impressive as far as the writing and performances, as they have a sense of purpose and almost clinical sense of cunning that is undercut by their anger and burning desire to achieve their ultimate objective and it's a shame that they weren't used again... with better lighting.

Once again, when it comes to period detail, you can't fault the BBC, as the location filming is nothing short of gorgeous and the costumes lend the whole thing an added layer of realism. The location filming is most impressive, with a very earthy feel weaving its way through the proceedings, the verdant greens firmly rooting the story in a period setting; the location filming takes up a considerable amount of the running time and adds a certain cinematic dimension to the story that could not have been achieved if shot on Outside Broadcast videotape (which sadly hamstrung several stories toward the end of the eighties).

Director Peter Moffatt injects a level of cinematic inventiveness during the location filming, and seeing as roughly half of this story was shot on film, there is a film-like quality to this particular tale and makes one wish that the whole thing could have been shot on film. The only downside of this would have been that the effects would have been more expensive to achieve and some of the sets would have looked even cheaper than they were.

One of the most significant moments in this story involves the destruction of The Doctor's sonic screwdriver, which was included upon the order of producer John Nathan-Turner, as he felt that it was an easy get-out-of-jail-free card for writers when having The Doctor in a tricky situation. JN-T stuck to his guns and the sonic screwdriver wasn't seen again until the Paul McGann film, a decade and a half later. If only the writers of New-Who could do the same thing as Matt Smith seems to whip out the fucking thing at every opportunity and accomplish some ridiculous feat of lazy writing.

The cliffhanger for episode one, which sees our band of heroes being essentially locked in a cellar, is one of the weaker ones from the period - it's certainly no "destroy them! Destroy them AT ONCE!" and would have worked much better if the story was presented in omnibus form. At the start of episode two, there is a good effect showing Davison sticking halfway out of a holographic projection of a door, which goes some way for making up for the decidedly lacklustre moments that preceded it - there are some who would argue that this is a great example of how Doctor Who plays better without cliffhangers; we would disagree entirely, but you can appreciate what they are trying to say.

A fiery climax is something that always goes down well in film and television and the ending of The Visitation contains one that brings to mind the combustible finale of William Hartnell's enjoyable romp, The Romans, which saw The Doctor have a hand in the fire that destroyed much of Nero's domain. The climax of The Visitation is well-realised on a budget that could not have showed the level of destruction that the writer and director would have wanted, but enough was shown and indicated through dialogue that it's ultimately a satisfactory depiction of one of England's darkest double-disasters.

Tegan and Adric are still with terror - though Adric's a bit stiffer due to Waterhouse's natural acting (in)ability...

Video


This particular story had a significant amount of footage shot on location and the Restoration Team had access to the original elements - the results are nothing short of stunning, with rich colours (check out the red trim on Davison's jacket, it' so vibrant that it practically glows!) and a level of detail that impresses a great deal.

The studio sequences all look about as good as they can, with no noticeable problems - the strip-lighting method seemingly favoured by the producers at this time eradicates any graininess that might have crept in during many sequences, though the moody scenes set in the cellars of the country house still look rather nice.

Audio


There's nothing wrong at all with the audio here; we might say it every time, but the dialogue is perfectly discernible and the clean-up of the soundtrack allows a level of depth and punch to Paddy Kingsland's familiar music score that many would have not previously appreciated.

Extras


Audio Commentary: As with the commentary to be found on the Special Edition of The Aztecs, this is one from the original release, included herein for the sake of completion, but this is an entirely different experience when compared to that which has earned the title of “worst Doctor Who commentary track of all time”. To use BBC terminology, it’s “another chance” to listen to this one, but giving this particular effort another go is 100 minutes of your life well-spent, as Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse and director Peter Moffatt are a riot as they give the story a re- Visitation.

With the explosive nature of certain folk sitting in the recording booth, naturally, the less-than-even-tempered Fielding is never one to hold a grudge or seize an opportunity, and when Davison cuts off in the middle of snapping at Tegan in the final episode, she immediately launches into defensive-mode with the retort: “…That’ll teach you to be nasty about my trance-acting!”. Part of the many areas of fun found here is the constant jibes at each other, with varying degrees of snide and sincerity, but all’s fare in love and Doctor Who, with each zinger just adding to the enjoyment.

