Delta and the Bannermen

Delta and the Bannermen.jpg

A stitch in time…takes up space.

Seventh Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Mel find themselves involved in the end of a war between the Chimerons and the Bannermen, with the Chimeron Queen the last of her kind.  Boarding a Nostalgia Tours bus, the TARDIS team find themselves at the Shangri’La resort which serves as the setting as a stand against genocide.

Review

Like much of Sylvester McCoy’s debut season as the Doctor, Delta and the Bannermen has an interesting premise at its core, but it is let down largely by the execution.  On the positive side, it does see a much more assured McCoy (the real McCoy?) and a frankly much better performance from Bonnie Langford, and the story is certainly different to anything that came before and definitely anything that followed.  However, the lighter tone of this story distinctly clashes with its central antagonist, Gavrok, who seems to have come from a much grittier story, and I feel that the performances of Delta and Billy, in particular, let the story down.  The story does seem to struggle with its three-part running time, it feels as though it may have benefitted more from an additional part.

Gavrok death

There are certainly tonal issues here though.  Delta and the Bannermen seems to want to have its cake and eat it, with the light tone of the holiday camp seeming at odds with the force of Gavrok and his force of Bannermen.  There are ideas here, such as a toll booth in space and the Nostalgia bus tours that seem like they wouldn’t be out of place in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which are completely juxtaposed with scenes where the bus is blown up or the attack on Goronwy’s house.  I feel that it would have benefitted from being four parts rather than the three it ended up being, which would have allowed for an upping of the stakes.  The ending does feel rushed, and the Bannermen are relatively quickly and easily dispatched despite having being built up as quite menacing., which would have allowed them to do something more with the whole Billy and Delta storyline and potentially see some adverse effects of Billy taking the Chimeron substance.  Perhaps getting rid of the two Americans would help this story flow a bit beter.  It certainly feels as though there are too many ideas to fit satisfactorily into the runtime.  That being said, I do quite like the fundamental premise of the story as well as the fact that they end up being in Wales – there’s something almost quintessentially Doctor Who in this.  However, an already struggling story isn’t helped by some clunky dialogue.

I don’t just kill for the money.  It’s also something I enjoy.

Keillor

Additionally, I’ll just briefly mention the Chimeron baby, which really took me out of the story, as I just felt a bit sorry for the baby who was painted green.  Everybody at the camp seems to be almost too accepting that this alien and her child are sheltering from another alien force too.

baby delta

Life? What do you know about life, Gavrok?  You deal with death.  Lies, treachery and murder are your currency.  You promise life, but in the end it will be life which defeats you.

Seventh Doctor

Despite the story’s flaws, there are some decent performances here, both from the two regulars, as well as the guest cast.  Sylvester McCoy seems to really find his feet as the Doctor here, with everything from his awkward dancing at the Shangri La to his confrontation at the end of Part 2 with Gavrok showing us glimpses of the direction his Doctor would take.  Bonnie Langford also seems much more comfortable here than she has done in this series so far, especially when she’s joining in with the singing on the bus, and I found her far less irritating than she has been in McCoy’s previous two stories.  She also demonstrates enormous bravery when she lies to Gavrok about Delta being on the bus.  Amongst the guest cast, the highlights are certainly Sara Griffiths as Ray and Hugh David as Goronwy.  I wouldn’t have minded have Ray as a companion rather than Ace, as they do seem to have quite a few of the same personality traits, and she does show herself to be resourceful.  Hugh David gives a good performance as Goronwy, who seems to know more than he’s letting on, and has been accepted as being another Time Lord by certain fans.

Verdict: It’s sadly not a story I’d race to rewatch.  Delta and the Bannermen certainly has some ambitious ideas, however, it feels overstuffed and some elements could be removed entirely without impacting the story too much. There are some tonal issues here which don’t help either. 3/10

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel Bush), Don Henderson (Gavrok), Belinda Mayne (Delta), Stubby Kaye (Weismuller), Morgan Deare (Hawk), Tollmaster (Ken Dodd), Richard Davies (Burton), David Kinder (Billy), Sara Griffiths (Ray), Johnny Dennis (Murray), Brian Hibbard (Keillor), Tim Scott (Chima), Anita Graham (Bollitt), Leslie Meadows (Adlon), Robin Aspland, Keff McCulloch, Justin Myers and Ralph Salmins (The Lorrells), Tracey Wilson and Jodie Wilson (Vocalists), Goronwy (Hugh David), Martyn Geraint (Vinny), Clive Condon (Callon), Richard Mitchley (Arrex), Jessica McGough and Amy Osborn (Young Chimeron), Laura Collins and Carley Joseph (Chimeron Princess)

Writer: Malcolm Kohll

Director: Chris Clough

Parts: 3

Behind the Scenes

  • The title is a reference to the group Echo and the Bunnymen, a popular group in the 1980s.
  • At one stage during production, Bonnie Langford was considering leaving halfway through the series, and Ray was being lined up as her replacement.  However, Langford decided to stay for the complete series, and Sophie Aldred replaced her in the subsequent story, Dragonfire.  Coincidentally, Aldred auditioned for the part of Ray but was unsuccessful.
  • This story marks the introduction of the question mark handled umbrella.
  • The story features a number of famous people at the time, including Ken Dodd, Don Henderson and Hugh Lloyd.
  • This is the first three-parter since The Two Doctors, a format which remained until the end of the original series.  Originally, there was a six-part finale planned, but to save money, the decision was made to make two three-part stories with the same production team.  Only the TARDIS interior shots were shot in the studio.
  • Footage from the wrap party has recently been posted on YouTube: https://bit.ly/2HBoOwG

Best Moment

The Doctor’s face-off in Part 2 with Gavrok.

Best Quote

Actually, I think I may have gone too far.

Seventh Doctor

doctor and ray

Paradise Towers

Seventh Doctor and Chief Caretaker

Synopsis

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.

Review

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.

paradise towers caretaker

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.

paradise towers doctor and mel

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.

robots paradise towers

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)

Parts: 4

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.

pex

Best Moment

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.

Best Quote

I’d hate to live my life by some boring old rule book like you.

Seventh Doctor