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The Visitation was the fourth serial of season 19 of Doctor Who. It featured Doctor Who's explanation for the starting of the Great Fire of London. The story also contained the last appearance of the sonic screwdriver under John Nathan-Turner's tenure as producer. On television, the screwdriver would not return until the 1996 TV movie, and would eventually become a regular feature of the show again after BBC Wales revived the series in 2005. It was decided to have the sonic screwdriver destroyed because it allowed the Doctor to get out of tricky situations too easily.

Behind the scenes, it was important for being Eric Saward's first contribution to the show. Unlike most other cases where the script editor received credit for writing an individual serial, here the script submission came prior to Saward's ascension to the script editor's office. It was essentially the script that landed him the job as script editor, as opposed to the job having necessitated or allowed his writing of the script.

The story was also notable for its high ratings. It is one of the very few Doctor Who stories told in the serial format to improve its ratings with every episode. Excluding Dimensions in Time, the final episode is one of only five produced by John Nathan-Turner to have achieved a rating of 10 million viewers or better. Perhaps more tellingly, that episode was the 40th most-watched episode of the week – one of only four occasions when JN-T-produced Doctor Who broke into the top 40. Indeed it was the joint third-highest-ranked episode of JN-T's tenure, tying with the final episode of Earthshock.


The Fifth Doctor tries to take Tegan back to Heathrow Airport but the TARDIS arrives in the 17th century instead of the 20th. The time travellers find a space capsule has crash-landed nearby and that its alien occupants, three Terileptil prison escapees, intend to wipe out all indigenous life on Earth by releasing rats infected with an enhanced strain of the great plague.

The creatures are also using a sophisticated android to strike terror into the local villagers. Aided by itinerant thespian Richard Mace, the Doctor tries to unravel the evil plot.


Part one[]

In 1666, a small village outside London is illuminated by strange lights in the sky. In a field behind the manor home of a 17th century family, an alien craft lands and one of its occupants arrives at the house. The family's servant, Ralph is killed by a blast from an energy weapon. Squire John and his son Charles open fire with muskets and kill the intruder, but then the Squire's daughter Elizabeth calls them — a strange, armoured figure is punching its way through the front door. The family open fire on the second intruder...

In the console room, the Fifth Doctor is telling off Adric for being so reckless with the TSS during the events of their adventure on Deva Loka, pointing out that the whole Kinda tribe could have been wiped out. Tegan is unsure if she is free of the Mara. The Doctor notices a fault in the console. Nyssa is helping Tegan get ready to leave as they prepare to land at Heathrow right after she left. Tegan and Nyssa enter the console room to find that they have landed at Heathrow... three centuries early. Tegan storms out of the TARDIS.

The four gather outside the TARDIS. They smell sulphur and head off to find the source. They are attacked by villagers but escape. In the confusion, Adric drops his TARDIS homing device and the group is separated. A highwayman and proclaimed thespian, Richard Mace, encounters the group and takes them to safety inside a barn.

While questioning Mace, they find out that some kind of comet recently landed nearby. The Doctor knows it was no comet and immediately takes interest in the necklace Mace is wearing. It is actually a bracelet used for prisoner control on other planets. The group begins searching the barn and comes across several power packs. Since they are far more fragile than the necklace, there were survivors. They set off to the nearby manor of the person who owns the barn.

No one answers the front door, so the Doctor and Nyssa find a way in through a window. While searching the manor, they find more power packs, gunpowder, and a mark from a high energy weapon. The Doctor also notices a wall where there shouldn't be one. While he continues his investigation of the wall, Nyssa goes to the front door and lets the others in. When they return to the wall, the Doctor is nowhere to be found. As the four stand there, trying to figure out where he's gone, a figure shuts and locks the door behind them.

Part two[]

The Doctor appears through the wall and explains it is a holographic energy barrier. They walk through and join the Doctor. In the cellar, they notice the place smells of soliton gas. Also in the cellar are several caged rats and the device emitting the soliton gas. While they search the room, the figure from before, an android, sneaks up on them. It stuns Tegan and Adric. The Doctor, Nyssa and Mace are forced to retreat, due to the possible danger of the android's weapon igniting the gas.

The survivor is a Terileptil fugitive, who interrogates Tegan and Adric about the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the others find the Terileptil's ship near the manor. They plan how to deal with the android: A sonic booster set up in the TARDIS might just deal with it. As they leave the ship, a group of villagers, all wearing the same device Mace found, approach them. They demand the Doctor come with them. When he refuses, they attack. The three run back into the ship, now under siege by the villagers. The Doctor blasts open the rear escape hatch of the ship and the group escapes into the forest to find the TARDIS. The controlled villagers follow them at a distance.

Back in the manor, Tegan and Adric have been placed in a locked room. Nyssa heads back to the TARDIS to work on the sonic booster. The Doctor and Mace go to take a horse from a nearby mill to make their way back to the manor. Tegan and Adric escape from the room and go into the manor proper. Adric jumps out a window before Tegan is recaptured by the android. Just before leaving the mill, the Doctor and Mace are confronted by uncontrolled villagers. The villagers disarm them and prepare to execute them for being "plague carriers". An executioner raises his scythe to carry out the execution.

