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.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Delta and the Bannermen.Bookmark and Share

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.

FILTER: - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor - Television

DragonfireBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 September 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Much like ‘Paradise Towers’, ‘Dragonfire’ is a story with a promising script let down by the production. These production problems are nowhere near as bad as those that marred ‘Paradise Towers’ however, and the story works rather better as a result. More importantly to the Doctor Who mythos, ‘Dragonfire’ paves the way for the last two seasons of the classic BBC series, as Mel departs and a new companion is introduced whose impact on the series, for better or for worse, remains to this day…

I’m going to get this out of the way without further ado and make it clear that I can’t stand Ace. Firstly, it has often been noted that she is a ghastly hybrid of a character, a supposedly streetwise rebellious London teenager played by a slightly posh woman in her twenties with dialogue written by largely middle class men who are over thirty. The result is abominable; apparently aiming for angst, scriptwriter Ian Briggs offers us such gems as the fact that Ace is sure that her parents aren’t her real parents because they gave her a crap name (Dorothy). She doesn’t suggest that her parents lacked judgement or hampered her with a name designed for bullies to have fun with in the playground, she actually tells Mel that they can’t be her real parents and she sounds very much like she means it. The result, along with her pyromaniac tendencies and complaints about the teachers at school who took a dim view to her blowing up a classroom with, lest we forget, real explosives, is that the impression created is not that of a troubled teenager but instead one of an emotionally retarded psychopath.

The second problem with Ace stems largely from Sophie Aldred. Aldred has been a staunch supporter of the series since it ended and seems like a thoroughly nice person, but as an actress she is appalling, delivering all of her lines in a horrible amateur dramatics fashion. It doesn’t help that the target audience of Doctor Who automatically limits the characterisation of Ace. Rebellious teenagers from London who don’t swear are about as commonplace as rocking horse, and this instantly poses a problem; Ace cannot swear for obvious reasons, and so the character doesn’t ring true. This wouldn’t be quite such a problem were it not for the fact that she is often placed in situations where it would be perfectly natural for her to swear; in these instances, we instead get such verbal diarrhoea as “Male chauvinist bilgebag”, “I bet you’ve never had a milkshake tipped over you head either”, “Gordon Bennett” and “What a bunch of spots!” Having said that, the rest of her dialogue is just as bad, with clunky and unrealistic lines such as “I ain’t got no mum and dad, I ain’t never had no mum and dad!” and “Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers nine on the Richter scale?” Ultimately, I have never, during the entire run of the series, felt like I am watching a children’s programme quite as much as I do whenever Ace is on screen. It’s no coincidence that the only stories in which I personally think Ace works are the New Adventures post-‘Love and War’, during which she is almost a different character.

So, already cursed with a badly scripted, badly acted and badly conceived yet strangely popular new companion, does ‘Dragonfire’ have anything to offer? Well, yes but not all that much. The main plot is quite reasonable, featuring as it does an exiled criminal seeking the means to return home and wreak revenge upon his people; this is hardly original, but it is decent, workable stuff, and Kane is a great villain. In a season that began with hammy villains, Edward Peel’s suitably icy performance as Kane is extremely welcome and he positively exudes menace. His initial murder of one of Glitz’s crewmembers is highly effective in setting the tone and establishing the character, as he commits casual slaughter without the slightest hesitation, as though swatting a fly. He is also well motivated; his back-story is simple (he’s basically a gangster arrested and imprisoned by his people), but it is considerably enhanced by his love for Xana, his former accomplice who died escaping arrest. His obsession with Xana is what drives him, and although it is not explicitly stated, the impression is very much given that his much-desired revenge is to avenge his lover far more than it is to avenge his long imprisonment. Kane is scary throughout the story, Peel bringing real menace to lines such as “I demand absolute loyalty now and forever, and I don’t forgive those who betray me”, but his finest scenes are those following Belazs’ and Kracauer’s betrayal. Having been forcibly warmed up by Kracauer’s interference with his refrigeration system, Kane is too weak to stand, until he sees the destruction on the ice statue of Xana by the rising temperature; sheer fury at this desecration, far more than at the attempt to kill him, gives Kane the strength to rise to his feet and kill Kracauer, and he is consumed by hatred during the later scene in which he repays Belazs for her part in it. Because his desire for revenge, both for himself and Xana, is what motivates Kane, his eventual fate is very fitting; confronted by the fact that Proamon has been destroyed during his exile, he realises that his reason for existing is over, and so he commits suicide.

