Thursday, April 18, 2013

REVIEW: The Visitation Special Edition DVD


THE VISITATION
Starring Peter Davison

2 Disc DVD
Extras: See HERE

UK: May 6
North America: May 14
Aus: May 15



As another example of the re-issued DVDs, with all-new extra features, this was of particular interest and delight for me, because as a teenager, Peter was MY Doctor. Yes, I too wore those white hi-tops, (although I did draw the line at the jumper, stripey trousers, frock coat and veg). After seven years with the iconic Tom Baker, this new take on the character, trapped in a youthful body as a more reluctant hero was 50 minutes of must-see television every week.

The Visitation was not only, I think, a cracking Who romp [a "Whomp"? - Ed.], but one nestled within that first year which made it all feel so fresh and exciting. When it was re-run just after Season 20, it became the very first bit of Doctor Who I'd ever recorded on my new-fangled VHS recorder. So to say I know this story well would be an understatement. And if any younger readers are wondering what a VHS is…, just ask your dad, ok? 

[Editor's Note: you'll be finding Blogtor's thoughts on this classic in the Top 50 rundown in a couple of  months.] 

EXTRAS


Well, its clearly been a while because I'd utterly forgot the standard extras found on the original release. But I won't dwell too much on these or the story, because obviously you will be familiar with it all.

Directing Who is a piece on the wonderful Peter Moffat's sterling directing stints across State of Decay, The Visitation, Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors and beyond to The Twin Dilemma and The Two Doctors. In Who terms, that's quite a run and a very iconic set of stories. It's a delight, short, and to the point. Writing a Final Visitation is an interview with Eric Saward's honest account of the background to the writing of the story and finally Scoring The Visitation is an interview with the wonderful Paddy Kingsland whose admission and concern that he may have over-scored his Who stories. No, Paddy! Where would be without the pan-pipe beautiful theme in Frontios, the wakka~wakka funky guitar piece as The Doctor and Master run across The Pharos Project in Logopolis, eh?



Disc one also has the same photo gallery and the story itself has the commentary also found on the original set, which if you haven't heard, as with any Peter/Janet and team commentaries, is superb and great fun. But really worth mentioning here is the restoration on the feature itself, as it's not been neglected and whilst it may be a lot more subtle those more neglected older stories, but it's still very noticeable. The picture is clearer than ever before and the exterior filmed sequences (of which there are plenty) are no longer washed out, but are considerably improved. All in all, it really helps the story come to life.



 

So, let's cut to the chase - the extras on the second disc. Well it's a curious one because the decision has been made to not present a standard "making of" documentary, but instead deliver a locations then and now, personal recollection and a sort of making of all in one (replacing several elements that would in themselves be individual extras on other releases).

Grim Tales takes the TARDIS crew (minus Matthew, but led by Mark Strickson) to the locations used in the story and its nicely done. It inter-mixes actual footage with the present day settings and judging by the actors banter, they are clearly having a lot of fun. Proceedings are inter-cut with further interviews with Eric Saward and other cast and crew, which often counterpoint the recollections and questions the team are faced with. It starts off at Black Park in Iver, which is a stone’s throw from Pinewood Studios. Unsurprisingly, it has stood in for locations as diverse as an African village in Casino Royale and Transylvanian forest in many of the Hammer Dracula movies.

Of course, those vampire routes proved useful when it was used as the setting for the Who story State of Decay, but it with Season 18, it had only just appeared in the previous story as Adric’s home Alzarius in Full Circle. In The Visitation it was used for where the TARDIS initially lands and its surrounding area was where we were introduced to Richard Mace, whilst a large patch of open ground was the landing site for the Terileptil escape pod, just outside the manor house.

Talking of said house, we are then back into the TARDIS and off to the second location in nearby Hurley. Oh and on a nerdy grumpy side note - what is the point of pretending to use a TARDIS device only to then shoot through to the back windows and utterly ruin the whole effect? Hmm? Okay, I need to get out more I hear you cry. I fear I may well be getting into tragic "windows are too big" ming~mong territory here. But still…

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, location number two, the Tithe Barn, where, in the story,  the squire, his family and the servant Ralph all come a cropper at the hands the green fish fellah and his camp disco android.

