UPDATE!! Matt Smith Leaving DW (Regenerating) In 2013 Christmas Special!! The Friday Docback Is Open To THE VISITATION!! DOCTOR WHO Story #119, HornOrSilk Reviews 'The Lady Of Mercia' Big Finish Audio, And More!!
UPDATE 5:06 PM CST USA
Reigning Doctor Matt Smith will depart DOCTOR WHO in this year's Christmas Special, per THIS article at BBC. The character will regenerate into the next (yet to be disclosed) iteration of the Doctor for the Steven Moffat-run 8th Season/Series of the show.
viewers will see Smith's Doctor regenerate in the 2013 Christmas special.
The BBC said Smith's "spectacular exit" was yet to be revealed and would be "kept tightly under wraps".
Per the above-linked article.
More as we know more.
...with a look at The Visitation, a four part Peter Davison-starring DOCTOR WHO adventure originally transmitted in 1982, and recently issued on a lovingly restored DVD. This one’s from scripter Eric Saward (Earthshock - Davison, Story #121), who delivers a premise and storyline which work nicely as an affectionate homage to vintage, OTT science fiction serials and invasion tales, despite the production’s generally clunky presentation.
More on The Visitation shortly, but first...
DOCBACKER HORNORSILK REVIEWS THE LADY OF MERCIA BIG FINISH AUDIO
Big Finish 173 – The Lady of Mercia
By Paul Magrs
This is the second of three new Fifth Doctor Big Finish stories, and it brings Tegan to the forefront, allowing her to have a central place in a story for this “season” (if one considers each Doctor’s trilogy of adventures a “season”). It continues to follow the “new” TARDIS team of Tegan, Turlough and the older-Nyssa who has recently regained her youth, allowing the most popular companions of the Fifth Doctor to work together (with Nyssa having the wisdom of old age and the energy of youth).
While listening to the story, is seems that this is a rather simple tale, and yet, if one tries to actually describe what is going on, one finds how complex the plotlines actually are. It takes skill to engage with such an apparent simplicity a complex plot structure, but those knowing the work of Paul Magrs should not be surprised about this (I do not like all the stories he has written, but I know Paul Magrs is very competent in storytelling, and that he knows how to structure a tale just right; he certainly would be a welcome addition for televised Who, helping to counterbalance some of the weakness I see in the show of late).
While visiting the University of Frodsham in 1983, where a dangerous time experiment is taking place, Tegan finds herself sent back through back in time, to Mercia when Queen Aethelfrid is about to give her daughter, Princess Aelfwynn, the authority of succession (Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy before being united as England). Tegan was not the only one thrown back in time; with her is history professor John Bleak, who was holding a history conference about Mercia. After they arrive in the Middle Ages, the machine which sent them back in time sends Aelfwynn to 1983. At first angered, especially with John Bleak, Aethelfrid is concerned as to the fate of her daughter. The Queen believes that she needs her daughter with her to help keep Mercia together. Luckily, Tegan is the right build (similar looks, height, body structure) to replace Aelfwynn, and so Tegans pretends to be her in order to help Queen Aethelfrid save face.
While Tegan is back in time, the Doctor, upon encountering Aelfwynn in 1983, knows he has to find a way to take her back and rescue Tegan. Nyssa helps the Doctor while Turlough stays behind, being told to help the scientist who invented the “time machine,” Dr. Angeline Duchamp, stay out of trouble.
This is a good, indeed an enjoyable story, but it is not exceptional. There are clichés being used, from time to time, which annoy me (clichés about Middle Ages), but they are not as bad as they often are from other writers, and so they are negligible here. Despite the complex structure, the story is rather straightforward. It’s a lighthearted tale to listen to, but there is little which can be said to be “great” about it. Nonetheless, even though it is not exceptional, the voice acting here is quite good, and there are many enjoyable moments to the story. The parts of the tale are better than their sum, which is not a problem as long as one does not expect more from them. The relationship between Tegan and Queen Aethelfrid, in general, works well. Queen Aethelfrid is shown to be smart, and crafty, though she is also shown to be the kind of woman who could fall for her own lie. We see she grows to respect Tegan so much that she confuses Tegan with her own daughter at one point the story (without, however, losing her love for her real daughter: Tegan just represents that which she loves of her daughter).
The interaction between the Doctor and Aelfwynn is mixed. There are some great moments, such as what happens at the beginning of episode three, where the Doctor “defies” her only to honor her and show her homage soon afterward. Nonetheless, Aelfwynn is not as bright as her mother, and indeed, seems to represent a “caricature” of the age, of the kind which can be frustrating because it is so over the top. One could even wonder how Aelfwynn was so different from her mother, with all the intellectual ability her mother shows in this tale should have led her to impart some of that blessing with her daughter. Aelfwynn isn’t crafty; she is just a “barbarian,” a fighter who nonetheless has a sense of pride and respect for people who show her honor.
Turlough, in his own way, gets to throw in his own take on everything, by pointing out how he thinks even 20th century humans are barbarians in relation to his civilization, suggesting that there is not much difference between the “dark ages” and modernity as many would otherwise think. That is something I like, for reasons I think differ from Paul Magrs, but it works well, and this is what makes Turlough’s part in the story valuable even if small.
Nyssa is not given as much to do in this one. She stands beside the Doctor, and gives her typical support for the Doctor when needed, but she (and Turlough) both feel left out of this tale (don’t worry Nyssa fans, the next story looks to be Nyssa-focused).
