Review [DW]: “Delta and the Bannermen”

24×3. Delta and the Bannermen
Writer: Malcolm Kohll
Script Editor: Andrew Cartmel
Director: Chris Clough
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor and Mel are en route to 1959 Disneyland with an alien tour group when they are diverted to a holiday camp in South Wales, only to find that one of their traveling companions is Delta, the last of a species known as the Chimeron, and that Gavrok and his Bannermen are intent on finding and killing her.

Review: “Delta and the Bannermen,” like its predecessor “Paradise Towers,” is a fairly unique entry into the annals of Doctor Who history. I certainly can’t think of another Who serial where the Doctor’s companion boards an interstellar tour bus and sings along to “Rock Around the Clock,” where the Doctor delays the villains by dousing them with honey so that they get attacked by bees, where a character helps save a species from extinction by transforming into one of their number by consuming alien food, where a troop of soldiers signal all stick out their tongues in unison, or where scenes of characters driving back and forth are scored with the kind of upbeat music that composer Keff McCulloch supplies here. Unfortunately, some of this – however distinctive or unexpected it might be – verges on inappropriate silliness given the stakes involved: Delta’s species is being hunted to the point of genocide, and the bus full of alien tourists is destroyed with no survivors right when it appears they might escape. The script also suffers not only from a slim backstory (another commonality with “Paradise Towers”) but from vague characterizations whose decisions don’t always make sense. Just who exactly is Gavrok, and why are he and the Bannermen so intent on killing the last of the Chimeron? Why does Gavrok kill the mercenary who might otherwise have located Delta for him? Why do two of his men untie their prisoners simply because the Doctor tells them to and waves a white flag of truce, when they seem so unconcerned with any rules of honor or fair play otherwise? Meanwhile, local aspiring singer and mechanic Billy falls in love with Delta in a romantic subplot so arbitrary that I found myself wondering if I’d missed a scene somewhere, and the two of them go for a ride into the hills with no apparent concern that someone might see her newborn green alien baby that they’re carting around. I like Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, and I’m pleased that the series seems to be moving past the often grim style of the previous few seasons, but unfortunately these latest serials have just proven too contrived and underdeveloped for me to count any of them as a success.

Rating: ** (out of four)

Review [DW]: “Paradise Towers”

24×2. Paradise Towers
Writer: Stephen Wyatt
Script Editor: Andrew Cartmel
Director: Nicholas Mallett
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor and Melanie arrive at Paradise Towers, a would-be luxury apartment building that has fallen into disrepair, and find themselves under threat from the bureaucratic “Caretakers,” cannibalistic “Rezzies,” and a mysterious presence in the tower basement that turns out to be Kroagnon, the Towers’ misanthropic designer.

Review: The creative team behind “Paradise Towers” certainly deserve credit for creating a unique setting – there are few scenes in this serial that could be mistaken for another Doctor Who installment. The Kangs, Pex, the Caretakers, and the Rezzies form an effective ensemble cast, and even if most of them aren’t the most complex characters ever to have graced the screen, their idiosyncratic slang and differing agendas add up to a compelling picture of a decaying society that has long since stopped playing by what most of us would consider sensible or civilized rules. The Doctor’s role, as the one who sorts out the various conflicts and rallies the inhabitants together to stop Kroagnon’s murders, is perhaps predictable but nonetheless effective: a relatively conventional narrative isn’t necessarily a bad thing when we’re still getting to know this new incarnation, and the script thankfully dispenses with the misquoted aphorisms that quickly wore out their welcome in “Time and the Rani.” Where the serial isn’t so successful is in explaining exactly how this bizarre situation arose in the first place; all we learn that the children and elderly were sent to the Towers when a war broke out and that Pex fled there to avoid the hostilities. But why did the Chief Caretaker continue “feeding” people to Kroagnon for so long, and what made him think that Kroagnon was some sort of “pet” who needed to be appeased? Couldn’t he and the other Caretakers – or anyone else – just walk out the door, or are they somehow trapped in the Towers? For that matter, just who or what *is* Kroagnon? He’s presumably at least somewhat intelligent, and yet he’s portrayed as a dehumanized monster, at first appearing as a voice that only bellows “hungry!” before taking over the Chief Caretaker’s body, and the Doctor never seems to consider trying to reason with him before deciding to lure him into a death trap. This is an imaginative serial, but its slim backstory and underdeveloped character motivations prevent it from being an entirely successful one.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)