It is the year 1666, and the Great Plague is rampant throughout England.
The Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan discover that aliens -- the
Terileptils -- are operating in a small village. They have taken control
of much of the local population and are driving away the rest using an
android disguised as the Grim Reaper. With the help of unemployed
thespian Richard Mace, the Doctor learns that the Terileptils intend to
rid the Earth of humanity, and have amassed an army of plague-carrying
rats to help them finish the deed.
During the gestation of Doctor Who's eighteenth season, producer
John Nathan-Turner and script editor Christopher H Bidmead had been
eager to recruit new writers to the programme. One name that was
recommended to Bidmead was a radio playwright and author of short
stories named Eric Saward. Saward had principally written thrillers such
as Small Monet for the audio medium, but had never worked in
television before. Nonetheless, Saward agreed to develop a proposal for
Around the end of March 1980, Saward submitted a story idea bearing the
intentionally ludicrous title of “Invasion Of The Plague
Men”. This was inspired by the work of a former girlfriend of
Saward's, who had been studying the architecture which arose in the wake
of the Great Fire of London in September 1666. That disaster had
followed close on the heels of another catastrophe in the same area,
namely the 1665-1666 outbreak of what is generally believed to have been
bubonic plague. Saward's girlfriend had observed that the black rats
which carried the plague became virtually extinct within months of the
Great Fire, and Saward thought that this would provide an effective
science-fiction “hook” for a story about social conditions
in mediaeval England. Saward also viewed “Invasion Of The Plague
Men” as an opportunity to reuse the character of Richard Mace he
had created for several radio plays during the mid-Seventies. Originally
an actor and detective living in Victorian London, Saward now reimagined
Mace as a thespian put out of work by the paranoia generated by the
“Invasion Of The Plague Men” did not find favour with
Nathan-Turner. He was concerned that it was too similar to 1977's The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, and felt that it
was exactly the kind of whimsical Doctor Who adventure he was
ardently trying to dispense with. In particular, Nathan-Turner was
unimpressed with the inclusion of Richard Mace. As a result, there was
no progress on Saward's submission until several months later, when
Bidmead -- now in the process of leaving Doctor Who -- began
turning his attention to Season Nineteen. It was decided that
“Invasion Of The Plague Men” had enough potential that
Saward should be given the opportunity to develop his ideas further. On
September 23rd, he was commissioned to provide a detailed storyline,
with the title now amended to simply “Plague Rats”.
Several changes now had to be made to Saward's original vision of the
serial. It as now known that Tom Baker would be leaving Doctor
Who, and so Saward had to account for the presence of an
as-yet-unknown Fifth Doctor. Furthermore, the line-up of companions had
expanded to include Adric and Tegan Jovanka, and at that time
Nathan-Turner was also contemplating making Nyssa a regular character.
Saward was able to make the necessary amendments to his storyline, and
on November 20th was commissioned to write the full scripts.
Soon afterward, the still-lurid “Plague Rats” title was
dispensed with, and Saward's serial became known as The
Visitation. In preparing his episodes, Saward hewed to the broad
strokes of recorded history concerning the Great Fire. Most notably, he
made use of the conflagration's well-established origins in a bakery
owned by Thomas Farriner (or Farynor) on Pudding Lane, beginning shortly
after midnight on September 2nd, 1666.
One milestone that Nathan-Turner asked Saward to include in The
Visitation was the destruction of the Doctor's sonic screwdriver.
Like K-9, Nathan-Turner viewed the screwdriver -- which had featured in
Doctor Who since Fury From The Deep
in 1968 -- as an overly convenient plot device. He thought that doing
away with it would challenge Doctor Who's scriptwriters to be
more imaginative in devising ways for the Doctor to solve problems, and
would also make the Time Lord seem less invulnerable to viewers.
Nathan-Turner's new Doctor, Peter Davison, agreed with his producer: he
felt that it would be more interesting if the Doctor instead carried an
assortment of everyday objects in his pockets, and used these to help
him get out of trouble.
Meanwhile, Nathan-Turner was searching for a new script editor to
replace Bidmead, who would be finishing his one-year contract at the end
of December. Bidmead himself suggested to Saward that he might consider
applying for the position. Saward was interested in the job, but
subsequently learned that Bidmead was being succeeded by Antony Root; it
was Root who helped shepherd The Visitation to its finished form.