While I was disappointed with Phantoms of the Deep, I cannot say I am disappointed or bored with this story. It’s not great, but it is enjoyable. Everyone seems to be having fun in this one. Janet Fielding, as per the interview at the end of the audio, clearly thinks what is done here is good for Tegan: it shows that Tegan is someone who can be bombastic but always with a sense of humor and heart, never cruel or mean-spirited. While this story does a good job with Tegan, it doesn’t do us as much for her as Eldrad Must Die did for Turlough. That’s ok. Turlough I think is one who has a lot more in him than the show ever gave, while Tegan, though there is more which can be done, is a far more straightforward a character and so a far more simpler persona to work with. (And yes, Turlough is still a favorite of mine. Despite how ineffectively he was rendered in some of the televised stories, I thought the idea of his character was one of the best and most original in the series; I would love to see Turlough and River Song meet up… more than River and Captain Jack).
I would give this one 8/10. The story itself is pedestrian and would be 7/10, but the acting and some of the interactions of the characters raise it up one notch.
“Strange lights in the sky never bode well for the future.” - The Squire (John Savident), The Visitation - Part One
It’s hard - very hard - to put up much of an argument for The Visitation’s quality of production.
It unabashedly and protractedly features the Terileptil, which basically looks like a Sleestack that got hit by a Mack truck.
Nothing about these body suits works out terribly well - they sag and crinkle and the micing of the lead Terileptil character sounds as if the actor (Michael Melia) is being gagged by a handkerchief. These guys rank high among the most ludicrous WHO aliens ever. Period. And they get A LOT of screentime.
Director Peter Moffatt brings to bear every bit of the dry tediousness he demonstrated in the much-reviled The Twin Dilemma (C. Baker, Story #136) - here he seems to defiantly shun helming in a manner which is even the least bit propulsive or progressive. [NOTE: In the ____ extra included in The Visitation's new set, Peter Davison indicates that director Moffatt "...was wonderful; he knew nothing about what was going on in DOCTOR WHO at all. With great charm. He'd say, 'I have no idea what's going on here. Tell me...'" I'm wondering if, perhaps, this may be one reason Moffatt struggled to find a directoral energy appropriate to the show?]
Incidental music by Paddy Kingsland is so shrill and so plunky that director Moffatt himself didn’t even like it (per TARDISwikia). All in all, a boatload of misfires, missteps, and executional apathies render The Visitation laughably incompetent at face value.
At face value?
Somehow, in some way, against all odds, it still manages to work.
Despite all of the flaws outlined above (and there’s much more silliness I could’ve easily and fairly called out), there’s an earnestness about The Visitation which is often irresistible. The folks on-screen are so utterly invested in the adventure they’re in...and Saward’s script is so deliriously unhinged...it’s impossible not to smile at the effort. Not laugh at it, but smile with it. At the end of the day: alien-controlled zombie peasant folk, extraterrestrial lizard men looking to unleash genocidal plague rats into the world to eradicate the whole of human civilization, and a misguided enforcer android...
...which disguises itself as the Grim Reaper to terrorize the superstitious locals? That’s pure, pulpy, kitschy gold right there. Whenever The Visitation fails in presentation, which it often does, it’s quickly redeemed by force of its spirit alone.
Davison’s Doctor is a tad less Davison-neutral than usual here, and sports the same flashes of the brashness and unpredictable impatience which had characterized the character in past incarnations (and would do so in the further). This edge is further accentuated by a few snarky comments from Teegan, who crassly questions the Doctor’s innate competence, at one point evoking his inability to return her to her native time as a vote of no confidence (or only partial confidence). An interesting dynamic which felt a touch more ‘real’ than the often milquetoasty vibe I’ve sensed from much of the Davison-era thus far.
Look for one supremely whiney Adric moment (at some point in the Docback, we should assemble a flow-chart or infogram of Adric’s most bitchy, punk-ass moments), and a discussion (awkwardly and unnecessarily referencing the events of Kinda (Davison, Story #118 - i.e. the story prior to this one) between Teegan (Janet Fielding) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) which may prompt a few naughty thoughts about the duo. Or maybe that’s just me. But most male DW fans out there would probably be lying if they told you such notions haven’t crossed their mind at least once. Or, again, it’s highly possible I’m just a perv.
Never directed or executed as smartly as its inherently whacked script, The Visitation succeeds as a heartfelt throwback - shamelessly evoking cheeseball serials of old and somehow managing to succeed, albeit barely, despite itself. There’s a strange kind of magic which can occasionally happen on films and television episodes...somehow ‘it all comes together’ despite whatever hindrances it faced on the creative end. CASABLANCA is one such example. ‘It all comes together’ is probably a tad too much accolade for this particular story, but The Visitation is a very nice mini-illustration of such phenomenon. It’s not one to use to use to entice your friends towards jumping onboard DOCTOR WHO, but it makes for a great pizza and soda kind of night...
The Visitation was recently released on a newly remastered DVD and is available HERE in the UK and HERE in the US. This is a very nice and crisp restoration job. I've yet to watch the entirety of the extras on this set, but if you get it, be sure to check out the Grim Tales extra on the set. It features Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, and Mark Strickson revisiting shooting locations and informally gabbing about the making of the the episode, and WHO in general. Fascinating and warm conversation, which also involves this awesome fully edible Visitation cake!
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