|Dates||Oct. 5, 1987 -
Oct. 26, 1987
With Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford.
Written by Stephen Wyatt. Script-edited by Andrew Cartmel.
Directed by Chris Clough. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The great Paradise Towers, filled with homicidal cleaners, zealous guards, colorful 'kangs', and something evil locked in the basement.|
Tower of Terror? - Not! by Jason Fraser 9/1/97
The Doctor brings Mel to Paradise Towers to indulge in some swimming only to find that the so-called pleasure dome has become a tower of terror. Paradise Towers is a self-contained society which is controlled by The Great Architect - a mad computer which has a liking for human flesh - who directs a Hitleresque Chief Caretaker to feed his unquenchable appetite. The society of the Tower has become categorized into colour gangs (the Kangs - all girls), the old ones (the rezzies) and the caretakers (police) who wander around with somewhat competing interests. While the tower is meant to have a large population, the cast of tens makes it hard to sustain the illusion. However, among the cast are some cameos - look for Tilda and Tabby, the cannibalistic twins and Pecs, the muscle bound antihero. The less said about the pool scene the better. Not only do we so very little of Mel, but the obligatory monster is disappointing at best. The attempts at social comment are presented quite limply and aren't presented in a manner sufficient to hold ones interest. Not one of the better stories - 4 out of 10
So It's a Little Campy by Dennis McDermott 30/5/97
I've read Jason Fraser's review of Paradise Towers and recently got to see it for the first time. I can't disagree with any of Jason's comments except for this: I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Having just suffered through the pretentiousness of the Trial of a Timelord, I found Paradise Towers a refreshing change. The characterization and acting was very good -- I especially enjoyed the Chief Caretaker and the two elderly cannibals. The story, if it didn't quite reach it's mark, at least didn't take itself too seriously. The biggest bonus, however, was Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor; it was nice having a likeable Doctor once again.
Does this make it a good story? No. It's major weakness is that its villian, the Great Architect, seems a bit silly. If the guy was such a threat, why imprison his mind in the basement? Why not execute him and get it over with? And how does an architect get enough knowledge and equipment to transfer his disembodied mind to his chief henchman?
Having said that, however, I firmly believe there is room for campy stories done a bit tongue-in-cheek in the Whovian universe. Taken from that point of view, this story is worth watching.
A Review by Oliver Thornton 26/3/98
Paradise Towers is the episode I associate as the beginning of the Seventh Doctor period. It is very clearly not meant to be taken seriously, which in turn opens the way for its defining charcteristic: macabre humour. This particular trait carried through the rest of Sylvester McCoy's time as the Doctor, as in The Happiness Patrol. To my mind, this is one of the most attractive parts of it. The most enduring image of the Cleaner robots pulling their trailers with the leg sticking out the back, a motif repeated throughout the story. Another favourite part was the Doctor's escape from the Caretakers. It would never stand up if you tried to take it seriously, but as a piece of humour it is brilliantly acted, most notably by the supporting actors playing the Caretaker guards. The funniest part for me though was recognising Richard Briers as the Chief Caretaker, and making the link with sitcom "The Good Life".
From the Doctor's introduction to the Red Kangs at the beginning to the weird walk of Kroagnon in the Chief Caretaker's body near the end, Paradise Towers defies you to take it seriously.
The final ending, however, is on an entirely different note. Once the baddie has been defeated, there is a much more poignant note in the Kangs' ceremony (if I said more, it would be too much of a spoiler, I think).
Final conclusion, then: not by any means a great in the annals of Doctor Who, but a very well done piece of extremely black comedy.
Build High for Happiness? by Ben Goudie 14/9/98
In some ways, Paradise Towers is a classic, and in some ways, it is one of the worst planned BBC television serials of the 1980s. It represents the 7th Doctor's character well, and has good and imagianative characters in it. The Character of Pex in particular is a well realized -- a coward who hid away from the first Dalek war, but pretends to be brave. The Kangs however, seem very immature. Teenagers generally have horrible attitudes towards anything and everything. Bin Liner and Fire escape speak very precisely -- somehing you rarely hear from people of their ages.
Many interesting and varied questions are raised by Paradise Towers, such as: 'how do the cleaners get the bodies into those trailers?', 'how can a cleaner fit in a waste disposal unit?', 'why do we only see 5 rezzies, on 304 floors?', 'why can't the Kangs pronounce the words "Elevator" or "Corridor"?' and 'why does the Chief caretakers suit go all shiny when he becomes Kroagnon?'
I was struck by the fact that some of the bodies in the Cleaners trailers have their feet sticking downwards. You can see inside the cleaners, but the knees bend away, so you can't see the bodies. if you think about this, you realize that it means the knees are bent the wrong way! No wonder the bodies wen't right for Kroagnon to live in, their legs were all snapped! What stupid cleaners!
At a guess, Pex breaks Tilda and Tabby's door down every half hour. Does this mean he only breaks a few peoples doors down, or does he do a half-hour long 304 floor door breaking session: 10 and a bit doors a minuite? You certainly don't see many broken doors.
A redeeming quality to the story is the excellent music, especially the music played whilst the Chief Caretaker is escorted through the basement by a cleaner. I am surprised that there has not been a Paradise Towers or a Season 24 CD, as there was for Greatest Show, Ghost Light, and Curse of Fenric.
The idea for the Kangs either came from the various tribes and gangs in Lord of the Flies by William Golding, or from the 1980's political parties, with red Kangs for Labour, blue Kangs for the Conservatives, and and Yellow Kangs representing the Lib-Dems (No wonder they weren't elected in the '80s, they were all unalive!).
Both the Kangs and the Caretakers are quite identityless with exception of their leaders. In particular the Deputy-Chief Caretaker, played by Clive Merrison, who brings a real depth of personality to the character.
Overall, the humor and serious parts were well balanced. The serial was well written, but badly thought out. Does anyone really know if Pex is dead, or why he had a tatoo of a mushroom on his neck? I believe that Paradise Towers is a battlefield of opinions -- is it ice hot, or should it be taken to the cleaners? -- All hail the Great Architect?
Brilliance Bubbling Under by Mike Morris 11/2/01
A brief history lesson (the conventional viewpoint).
Doctor Who in the eighties wasn't all that good, and it got a bit worse when Colin Baker took over the role. Season Twenty Two was bad, Season Twenty Three was worse, which was when Colin Baker was sacked and Sylvester McCoy took over. Season Twenty Four was the worst season of Doctor Who stories ever, ever, ever, full of silly things like a creature with a diamond in its head, four-eyed aliens, and homicidal cleaning robots.
The latter appeared, of course, in Paradise Towers. This story's always been hugely underrated in my opinion. While it's not perfect it remains the most important story of the McCoy era (yes, including Remembrance, Fenric, Survival, Ghost Light...) and its many great qualities tend to be a little overlooked. But, above all, something else shouldn't be forgotten; Paradise Towers saved Doctor Who.
This is Steven Wyatt's first Doctor Who story, and it bears many more similarities than are apparent at first glance to his second, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. A supposedly idyllic place has turned rotten; its weirdness has infected all the characters involved, who now live a strange life played by new rules; inoffensive things have become lethal; some people have used the new system to gain power over others; and, beneath the surface, a dark power lurks and strives to break free. Paradise Towers doesn't work as well as Greatest Show, but then it was a far braver move than Greatest Show ever was, and so deserves a little more indulgence.