It comes as a surprise that the normally very sharp Fielding is somewhat hazy about things when in front of the camera, prompting her to explain: “…I remember rehearsing these things, I don’t remember recording them” when confronted with a particular piece of the memory escapes her.  It’s the exuberance of Fielding which might account for Sutton being comparatively quite, as she has to compete with the ol’ Mouth-with-Legs, but can get in an amusing jab when she wants to.  When Nyssa is going through the very long process of constructing the device in the TARDIS, Moffatt asks if she knew what she was doing, with her response a very honest: “No.  No idea, no idea… trying to look intelligent”.

With Michael Robbins being such a forceful presence in the story, it is no surprise that attentions are turned to him during the commentary, and not all of it reverent. Waterhouse notes that although he was “…a very, very nice man, did a lot of stuff for charity”, and the good he did for the Water Rats was great, “…he would never stop talking about it!  When he wasn’t complaining about how bad it was being in Doctor Who, he would always be going on about [it].” Davison chips in with a little jab at Robbins’ line of “I was once a noted thespian…” with the quick retort of “…But still I went into On The Buses…”

Talk inevitably rolls around to Fielding’s rather “interesting” hairdo, one that reduced her sex-appeal to a sub-zero value, and there are few with kind things to say about it.  After the woman herself asks just what exactly has died on her head, and Sutton postulates that it might be a badger, Fielding reveals that “John Nathan-Turner honestly thought he was going to…launch a new hairstyle!”  Murmurs of disbelief are quelled when Ms Fielding goes on to explain that it was a copy of a Regency style for men, but transposed to the female of the species. Given that Tegan is quite boyish, in light of certain literary allegations, you might be forgiven for thinking just why the maligned producer was so keen to have it in the show.

Just when you think that Moffatt is going to be rather benign and continue to be a step behind the rest of the bunch, he displays the ability to say something which really throws a bomb into the proceedings, and the biggest of which comes during the closing credits of episode two. The cast a talking way happily, including Waterhouse calling out his name and screen-credit in a wish-my-career-had-gone-further kind of way, when Moffatt bluntly states: “…I don’t like Mr Kingsland’s music at all… in this one.  It’s all [those] turgid chords”.  Surprisingly, Fielding comes to the defence with quite a bit of passion, pleading that the times it was made in and the pressure to maintain pace were the culprits.

This a real little gem, and as there aren’t many of the stories with the larger cast which had them all crammed into a recording both together, it is to be savoured. You can tell that that they all have clear affection for each other, and cherish the show with direct disproportion to how successful their career has been thereafter. We defy anyone not o have a blast with this primo example of how a commentary track should be when decided to go for the good times, rather than a dry list of the mechanics of getting it made.  We are a little disappointed that absolutely nothing was said by anyone in the commentary room at Robbins’ line of “…Shouldn’t we use the tradesman’s entrance” given that there were a couple of wry smart-arses in their midst.  Crack open a Fiery Ginger Beer and enjoy!

The Grim Reaper is being benevolent for once and dishing out sticks of seaside rock...

Production Subtitles: We always make a bee-line for the ol’ production subtitles, and with damned good reason.  It’s as though the production offices of Doctor Who are thrown open for us fans, allowing unparalleled access to every little bit of trivia and much more pertinent material which those involved took for granted.  This is no mere slop-bucket for unwanted info, but another in the terrifically-authored, lovingly-researched look at the world fans grew up with, and what a cracker it is, in both quality and quantity.

We remember the commercial with Alan “Fluff” Freeman advertising KFCs’ Popcorn Chicken from 20 years ago, where Fluff told us all that “one bite leads to another…and another…and another” and this same principle is to be found here.  One fact will lead directly onto another, then another - you get the gist. A good example is where John Nathan-Turner ordered one of the fight sequences to be re-shot, due to Davison accidentally standing on his opponents’ chest, inadvertently looking too violent. We are then told that Davison utilised this opportunity to cover over a cock-up caused by him forgetting to have the stick of celery on his costume the previous day, then being told to keep an eye out for the thespian making an obvious point of sticking it back onto his coat.