Unfortunately, discussion of Kane highlights one of the problems of ‘Dragonfire’, in that despite some good ideas, not everything seems to have been thought through carefully. Kane, we are told, has been waiting for three thousand years to regain the Dragonfire and return to Proamon, which raises the question of why. Within a short space of time, the Doctor and Glitz and Mel and Ace separately find the Biomechanoid, and it doesn’t take long for Kane’s soldiers to locate and kill it either. The idea seems to be that Iceworld is so massive that finding the creature is impossible but without the map, but three thousand years is such a vast expanse of time that it seems unlikely that Kane could not have found and destroyed the creature much, much earlier. He does, after all, have large numbers of soldiers and cryogenically frozen mercenaries at his disposal. The question is also raised as to why his jailors even left the Dragonfire on Iceworld, guardian or not; since Kane cannot possibly survive on the light side of the planet, it could have been hidden there, or even taken back to Proamon, thus guaranteeing that he could never regain it. Speaking of good ideas badly realised and Kane’s mercenaries, they are another potentially fine idea, effectively unstoppable zombies that are used to massacre the inhabitants of Iceworld or drive them out. They could have been extremely creepy, but ham and glitter spoil the effect; the extras playing them are awful, one of them apparently striking a catalogue model pose in the canteen, and the glitter added to their hair to make them look icy is just plain silly.

Nothing in ‘Dragonfire’ comes close to being flawless. Some of the characterisation is superb, with Belazs being another example in addition to Kane; she works for him, but like Kane himself is driven by a desire to escape, leading to an especially dramatic scene on board Glitz’s ship as the Doctor sadly tells her that he doubts she can ever repay her debt to Kane. Her eventual betrayal is well written, as her death scene, as Kane gives her hope before viscously subjecting her to a painful death, and Patricia Quinn is superb in the role, especially when she is plotting with Kracauer. Other characters work less well however. When I reviewed ‘The Mysterious Planet’ I noted that despite being well served by the script, Tony Selby’s portrayal of Glitz was spoiled by his stilted dialogue. He’s far more comfortable in the role here, as he was in ‘The Ultimate Foe’, but unfortunately this comes at a price. Whereas Holmes gave Glitz a hard edge (the first time he ever saw the Doctor he ordered him to be shot), this is largely absent here and the character seems neutered as a result. Suddenly, Glitz goes from being a ruthless (if cowardly) mercenary to being a dodgy dealer in rotten fruit and a third rate gambler who can’t pay his debts off. The fact that he sold his crew to Kane is a step in the right direction, but the effect of this is diluted by the fact that he’s generally become more of a likeable buffoon than a slightly dangerous criminal. To add insult to injury, designer John Asbridge decides to decorate the cockpit of the Nosferatu with furry dice and fake leopard skin seat covers, further transforming Glitz, by association, into a third rate spiv who wouldn’t be out of place in Eastenders.

This is symptomatic of the problems of ‘Dragonfire’; everything is undermined by lapses of judgement in the design and scripting. Stellar’s mother wanders around in a stroppy mood in Episode Three, apparently having missed the massacre of her fellow shoppers, which is blatantly silly. The costumes worn by Kane and his staff create the impression that they should be advertising ice cream. As is so often the case with Doctor Who during the nineteen eighties, the sets are too brightly lit, which at times makes it painfully obvious that they are made of plastic; only slightly less bright and they would have worked so much better, as would the Geiger-esque Biomechanoid, which comes close to being impressive but is lit up like a Christmas tree so that its rubbery appearance becomes obvious. The plot is explained at the end of Episode Two by a high-tech slide show. And of course there is the notorious Episode One cliffhanger, which takes the piss in interesting new ways and which makes no sense whatsoever unless you happen to have read the novelisation.