Examine the climate in which it was made. It was 1987, and Doctor Who was struggling to survive. The series was slowly vanishing up its own backside. The last story to be made that didn't feature a reference to previous Doctor Who was Vengeance on Varos... three years ago. Time and the Rani had aired, and it was possibly the worst Doctor Who of all time. The script editor was new and inexperienced.
Andrew Cartmel wanted to take the show in new directions, and Paradise Towers is a manifesto of what he thought Doctor Who could be. If it hadn't happened, then the new lease of life that came with the McCoy era (which spread to the New Adventures after cancellation) would never have happened either. For the first time in years, Doctor Who was different to other SF series.
From the first shot, this feels light-years removed from the continuity-obsessed comic book adventures of Season Twenty Three. There's rubbish about, and graffiti, and peeling paint. Suddenly Doctor Who, in spite of so many odd and stylised characters, feels real. There's thousands of tower blocks in the UK world that are every bit as malevolent and ugly as Paradise Towers is. You're able to look at this environment and, despite its unrelenting weirdness, say 'yeah, I know what that's like...'
...which, in a nutshell, was what the McCoy era rediscovered in Doctor Who, the fusion of the ludicrous and the real, the crazy worlds with real people in them that began as soon as two secondary school teachers walked into a police box that was bigger on the inside, and somehow got lost midway through the Saward era in a misguided attempt to mimic other SF shows. Paradise Towers manages it in the first few minutes with a death scene and then the TARDIS materialisation which has ordinary, common-or-garden litter, and could be anywhere, but still isn't quite Earth... this is an alien world with deft touches of reality. Later stories would give us the Psychic Circus as a tale of ambition betrayed, would create cats and compare them with the ruthlessness of yuppie-culture, would give us a planet of sweets that was really Thatcher's Britain, would create a chess-playing elemental evil that was really an attack on the senselessness of war and division... and every single one of those stories owes a debt to Paradise Towers, their brave and brilliant prototype.
The Kangs are as good a creation as Doctor Who ever managed. Their dialogue is great, the scene where they "how-you-do" with the Doctor is superb. They're also oddly menacing. Kang, of course, sounds a bit like gang, and the Kang game is a stylised take on gang warfare (another universal truth), a strange system of territories played by unwritten rules, where factions with no real divisions battle each other when their real oppression comes from elsewhere. But, like all good Who, the Kangs rise above their status as social allegory and develop a life of their own. The funeral for the last Yellow Kang is enough to make anyone's skin crawl.
The next brilliant step that the production team made was to hire Richard Briers. Richard Briers is great at playing understated psychopaths. I saw him play some murdering vicar on some BBC show lately, and he was absolutely chilling... his strange accent, his unnerving toothy smile. Better still, Richard Briers is just one of the best actors in the universe, one of those actors I could quite happily watch changing a light bulb and be entertained. Unfortunately, I'd rather watch him changing a light bulb than playing the Chief Caretaker. The only explanation I've got is that it isn't actually Richard Briers at all. It's a lookalike, or an android replica, or a mass hallucination or something. Anything's more plausible than it actually being Richard Briers who's strutting around with a woeful fake moustache, doing his best John Cleese impression for the first three episodes, and then spray-painting his face silver, walking funny, and talking like a drunken elephant who's suddenly acquired the gift of speech. Maybe Richard was paid off by Michael Grade to bring the show down from within by producing a performance that left my telly reeking of ham for a month. What's even more annoying is that this is a genuinely well-scripted villain, a little man given power, terrified of a creature he likes to think he can control. Said creature isn't much cop either; it's hard to take a pair of neon eyes seriously. Doctor Who stories are, by and large, remembered for memorable villains, and Paradise Towers lacks these... the fault of the actors rather than the scriptwriter... but come on, at least they made the effort to come up with a bad guy who wasn't Anthony Ainley...
...and other performances are better. McCoy finds his feet as the Doctor, producing some lovely scenes (particularly when he's talking about the lack of trust in Paradise Towers). McCoy's Doctor really emerged when he threatened the Bannermen armed with nothing except that the belief that "life will defeat you"... but if that was when the Seventh Doctor bloomed, this was when the seeds first took root. His escape from the Caretakers is great.
And even Bonnie Langford really isn't all that irritating. All she does is try and get to a swimming pool, almost get eaten, and develop a little relationship with Pex, but that's what her character's about. Her scenes with Tibby and Tabatha are incredibly plausible, and Part Two's cliffhanger is super...
... and as for those characters... Tibby and Tabatha are the best things in Paradise Towers by a mile. They give me the creeps, and their deaths are damn disturbing. There's a monster in the rubbish chute... this taps into the part of me that used to think there was a ghost under my bed, or a monster in the cupboard... although quite how Tabatha fitted through the rubbish chute opening is anybody's guess, but that's just nitpicking...
...Pex is less successful, he's a bit too gormless... but again, it's easy to empathise with him, the scenes where the Kangs chant "scaredy-cat" at him is enough to make anyone feel sorry for the poor sod... because having your peers chant names at you is something we all go through, it's the most horrible thing in the world, and there's nothing you can do to make it stop. As for the scene when he lets the Doctor down... it's so easy to give in for a moment, say "please, let's hurry"... and his death, and the last shot of "Pex Lives", are just lovely... and anyway, the concept of the character is right, the "war-deserter" is an easy thing to tap into because it really, really, happens, so I'm prepared to forgive the flaws in realisation...
...and there's more, of course... the creature in the pool, the cunning commentary on the effects of sixties brutalist architecture that became wrapped up in abstract concepts and forgot that architecture is about people rather than "structural honesty", the lovely bit with the double-sided scarf at the end, little asides that tie the story to reality like Kangs playing games with lifts, the whole cleaning-robot idea, "are these old ladies annoying you... are you annoying these old ladies...", the chilling concept of "human garbage" (this is the time that the Tory government was writing off whole segments of society as thugs and delinquents), the way all the factions unite at the end... the list goes on.
And perhaps its worth mentioning that, of my non-fan friends (yes, I have some), most of them don't remember much anything about Doctor Who except for those metal bins with the sink-plungers who couldn't climb stairs, but three of them could remember that "there was one in a block of flats or something with a monster in a swimming pool and it was really scary..." So there.
The cleaning robots aren't as scary as they might be... oh well, must be rubbish then. So must Survival, Inferno, and City of Death. Yeah, okay, so the story has its faults. The direction isn't quite as claustrophobic as it should be, and the architectural dialogue could have been better written (although, given that I'm an architect, maybe I'm expecting a bit too much... and the cross-section Mel picks up is quite well-drawn, even if she does call it a plan), some things might have done with more development (how did the Chief Caretaker and Kroagnon actually get together?), and there are some silly bits (would anyone actually move to a building where they would be executed if they went to the basement?).
But here's my reasoning of why Paradise Towers should be held up as a crucial and admirable entry in the Doctor Who canon. I think what distinguishes a Doctor Who fan from, say, a Doctor Who viewer, is that we're able to forgive a bit more. In particular, because Who is so full of bad performances, technical goofs and dodgy sets, we're able to love something for its conception rather than its realisation. And Paradise Towers is so full of good ideas. Some work; some don't (for example, the scenes between the Chief Caretaker and Kroagnon *should* be terrifying, but they just aren't). But every single scene is inventive and purely Doctor Who. It should be loved for what it tries to do, for the fact that sometimes it succeeds, and for the fact that it blazed a trail that Seasons Twenty Five and Twenty Six followed to ever-increasing returns.