Let’s face it, we have all come to expect that a Doctor Who Info-Track will be an achingly-researched document of all changes during the various stages of writing, and tweaks which occurred on its way to the editing room, and the one for The Visitation has no intention of bucking the trend.  From Davison’s improvisational tetchiness to the movement of the line about Vintaric Crystals being used for lighting to the Terileptile ship because director Peter Moffatt preferred that the ominous wine-cellar be lit my traditional candlelight.  With all things scriptural in mind, we are even privy to notes from the script which help explain a few things, and make the experience even richer, such as more detail as to exactly the effect which the Tinclavic mines have on Terileptiles.

Add to all this where to spot the battery-pack powering Janet Fielding’s control bracelets, how Adric could possibly know where the mill is located - or even exist, and just which varieties of trees give away that they were not filming anywhere near the time the story is set, everything you wanted to know about The Visitation is packed in here, along with more than a few nuggets you never even thought you would ever know.  Wrapped up in the assured knowledge only an authority on the subjects could muster, the usual wry humour and engaging turn-of phrase is reassuringly present, taking the edge off of what might be merely described as “trivia” by the proles. It’s testament that one piece where the track notes how Davison reads a mistake in the script getting the number of henchmen he encountered earlier wrong is delivered in a way which is forthright rather than nit-picking, and in the hands of others would have brought even the most lively of party to a screeching halt.

They say that comedy is all in the timing, and there are plenty of examples to be found here, with our favourite probably being a brief history of one of the shows’ most enduring stunt-guys.   “Besides his many walk-on roles in Doctor Who,” the track starts, setting up for the punch-line, “Stuart Fell acted as a stunt-double for several of the regular cast. He stood in for Katy Manning in The Sea Devils and Louise Jameson in The Talons of Weng Chiang, and in just a  moment, he is going to don a wig and some yellow pyjamas to double for Mathew Waterhouse. Here he comes now…”.  Cut to: a huge, burly guy a good head taller and twenty years older than Adric suddenly being much more aggressive and athletic than usual.  It’s hardly flawless, and the track playfully acknowledges this.

This is another worthwhile way of increasing your knowledge of Doctor Who whilst having fun at the same time, and should be something which is switched on the very first time it is put into your DVD player.  The efforts of Mr Nicholas Pegg at bringing them all the facts and notes together are to be applauded once again, as the average person charged with such a monumental task would surely have to have an external hard-drive wet-wired to their brain in order to cope with the sheer volume of information. Required reading!

Film Trims: Just as  it suggests, this is a collection of 16mm clippings which didn’t make it into the final edit, featuring either deleted scenes or extensions of existing ones. You’ll find pieces properly edited alongside alternate takes, complete with clapperboard at the head, and a selection of footage which was recorded silently, which includes Matthew Waterhouse mincing along through the forest, doing nothing to dispel certain things said about Adric on forums and at conventions. All presented in pretty good shape, this is a fun look at the choices made during and after filming, with a good chunk of the material devoted to the goings of Michael Robbins‘ performance and a master class in just how to stamp out a fire whilst wearing expensive shoes.

Even if the TARDIS is in a state of grace, that outfit certainly isn't...

Directing Who - Peter Moffatt: Taking a look at a director that turned up fairly late in the game, this documentary shows how keeping things nice and light can be your passport to creating steady, workmanlike stories on Doctor Who, even when it comes to some of more prickly of actors. The suitably upbeat Moffatt maintains that he always kept a happy atmosphere on the set, where a mess-up by anyone merely resulted in them taking another crack at it, to the point where he recalls getting letters from those working on the show thanking him for the warm environment he created for it.  It might well be this fact that leaves Offutt’s Doctor Who stories somewhat lacking in pace and urgency, the mellow ethos in the studio rubbing off on the whole production.

He speaks of how he was very upfront with Tom Baker, sitting him down and gently breaking it to him that the director was in charge, and that actors stay in front of the camera - and the persuasive charm of Moffatt was enough to not only keep his job, but actually get Baker to agree to it, and the two of them got along famously.  Sharing a similar real-name with Peter Davison and working with him for ages on All Creatures Great and Small meant that the repartee was instant when he directed the 5th incarnation, and got on well with the other Baker when he took over, both working to overcome through characterisation what they were hamstrung with through costume.  Working on both The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors allowed him to make his lead-actor collection almost complete, and Moffatt is only too pleased to say how good the rest of the guys were to work with, although an improvising Pat Troughton and the weather in Seville probably did a lot to grease the skates of opinion.