Nevertheless, ‘Dragonfire’ has moments of brilliance. The scene in which the Doctor distracts a guard with philosophical debate only to find himself out of his depth is priceless (famously, the lines are lifted out of The Unfolding Text), and subverts audience expectations, as well as the Doctor’s. This is followed shortly afterwards by Glitz telling the Doctor that Belazs is going to kill them to which he deadpans, “Ah, an existentialist”. Indeed, McCoy is very good here, even if his unwise decision to act as though walking on ice ends up making him look like a tit, since nobody else bothers. The Doctor’s interest in the Biomechanoid for purely scientific reasons contrasts nicely with everyone else’s obsession with the treasure, and as in ‘Paradise Towers’ and ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ it’s nice to see the Doctor just wander into a situation and work hard to keep as many people as possible alive and well without him having some hidden agenda; regardless of whether or not one likes the so-called “Cartmel masterplan”, it is pleasant to see the Doctor simply wandering the universe lead by his curiosity prior to the more manipulative, proactive characterisation of Seasons Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six.

And then there is Mel. For a brief moment in Episode One, Mel is at her most annoying, as Belazs intimidates Glitz and she leaps to his defense, telling Belacs that she’ll have to kill her and the Doctor to get to him. She has no knowledge whatsoever of the situation and the result is simply embarrassing for the audience. Oh, and later on she suggests a game of “I Spy” to pass the time, which instantly makes me want to reach into the screen and throttle her. But for the remainder of the story, she is at her best; Langford gives one last spirited performance before departing from the television series, and she comes off well. Mel is paired up with Ace here, and she benefits enormously. Partly this is because as irritating as Mel can get, Langford can at least act and therefore shines next to Aldred, but mainly it’s due to the script, which portrays Mel as older and wiser. She gains Ace’s trust before anybody else, including the Doctor, and she continues to stand up for what she believes in, screaming at Ace not to pick up Kane’s sovereign despite the risk to herself, and later reluctant to hand over the Dragonfire to a tyrant again regardless of the danger. Best of all, she gets a superb, if abrupt, leaving scene, in which McCoy shows the Doctor’s melancholy at her departure very well. The dialogue here is great, culminating in “Think about me, when you’re living your life, one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller in his old police box, his days like crazy paving”, which sums up the Doctor beautifully. Those brief moments before he invites Ace to join him suddenly hint at the loneliness of near immortality and offer an explanation of why he surrounds himself with companions on his travels. Pity then that Mel’s reasons for leaving are complete bollocks, as she suddenly decides to go off with Glitz, a decision so preposterous that the best explanation to date is Steve Lyons’ suggestion in ‘Head Games’ that the Doctor brainwashed her to get rid of her and make way for Fenric bait.

In summary, ‘Dragonfire’ is not entirely successful, but has merit. And mercifully, for the only time in Season Twenty-Four, the musical haemorrhoid of Keff McCulloch’s work is soothed by the Anusol of Dominic Glynn, who composes a decent moody score that complements the story nicely. I’d say that he’s more talented than McCulloch, but it’s damning with faint praise.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Greatest Show in the GalaxyBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 September 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the diabolical 'Silver Nemesis', the fortunes of Season Twenty-Four are restored by the superb 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy', a sinister and memorable story that entirely justifies Ace's dislike of clowns and features some fascinating imagery. It also works on multiple levels, boasting not only a great plot and excellent characterisation, but also rife with metaphors that reflect the status of Doctor Who as cult television and also act as a sombre foreshadowing of the series' impending demise.

'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' benefits from a combination of decent direction from the underrated Alan Wareing, some great design from David Laskey, costume designer David Laskey and make-up artist Denise Baron. The whole atmosphere is weird and creepy throughout, a result of the plot, which revolves around a sinister circus on an alien planet that has become a deadly trap for unsuspecting visitors, and the bizarre visuals. There is very much a feeling that 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' is striving to combine science fiction and fantasy, as we are presented with impassive robot clowns, a killer robot bus conductor, and ancient alien gods, juxtaposed with the circus setting, a stereotypical British explorer complete with pith helmet, kites that spy on people, and a hippy bus. The first appearance of the Chief Clown, face made up with full clown make-up but wearing a top hat and riding a hearse, is one of the finest shots of the era, enhanced considerably by Mark Ayers' atmospheric score that invokes both traditional circus imagery and eeriness as the occasion demands. Serendipitously, the discovery of asbestos in the studio in which this story was to be partly filmed led to the studio scenes instead being mounted in a tent in a car park, which unlikely as it sounds proves to be a bonus, as the "interior" scenes mesh with the location filming far better than in any other Doctor Who story. By Episode Four, 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' has cemented itself as a visual tour de force only to get even better as the disturbing image of the eye that has haunted the story from the start is explained and the Doctor faces the imposing Gods of Ragnarok in a claustrophobic stone amphitheatre. 