Of course, some people might hate what Paradise Towers tries to do, and that's fair enough. But please don't think its bad because of the bits that don't work. You can maybe fault three quarters of all the scenes in one way or another; but if the rule-book for Doctor Who is that strict, if we fault stories for minor indiscretions, if we categorise them scene-by-scene for effectiveness and technical merit, that makes us nothing more than a bunch of Caretakers.
On the whole, I'd rather be a Kang.
Red Kangs, Red Kangs, Red Kangs Are Best!! by Andy Hicks 22/3/01
Paradise Towers is very silly, when you think about it. Actually, it's very silly when you don't think about it, but then you think about it and there's, like, a truffle layer of non-silliness that sticks with you, ultimately, and then it's just silly again. To wit, it's my favorite bad Doctor Who episode.
Ever notice that the McCoy era had this formula of: Doctor lands (on a planet/in a house) where an UNSPEAKABLE ANCIENT EVIL (lives/visits) and (controls/affects/kills/all three) the (residents/soldiers/silly people with punk rock hair) which he then defeats by being all cool and Sylvester McCoy-ish? This is not to say that I dislike the McCoy era, for as a matter of fact I'm quite fond of it. It's just that if we're going to fault the Pertwee episodes, for instance, for being formulaic, we might as well attack, like, Ghost Light too. This is not to say I like the Pertwee era..
But, oh, yeah. Paradise Towers. There's an UNSPEAKABLE ANCIENT EVIL in the basement that's sending the evil cleaner robots around (and the evil cleaner robots look a lot like the evil robots from The War Machines -- anyone wanting to write this continuity into a PDA gets the Fanwank Towel of the Year Award) killing the residents, security guards, and the silly people with the punk rock hair, AND the chief caretaker is under its control, and the Doctor defeats the scary neon creature by rallying up the residents in a sufficiently cool McCoy-like manner.
Therefore, Paradise Towers is the ultimate McCoy adventure. It's not the best. It's not the worst. It's just the one that has all of the Sylvester McCoy elements wrapped up into one neat little package. This is not to mention that the Towers themselves make a great symbol for the show during the McCoy era (fluff and silliness hiding an intensely dark streak).
Stephen Wyatt knows characters, and his stories are all about them. Despite the silly 80s nicknames, they jump off of the screen in all of their creepy, surrealistic, comic glory. The plot itself is basic Who running-down-corridors-chased-by-things, but at least the folks running down the corridors are memorable. Yes, maybe it could have been more with better direction, but the show is a hell of a lot more fun to watch than Time and the Rani, and a lot easier on the brain than Ghost Light.
And anyone faulting the acting of the Chief Caretaker.. come on, do you REALLY think we were supposed to take him seriously? Sheesh...
A Review by Rob Matthews 30/1/02
For me, as for many, season 24 has always seemed a bit of a waste. Sitting there, taking up a whole third of the extant McCoy era and squandering it on silliness and panto.
There are good arguments to be made in its defence, however. Once Time & The Rani is over, the season does kick off a new style and type of storytelling, courtesy of Andrew Cartmel, one that would lead to a great renaissance in the show's declining years.
But with Paradise Towers, this style is rough at the edges and lacking in all of the elements that would ultimately make the Cartmel/McCoy era successful. The Doctor is not yet a cosmic manipulator, he's a daft buffoon who can't do comedy as well as Colin Baker. His companion just doesn't suit him or the show. There's no naturalism in the setting or the performances.
Apparently the comic book 2001 AD became required reading for the show's writers around this time (again, thanks to the influence of Cartmel), and its easy to see how a comic booky feel has entered the show with this story. It's overly stylised in terms of looks (the caretakers' hats, the colour-coded gangs, the crazy apparel of the residents), and the characters have silly names (either arch-cool ones like Bin Liner, Lift Shaft or Bum Fluff, or camp, unlikely ones like Pex or the duo Tabby & Tilda) and are too close to caricature.
It's not a bad idea for a story, an apartment complex going to hell, but important things are left unexplained - how come no-one seems able to leave the building? How and why is the Great Architect Kroagnon's mind trapped in the basement? Who does the Chief Caretaker think his 'pet' in the basement is? If enough time has elapsed for the 'Rezzies' -
- who wouldn't even refer to themselves as such -
- to have forgotten what the war was about, how come all the different groups are roughly the age they were supposed to be when they were first sent to the towers?
It's just too sloppy, and that's reflected in much of the the acting. An attitude of 'Oh well, it's just a silly Doctor Who story' is evident, particularly in Richard Briers' performance, and the director ought to have nipped it in the bud. If an actor treats his role - no matter how silly he finds it - as something to piss around with, all we'll see is an actor pissing around. Without convincing performances, there's no point of entry into the drama.
And there are few convincing performances here. Tabby & Tilda camp it up enjoyably - they're actually quite frightening too, when you realise that they really mean it -, and poor old Maddy is a sympathetic character, but I personally can't bring myself to be fussed about Pex or the Kangs.
Interesting, though, to ponder how this story might have went had Ace been introduced at the beginning of this season - Mel would have been more bearable with someone to play off (the only time she really worked on screen was with Ace), and it would have been enjoyable to see the different ways the two characters adapt to this situation. Ace would have been hip to the old ladies' creepiness and wouldn't have accepted their cakes, while nice, polite Mel would have ended up at the mercy of their toasting forks; Ace would have joined one set of Kangs and probably have ended up their unofficial leader, at the forefront of the attack on the cleaning robots; she'd have had a go at Pex with the best of them and then genuinely regretted her behaviour at the end.
Hell, as a surreal council flat parody, this story would have been ideal for Ace. As it is, it's a curiosity. With her I think everything would have clicked.
Underated...? by Joe Ford 14/3/02
If you had asked me for my opinion of Paradise Towers when the video was released I'd have spat in your eye, ran around town torching all copies of it and finally put my name down on the 'kill Doctor Who in the late eighties' list. I felt embarassed watching it alone for christ sakes! When my dear mate Hazel suggested we watch it together because she thought the title sounded 'groovy' I went into a screaming hissy fit. In the words of Castellan…."Noooo…not Paradise Towers".
But as always with my wonderful Who collection I go back to re-evaluate a few years later. Desperate now, as I had sifted through the classics I was left with this The Web Planet, Monster of Peladon or Horns of Nimon…oops! It was a wet Sunday after noon in Crawley, so stuck inside I slotted Paradise Towers in and pressed play…
And guess what? I really quite enjoyed it! It is far from anything resembling decent Who, decent television or decent drama it actually makes a wet afternoon an enjoyable experience indeed! Once you've got over the monumental disapointment of wasting such a serious and dramatic idea on a campy comedy you can actually start spotting the strengths of the show and there are a few indeed.
No continuity for a start…The Doctor turns up somewhere that he's never been before, meets a villain he hasn’t been chasing throughout all time and passes ninety minutes without a peek of a camp cybermen, hysterical Dalek or Time Lord with a odd taste in collars. Got to be a plus.
The script is actually very clever and not all played for laughs…the idea of this building going to pieces because of no strong leadership roles is a very strong one and by showing us the various factions and how they cope (mostly badly) is clever way to draw us into the plot. The Kangs are particularly well done with their mannered dialogue but the 'Rezzies' and their eating habits are also pretty cool. It all winds up with a heart warming close as the remaining factions joining forces defeat the evil bad guy…and then there's the wonderful saddening climax with the unexpected death of a character…so script wise this is a very strong show. It is odd but a good kind of odd.