Whilst there are few out there with particularly glowing things to say about his output - one screening of The Twin Dilemma is enough to have guns cocking in unison, and we say that as twins ourselves - but when the dreaded nightly BBC studio deadline is looming, it helps not to be a total bastard, so maybe Moffatt was onto something. The man himself comes across as a nice guy with real people skills, and seems rather positive and upbeat about his time on the show, and the people he got to work with. With so many ready to put down working on Doctor Who, his lack of bitterness is refreshing, and it rubs off on the viewer as effectively as it did on Tom Baker! Would it surprise you if we said that this is lovely slice of upbeat nostalgia?  Share and enjoy!

Writing a Final Visitation: Prolific Doctor Who writer Eric Saward sits down in front of the camera to spill the beans on The Visitation, how he was recruited to the team and a few of the more incongruous elements to the script, including just why the Terileptil’s robot is covered in sequins…

Things start out in a rather clinical fashion, with Saward explaining the “cheap” technique used to hook the audience from the outset, namely the explosive usage of a technological anachronism, but things settle down as he details his intents and feelings about the execution of his screenplay.  Saward has always come across as rather pompous, but there’s less snide than you usually expect from him, sticking to straight information without using the opportunity to put the boot in about anything which he doesn‘t agree with. He covers things like choosing the period setting for the story, his like for the performance of Michael Melia - in spite of the arm-raising limits of the Terileptil costume - and his amazement that John Savident was on board for the show.

Obviously, mention is made of destroying the Sonic Screwdriver, and Seward almost relished the opportunity to get rid of it, saying that it was “…used rather badly…to get out of all sorts of situations”. Whilst there was hope of resurrection from other writers later on, JNT saw to it that it was never to return on his watch.  In our opinion, it was always used correctly on the original show, as a way to solve trifling little problems which would aid the flow of the story rather than solve it. The last year or so of Nu-Who was seen the ol’ Sonic whipped out to take care of just about everything, becoming a one-stop multi-tool for saving the universe, even employed to take care of major story points with virtually no imaginat…oops…effort.  OK, rant over.

This is an interesting piece, and nice to see Saward in a more mellow mood than he often is. He even says that the crew did an OK job of transposing his story to film/tape, which must be praise indeed. With writers from the original show fast becoming an endangered species, the opportunity to get them on film in a reflective, even nostalgic mood is a welcome one, just as this is.

Suffering a slight frog in the throat, The Doctor asks the Terrileptil for a Strepsil...

Scoring The Visitation: The musical contributions of Mr Paddy Kingsland have always been a welcome one, and instantly recognisable to generations of fans of the show, providing a reassuring air of quality and stability within the world of Doctor Who. Here Kingsland sits down for a chat with his successor, Mark Ayres, for an informative yet informal chat about bringing the world of The Visitation to life through the use of electronic music.

Launching straight in, Ayres ingeniously likens the opening prologue to a James Bond film, setting up events as though not connected at all, but a twist makes the events relevant to the story. Kingsland agrees, and is in praise of Moffatt for taking time to set things up at the beginning, rather than the “wham-bam” method of having the TARDIS land in the middle of dire events just after the credits. Following the differing method sonically, Kingsland was pleased to come up with the musical motif when the opening scene is followed by Tegan applying lippy for her trip back home. Giving him a chance to do something very different, Kingsland rather backhandedly notes that “…It sounded a little bit more sophisticated than the usual stuff”.

Kingsland admits that he often did “too much” when composing for Doctor Who, using material needlessly complicated when just minimal underpinning would have been more than enough.  To prove his point, he switches on his Roland synthesiser and cranks out the two-note cycle he wished he had employed at the time, quickly realising that his preferred choice has been done before, “That’s Jaws…” he chuckles. Both participants agree that there is more to proving music to a show than just underscoring the onscreen action, the most ingenious and under-appreciated being the way they are able to knit together various locations by using a theme as an aural cement between the cracks.

Adding to Moffatt’s assertion that he liked to maintain a happy environment in which to work, Kingsland confesses that Moffatt was his favourite director to work for, and that a confident director happy with his own work is one which puts less onto the composer in order to rescue the story in post production.  It’s just a pity that Moffatt savages Kingsland’s work in The Visitation during the audio commentary - see review of it above for full, glorious quotes.

