Monday, 23 November 2009

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers

Part One

“Are these old ladies annoying you?”


“Are you annoying these old ladies?”

The very first scene makes it clear that the incidental music’s going to be awful, but very quickly it’s also clear that this is going to be far better than Time and the Rani. Instantly the dialogue is much better, and Sylvester McCoy is now playing a different and more Doctorish figure. Gone are the malapropisms and gullibility, in are some intriguingly Troughtonesque qualities- this Doctor is an unprepossessing figure but we’re left in no doubt as to the sharpness of his mind.

I’m amused by the caretakers- yes, they’re an obvious dig at the kind of bureaucracy you find when complaining about parking tickets (yes, I have bitter experience of said purgatorial incidents), what with the “little Hitler” moustaches and hilarious salutes. But I’m seeing another cultural reference here. Apologies to those in other lands who will be mystified by the reference, especially as it’s the second time I’ve mentioned it in the Marathon, but the magazine programme That’s Life, with its odd mix of brilliantly puerile humour and consumer affairs, was pretty much at the height of its popularity when this was broadcast. And it popularised the idea of the “jobsworth”- the stubborn official, usually in a peaked cap, who hides behind rules and regulations. I suspect it’s a rather heavy influence here.

There are also the Kangs, who may be played a bit to stage school-ish to really convince, but are great in that they seem to have come straight from the pages of Halo Jones or the like- in fact, the influence of 2000 AD feels very strong. We have different groups- Kangs, red and blue; caretakers; and the old ones or “rezzies”. It’s all very urban and studio-bound, and it’s the kind of allegorical sci-fi that shouldn’t really be judged as realism. This is such a refreshing change. It seems like ages since I started wishing for something new to replace the Saward nihilist agenda, and at last it seems to be here. It feels as though a new generation has taken over, one which takes its cultural cues as much from comics as cinema.

Part Two

“Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat!”

I’ll admit the sets look very cheap and aren’t always realising the script very well, and the costumes don’t feel quite in tune either, but the script is carrying the story well enough for this not to be as big a problem as it could have been. This may feel very fresh and new, but in contrast to the more “traditional” Time and the Rani, which nevertheless utterly failed to characterise the new Doctor successfully at all, here we have the magnificent scene with the Doctor deceiving the caretakers to let him go by quoting the rulebook. Not only is this brilliantly and fundamentally Doctorish, it also manages to define this Doctor as very different from his predecessor. Suddenly, Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor.

The incidental music still isn’t very good, but it now occurs to me what it reminds me of; the music to late ‘80s console games, especially Revenge of Shinobi on the Sega. That’s just me, right?

I’m not sure what to say about the performances- the Kangs, and especially Pex, while not badly acted, don’t seem to match the type of story, and sadly Bonnie Langford feels out of place in this environment, fond as I am of her and the character she plays. But I think Clive Merrison is spot on and, for all the criticisms of his “over-acting”, Richard Briers is fantastic, giving a broad performance entirely appropriate for the character. The Caretaker is a character I can easily imagine turning up in Judge Dredd or Tharg’s Future Shocks, which is a good sign.

Part Three

“But… blue Kangs have won!”

There’s another great moment for the new Doctor is his confrontation with the Chief Caretaker early in the episode; from a position of being interrogated in a chair with a light being shone into his eyes he manages to gradually reverse the roles, ending the scene by shining the lamp at the Chief Caretaker, a very Troughtonesque thing to do.

Oh, and it’s a bit shocking to see a DVD being played in an episode of Doctor Who broadcast in 1987! This is the part where it’s most clear that this is supposed to be at least partly a comment on the phenomenon of tower blocks (via J.G. Ballard, of course), something not really borne out in the rather unimaginative corridor sets.

Part Four

“We’re very sorry for what we did and we won’t do it again.”

For the first time in a while we get a well-structured and satisfying final episode which wraps everything up nicely. And I’m beginning to notice that each episode starts with a quick outside shot, a nice touch. On the other hand, I could have done without Mel screaming in the swimming pool. And where did her swimming costume come from, anyway?

Mainly, though, we finish up with good stuff. Richard Briers plays the possessed Chief Caretaker very well indeed, and Pex’s sacrifice is pleasingly redemptive. Best of all, we finish up with a feat notably not achieved by the previous story; a new Doctor we can be enthusiastic about.

I should emphasise the bad things a bit more than I have been; the general poorness of the costumes, sets, and the general studio-bound claustrophobia. But the script makes up for it all, really- fresh, new, creative, and giving the impression that a new generation has taken over. I was going to only give it a 4, but what the hell… 5/5.

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