As for the design? Good in spots, bad in others. The dirty corridors of the Towers are grimy enough to work but the swimming pool (it's not that spectacular!) and Rezzie apartments are just poor. The cleaning robots are actually pretty good if you can ignore the feet sticking out of the back (pur-lease) and the irritatingly bouncy theme tune they are punctuated with (why is this…aren't they supposed to be scary? Pumping arobics music over their scenes doen't exactly fill me with dread!!). And as for the pool robot…it doesn't even touch Mel so why does she get dragged underwater? Oh and why is here hair not fully wet when she's dragged all the way underneath? (sorry!).
Talking of Mel, she is certainly a lot better than that awful pink lump of screaming sugar we saw in Time and the Rani but not by much. It's just so obvious nobody could quite get a grip on her character (and putting her in that polka dot dress just makes me crease!). You can see Bubby Bonnie trying hard to play against the cardboard nature of her character (the betrayal of Pex and her adventures with Tabby and Tilda are actually well acted moments!) but with dialogue like "Oooh the pool looks so wonderful, perfect, just how I imagined it! I could do fourty thousand double flips in that pool and then put on a stage production of Peter Pan in it!" (slight exagerartion!) anyone would have issue trying to find a decent character. Still her "No Doctor!" at the beginning and end where he lifts his hat are still ace.
And McCoy…he's learning…he totally ruins some scenes (any bits with the robots) but he's still brill in others (the rulebook bit, questioning the chief caretaker). Still questionable and no where near as solid as Colin Baker but his strengths were yet to come.
I think it's the direction at fault, not the actors (although I will never forgive Richard Briers for what he did in episode four…why did the Kroagnon walk around like he had a cucumber up his bum and twenty toffees in his mouths…and on ectasy?). It called for a tight reign…a strict policy on NOT camping up the parts and it achieves the excat opposite. Could you imagine the outcome if the late great Douglas Camfield had directed? It's odd really since Mallet also directed Curse of Fenric that is sooo serious and solid you have to wonder if someone wasn't spiking his morning coffee during the shoot of Paradise Towers.
Is it a success, no? Would it have been better if Ace was in it? Probably (good idea Rob!). But we can only go with what we have which is a flawed experiment…one to never be shown to non-Who converts but secretly enjoyed on wet Sunday afternoons with a critical mind and a sense of humour.
And aren't Tabby and Tilda just fantastic?
Then came the Kang poetry... by Mike Jenkins 28/5/02
I wanted to say that this story was an overlooked cl- well, alright not classic. A well above average story usually more then unappreciated. But I can't. It is perhaps above average but no more. Despite the overly bleak atmosphere (It just screams "I am a Sylvester McCoy set!"), many unique concepts (Sly's wonderful lines, the comic villian, impressive camerawork, etc.) prevail. The substandard stylings of Bonnie Langford, Kang poetry, and the fam-glam cyberpunk look from each individual Kang 'Sect' might begin to wear on you towards the end but if you're at least a moderately devoted Dr. Who fan, I would recommend it. A mixed bag, this one, to say the least.
The McCoy years take a step forward by Michael Hickerson 20/7/02
Both of Stephen Wyatt's script contributions to Doctor Who concern closed systems and the people who inhabit them. Along the way, Wyatt uses the closed system to make some bits of commentary and wry observations about groups of people. In Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Wyatt examines the state of Doctor Who and its fandom at the shows 25th anniversary. In Paradise Towers, Wyatt makes observations on the general status of the world and how it's become comparmentalized to the point that we value rules, regulations and our own corner of the world more than we actually value getting out and working together as a whole community.
It's interesting to see Doctor Who get into a bit of social commentary (and in Greatest Show's case get in a few much needed jabs at the fandom) but it's too bad that while Paradise Towers does offer up a lot of social commentary, there's not the same strong story behind it that Wyatt will display a year later with Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
The Doctor and Mel journey to the advertised luxury community of Paradise Towers -- primarily to find the pool for Mel to swim in. Upon their arrival, they discover that the towers have fallen into disarray and the residents have divided upon into separate communities -- girls called Kangs, the rule-bound caretakers and cannabilistic rezzies. The towers fell into disarray after the Great Architech Kroagnon built the towers and wanted to maintain them as a perfect shrine to his own genius. Some of the younger residents fought against him and put his disembodied consciousness into a machine in the basement that the Chief Caretaker is now beholden to and is feeding residents to. As the Doctor arrives, he finds out that Kroagnon is looking for a way to escape and take back the Towers, saving them from the "human filth" inhabitiing them.
There's a lot of things that work in Paradise Towers and a lot of things that don't.
The biggest difference between this story and Time and the Rani is simply how much more comfortable McCoy appears to be in his role as the Doctor. Yes, it's not yet really defined as the seventh Doctor that we will come to know and (in some cases) love in seasons 25 and 26, but it's a step forward. It would be very easy to assume that the Doctor knew of Paradise Towers' decay and wanted to investigate and that's why he led Mel to information about the pool being there. McCoy does a nice job throughout and seems very settled on the role. Heck, he even makes running down corridors from metallic monsters seem a lot more interesting than it should be.
There are also some well-drawn characters. Wyatt does a good job of creating some interesting characters. The Chief Caretaker and his minions are memorable, if only for having to repeat the rule book as often as they do. The Kangs work well enough as an idea -- though why there are blue, yellow and red Kangs in never fully or satifsactorily explained. Also of interest (at least initially) is Pex who figures himself a hero, but doesn't quite have the stomach for it.
Add to this a rather interesting premise to the story -- disemodied evil seeks body (an homage to Brain of Morbius at the least) and you've got what could have been a real feather in the cap of the McCoy years.
Instead, what you've got is a story that isn't as good as the sum of its parts.
A lot of this is simply due to miscasting.
The JN-T years trend of casting actors because of their big name recognizability value instead of casting them because they're suitable for the role is seen in its fully glory here. Two words: Richard Briers. Don't get me wrong -- Briers is a superb comedian and does comedy well. But here in Paradise Towers, he's just out of his depth. His Chief Caretaker is meant to be menacing in a Hilter type of way but just comes off as pendantic and silly. And his transformation into the Great Architect Kroagnon is just plain embarassing. The one good thing I will say about his work -- his body language works well. The scenes with the newly restored Kroagnon skulking down corridors and dragging his leg work well because it makes you believe that the Great Architect is learning how to control a human body again.
The next glaring error is Pex. A lot of this has to do the character arc Pex is given. It's not surpising that Pex has a secret and won't share it. It's not a huge shock that he's actually afraid but overcompensating. And it won't take too much to guess that in the end, it will be Pex who saves the day, thus ensuring that in his death, he was the hero he always dreamed of being in life. Been there, done that. But I could accept that character if the part were better portrayed. As it stands, Pex is not that interesting and, at times, embarassing.
But the biggest acting drawback is Bonnie Langford. She seems to feel completely uncomfortable in the role of Mel. There are some rather cringe inducting moments -- such as her almost annoying perkiness in the corridors with Pex, her hamming it up while eating with Tilda and Tabby and her screaming every four or five scenes. Honestly, I think we might all have fonder memories -- or be more willing to forgive -- of Mel had it not been for this story.