In addition to all of this, 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' benefits from some great characterisation. Nobody is wasted, not even the belligerent Stallslady well played by Peggy Mount whose distrust of hippies and carnival folk is immediately recognizable. The point of which of course is that the Circus can claims as many victims as the Gods of Ragnarok want, because the locals don't care; anyone associated with or visiting the Circus is immediately dismissed as riff-raff, and their fate is of supreme disinterest, as long as the neighbours aren't disturbed. All of the other characters are well crafted too, and the acting is first-rate throughout. Nord, the vandal of the roads, is an obvious parody of hell's angels and although he doesn't serve a great deal of purpose to the plot, except to provide another victim for the Circus, he's very entertaining, uttering insults such as "I'll do something 'orrible to your ears", which technically is as unconvincing a threat as most of Ace's usual verbal diarrhoea, but is rather more amusing. The rest of the characters however serve far greater purpose.

Whizzkid is, famously, a parody of anally retentive Doctor Who fans, who collects Psychic Circus memorabilia and is a font of utterly useless knowledge about the show he is so obsessed with, telling Morgana, "I know all about the Psychic Circus you see. In fact, I'm your greatest fan". He also has terrible taste in clothes, is a textbook nerd and is so obsessed with his hobby that he is easily led to the slaughter in place of Captain Cook, who offers to let him enter the ring ahead of him. So excited is he about this that the thought of danger doesn't even cross his mind and he is promptly obliterated, or if you like, utterly consumed by his hobby. Reflecting the decline in the popularity of the series with the viewing public, he also gets to utter the immortal line, "Although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it was, but I'm still terribly interested". He's basically a sad case who spends far too much time on what is, essentially, merely a form of entertainment, and who would be far better off doing something more productive with his time. I have now, incidentally, reviewed nearly every Doctor Who television story and have written at least ten times more words on the series than I did in the whole of my PhD thesis, including the references.

Then we have Captain Cook. Veteran actor T. P. McKenna is perfectly cast as Cook, and gives a memorable performance, but it can't have hurt that the scripted character is so well crafted by writer Stephen Wyatt in the first place. The Discontinuity Guide postulates that 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' is a metaphor for the production of Doctor Who itself, with Captain Cook representing Star Trek, presumably because he is a rival explorer. I don't really agree with this particular example, but it did get me thinking and I suddenly realised whilst watching the story on this occasion that Cook is a pompous windbag with a colossal ego who talks endlessly about his own exploits, has a young female companion whom he manipulates for his own ends, and is motivated purely by selfishness, telling the Doctor at one point that "We experienced explorers know all about making the most of our discoveries". As such, he is almost a twisted reflection of the Doctor, a man who has name-dropped since the series began, and is increasingly tending to manipulate Ace. On a less metaphorical level, he's a great villain because he is a complete and utter bastard. He starts off merely obnoxious, but as the story progresses his ruthless dedication to his own survival becomes increasingly obvious, as he declines the chance to escape with Mags and the Doctor, only to follow them almost immediately with the clowns and drag them back to the cage, citing "survival of the fittest" as his reason. He also sacrifices Whizzkid, and once in the ring, he exploits Mags' true nature as a werewolf in an attempt to kill the Doctor and thus impress the Gods of Ragnarok, despite her fear and hatred of her bestial side.