 We take in the small exteriors of main door, the window in which Nyssa and The Doctor first gained entrance in part one and then the dove cote where Richard Mace and Tegan, under the control of the Terileptil, proceeded to load up the Horse cart with rat-infested goodies. The team eventually settle on a very pleasant veranda to find an amazingly detailed TARDIS, crew and Terileptil themed cake. Mark Strickson (no, don't worry Peter has already pointed out that he’s on the wrong story extra) proceeds to question them further over the making of the episodes before they are allowed to finally tuck in and demolish the TARDIS quicker than a bombardment on Frontios.



So, as DVD extras go it's a rather quaint, fun and lovely little piece. However, whilst I don’t wish to dilute the lovely warm glow of nostalgia it brings, I have to confess that it all still seemed a little bit too loose in its dealings and as a result felt a little flat at times. Whilst odd nuggets of interest are revealed and the actors do try their hardest, its often relatively minor and vague. I really don’t want to be critical, because on many levels it's very good. But it feels a little less robust compared to a normal "making of".

I felt it could have been a bit tighter on the direction and had stronger researched questions to really get more from the participants. Of course, the ideal alternative would be to have a secondary weightier "making of" or other extras in addition to this piece. Possibly it takes on too much, trying to be all things and sadly, does fall between the cracks a little. But all the same, for what it is, it's lovely.

The Television Centre of the Universe is the second main extra. In a way, it's more of the same, with Peter, Janet and Sarah at TVC in a bid to bring back memories of an average working day on the show. In reality of course, actors merely arrived, got frockage (costume to you) and slappage (make-up to you) and went onto set and that was about it. So it’s a sort of simplistic premise to use as a spine to hang a documentary off.

But, whilst it does its best, I’m afraid I did find the results a little unfocused and slow at times. The somewhat bizarre choice of having Blue Peter and Most Haunted's Yvette Fielding on presenting duties does little to help the proceedings either. I was a bit perplexed as to why they took the participants to one of the few "star" dressing rooms at TVC, which doesn’t really compare to the normal standard dressing rooms, let alone ones found in 1980s. That merely allows the whole thing to languish in there far too long, with everyone continually banging on and on as to how "it was never like this in their day"…

And whilst the blurb promises "the meeting up of old friends and colleagues", in reality, this ends up mainly being Carolyn Perry, the Make-up Designer (who was seen as a talking head in the previous piece). Part one of the doc does then seem to come to such a sudden and abrupt end, that you do question the need to strand something of this nature over several discs? I’m a little perplexed by the idea and it seems bizarre to have Peter and co. now turn up (presumably on a completely unconnected future DVD).

Whilst you can see what the aim of the documentary was, I’m sorry to say that I can’t help thinking that Who fans would get a great deal more from watching Louise, Katy and Janet on the recent excellent TVC docco by Richard Marson which aired on BBC4.



The Doctor Forever is the final extra and the latest installment from the documentary which has been across several of these "Special Edition" DVDs. Big Finish and the associated audios have long deserved a proper piece on them and it's very nicely done (ignoring the painfully lacklustre presentation). It tells the story of how those fan audios, BBC records and audio plays gave birth to the companies who have become a massively successful and indispensable companion to the series. It brought back memories of those early fan-produced pre-Big Finish plays with Nick Briggs as The Doctor and the wonderful Genesis of the Daleks vinyl as a child.

It is to the point, and a very thorough and a welcome addition -  although, in the context of what we do lack on The Visitation itself, it's a  somewhat odd choice. For me, the main point of new "SE" DVDs should surely be to offer new complementary material which is fun, imaginative and provides a fresh insight and a different focus on the story in question, or more broadly, that time on the show? But in all honesty, what we have here is too little, spread far too thinly over a couple of similar lighter pieces, whilst the rest of the disc's space is oddly taken up by material, with zero connection to that era or particular story.

Overall, the DVD has a very curious collection of extras, which aren't without fun, nostalgia and merit but, for me, lacks a bit more content like the sorts of documentaries undertaken by the wonderful Chris Chapman. Without a proper rigorous approach, the result is a tad bitty and too light and I can't help feeling there is still more to be done and said about Peter's first year and Eric Saward's pseudo historical tale.




Is it worth a re-buy? The improved quality of the story and the fun of seeing the team chatting and having fun is almost enough in itself and for some may well be. But others will wish a more considered and detailed approach was taken instead. If you are as much of a fan of that era as me [And me! - Ed.], then you'll still enjoy it immensely for what it is. But it may leave you with a somewhat mixed feelings and the thought that even more could and should have been had with a much beloved story and era of the show.



BLOGTOR RATING 7/10

Thanks to BBC Worldwide

Review by Daren Thomas Curley

Check out more Doctor Who DVD reviews HERE




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