But despite all of that, Paradise Towers is still a step forward for the McCoy years. It's not as cringe worthy or ill-advised as Time and the Rani. It's not great Who by any means, but it's more enjoyable. It's well directed considering how really limited the sets are (a limitation can be turned into an asset if you work hard enough -- again, just see Greatest Show). And the music is decent enough, if not quite on par with the scores that have come before or that we'll hear later. Paradise Towers is pretty much middle of the road in terms of quality for the McCoy years. It's a good step foward, but again, the best is still yet to come...
The Kang's all here by Andrew Wixon 22/7/02
I was under the impression that Paradise Towers was regarded as one of the darkest hours of DW's history, so the generally mildly favourable tone of all the preceding reviews was a pleasant surprise. Well, I'm going to be more than mildly favourable about it: I think Paradise Towers is fab.
Mike Morris makes the excellent point in his review that this is the first story in years not to feature any references to prior stories (while he reckons the last one not to do so was Vengeance on Varos, there is a line referring to Attack of the Cybermen near its start - which means we're possibly looking at season 19 for the previous tale) and this sense of freshness, of a series looking to the future and not in danger of vanishing up its own profundity, runs throughout the story.
All right, it isn't very sophisticated and it isn't very subtle. The middle episodes consist mainly of corridor-jogging and capture-escape routines. But given that, the plot unfolds remarkably smoothly and accessibly. And there is subtlety here, if you look for it: you could view it as state of the nation stuff, a skewed look at late 1980s Britain. Society fracturing, urban decay... and it's up to the Doctor to prove that yes, there is such a thing as society, that people have to work together as a community if good is to be upheld.
And so what if it's funny? Funny is good. Funny draws in people who wouldn't dream of watching something about machine-pistol-toting alien cyborgs snarling cynical put-downs at each other. And it isn't as if the jokes damage the story at all in any way. It's all perfectly consistent, perfectly coherent stuff, just a tiny step beyond naturalism (the handling of the cannibalistic old dears plotline is beautiful, it's subtle and blackly comic in exactly the way The Two Doctors wasn't).
The sets look great, the music is bang on, and if most of the performances seem pitched towards the back row of the circle, well, as I said this isn't supposed to be naturalistic stuff. And there are some wonderful moments: the Doctor's first escape from the caretakers, the look between Mel and Pex just before he saves the day, the closing shot. So it's flash. So it's bold. But it's also fresh and witty and blackly hilarious. Better than every Colin Baker story bar one, it's poetry and I love it.
A society gone to seed by Tim Roll-Pickering 6/7/03
The second story of both Sylvester McCoy and Script Editor Andrew Cartmel's tenures sees the show finding its new feet quickly. Paradise Towers is set in a world that is a far cry from the futuristic societies seen in many previous stories. Instead of the pristine sets and corridors and structured societies with a handful of dissidents, we get a run down, dilapidated building where society has broken down completely into the old, the young and authority and a menace stalks the land preying on the unsuspecting. The story is brought to life in an interesting style, with the robots being deliberately designed to look fun and childish until they reveal their menace, whilst even some of the performances are deliberately humorous in a send-up of those that they are caricaturing. The story is even notable for containing absolutely no continuity references whatsoever! All this combines to make Paradise Towers a strong story that shows there is a lot of life and originality still in the series even in its twenty fourth year.
Stephen Wyatt's script is packed full of humour, such as the character of Pex, sending up the all-action heroes such as Rambo who were prevalent at the time, or the scene where the Doctor tricks the Caretakers with the rule book which has to be amongst the funniest in the series' history. But there's a serious point to the story as well and the humour feels as though it is arising naturally. The plot is ludicrous when one thinks about it but this isn't a story that invites the viewer to do that. Rather it spends the first three parts showing the chaotic society and the mystery of who is carrying out the killings and then sees the Doctor set out to 'put the world of Paradise Towers to rights'. In many ways the society is an interesting projection of many of the problems real life commentators frequently identify in Britain (at least) today - neglected, rubbish filled streets, a complete lack of communication and respect between the authorities and the citizens, the young in gangs with no respect for authority and individuals seeking to do good being cruelly mocked for their efforts. Against this the entire story of Koragnon seems almost secondary.
Sylvester McCoy's performance is more subdued here than in the preceding Time and the Rani, displaying at times a sense of the manic when he finds himself short of time, but at other times showing a sense of forbearance and skill in the Doctor, bringing a greater sense of seriousness to the role. Bonnie Langford does well as Mel in this story, playing the innocent girl hunting the swimming pool, although the cliffhanger at the end of Part Two does have a lot of impact because viewers knowing her unpopularity might wonder if she will indeed be eaten (and some might wish for it!). The rest of the cast generally give good performances, though Richard Briers does not quite evoke the image of Hitler despite the costume and moustache and when the Chief Caretaker's body is taken over by Kroagnon he plays the role as literally a walking corpse which isn't the most effective (nor is it explained how the moustache suddenly grows!). Nevertheless the full cast bring the story to life.
The production of the story is good, though the swimming pool is far from spectacular (but this is in keeping with the story's theme of expectations not being met). The lighting is subdued and combined with the music there is a strong atmosphere in the story that gives it a downbeat tempo that works perfectly. The sets are all suitably dirty and the result is a story that really excels itself. At a time when even the heads of fandom were publicly questioning the quality of the series, Paradise Towers shows just what it is capable of by producing a strong story that is all too often overlook. 10/10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 9/2/04
What a strange story this is! When people say that the best thing about DW is the variety that the premise of the show offers, you have to accept pretty much anything that is flung at you, with the name of Doctor Who on. Whether you like the various incarnations (and I'm talking about story types here, not individual Doctors) that the show employs is another matter entirely, it's why DW fans opinion differ so widely on the same stories.
The story that divides fans more than most (and there are quite a few takers for this honour) is, in my opinion, Paradise Towers. I have read reviews of this story that explain and point out things that I just didn't see. It's not my place to denounce other reviewers, other people believe firmly in what they are saying, as do I when I write mine. Some reviews of Paradise Towers have been such that I wondered if I was watching the same show - but therein lies one of the main wonders of Who. It's all about diversity, and even though it has DOCTOR WHO emblazoned all over it, that doesn't mean to say we have to like it. The TV show, like the audios and the books, have after all embraced lots of different story types. My voyage through the Doctor's stories throughout my life has shown me categorically that DW is more diverse than any other show that has ever appeared on TV. Onto Paradise Towers though, and the diversity that that provides.
I hate the first episode. This goes back to when I first saw it, and before. The previews were wonderful. This superb massive office block that housed a diverse (there's that word again) array of characters. That brilliant title that promised so much. When I did eventually see Paradise Towers I was sorely disappointed. I was expecting some dark underworld. Where the corridors were black, and evil lurked in the shadows. I was expecting a tense, gripping thriller in a splendid setting. What we got was something else entirely.
The corridors are light, the cleaning machines are brilliant white and you spot them a mile off. The characters that inhabit the Towers are full of childish talk and people from cookery programmes. I hated the Kangs, Red or Blue. Their childish prattle was embarrassing, and the Doctor seemed to be joining in with it! The Rezzies were the type of women you find on daytime TV over the stoves (a Room 101 item for me). Then there was Pex. How could we take this character seriously. He impresses us by bending a light fitting and wearing a bullet strip round his shoulder. This was embarrassing and it wasn't the Doctor Who that I knew and liked. The show had metamorphed into a Poor Silly Children's Runaround Comedy. As the golden age fans were growing up so the TV show was going the other way. DW had never been this childish before - it was no longer a childrens show that can be enjoyed by adults. It was simply kids' TV and should have been on around 4:30 after school.
