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Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by John Anderson

The ratings for your last season were a disaster - what do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO? Do you look at the pattern of the 1980s, where from a strictly ratings perspective your two 25 minute Saturday afternoon seasons (18 and 23) have proven to be the least successful of the of the decade? Do you reflect on the fact that the two episodes per week format has been the biggest ratings draw of the last six seasons?

Or do you stick with the weekly half hour serial format that has patently died a slow and lingering death?

By the mid-80s audiences had proved reluctant to stick with a serial for the three weeks it takes to reach the conclusion. The Davison seasons overcame this to an extent because part four was broadcast just over a week after part one, whilst during season 22 that deficit was reduced to a single week. Heaven knows what was going through JNT's mind when he agreed to a fourteen week serial...

What I'm getting at is this; having been forced to regress to a format that should have long since been abandoned, through accident or design Cartmel comes up with the best compromise he can, the three-parter. It would be unfair to saddle the three-parters with the generalisation that they were simply four parters with the crap episode taken out (that's part three, by the way), but they are certainly a natural step on the path to self-contained 45-minute episodes that would become genre television's stock and trade in the 90s.

In their most simple terms, Cartmel has reduced the formula thus: episode 1, exploration; episode 2, investigation; episode 3, resolution. The episode 3 exposition instalment that has bogged down Doctor Who plots since time began is removed and the resolution is now only 14 days away, rather than 14 weeks.

In short, I think three-parters were a good idea.

And so on to Delta itself. It's fab. I am totally unashamed to admit that I love it to bits. It feels like the first story to be made exclusively for my generation (by my generation, I mean people who weren't about in the 70s), which probably explains why anyone over a certain age hates it.

A group of rock and roll loving aliens go on a trip to Disneyland in a spaceship that looks like a bus, crash in to a satellite and find themselves in a holiday camp in Wales in 1959. There they meet Burton, who deadpans the line, "You are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?" in a way that Leslie Nielsen couldn't have bettered. Thereafter he wanders through the story like Captain Mainwaring on acid, facing the bad guys with an enthusiasm that seems almost improper for a tale about genocide.

You couldn't make it up, well... er... yes you could, evidently.

After eight weeks of toil Sylv is getting a grip on where he wants to take the character. He dances uncomfortably with Ray, confronts Gavrok, rides a motorcycle, hugs a stratocaster and talks about love in a way than none of his predecessors could have done. Then he hatches a plan to defeat the bad guys with honey; he's a joy. Bonnie is still as stilted as usual, but she seems on firmer footing back on earth with (regular?) human beings to interact with.

As for the guest cast, Ken Dodd is Ken Dodd and doesn't bring shame on his profession in the way Richard Briers did a week before; Don Henderson is Don Henderson - I've never seen Z Cars but from what I've seen of him in other things, here he plays the same gruff character he'd been playing for the previous thirty years. Stubby Kaye is Stubby Kaye; actually, can you see a pattern developing here? By the same token I can only assume that David Kinder and Belinda Mayne are as bland in real life as they are on screen.

But the two who really steal the show are Richard Davies and Hugh Lloyd. Davies I mentioned before, he's possibly my favourite character in the whole thing. There's only been two characters in the whole series that I wish had joined the TARDIS crew; the wonderful D84 is the other. Hugh Lloyd as Goronwy adds a wonderfully magical edge to every scene he's in, and provides all of the exposition. In fact, sometimes I wonder if 'Goronwy' is welsh for 'Basil.' For example, when he's talking about the Queen bee secreting hormones into food to create a mate, he's not really talking about bees... or perhaps I'm just reading too much into it.

Either way, I love this tale of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to bits. Really. Oh, and if Malcolm's Mum could put the cheque in the post, that'd be great.