Part three[]

The Terileptil still needs the Doctor and sends his controlled villagers in to stop them. The villagers throw the Doctor and Mace into a room in the mill. At the manor, the Terileptil has placed one of the bracelets on Tegan. Back at the TARDIS, Adric arrives and assists Nyssa in setting up the sonic booster. The Doctor and Mace disable two of the bracelets and the Terileptil sends the android to retrieve them.

Minutes later, the android, in the guise of the Grim Reaper, bursts into the mill, frightens off the villagers and takes the Doctor and Mace back to the manor. They find Tegan under the bracelet's control. The Doctor encounters the Terileptil and his offer to take him away from Earth fails. The Terileptil plans to kill everyone on Earth and take over the planet. Mace is also equipped with a bracelet and the Doctor is thrown in a room where the Terileptil forces the Doctor to drop his sonic screwdriver and then destroys it with a blast from his weapon to make sure the Doctor cannot escape. With his trusty multi-purpose tool now a lump of twisted metal, the Doctor sadly remarks, "I feel as though you've just killed an old friend." The Terileptil brings in a cage with a rat and explains his plan: he will use genetically enhanced plague carried by the fleas on the rats to devastate the population, stating that he is merely paralleling humankind's slaughtering of lesser life forms to ensure their survival. The Terileptil leaves the room and the controlled Tegan prepares to open the cage.

Part four[]

The Doctor disables the bracelets and stops both of them. The Terileptil leaves for his base in the nearby city and sends the android to take control of the TARDIS. The Doctor, Tegan and Mace escape from the room and search the Terileptil's lab. It is empty. Mace tells the Doctor that the nearby city the Terileptil referred to is London. The android arrives at the TARDIS but is dealt with by the sonic booster Nyssa finished. Adric and Nyssa move the TARDIS to meet the Doctor and the others at the manor.

Pudding Lane on fire

The fire's true importance revealed.

Using the TARDIS scanner, the Doctor locates the Terileptil in London. The TARDIS rematerialises there and the five enter the building. With the Terileptil leader are two other Terileptils who get the jump on the Doctor and Mace. The Doctor drops a torch taken from the building into a pile of hay, which catches fire. The Doctor and Mace stop the Terileptils, but one of the latter's weapons is dropped into the fire, where it overheats and explodes. The explosion destroys the building and escalates the fire into a raging inferno, into which the Doctor and company throw the plague serum. The fire also violently burns the Terileptils to death. Mace elects to stay behind to help fight the blaze as the Doctor, Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa leave in the TARDIS.

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor's companions ask him why he is simply running away, rather than helping fight the fire. The Doctor responds by stating that he has "a sneaking suspicion that [they] should let this fire run its course": the fire is at Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London started.


Uncredited cast[]

  • Terileptils - Michael Leader, David Sumner
  • Scytheman - Jeff Wayne
  • Woodcutter - Thomas Knox
  • Farmhand - James Tye
  • Stuntman/Masked villagers - Stuart Fell, Alan Chuntz
  • Masked Villagers - Charles-Adey Grey, Keith Guest, Tom Gandl, Victor Croxford, Bill Whitehead (all DWM 274)


Uncredited crew[]

A sonic farewell[]

In use since the 1968 Second Doctor serial, Fury from the Deep, the Doctor's sonic screwdriver was destroyed here by the Terileptil leader. It's done without any special fanfare and is only marginally important to the plot. Modern audiences, used to seeing the sonic destroyed and almost instantly replaced in stories like Smith and Jones and The Eleventh Hour would probably imagine that the Fifth Doctor gets a new one in the next story. Even contemporary audiences would have had cause to expect a replacement was at least easy to craft since they had seen Romana II make one only a couple of years earlier in The Horns of Nimon.

Instead, this incidental destruction is indeed the end of the sonic screwdriver in the show's original run.

This was not the original plan, however. Eric Saward's script initially carried an ending scene where the Doctor would simply seek a replacement from a room full of the devices in the TARDIS. Producer John Nathan-Turner objected, actively wanting to get rid of the device, which he thought of as a narrative crutch that writers should be forced to avoid. Accordingly, the sonic didn't come back on television until the next story not produced by JN-T.

Narratively, however, the apparent permanency of the sonic's destruction wasn't explained on television until Time Crash, where the Tenth Doctor implied that the Fifth Doctor failed to replace it simply as a matter of personal choice.

Meanwhile, in print, the Virgin New Adventures restored the sonic to the Seventh Doctor even prior to the release of the 1996 telefilm, but a variety of confusing and contradictory explanations were given. Of greatest relevancy to The Visitation however, was the notion that the Doctor got the screwdriver back because he successfully "sued the Terileptils for criminal damage". (PROSE: GodEngine)


Food and drink[]

  • Ralph brings the Squire a drink of posset.