Paradise Towers was a story that I was glad I never watched with my Grandad, and that upset me. Me and him used to sit down, when I was about 7-9, and watch the gothic horror and wonderful characters of the Hinchcliffe years. We'd marvel at the monsters and cower at the villains. I would sit wide-eyed and he would sit entranced, the perfect thing to bring the 2 of us together. Paradise Towers wouldn't have done that, by this time the show was dismissed to the upstairs bedroom whilst the family watched the soaps downstairs in the comfy chairs.
But away from the nostalgia of the mid 70s - it's a clarion call that we hear many times (which I happen to agree with though!). Paradise Towers is nothing like Doctor Who was. The monsters have been replaced by bright robots. The villains replaced with eye-rolling actors who should know better. A Bohemian eccentric replaced with a circus clown. It isn't the same, and that's my point. It's different than anything else we had ever seen. Stephen Wyatt, who had never written for the show before; and Andrew Cartmel, in his first year as script editor were bringing something new - and that's what kept DW going for as long as it did.
I will never agree with the reviews that hail Paradise Towers as some clever classic. It's ridiculously silly with characters that are just terribly embarrassing. But the beauty is that plenty do see past that, and see a great story. I tried, I really did, but to no avail. But wouldn't it be terrible if we all were the same and agreed on everything! One of my all-time least favourite stories. 3/10
Doctor Who is dead! Long live Doctor Who! by John Anderson 4/9/04
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 sown of the seventh Doctor's character proper. Subconsciously or not, Sylvester has taken Terrance Dicks' "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.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 14/9/04
Paradise Towers is a quirky tale which can`t decide what it wants to be; in part it is traditional and in part it is similairly a commentary on the state of the UK (a society in a state of decay at the time.) This is emphasised by Stephen Wyatt`s script featuring as it does gangs of girls divided by colours, cannibalistic old ladies and a tower block overseen by caretakers. This in itself makes for a fascinating concept, helped by a clever use of dialogue; however Paradise Towers is not without its problems and that is most evident in the transition between script and screen. Notably in the miscasting of several characters resulting in terrible performances from the vast majority of the cast.
This aside, Sylvester McCoy does begin to make the role of the Doctor more his own here, displaying authority when confronting the Chief Caretaker for example. Bonnie Langford is below par here, not helped by her characterisation and pairing with the somewhat cliched Pex. There are more memorable moments littered throughout the story thankfully, particularly the image of a Rezzie being carted away by the somewhat impractical cleaning machines. In spite of its faults Paradise Towers does remain enjoyable thanks largely to the scripts, it's just a shame the finished production doesn`t live up to the standard they set.
A Review by Brian May 17/8/05
Paradise Towers benefits from a fascinating script, but the onscreen realisation is affected by two major failings: presentation and tone, which combine to make the viewing experience a less than enjoyable one. For a cleverly-crafted story that's both macabre black comedy and stinging social satire, it's unfortunate that it was made when Doctor Who was at its lightweight worst. Season 24 is not among the programme's finest days, and you only need to look at this adventure's production values to see this.
The whole feel is wrong. The sets are dull: they don't look like the rundown housing estate this place is meant to be. They look like television sets slightly dirtied up. The lights are too bright; it's not intended to be a Hinchcliffe/Holmes horror, but you'd think the subject of urban decay is gloomy enough to demand below normal light levels. The music is atrocious; the synthesised, 1980s dance-beat is inappropriate, intrusive and just plain bland. Give me Dudley Simpson at his worst any day! The direction and editing are woeful. Nicholas Mallett has a shocker, apparently thinking he's at the helm of a rock video or a cartoon. Everything is all over the place, from camera angles to close-ups, dialogue exchanges and risible action scenes. Characters and scenes just come and go, and there's no sense of any breadth or depth - Paradise Towers is not the vast complex it's supposed to be. It's just a few sets in a television studio. Obviously all Who interiors are the same, but it's usually imaginative direction that accentuates the illusion - but there's none of that here. The cleaners are quite well designed, but they could have been kept hidden a bit more, perhaps for an end of episode revelation. Speaking of the cliffhangers, they're all drab (episode three's is especially bad) and the waste disposal unit's "abduction" of the Rezzies could have been truly shocking, instead of just being shockingly awful.
The Kangs are extremely overacted, wearing on the nerves very quickly, and all the "Scaredy cat" and "Cowardly cutlet!" chants and insults are juvenile to the extreme. Only one of them is well acted, and that's Annabel Yuresha as Bin Liner, but she has the air of a fresh RADA graduate who's only taken the role because the RSC hasn't called her back yet. Howard Cooke is horribly miscast as Pex; his over-the-top, comic-book performance means the character's subtleties and underlying tragic aspects are lost. But if you really want OTT, simply go to Richard Briers as the Chief Caretaker. I don't know what such a fine actor was thinking. Granted, he's competent, albeit uninspiring, in the first two episodes with a camp creepiness, but in the second half he deteriorates into a stupefyingly horrendous, almost unspeakable, excuse for a performance. He's given himself over to hammy antics and Basil Fawlty blustering that is truly one of Doctor Who's most embarrassing star turns.
When talking about bad performances, Bonnie Langford as Mel cannot be forgotten. She's dreadful. Bad, bad, bad. What was most surprising is the fact that she was actually very good in her first story (Terror of the Vervoids). By season 24 she's deteriorated into a loud, horrid, quintessentially annoying halfwit - Langford does herself (and Mel) no favours by drawing on her pantomime background. Sylvester McCoy is a lot better - he's in his early days as the Doctor, but he's enjoyable to watch as the slapstick clown that preceded his dark, manipulative turn. However there's one scene in part four by the pool, when he describes how everyone mistrusts each other, in which he's very flat, with a delivery of lines that's uncharacteristically lifeless. But fortunately that's his only poor moment.
Thankfully some of the guest cast understand the nature of the story. Clive Merrison as the Deputy Chief Caretaker is good - he underplays the part, so while there's the same creepy nature as that of his superior, there's a subtlety that's so wanting in Briers's performance. The various Rezzies, Tilda and Tabby in particular, manage to slyly communicate the dark undersides of their characters and their predicament, true to the nature of a black comedy. One of the most chilling - and at the same time most grotesquely funny - scenes in the story is the exchange of dialogue between Maddy and Tabby:
Maddy: "People don't just vanish, do they?" Tabby: "Of course not. There's always something left behind" (as she slowly covers the remains of her meal).And you thought The Two Doctors was the ultimate Who story about cannibalism! Pah! This scene is a hundred more times effective than the in-your-face grossness of the season 22 tale.