The various members of the Circus are equally well utilized, and can be broadly divided into two groups. On the one hand we have those who have rebelled against the Gods of Ragnarok, with generally disastrous consequences. Deadbeat, formerly Kingpin, has been left with his mind in tatters, the price he paid for leading the Circus to Segonax in the first place. More touchingly, we also have Bellboy and Flowerchild, and they clearly represent the decline of the hippy movement of the nineteen sixties, both of them a picture of lost innocence. Christopher Guard conveys the loss and tragedy not only of Bellboy but of the entire Psychic Circus in Episode Three, as he tells Ace about the old days and mourns Flowerchild's death, which he learns of from the earring pinned to Ace's jacket. His eventual suicide, a result of the destruction of everything he used to love, is heart-rending, and the sense of loss is perhaps summed by the sadness with which he tells the murderous Chief Clown, "You were a wonderful clown once, funny and inventive".

On the other hand, we have the Circus members who have, for one reason or another, aided the Gods of Ragnarok in their endless quest for entertainment. Of these, the Chief Clown is the most overtly evil, telling Ace, Kingpin and Mags in Episode Four that he expects to be rewarded, and witnessing the carnage throughout with an air of considerable glee, such as when Morgana and the Ringmaster finally fall prey to their masters and he smiles and waves a hand at their deaths. Ian Reddington gives an deeply sinister performance here, almost stealing the show, which is especially impressive given that he has to compete with T.P. McKenna's Captain Cook. Morgana is another servant of the Gods of Ragnarok, but is rather less willing. She is obviously too scared to actively rebel, but tries to dissuade visitors from entering the Circus, albeit in a fairly half-hearted way. Somewhere in between these two, we also have Ricco Ross' Ringmaster, who is obviously unhappy with his lot, but dare not rebel either. He is however, a rather more active participant than Morgana in leading victims to the slaughter, introducing each new act with a cheery rap introduction. 

Finally, we have the regulars. McCoy provides one of his finest performances as the Doctor in 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy', continuing to deliver the darker persona established in 'Remembrance of the Daleks' to great effect. His foreknowledge and manipulation of events here is kept rather less obvious than in either 'Remembrance of the Daleks' or 'Silver Nemesis', with only vague hints that he has planned to visit Segonax knowing precisely what forces have taken control of the Psychic Circus until Episode Four, when he greats the Gods of Ragnarok with contempt, but also recognition and total lack of surprise. It becomes clear in retrospect that his persuasion of Ace of face up to her fear of clowns in Episode One was carefully calculated; as she says at the end, "It was your show all along, wasn't it?" But in addition to showcasing this aspect of the Doctor, 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' also revisits the clown of Season Twenty-Four, as the Doctor is forced to entertain 'The Gods of Ragnarok'. McCoy appears to enjoy these scenes enormously, and although the Great Soprendo coached him in the magic tricks that he performs towards the end of Episode Four, his background in light entertainment actually proves useful here and stands him good stead. Oh, and the way in which the Doctor strolls nonchalantly away from the exploding circus at the end is a nice touch, especially given the fact that the fireball apparently nearly burnt the back of McCoy's clothing away whilst he was wearing it; the fact that he kept is coolly is genuinely impressive. About Ace, I have very little to say, except that Aldred gives one of her better performances here and manages to sound genuinely scared when she is surrounded by advancing robot clowns in Bellboy's workshop. 

'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' not only ends Season Twenty-Five in style, it also paves the way for what would eventually transpire to the final season of Doctor Who. Not only does it continue to show the Doctor as a darker, more manipulative figure than in the past, it also sees him fighting gods, metaphorical forces, and ancient evils rather than more conventional monsters and alien invaders, a pattern that would remain in place, to different extents, in the last four stories of the series. The last word on 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' should go to the Gods of Ragnarok, beings with an insatiable appetite for entertainment who will not tolerate boring or uninspiring performances. They order the Doctor, "Entertain us…" …" or die!" , ominous words that reflect BBC executives attitudes to dwindling audience figures. And in that regard, more than any other, 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' ushers in Season Twenty-Six…

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Time and the RaniBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 September 2004 - Reviewed by Joe Ford

Time and the Rani is utter crap, I would never deny that. The script is ludicrous, full of scientific mumbo-jumbo that would have Eienstein (who makes a brief appearance) baffled. It is poorly structured and has some seriously poor cliffhangers and the 'wow' moments are kept to an absolute minimum. The acting is as far from Oscar worthy as you could possibly get and the lines some of these well known actors are force fed make you want to die of embarrassment.

