Paradise Towers is one of those stories that many fans dislike immensely, and like many season twenty-four stories it is widely believed to be a childish and silly run-around. As I stated in my review of another story that this season threw up, Dragonfire, such criticisms are probably accurate, but then again the production team werent aiming for the gothic horror feel of the seventies. They were approaching Doctor Who from a completely different angle, and to a certain extent it was probably designed to be childish and silly. Many fans hated this approach to making Doctor Who. I personally dont have a problem with this it is a childrens show after all as long as theres an interesting story full of interesting characters lurking underneath all of the fluff. Paradise Towers has that, and so in my eyes redeems itself.
The Doctor and Mel travel to the luxury apartment complex Paradise Towers so that Mel can go for a swim in its pool. Once they land they discover that the towers have fallen into disarray, and that its inhabitants have divided up into factions. There are the Kangs (girl gangs), Caretakers (fascist police) and Rezzies (old ladies). However, something evil is lurking in the basement, and it is up to the Doctor to unite the factions and defeat the evil.
Writer Stephen Wyatt packed his scripts with some fascinating ideas. Indeed, a story featuring cannibalistic old Ladies, killer cleaning robots, fascist caretakers and street gangs has all the right ingredients for a good Doctor Who story, yet in the process of this production going from script to screen something went wrong.
Maybe it was the casting of Howard Cook in the role of Pex, who just comes off as rather silly. You never find his character funny or sympathetic as was probably intended. Then there is the ever awful Bonnie Langford as Mel. Here, she strives to give what must be her worst ever performance by continually over emphasising every single line. Sylvester McCoy still isnt coping to well, but at least hes better here than in Time and the Rani. Then we come to the killer cleaning robots. Now, I know the show was made on a very small budget, but these things look awful, and in the final part we learn that a single arrow hit from a Kang crossbow can destroy them. I find it hard to believe that a whole tribe of Kangs could be wiped out from things so easy to kill. Then there is the padding. This four part adventure should have been condensed into three parts. The writer uses the ploy of the Doctor escaping and then getting recaptured, and pads his scripts further with Mel wandering down corridor after corridor and then getting stuck in a lift. The incidental music is awful, with the production being suited to a much darker score. But hey, thats Keff McCulloch for you.
On the flip side of the coin, I thought Richard Briers as the chief caretaker was wonderful. Only when his body is inhabited by the great architect Kroagnon does he become embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious. Actually, I rather enjoyed all of the scenes with the caretakers. The idea of fascist caretakers, complete with German world war two era style uniforms, enforcing pointless rules and regulations, is very entertaining.
Also worthy of note is the language used by the Kangs. The idea of young people developing their own language has been seen before, of course, most notably in A Clockwork Orange, but its an interesting idea and works well here.
Before I tie this review up, I feel I must mention the one plot hole that this story contains. It is, after all, quite a massive one. Why did the inhabitants of the towers separate Kroagnons brain from his body and imprison him in the basement. He himself says no one knows my paradise towers better than me, surely it would have made more sense to simply kill him? It also beggars belief that they left him with all the technology needed to escape. Clearly more thought should have gone into this.
After watching Paradise Towers you always get the feeling of a missed opportunity. The story has the potential to say rather more about urban housing and the effect it has on its inhabitants than it actually does, and treated in a more serious manner by director Nicholas Mallet this could have been a great story, rather than just a fair one. Yes, Paradise Towers has its flaws (no pun intended), but I always find it enjoyable and is one of the better stories of McCoys early time on the show.