That brings me back to my opening comments. Paradise Towers is very well written. Wyatt includes some wonderful semantics - all the "taken to the cleaners", "take the cleaners to the cleaners" etc phrases are ingenious. It's not wholly original, the idea of the in-betweens is way too Hitch-Hikers (well, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe to be precise) for its own good, but it's a wonderfully dark, twisted tale, depicting a society that's imploded into a nightmarish melee of Darwinian and Thatcherism self-interest. Aside from the macabre humour, there are some genuine laughs in the Caretakers' dogmatic adherence to the rulebook, which makes the Doctor's escape from the Deputy a wonderful moment. But the production leaves most of the story's undertones and dark humour for dead, instead focusing on a far too light-hearted, very silly romp. With dreadful direction, editing, music and design, combined with some diabolical acting, it's not very fun to watch. It's a letdown; another example of wasted potential, with a tone that doesn't do Wyatt's great ideas any justice. It's still probably the best story of season 24, but really that's not saying much. 5/10
"Pex Lives" by Terrence Keenan 3/3/07
Okay, the first time I ever saw Paradise Towers was back in 87/88, when a Long Island Public TV station got a hold of McCoy's first season and broadcast it in an all-day marathon. I watched about half an episode of Time and the Rani, switched off and checked back in later, for what was episode 4 of Paradise Towers. Two minutes later, I flipped it off and lost all interest in McCoy.
Fast forward to today, and while bopping around YouTube (all hail the mighty YouTube), someone had posted Paradise Towers. Moreover, with not much else happening on this Sunday afternoon, I settled in to watch.
Let's start off with the best part of Paradise Towers. It creates a world where you can get lost. There are roving herds of teens spouting off with their own version of Nadsat. There are rules as to how this world works. The towers themselves are dirty and lived in. The world of Paradise Towers forms a cohesive whole. It is all believable, no matter how odd things get. Steven Wyatt did the same thing in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, a fave-rave of mine.
The Kangs are great. Completely believable, and exceptionally performed by the cast. The little phrases and reactions to everything seem so right. This was a bit of a surprise, as normally, teens on a rampage are usually the last thing I ever want to watch. Works far better than it should.
Tilda and Tabby, the cannibalistic Rezzies were downright creepy. Oh so nice and polite, but menacing just the same. Like the Kangs, they work better than they should, especially in that nasty little cliffhanger to episode two.
The caretakers let things down. Obviously, they are Basil Fawlty clones. Richard Briers is the biggest flaw, as both Chief Caretaker and when possessed by Kroagnon. It adds an unnecessary goofy/silly tone to a story where weird and creepy strange are supposed to be the watchwords of the day.
The problem is obvious; Nicholas Mallett does not understand what Wyatt is trying to achieve with the script. A case in point is casting Howard Cooke as Pex. He doesn't look right for the part, and he seems too soft and cute to be a wannabe muscle bound hero type. Mallett also never reigns in the actors playing the caretakers, which is one of the bigger flaws in this serial.
However, Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford are both good in this one. McCoy takes everything seriously, even when being sarcastic, which adds to the surrealness of the environment. And Bonnie is so sweet as Mel, I kept cheering for her.
Paradise Towers is good story, despite the serious flaws. It creates a fascinating, grubby little world you can get lost in, and makes you care about the characters. Which is what all good Who does.
A Review by Lance Bayliss 20/1/08
Ah. Paradise Towers.
It's complete rubbish, but also it's (strangely) not as well. You know, taking it in context, being as it is immediately placed after the all-time lows of Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani, it's a comparative masterpiece. That context is important. This is a stepping stone towards... something.
I mentioned in my review of Time and the Rani that there is a sense of the new trying to break through the old. The same is even more true of Paradise Towers. In many ways it is the most fresh and vibrant script the series had seen in about three years. It literally overflows with interesting new ideas after the increasing naval gazing of the Sixth Doctor's era.
Having said that, it does take its cues from the novel "High Rise" in much the same way as The Androids of Tara took its cues from "The Prisoner of Zenda". But like that Season 16 story, it adds its own Doctor Who twist on the concept.
The story broadly covers many themes relevant to the late 1980s: the decay of the high rise, the way that the old close-knit system of neighbours looking after each other had degenerated into this nameless, faceless culture of the late eighties to the point where people who live right next door to each other simply don't trust each other any more.
That's an element of society that's as resonant now as it was then. Perhaps even more so, as we are able to look now in the 21st century at the rise of high rises as one of the things which has led to some of the less than pleasant aspects of modern day inner-city living.
This is Doctor Who being conscious that it had to be relevant to the decade it was being made in. It's a thinly veiled satire, but it's there all the same.
This degeneration of culture is optimised by the Rezzies. On the face of it they seem to be a couple of pleasant old ladies, but turn your back on them and they're sharpening the knives. Literally.
The cliffhanger where Mel gets tied down by them gave me genuine chills when I was a wee nipper. Anyone who thinks Doctor Who's cliffhangers had lost their punch need only ask me aged five (1987) for proof that they hadn't. Not for me anyway.
The Doctor calling a pay phone "a splendid piece of audioarchitectonicalmetrasynchosity" is wannabe clever cobblers. Except it isn't. It's rubbish.
While we're talking about crap, the cleaner robots are less than frightening, although again they fascinated me as a five year old in a manner not unlike the Daleks or Cybermen might have enchanted previous generations of viewers.
I reckon Season 24 is actually Sylvester McCoy's best season as far as his acting is concerned, because it's just about his level. Where Seasons 25 and 26 are probably better all round seasons, they stretch poor old Sylv's acting abilities beyond what he can actually achieve, leaving us with something less than convincing. Season 24 sees McCoy working to his strengths. Madcap comedy, with just a touch of something deeper.
Which is why the scene with the caretakers (where he runs circles around them and their rulebooks) is so noteable, because it shows us that there's just enough of something darker under the surface but doesn't delve too deeply into it.
This story features Mel's worst costume. Period.
The script really is fresh and unusual. The cast of characters are so broad and all have their own places in the story; the Rezzies, the Kangs, the caretakers all have their own plots, with Pex wandering around between them. No one is superfluous, no one is wasted.
I really do like Pex. I don't quite buy his "noble sacrifice" at the end, but once again he's much more of a rounded character than some of the placeholder ciphers we'd seen during the previous season.
I think I'll give it *** stars out of five. I can see its faults, but I think it has a great number of strengths as well. And it really does herald that the series was finally looking forwards rather than backwards.
Paradise Found, Sort Of... by Adrian Pocaro 15/9/08
One of the joys of being a public-school teacher in America is that you have a 12 week vacation in the middle of the summer. A perfect time to catch up on some overlooked serials and I stumbled upon Paradise Towers recently. It's not bad, but it's not great either. It probably should've been the McCoy regeneration story. I can't bring myself to watch Time and the Rani again (maybe I'll get to it later), so this will have to do.
People criticize McCoy the blundering clown in all of season 24 but I really don't see it here. He's settled down for the most part and not all that unrecognizable from what we come to see later. The faults in execution belong to the companion, the composer and the companion (again) in this story. Other than that, McCoy is the Doctor that we all came to know and love besides the umbrella (which I noticed was absent) and the scheming. He's serious for most of the story. Ok, I could point to the scene where the Doctor tricks the guards into letting him go in episode 2 but is it really out of character for Doc 7? I think not. The Doctor is the strongest and only redeeming factor in this story. Just take a look on his face in the beginning of episode 1 when the bubbly Mel is going on and on about the Towers... Clearly, he doesn't want to bother with the trip and would rather be somewhere else, but he succumbs anyway. Much like the audience.