The pairing of Kingsland and Ayres works wonderfully, as the two clearly have a good deal of respect for each other, allowing questions to be relevant and incisive rather than from a blundering journalist with no real insight into music.  We really enjoyed this featurette, and strongly advise anyone with even the remotest interest in the show to watch it - you wouldn’t be here otherwise, would you?

Isolated Music: Also known as “why buy the CD” in some circles, we get to listen to Paddy Kingsland’s score for The Visitation without the inconvenience of a bunch of actors talking all over it.  Be it a series of “turgid chords” as described by Moffatt or “too much” in Mr Kingsland’s own opinion, you can’t deny that there is something deeply relaxing about selection this particular option, routing the sound through your amp, switching off the screen and sipping on a Jameson’s as you soak up the sounds of synthesisers.  The score perfectly matches the mood of getting steadily plastered, with the explosion of music hitting just right when you are about to fall off your perch.  Always recommended, and this is no exception.

Picture Gallery: The first chunk are of the TARDIS gang standing around on location in the forest, and most are of them chatting to each other whilst having a bit of a giggle. With a lot of stuff shot outside, much was made by the stills team to capture verdant images of the production, and we remember a good few of them within the pages of the Doctor Who Monthly, particularly ones with Michael Robbins standing against the greenery. Naturally, the Terileptils get a quite a bit of coverage, and the “action” which keeps Nyssa trapped in the TARDIS for a good deal of the story gets an appropriate amount of photos,  and while there is a lot here to love, our favourite for sheer camp value has to be the one of Peter Davison posing like mad, with his knee raised, hand on hip and other arm stretched skywards, as though doing a crack-fuelled version of “I’m a Little Teapot”. The bulge in the front of his trousers must be his cricket-balls…

Fuck Moffat and his fiendish plans - THIS is a real Doctor Who celebration!

Grim Tales: Now THIS his how you pay tribute to Doctor Who during it's 50th anniversary years, as this documentary is 45 minutes of sheer joy, as Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton are shepherded by none other than Turlough himself, Mark Strickson, around the locations used for The Visitation. Appropriately arriving in the TARDIS, our jovial foursome clown around for the camera and all of them even recreate Adric's twisted ankle and cheekily express their disappointment that Matthew Waterhouse wasn't with them.

There are pre-filmed contributions from people on the other side of the camera, including writer Eric Saward and also an appearance from chief Terileptil (and future Eastenders regular) himself, Michael Melia, who rattles off one or two amusing anecdotes about his cumbersome costume.

After romping around the locations, the terribly nice Mr Strickson sits everyone down for a chat and the chance to sample a wonderfully elaborate Doctor Who cake, which is ornately decorated with The Doctor, all three companions and even a Terileptil. What is abundantly clear during this documentary, is that everyone involved is having a ball and that they are all relaxed and happy to be in each other's company; they are all old friends who have a shared experience that few others can claim to have had and their reminiscences are both fascinating and genuine. Even the normally very vocal Janet Fielding is pretty laid back, providing many funny stories, but without the thickly laid-on feminism that we're all used to. The decision to have Mark Strickson effectively be the host of this documentary was an inspired one, as it provides both familiarity and a sense of detachment, seeing as Turlough was not in The Visitation and Mr S' dry sense of humour compliments the tone of the piece.

In our humble opinion, Grim Tales makes for a wonderful way of kicking-off the 50th anniversary celebrations - regardless of whatever Steven Moffat has cooked up for the anniversary special, Grim Tales assembles key members of the Doctor Who cast for a hugely entertaining romp that was probably as much fun to make as it is to watch. As we mentioned earlier, this is a celebration, there IS cake involved and all that's missing are streamers and someone throwing up into a potted plant. Our sincere thanks goes out to everyone involved with making this thing - it's one of the most enjoyable documentaries ever produced for the Doctor Who DVD range.

The Television Centre of the Universe - Part One: The Concrete Doughnut is explored by members of the Doctor Who cast in this affectionate look at the building that was the home of Classic Who. Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson are joined by former Blue Peter presenter (and self-confessed nymphomaniac) Yvette Fielding. This is both an amusing, yet sombre affair, as the quartet make their way through the building, starting in the car-park and into reception, before being startled by just how swanky some of the dressing rooms had become since they ended regularly working at Television Centre (Strickson's anecdote about his foggy encounter with chain-pipe-smoking Valentine Dyall in a windowless dressing room is priceless). Janet Fielding gets to trot out her story about accidentally popping out of her boob-tube for another airing (though we suspect that it won't be the last), but Fielding seems to tone down the usual feminist angle she continually pushes, probably because the other Fielding with her balances out the male/female ratio and she doesn't quite feel the need to keep competing.

