Admittedly, Matthew Waterhouse reading Eric Saward's 1982 novelisation of the author's original television story, DOCTOR WHO - THE VISITATION may not be everyone's idea of a cosy & entertaining night at home sprawling on the sofa, tortilla chips in one hand and in the other a glass of wine but you should think again. It's not as `average' as other DOCTOR WHO critics may have lead you to believe.
Waterhouse, of course, infamous for his on-screen presence as the mathematical genius, Adric (1980-1982) with a wide-eyed naiveté and stilted gate, but, here, his realisation is genuinely honest, gentle and, to a point, simply elegant.
AUDIOGO's commitment continues in delving through the dusty TARGET novelisation archive and retrieves Sward's four-part tale that delivered our bulging-at-the-seams TARDIS occupants to a 17th century pivotal point in British history, in addition to killing off a `friend' of the Doctor at the hands of escaped prisoner. Sadly, the novel was a perfunctory affair, written as an identical copy of the televised version without any substantial exposition or expanded backstory (such as the escape of the Terileptil prisoners from the Raaga Tinclavic Mines, or just how the mining process takes place if the Terileptil appendages can just about hold a laser blaster let alone a pick-axe). With that said, as a 16 year-old, back in the distant time of 1982 DOCTOR WHO - THE VISITATION was thoroughly impressive (a new, youthful Doctor with companions that your associate and believe in, substantial location filming directed in a workman-like manner by Peter Moffatt, and a wholly, even for the teenager, believable dénouement) and, some 30 years later, remains somewhat magical.
Reliant on his fortysomething maturity, Waterhouse diligently delivers uncomplicated characterisations for this reading as opposed to a failed attempt to provide a set of impersonations (of the actors from the original broadcast), and here lies his success. It's restrained, and unhurriedly unfurls like a Magnolia bloom following a mid-winter's sun traverse through the day until it is safe to fully open once the day's warmth has reached its zenith.
"For the first time in her life she thought that she might die"
Whilst Waterhouse's Fifth Doctor persona is subtle with a hint of maturity, his Nyssa is represented by a deftness of a butterfly, his Tegan brusque not brash, it is his realisation of errant & itinerant actor, Richard Mace that is projected as a tour de force; its perfect given that character's colourful background and current circumstances. He's blustering, magnificently self-assured yet vulnerable and dependent.
"I feel that you've just killed an old friend"
Equally important to the success of DOCTOR WHO - THE VISITATION is the attribution of special sound effects contributed that lack a much needed texture and depth to Saward's (sometimes) pedestrian plotting. Simon Power (Meon Productions) has created a raft of `period' sound dressing from the innocuous (and virtually impossible to conceive) "...candle rolling across the flag-stones..." , to "...genetically modified rats...", to "...a pulsating alien gas-emitting device...", to "...the burning of London...". All in a day's work for an aural genius but there were a number of sound effects that failed to gender any appreciation; being punched in the stomach does not sound like a sack of milled flour being dropped 10 feet onto a stone floor. It's a very minor error but, like that fist being thrust into the mid-drift, it's not very pleasant. And then there's the number of footfall sound effect of the characters walking sometimes do not correspond with the number of individuals walking. If three people are walking on gravel then, whilst it may seem `messy', we should here three sets of feet not just one.
However, the additional sound treatment is key to the novelisation readings' success, and without it they would be as dull and soporific as watching paint dry.
Sadly, the cover - a new painting - by Nick Spender is poor (sorry, why are there rats amid the top of the TARDIS? And white window frames on the Davison TARDIS? Plainly, no). My nine-year old Son's attempt, with a pack of Crayola on the back of a Cornflake box, is far better. AUDIOGO should reconsider reverting back to the original TARGET covers no matter how idiosyncratic (or photographic) they may be, or enagage illustrator Anthony Dry (his work is on display as part of the Cardiff-based, DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE) for a more contemporary approach.
Overall, DOCTOR WHO - THE VISITATION may not the be the most accomplished novelisation and, therefore, must have been a Herculean effort for Waterhouse (under the guidance of AUDIOGO's Lyndsey Melling studio production), however the outcome is a purposeful, entertaining reading that will encourage those fans whose cynicism (about Waterhouse's acting abilities) remains faithfully entrenched in 1982 as a `badge of honour' to re-evaluate Waterhouse's own commitment to the programme's enduring legacy.