The Visitation was the fourth serial of Doctor Who‘s 19th season. It featuredDoctor 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.
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, rather than the job which necessitated or allowed his writing of the script.
It was also notable for its high ratings. It’s one of the very few 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 JNT 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 JNT-produced Doctor Who broke into the top 40. Indeed it was the joint third-highest-ranked episode of JNT’s tenure, tying with the final episode of Earthshock.
At the manor home of a 17th century family, an unwelcome visitor arrives.
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. Teganis unsure if she is free of the Mara. (Kinda) 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 (Logopolis). 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. 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.
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.
The survivor is a Terileptil fugitive. He 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 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 real villagers and are about to be killed for being “plague carriers”.
Yet the Terileptil still needs the Doctor. He 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 disables 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 his weapon to make sure the Doctor cannot escape. As his ruined tool burns to cinders, 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.
The Doctor disables the bracelets and stop 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.
Using the TARDIS scanner, the Doctor locates the Terileptil in London. The TARDIS re-materializes 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 & 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, presumably to death. Mace stays behind to 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.