Delta and the BannermenBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 October 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Hope you’re in the mood for some good eatin’, ‘cos I’m gonna roast a turkey! Season 24 is condemned almost universally as being one of Doctor Who’s weakest: excessive, poorly made and with a ridiculous tone that drives the series into a different but equally poor direction to the one it recently held. However, it always seems to me that Delta And The Bannermen gets of scot free, with many praising it for its intelligent teasing of science fiction values. I say intelligent, but I simply want to get into the swing of the sarcasm that’s going to characterise this review. This is because Delta And The Bannermen is my candidate for Worst Story Ever, one of the only moments to make me ashamed to be a fan. And I don’t like saying that.

Oddly though, it actually begins fairly well with a decently staged battle scene, with some good special effects and some decent pyrotechnics. What lets it down though? The same thing that let a lot of other stories down. Keff. McCulloch. There are so many opportunities to slate him here that in the interests of avoiding repetition I’m going to get it all out of the way now: he is actually Satan himself. His attempts at parodying 1950s rock and roll are revolting (appropriate, though) and this is the third story in a row where a sickening synthy version of the theme music has been jammed into the incidental music. And that’s saying nothing about the sickening synthy version of the theme music that is, in fact, the actual theme music.

Ken Dodd’s manic overacting is painful to watch and, as usual, every time Mel opens her mouth I get the overwhelming desire to plug it with my shoe. While I’m listing through the rubbish characters, then you have to love those comedy Americans! Just picture the forced rictus smile on my face as I wrote that. Stubby Kaye’s line of “Wales, in England” is just about bearable, but a cheap shot. Other than that, it’s dire; the acting is stagy and the dialogue – “it’s exposition, but it’s funny!” – is too crummy for words.

The Navarinos and their bus become part of a completely comedic, parodic universe for the episode that puts it at complete odds with the programme it’s supposed to be. Could you ever imagine the bus being hit by a meteorite and crashing on Sutekh’s rocket, or next to the Chula ambulance? No. Reason? Those two examples are intelligent, well thought-through ideas, and this one belongs on the scrap heap. That’s a big problem with this story: the complete lack of thought. We never get told why Gavrok wants to kill the Chimerons, we never get told why the baby grows like it does; the villains have no real motivation, and many of the other characters act bizarrely as well: see the cliffhanger to part two (the Doctor’s thinking just makes no sense). At least Don Henderson and Belinda Mayne play it straight, although Mayne is so poor that she must have blackmailed the productions staff into casting her. When she shoots the communication screen, Gavrok’s explanation that she “somehow” switched it off demolishes what little credibility he ever had.

The dancing passengers on the bus is another cringe-inducer, and Hawk and Weismuller continue to bury the episode. The special effects of the bus crash are straight out of Button Moon (a shame, as the effects are generally one of the few real good points about season 24), although it’s nice to see the TARDIS actually being used for one. It was always a simple tool for establishing setting but this was taken to an extreme in the McCoy years and to see the Doctor doing something other than piloting it to Earth is a relief.

I’d have to agree with Mel’s assessment: they picked a sucky location, a cheap, run-down package-holiday nest of putrefaction only redeemed slightly by the pleasant countryside around it. Give me a good old reliable quarry, any day. And I’ve nothing against the Welsh, I’ve lived with several in my time, but Burton is seriously annoying. Ray is slightly better (especially in those leathers, nudge nudge), but her exaggerated cute-little-girly characterisation grates. She could be OK, if only she didn’t open her mouth so much.

The Doctor gives the mechanic Billy free reign with a load of alien technology. Timeline? Aw, who cares, let’s rock!

Ken Dodd’s death, after all these jokey shenanigans, seems unnecessary and inappropriately nasty and mean-spirited (a lot like the death of Clive in Rose). If Malcolm Kohll had to pick such a nauseating tone as he largely does, he should at least be consistent.

At the party, Billy is dressed up in a cheap James Dean / Marlon Brando parody. This may seem minor, but in a sense it epitomises what’s wrong with the story: it proclaims to tease 1950s stereotypes while at the same time pandering to them. It doesn’t have the imagination to be truly satirical, and therefore falls short of its targets and ends up being that which it mocks. And for those cameo fans out there, Keff McCulloch can be seen in the band. Funny, if I was him I wouldn’t be so keen to show my face.

At the cliffhanger to part one, the Doctor gives himself away by a feeble sneeze, snapping the needle on my cliché counter. I’d only just mended it in time to lose it again at the sight of Keillor’s smoking shoes: they only just got away with that in the Meltdown episode of Red Dwarf, and that was a comedy programme. This isn’t. It tries to be, but you wouldn’t have heard me laughing. I’m not against comedy in Doctor Who, but a fairly important requirement of comedy is that it should be funny. The model baby is good, but with Mel in the room screaming it’s the sound effects I object to.

Goronwy, at last, is a nice piece of characterisation. His ambiguity is nice, and I like the theory that he may be an old retired Time Lord. It’s only a shame he’s played so camply by Hugh Lloyd.

Oh, and that DJ is entirely unnecessary. Bad review are certainly therapeutic, but I never enjoy slating my favourite show and I’d much rather watch a good episode than a bad one – but I must confess it was only the thought of tearing into it here that kept me going. The idea of an omnipresent threat rapidly approaching is a good one, by boring direction from Chris Clough and its unremittingly saccharine tone suck dry any sense of tension.

Belinda Mayle’s acting when Delta learns the Bannermen are on their way? Lame. David Kinder’s acting when he learns the Bannermen are on their way? Lame. Delta And The Bannermen? Lame. Ray’s catchprase of “He’s been ihyoniiiiiiiiiised!” is really getting on my nerves now and, although it’s not a new observation, those Bannermen really do look like a load of yuppies on an adventure weekend. The deaths of all the Navarinos leave an unpleasant taste, another example of the kind of action adventure this sometimes tries to be. It wants to have it both ways, and consequently succeeds in neither.

As far as part three is concerned, I was getting too sick of it to take notes. My interest was going the same way as my will to live. Gavrok and his Bannermen get stung by bees, and do you know what? I don’t care. The escaped Bannerman is a bit of a wuss really, and is it me or does he look a bit like Andrew Cartmel? The sonic cone on top of the TARDIS makes the end very very obvious, but at least it means the end is in sight. It could be worse: the story could be average length. For those who like this sort of thing, Sylvester McCoy cops a feel of Sara Griffiths when he’s marking out the boundary around the TARDIS. Hey, I need a bit of a laugh, I just watched Delta And The Bannermen. The ending is abrupt and rubbish, poor Ray gets left high and dry, and TURN THAT MUSIC OFF!

Season 24 is to be commended for attempting something new after the suicidal regime of old under Eric Saward, but it seems to be merely an instinctive panic rather than a measured response and nowhere is this better illustrated than Delta And The Bannermen. Much as it pains me to admit it, now that I’ve reviewed it I could comfortably never see it again.