There are surprise appearances from people who worked at Television Centre, including one of the Commissionaires, who spins an amusing tale about an encounter with Jon Pertwee in a lift. One of the make-up girls tells of a problem with one of the supporting cast who played a Silurian and had to have a specially-made jock-strap, as he was allergic to the material that all the others had to wear under their costumes. The graphics used in this affectionate documentary are awfully similar to the ones seen on that certain documentary about Television Centre that aired last year before the Saville scandal broke and will almost certainly never be broadcast again, but there are added Daleks and all add to nostalgic kick that many will get out of this. Just like all good Doctor Who stories, this finishes on a cliffhanger, as our fearless quartet venture into one of the studios, where a certainly old foe of The Doctor seems to be waiting to meet them...

This really is great stuff - it's amusing, informative, genial and is one hell of a nostalgia trip, not just for the on-screen participants, but for all fans of Classic Who; it's clear that those in front of the camera are all having fun and it's quite possible that this will be the last time that such a group will be assembled for anything like this, so there is a slightly melancholic air that hangs over the thing - but maybe it's just us being a tad maudlin?

Dr Who Forever! The Apocalypse Element: This second instalment of this series looks at the dark times after the cancellation of the show at the hands of Grade, with the story of Big Finish being the main focus of this edition.

Beginning with how Big Finish were about to start writing Doctor Who stories, there was a meeting that saw every established and would-be Doctor Who writer crammed into a small flat - what IS the collective noun for a group of Doctor Who writers? Non-offensive answers only, please! It's worth noting that one writer was displeased that the audio adventures were using classic Doctors and not a continuation with Paul McGann; this writer supposedly flounced off in a huff - his name? Steven Moffat - make of that what you will...

One amusing moment comes when someone at the BBC suddenly decided (after Big Finish's stories had been very successful), that they should produce some themselves "like Paradise of Death and Ghosts of N-Space", one such corporation man mused - uh, yeah, just like those most excellent examples of Doctor Who audio. It's a pretty safe bet that both Big Finish and BBC Audio used those two Pertwee audio tales as prime examples of just how NOT to do them.

An interesting revelation is that when Nu-Who started up, it ended up costing them a quarter of sales, as a large number of Doctor Who fans ditched audio in favour of something more visual. We have regarded Big Finish Doctor Who to be more adult in tone than Nu-Who and have tended to find them more satisfying. Another eyebrow-raising fact unearthed during this documentary is that Russell T Davies prevented Big Finish from having their licence taken from them when Nu-Who was starting up; RTD's Doctor Who legacy as an Executive Producer polarises opinions, but you have to give the main credit for preventing Big Finish going the way of the New Adventures books.

The subject of the piracy of Big Finish stories rears its ugly head and there are a couple of varying reactions, with Colin Baker politely pleading for fans to buy them legitimately to ensure future stories, and Rob Shearman wishing he had the courage to punch such freeloaders in the face. Go Rob!

With Paul McGann fabulously reprising his role in a plethora of audio stories and even recently having the mercurial Tom Baker under the Big Finish banner, Doctor Who audio adventures have an air of credibility to them - and a sense of maturity that neither the Classic series nor Nu-Who really have - and this is a fitting examination of how they came into being and demonstrates that there is a rich universe out there to be explored aurally.

Coming Soon Trailer: Yes, it's Inferno - it might take a couple of episodes to get started, but it's a great one and this cool trailer really gets you in the mood to see it again.

Potassium nitrate and sulphur? More likely that someone's let one go after a big lunch...

Overall


Regular readers of our Doctor Who reviews will know that we aren't the biggest fans of the Davison era, but The Visitation marks a high-point, as an intriguing story is told, there are engaging performances (including one guest actor who is so flamboyantly OTT that it works perfectly!) and the period detail can't be faulted at all.

What makes this release a REAL treat are the new extras that have been included, with Grim Tales honestly feeling as though it is part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. Great story, great audio/visual presentation and it's stuffed to the brim with wonderful extras - you can't ask for more than that! Highly recommended.


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