The Doctor and Mel decide to visit Paradise Towers, a complex promising a peaceful life for its residents. However, there is a conflict brewing amongst the Kangs, a race of humanesque multicolour beings who gather in groups according to colour. There are also killer cleaning robots stalking the corridors and a secret in the basement which poses the greatest threat of all.
At moments, Paradise Towers feels as though it is starting to make moves in the right direction, only to stumble and fall into some of the same issues as Time and the Rani. It certainly feels as though the Seventh Doctor is moving towards the schemer he becomes later on in his run, and less of the clown in this story which is largely played as a black comedy. This story boasts a star-studded cast, featuring the likes of Richard Briers and Elizabeth Spriggs, which other directors would gladly kill for, and sadly, at times it does feel as though their talents are largely wasted here. The intriguing ideas feel as though they are damaged by the translation to the screen.
The elephant in the room here is the performance of Richard Briers as the Chief Caretaker and Kroanan, which is criticised by certain sections of the fandom. Personally, as someone who has a childhood love of Richard Briers’ work as Tom Good in The Good Life (through re-runs on BBC 2) and his narration of Percy the Park Keeper’s stories, I found it to be an interesting performance. The character is a clear allegory for Hitler, unwaveringly sticking to the Rule Book with zeal and relish and Briers plays it comedically but it doesn’t feel like a sitcom character forced into a Doctor Who story for no reason. At the end of Part 3, the Chief Caretaker is killed by the Great Architect and his body possessed and Briers’ performance completely changes. The decisions the actor made were not popular with the producer, John Nathan-Turner, whilst script editor Andrew Cartmel was less critical. It is certainly a unique performance; Briers changes everything about the character, from his walk and posture to his voice. It is certainly an interesting performance to symbolise possession by Kroagnon, a being that had never had control of a similar body, and whilst I can see how it could polarise viewers and seem overplayed, I really enjoyed it. This might be due to my fondness for Briers but I feel it definitely is one of the more positive parts of this story.
One of the episode’s strengths is in its direction by Nicholas Mallett, who directs this as a black comedy, which serves to the story’s strength as I feel that if it had been directed straight, it would be a lot more disturbing. Elements of the story such as the cannibal “Rezzies” Tabby and Tilda capturing Mel in a net and threatening her with a knife would seem a lot more sinister if not for this directing. In spite of this, the scene still garnered complaints and does feel akin to the worst violence of the Colin Baker era. The story also features a pseudo-fascist society and killer robots Something else which helps to build atmosphere is the set dressing of the corridors of Paradise Towers. The fact that they are littered and graffitied helps to aid the dystopian image of this potential future society, which was added at the insistence of the writer, Stephen Wyatt. Although the music might not be to the liking of everyone, it does also help with the tone that Mallett is going for, although I’m not keen on the constant reliance on small phrases from the Doctor Who theme.
The performance of Sylvester McCoy definitely registers as a positive in this story for me. Here, his Doctor is less of the clown and more of a thinker, showing more glimpses of the schemer he would later become. I particularly enjoyed the scene where the Doctor uses the rule book to escape his imprisonment by two of the Caretakers. At times, it does feel as though he is just there to spout exposition, however, McCoy does it capably enough to be entertaining, and we do see that he is willing to sacrifice himself for others, in this case, the Kangs, which makes him seem more comparable to his predecessors. Due to these reasons, it is arguably more of a debut for the Seventh Doctor than Time and the Rani, despite feeling like it could have been an adventure for any of predecessors as McCoy starts to make the role his own here.
One of the major issues with the stories is the casting of Pex. Pex was initially envisaged as a homage to a trend of 80s cinema, the action hero, and Wyatt did initially believe that the character should be much more muscular than the result seen on screen. This is likely because it would not work as the character spends a lot of time with Mel, who is short and thin and would look extremely weird on screen. However, in casting Howard Cooke, who does try his best with the role which is essentially a walking cliché, the eventual reveal that he is actually a coward is not effective as intended. This is not a slight against Cooke, whose performance I enjoyed but it does undermine the story. Additionally, Bonnie Langford’s performance as Mel really serves to undermine this story. Her constant bubbly demeanour and screeching whenever she is scared is really grating. I did find her less irritating than in Time and the Rani to begin with, but her constant insistence on finding the pool also gets really wearing, and the less said about the swimming pool scene the better. On the other hand, I quite liked the Kangs and I feel that the idea of them having youth slang quite an interesting and realistic idea, mangling adult words and can be seen as almost a precursor to Ace.
Another issue with the story is the cleaning robots. Although a fantastic idea, they do look pretty ropey and unreliable as the ruthless killing machines that they are supposed to be. The most effective I found them was when they pulled the two Rezzies through the (admittedly too small) hole in the wall, however, it appears that the technical difficulties suffered when K-9 was on the show are still blighting it nearly ten years after his introduction. It must be said that the story does look as though it was created on a shoestring budget and with more resources, this element would work much better.
Verdict: The first signs of steps in the right direction are shown in Paradise Towers, but it is let down by a lack of a meaningful budget and, yet again, the characterisation of Mel. Personally I enjoyed elements here, including Richard Brier’s unusual performance, but it’s nothing particularly special. 6/10
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Richard Briers (Chief Caretaker/Great Architect), Clive Merrison (Deputy Chief Caretaker), Elizabeth Spriggs (Tabby), Brenda Bruce (Tilda), Judy Cornwell (Maddy), Howard Cooke (Pex), Julie Brennon (Fire Escape), Annabel Yuresha (Bin Liner), Catherine Cusack (Blue Kang Leader), Astra Sheridan (Yellow Kang), Joseph Young (Young Caretaker), Simon Coady (Video Commentary)
Writer: Stephen Wyatt (1st story)
Director: Nicholas Mallett (2nd story)
Behind the Scenes
- The story is based on the J.G. Ballard novel, High-Rise.
- Nisha Nayar, an uncredited extra here, went on to portray the Female Controller in Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. Clive Merrison had previously appeared in The Tomb of the Cybermen.
- While the production team were looking for new writers, John Nathan-Turner met Stephen Wyatt and asked him to submit a script for Doctor Who. Wyatt went on to write The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
- Initially, the music score was to be provided by a member of the Radiophonic Workshop, however, the production team decided that an in-house score was no longer required. A freelance composer, David Snell, was commissioned but this was terminated very late in production and Keff McCulloch provided the final score.
- This was the first story that Andrew Cartmel was involved in as script editor. Prior work commitments had meant that he was unable to work as much as he would have liked on Sylvester McCoy’s debut story, Time and the Rani.
- Richard Briers would go on to appear in Torchwood in the episode A Day in the Death as Henry Parker.
The moment that the Doctor takes his hat off to greet the pump, and when Mel rebukes him, his line “Well, you never can tell.” I like the fact that this is repeated at the end as well.
I’d hate to live my life by some boring old rule book like you.