  • The Terileptils are very intelligent semi-reptilian creatures who have a heightened appreciation of aesthetics and warfare.
  • These Terileptils have escaped from the Tinclavic mines on Raaga, where they have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Terileptils cannot last long without breathing soliton gas; the substance is volatile when mixed with oxygen, it also smells a bit like sulphur.




Story notes[]

  • The working titles for this story were The Invasion of the Plague Men and Plague Rats. The settled upon title seems to reference the Great Plague itself, "Visitation" being a term commonly used for it in Daniel Defoe's 'A Journal of the Plague Year'.
  • This is the only story credited to Eric Saward that didn't feature a recurring villain, apart from a mention to the Mara.
  • The opening sequence in the TARDIS follows on directly from Kinda. Since The Visitation was filmed before Kinda, Peter Davison and Matthew Waterhouse had to act out their characters' responses to the events of Kinda based solely on the script.
  • Radio Times credits John Savident (The Squire) as "Squire John", and Michael Melia (Terileptil) as "Terileptil Leader".
  • The Terileptil masks, produced by freelance firm Imagineering, marks the first use of animatronics in the series.
  • Eric Saward attributes the name 'Terileptil' to the words "territorial reptiles" in Doctor Who: The Making of a Television Series.
  • One part of the Terileptil's laboratory re-uses a Hymetusite crystal from The Horns of Nimon.
  • Director Peter Moffatt strongly disliked Paddy Kingsland's incidental music for this serial, saying it was replete with "turgid chords". (DCOM: The Visitation) However, Kingsland called Moffatt his "favourite director to work with". (DOC: Scoring The Visitation)
  • Eric Saward disliked Michael Robbins' performance as Richard Mace, largely because he kept changing his lines. Robbins, for his part, is said to have hated working on this story.
  • Peter Davison named this serial as a favourite. Matthew Waterhouse recalled Davison entering the rehearsal room shaking the script with excitement.
  • The Terileptils, and the pioneering animatronic masks used to bring them to life, were intended to return. Those plans fell through. One mask did end up being reused in modified form on a delegate from Posikar in The Trial of a Time Lord.
  • The story was inspired by the work of a former girlfriend of Eric Saward's, who had been studying the architecture which arose in the wake of the Great Fire of London. She 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 early modern England.
  • Ian Bannen, Brian Blessed, John Carson, Ronald Fraser, Donald Houston, William Lucas, Glyn Owen and Donald Pleasence were considered for Richard Mace.
  • Peter Davison was late for the first rehearsal because the family cat had taken a live mole into the house and he had to return it safely to the garden.
  • Filming at Black Park took place on a Heathrow Airport flight path and the noise of approaching aircraft regularly disrupted recording. An air traffic controller's strike put an end to these disturbances.
  • Peter Davison drove himself to the location in his Volkswagen Scirocco.
  • Eric Saward originally submitted the script for Season 18. John Nathan-Turner felt the narrative was too similar to The Talons of Weng-Chiang and that Richard Mace verged on the kind of whimsy he wanted to discourage.


  • Part one - 9.1 million viewers
  • Part two - 9.3 million viewers
  • Part three - 9.9 million viewers
  • Part four - 10.1 million viewers


  • An outtake exists of a horse walking through and destroying a wooden archway. The outtake exists and has been broadcast many times. It has been misreported as coming from this story; in truth, it occurred during production of TV: The Awakening.

Filming locations[]

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • When the doors open in the interior of the crashed ship, you can clearly see that the forest in which the craft is supposedly located is not there.
  • When the Doctor decides that Nyssa should go to the TARDIS alone, while he and Richard Mace go to see the miller, she leaves back in the direction from which they had entered the clearing.
  • When Nyssa says, "We should go and get Adric and Tegan", she says "Andrid" instead of Adric.
  • Adric says, "The Doctor and the Tegan."
  • The Doctor pulls the bracelet off the leader of the village, but when it shows the leader again, he is still wearing the bracelet.
  • When the Doctor takes the arrow out the escape pod wall and takes it over to the escape hatch, the camera loses focus and clearly refocuses while he primes the mechanism to blow open the hatch.
  • When the android enters the TARDIS, its skull mask visibly detaches and hangs from the top of its head during the on-location portion of the scene.


Home video and audio releases[]

DVD releases[]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Visitation.


NTSC - Warner Video E2157



Special Edition[]

The DVD was reissued as a special edition on 6 May 2013.

Special Features:

Video releases[]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Visitation / Black Orchid with Black Orchid as part of a two tape set.


  • UK July 1994
PAL - BBC Video BBCV5349
  • Australia August 1994
  • US June 1996

Digital releases[]

  • The story was released to download on iTunes.
  • It is also available for streaming in Canada & the US through BritBox or Amazon Instant Video in the UK.

Doctor Who Illustrated Guides[]

The Making of a Television Series

The Making of a Television Series is a guide to the production of this story.

External links[]