Unbeknownst to Saward, however, Root's appointment was only for three
months as a trainee. Although consideration was given to making him a
permanent member of the production team, he had already agreed to a
temporary posting on Juliet Bravo, and there was no guarantee
that he would be able to return to Doctor Who. This left
Nathan-Turner looking for another interim script editor, and Root
suggested Saward, who had impressed him during the development of The
Visitation. In February 1981, Nathan-Turner contacted a surprised
Saward with the offer of a three-month contract, and Saward agreed.
By the time Saward joined the production team in mid-April, Season
Nineteen was already undergoing a degree of upheaval. The original
premiere adventure, “Project Zeta-Sigma”, had been abandoned
at a late date, forcing a rearrangement of the recording schedule.
The Visitation was intended to air later in Season Nineteen, but
it was decided that it should be the second story into production, after
Four To Doomsday. Its position in the
transmission order would remain the same, however: Nathan-Turner had
now decided that he wanted give Davison several stories to become
accustomed to the role of the Doctor before recording his debut
adventure (which would now be Bidmead's own Castrovalva). As a result, The
Visitation became Serial 5X, and would be directed by Peter Moffatt,
whose last work had been on State Of Decay
a year earlier.
Production of The Visitation began on May 1st at the Ealing
Television Film Studios, where material on Pudding Lane and in the
Bakery's oven room was recorded. This was followed by three days at
Black Park in Fulmer, Buckinghamshire from May 5th to 7th, where all of
the scenes in the forest were shot. Unfortunately, cast and crew found
themselves filming below a Heathrow Airport flight path, and the noise
of approaching aircraft regularly disrupted recording. On the 7th,
however, an air traffic controller's strike put an end to these
disturbances, and Moffatt and his team were able to make up for the time
they had previously lost.
Included in these sequences was the debut of the main Terileptil
costume, which incorporated remote-control animatronics to control the
alien's lips and gills. This was the first time such technology had been
used in Doctor Who; it was conceived by visual effects designer
Peter Wragg and constructed by Richard Gregory of Imagineering. Although
the Terileptil costume was very expensive, Nathan-Turner was eager to
combat the perception that Doctor Who monsters often looked like
pantomime horses when they spoke.
On May 8th, a final location day took the production to a manor house
called the Tithe Barn in Hurley, Berkshire. This served as the exterior
of the Squire's residence. Studio recording then began with a two-day
session in BBC Television Centre Studio 3. Taking place on May 20th and
21st, the block's first day dealt with scenes in the stable and the
Terileptil escape pod, while the second day concentrated on the TARDIS
sequences, along with those in the Pudding Lane bakery and Mace's
Recording continued in TC3 for the second session, which ran from June
3rd to 5th. These days were devoted to material in the manor house,
although the opening TARDIS scene was remounted on the final day of
recording after Nathan-Turner reacted negatively to the original
version. With The Visitation completed, there was then an almost
two-month hiatus before work on Season Nineteen could resume. This was
scheduled to enable Davison to record the second season of his sitcom
Sink Or Swim, and marked the first time that such a lengthy pause
had ever occurred in the middle of a Doctor Who production
- Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fifth Doctor by David J Howe
and Stephen James Walker (1995), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20458
- Doctor Who: The Eighties by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and
Stephen James Walker (1996), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 680 0.
- Doctor Who Magazine #275, 10th March 1999, “Archive:
The Visitation” by Andrew Pixley, Panini UK Ltd.
- Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #1, 2001, “Prince
Charming” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
- In-Vision #58, June 1995, “Production” edited by
Anthony Brown, Cybermark Services.
||15th Feb 1982
||16th Feb 1982
||22nd Feb 1982
||23rd Feb 1982
|Peter Van Dissel|
|Assistant Floor Manager|
|Visual Effects Designer|
|Invasion Of The Plague Men|
|Doctor Who: The Visitation Special Edition
|Doctor Who: The Visitation narrated by
Matthew Waterhouse (2012; novelisation talking book)|
|Doctor Who and The Visitation by Eric