Oh, Melanie. Bonnie Langford is obviously a very talented stage actress and that's where she should have stayed. How do I know? Just look at her acting. She over emotes EVERY scene like she's playing to an audience in the bleachers, but this is TV, darling, so play it down a bit, please. You're like that annoying girlfriend that wakes up on a Saturday at six in the morning and exclaims "Good morning sunshine! Let's get up! No use in wasting our day!" I want to hit her, and I'm not a violent man. And let's not forget the impetus of this story, which is the fact that she wants to hang out by the swimming pool. According to her this the greatest pool in the known universe. Really? Mel, are you serious? I know of a pool that looks a lot nicer than that one. It's in my apartment complex. I suspect that there are thousands of nicer pools in the US or UK, but of course the plot demands that she end up in one that has a robotic killing machine, which frankly I wish I had in my apartment pool to dispose of all those annoying pre-teens that take up all the space where I come from (just kidding). Long story short, it's weak, it doesn't hold up and I wonder where she came up with her swim suit.
And, oh my God, the music. Keff just ruined every serial he scored. In fact, he just about ruined the whole McCoy era; a shame, as Sylvester is my favorite Doctor behind David Tennant. Just think about how different this story would've felt if Mark Ayres had provided the incidental music, or Dominic Glynn, or Malcolm Clark, or even (shudder) Murray "Gone With the Wind" Gold. Cleaning robots and neon lights would have seemed much more ominous if we had some sense of foreboding about them. Of course, I'm speaking as a music major and band director, so I like to think I know what I'm talking about when it comes to this aspect. But dance party music doesn't build tension. It detracts from the main threat and whenever I re-watch a McCoy serial I tune the Keff music out and replace it in my head with something by Mark Snow or Ron Jones. Try it sometime, it vastly improves stories like Battlefield or Silver Nemesis.
The idea of cannibalistic old ladies has shades of season 22 all over it. Tabby and her friend are wonderfully played, but when the rezzies make their grand speech about "Let's let bygones be bygones" I almost wanted to throw something at the TV. OK old lady, you've been killing and eating people for who knows how long, and this half-ass apology is supposed to make up for it? Give me a break!
Having lived across the pond for my whole life I can't accurately comment on Richard Briers. From what I've read, he was a comedy actor before taking this guest role but I would've guessed that anyway. He strikes me as lightweight. A better actor could have added some gravitas but obviously this guy sees his stint on Doctor Who as a lark. The Chief Caretaker sports a Hitler mustache that seems to grow longer and more obvious when he is taken over by Kroagnon. By the way, Kroagnon had some effect on Richard Briers didn't he? Apparently, when his body was taken over he was raped in the worst possible way for a man and spends the rest of part 4 walking around like it. What's with the voice? In my opinion there's no need to change it at all.
Good God, I started this review with the intention of defending this story and all I can say are bad things about it... uh oh.
So what's right here? Well, in two words, Sylvester McCoy. I watched this story looking for the clown and never quite found him. He gets caught up in the events and wants to put things to rights before he leaves. In a nutshell, he's the Doctor, as pure as any incarnation that came before him. I'll be the first to admit that season 24 was not just bad Doctor Who, it was Doctor Who at its most desperate, but don't blame it on McCoy. He did what he could with the scripts given him. All the better to blame a bored Producer and inexperienced Script Editor, and accept the fact that the author of this story would create an absolute masterpiece just over one year later. Thus, you have, in Paradise Towers, an era clawing its way to the greatness it would eventually become.
HUNGRYYY!" by Neil Clarke 22/4/09
This is a story I liked when I was younger, which, when I got back into the series, I expected to hate it - but was surprised to find that I didn't. Now, every time I watch it, the same thing happens; I'm always surprised by how enjoyable it is!
I can see why Paradise Towers is disliked, of course, but I can't bring myself to hate it: watched as a comedy-cartoon, it's enjoyably funny, but still quite dark on those terms (rather than watching it on a serious level and being disappointed).
I've always liked the idea of Doctor Who as a madcap live-action cartoon more in theory than practise, but it's great here. While season twenty-four doesn't work in its entirety, at least this story is brave enough not to simply replicate seventies Doctor Who. (Which I suppose is what upsets a lot of people. Get over it) My problem with the first half of the eighties (encapsulated by Davison, mainly), is that it rolled along without anything radical happening: it was Doctor Who by numbers and, as such, it was a bit dull. At least the Colin Baker era (well, season twenty-two) had energy and violence - but it's quite a relief to get to something that feels genuinely new.
When people talk about season twenty-four they tend to mean Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen: Time and the Rani is a season twenty-three leftover, while Dragonfire is halfway between seasons twenty-four and twenty-five. Delta is a bit too flimsy for me; its execution just doesn't work. In the words of my mum, "It's like they've never made one before!" (god love her). So, to my mind, Paradise Towers is the pinnacle of the season twenty-four approach - and it makes me wish they'd done more in this vein. Come on! It's fun, funny, and so much more assured than its reputation would have you believe.
Of course, as fans we can't help but compare different eras, but, in a way, this doesn't work here because its approach is so unprecedented. A lot of the time you can swap Doctors in your mind ("Imagine a Hartnell-era Genesis of the Daleks!, etc) - but the joy here is that this story is so different that you can't imagine Pertwee or Tom in it.
Equally, complaints about realism - which are applicable to more realistically-grounded, harder-edged stories - are pretty much irrelevant here, because this environment blatantly has no truck with realism.
Possibly the most striking thing about this story is that it debunks yet another fan myth I'm annoyed to have found myself accepting: that the Seventh Doctor was crap in this season; an embarrassing, talentless pantomime clown. Well, I've done my best to avoid Time and the Rani for quite a few years, so I can't speak for that story - but here, he's genuinely great. Considering this came straight after that story, there is an amazing leap: here, McCoy is instantly likeable, despite how fashionable it is to disparage him. He seems entirely at home in the part. It would be horrible if he were as "up" as Mel, so I like his initial contrasting grouchiness. I love how crumpled and forlorn he is, and the sense that this charming anarchist is having fun with the kids (I can't imagine many other Doctors tolerating the Kangs).
So many people seem to view this story in terms of what could have been, but there's loads that's great here. Tilda and Tabby are obviously fab: episode two's cliffhanger - Mel threatened by two crocheted-shawl and toasting-fork-wielding psychotic lesbian-cannibal-pensioners - is utter genius. "She's a nice, polite, clean, well-spoken girl. Just the sort we like..." I love their exchange after Pex bursts in, too:
"I do wish you would stop breaking through our door to save us!"
"It's not as though we've ever been in any trouble!"
"Apart from bits of door flying all over the place!"
Clive Merrison's deputy caretaker is great too; alternately bored and overly officious, like a crap school bully. "Oh no, no, sunbeam! You're coming with us..."
Given this season's damning reputation, the production has a much less flimsy feeling than, say, (the incomprehensibly overrated) Earthshock; there's a surprising sense of size and scale in the sets: glimpses of long carrydors, the two-level bridge set, etc. The green-lit carrydors with neon signs are effective (and not as notoriously over-lit as most earlier 80s stories), while the mobility of the camera is notably beneficial too.
It's funny how powerful reputations are: as I've been typing this, I've actually found it hard to believe how positive I've been, or tried to downplay praise - but I really don't have any excuse for how much I enjoyed this story. Yes, it's throwaway, superficial even - but despite its silliness (not necessarily a bad thing), it still feels less like kids' TV than, say, the previous season's Mysterious Planet, which really is a dreary (yet, garish) runaround, with no depth and very little originality.
Yes, it's a far cry from Inferno, or Kinda, or most of the sixties (which has seldom felt more distant), but then it's not trying to be like them. It's trying to do something new. Yes, Paradise Towers is silly, and fun. Don't be a cowardly cutlet. Get over your prejudices, and just enjoy it!