And yet...

I find this story immensely pleasurable from the word go. Every time I re-watch I find myself enjoying its barmy atmosphere. Its almost as if everybody knew they were onto a stinker so decided to make it as bad as possible in every way. On these terms the story is a forgotten classic, a comedy that rivals anything from the Williams era for laughs (and is even better than The Chase for post pub watching!!!).

Funny? Oh yes it is! Scarily enough the Rani's Bonnie impressions are actually very good (and wet your pants hysterical!)...her little asides ("Pretentious is the word") never fail to get me going. Kate O'Mara gives a performance so camp that it knocks Benik, the Security Chief and Lady Adastra out of the pool! Its a daft script so it deserves a daft performance and O'Mara's treatment of the character doesn't diminish my love the character one jot. Just watch her delayed reactions as the Doctor ties her up at the end of episode ("Arraaagh!") or her grandiose villany dialogue ("I have the Loyhargil! Nothing can stop me now!"). Get stuffed Zaroff..the Rani is now the best OTT baddie!

D'you what the funniest thing about this story is that Pip'n'Jane (bless them) actually thought this effort was a serious and dramatic way to start the season. Its more like The Nutty Professor on speed with a dose of LSD for good measure! 

Poor Bonnie, all she wants are good scripts so she can show the world what she's made of and she's made to trip over, fall unconscious, scream, get tongued by a Tetrap, scream, get suspended upside down, scream, put in a bubble and bounced around a quarry and of course...scream. The reprise to episode two is brilliantly funny where Mel is supposed to scream for like three minutes without stopping and you can hear that poor Bonnie's voice is going and yet she struggles on gamely. I love Bonnie to pieces and she proved her self admirably in Trial of a Time Lord and the Big Finish plays so im now convinced it was a case of wrong time/wrong place plus crapper than crap scripts. The scenes where Mel is underwitten (such as her desperate pleas to Ikona and her reaction to Faroon's reaction to Sarn's death) are genuinely well acted and poignant.

Lets face it...McCoy is awful in this but he plays the part so loosely (and with such comedy) its impossible not to enjoy. In many ways its good that Colin escaped this story as I cannot imagine how he would have fared here. With no real character to discern here McCoy just plays himself on overdrive and its quite infectious in places...I love the first scene between Mel and the Doctor ("Theory exchanges no mockery!")...full of energy and quite sweet when they realise who they are. Unfortunately he plays up the awful proverbs (although the recent Bang-Bang-a-Boom takes the piss out of that so I guess it was worth it) and the more cringe worthy aspects of the character. Alas who could ever forget "A hologram! As substantial as the Rani's scruples!"...shiver. 

And lets not forget that this story has a fully competent production. Andrew Morgan is the only person who is determined to inject some talent into this story and his direction is excellent in places. He might be lumbered with another quarry but he tries to make things interesting by shooting at high angles and setting the camera's between the rocks for some inventive shots. The special FX for the story are as good as the show ever got and the bubble traps Mel has a habit of falling into look superb. The asteriod, rocket lift off and bulging brain look good too. It really is a case of dire script/excellent production. And lets not forget Keff McCulloch who I feel gives his best music in this story, its a really freaky techno-inspired score sometimes totally at odds with the action but always very memorable. Love the piece where Ikona looks for the glitter weapon and the theme where the Tetraps jump down from the ceiling and emerge...very cool. 

So there we have it, its hearts in the right place but its brain has been stuck on heroine too long, a story that looks fab but you cannot take seriously. At the time it was the worst thing that could have happened. Now, many years on it is a guilty indulgence and hugely enjoyable at that.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Doctor Who...the only show in existence that is brilliant when it sucks.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor

Paradise TowersBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 September 2004 - Reviewed by Steve Oliver

‘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 weren’t 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 don’t have a problem with this – it is a children’s show after all – as long as there’s 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 isn’t coping to well, but at least he’s 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, that’s 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 it’s 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 McCoy’s early time on the show.

FILTER: - Television - Series 24 - Seventh Doctor