Paradise TowersBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by John Anderson

Doctor Who is dead! Long live Doctor Who!

Cartmel's influence can be felt here in a stylistic shift every bit as severe as the Robot/Ark in Space change 12 years before. Then, of course, Bob Holmes knew exactly the direction in which he wanted to take the programme, here Cartmel can do naught but betray his uncertainty. However, the inconsistent tone of Paradise Towers can perhaps be attributed to director rather than script editor. The criticism aimed at the cannibalism of The Two Doctors and Revelation coupled with the "more humour, less violence" directive picked up by Mallett from working on Mysterious Planet the year before leaves director and script at odds from which the serial never recovers.

The script itself is a blackly comic urban thriller, a template that would serve the programme well for its final three years. However, black comedy is a very fragile and complex genre; every time the script aims for this target it is undermined by Mallet's reliance on slapstick.

It's sometimes hard to believe that this is the same director who two years later would pull an excellent performance out of Nicholas Parsons; here every performance is slightly off-key and no one can claim to have put in a good shift. In ninety minutes of television, only two scenes play out as the script intended; Sylvester's escape from the Caretakers and Tilda and Tabby's capture of Mel at the close of part two.

In Sylv's escape from the Caretakers we see the first seeds being sewn of the seventh Doctor's character proper. Subconsciously or not, Sylvester has taken Terrance Dick's "never cruel nor cowardly" edict to heart; acid baths and cyanide traps are a million miles away from this incarnation. His subversion of the Rule Book is the first in a long line of character moments that will eventually encompass talking Kane to death, befuddling Light and refusing to fight the Master. And that's just three I can think of on the hoof.

Then at the close of part two, Mallett hits the perfect note despite himself. For the most part Bonnie Langford is just as uncomfortable here as she was in Time and the Rani, but surrounded by old ladies and scones and tea and knitting she momentarily finds something she can respond to. So when the whole scene takes a turn for the absurd, Bonnie's overplaying is exactly what the script demands.

These two scenes apart the rest of the serial veers wildly between average of absolutely awful. No review of Paradise Towers would be complete without reference to Richard Briers, the man solely responsible for changing the consensus opinion of the serial from "not very good" to "awful." Somebody make him stop. Please. Say what you want about Hale and Pace and Ken Dodd, Richard Briers is the only actor amongst this august quartet and his is the most buttock clenchingly awful performance of the season, nay the era. Like Kate O'Mara's impersonation of Mel just a few weeks before it overshadows the entire serial. It's no wonder that contemporary commentators were already penning the series' obituary.

Richard Briers apart, Paradise Towers does continue Cartmel's steep learning curve. Being the first serial since Vengeance on Varos not to feature any continuity references is ordinarily not cause to celebrate, but this is damning the serial with faint praise. The very ethos of the programme has changed from the turgid navel gazing of season 22; from Paradise Towers onwards Doctor Who is looking forward rather than gazing wistfully behind.