|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.|
Ice-Hot! by Connor Devlin 16/1/11
After the rambunctious but utterly fun Time and the Rani, it was time the Seventh Doctor explored some darker elements. In a way, Stephen Wyatt's piece, Paradise Towers, is just that - and then it's not. It's a script crackling with allegories and innuendos, but it is a piece bogged down by the horrible direction (ironcially by Nicholas Mallet, who did fantastic stuff with The Curse of Fenric).
The story is rather simple. Mel wants to go swimming, and since they jettisoned the pool from the TARDIS (damn leaks), the Doctor takes her to Paradise Towers, which he is also interested in. What they come upon is a dump, filled with Kangs (basically female teenagers), Rezzies (basically female old people) and the Caretakers (the only freaking men), and with a secret lurking about.
It doesn't take long for things to get interesting, but it also doesn't take long to spot some flaws. The sets are the first up to the bat. While they aren't anything to write home about, they're not so bad in some places as people say. The halls work; Tilda and Tabby's apartment is pretty nifty, but the pool is utter crap, and there's a feeling barely any of the budget was used.
Keff McCullough's music is at its best. Personally, I know people who hate it (Deaf McCullough they call him...) but I thought Paradise Towers had a good soundtrack. The only exception was that irritatingly bouncy and horribly out of place theme used for the robots. It just didn't fit and killed the writing.
There is also a blend of wonderful characters and so-sos. Pex, a 'musclehead' coward is horribly miscast and so his character comes off as annoying. The Kangs work well and the Rezzies (especially Tabby and Tilda) are fantastic. Richard Briars as the newly awakened Croagnon is horrible and almost killed the episode for me with that HORRIBLE VOICE. Like nails on a chalkboard!
The Seventh Doctor continues to shine, showing a more comedic side yes, but he's still serious, and the scene where he tricks the Deputy Chief Caretaker is golden. Mel is at her best, as she is finally given something to do, even if it's wandering about hotel hallways and almost getting eaten by two old people. It works for me; personally, I don't loathe her, I just feel she is underused immensly.
In the end, Paradise Towers, with all its flaws, is still good. The directing takes away from the deep meaning of the script and the thing just feels uncertain at times. There's good action, but there's also laughable stuff, like a pool cleaner crab attacking Mel (how did she not see that?). The Robot Cleaners could've been creepy, but the music killed that, though something about them is still eerie. The whole cannibal rezzie thing was flat-out scary though, and Part 2 had a fantastic cliffhanger.
I enjoyed Paradise Towers. It suffers from a multitude of things, but nothing that everything else in this era wasn't suffering from. Add on a director who didn't get the script, and the thing sometimes comes off muddled. But it's enjoyable, and a great episode for the seventh Doctor.
With that, I give it 8/10. I also dub it the best episode of season 24 (if that's saying much). While some people hate this episode, I think it's fantastic in its own right, and it's better than it looks.
Here's a question though: WHEN IS THIS COMING OUT ON DVD? Come on BBC! Release this and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy in a boxset or something!
"Checkmate" by Thomas Cookson 2/5/16
Given my favourite McCoy story is The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, whose author also wrote this story, I must conclude either this script wasn't as up to par, or that something went very right production-wise with Greatest Show that went very wrong here.
Paradise Towers is far from Doctor Who's best. However, treated as a relic of its time, like The Munsters Today, which is almost unwatchable now but actually lasted four years, Paradise Towers begins seeming not so embarrassing after all.
New script editor Andrew Cartmel perhaps never got a chance at a good first impression. Time and the Rani was conceived before he arrived and was untouched by him as he was keen to avoid stepping on its authors' toes.
Nonetheless, Cartmel had ideas for how to rejuvenate the show. Unfortunately, even here we can see a problem whereby enacting an artistic vision requires being assertive and a willingness to step on toes and draw the line. So we can see here how Cartmel can be too soft and lax and, as a result, how out of control stories on his watch, like Silver Nemesis, could get.
Given my disgust at Eric Saward's previous stewardship, it's easy to get carried away with the view of Cartmel as the show's great white hope, ensuring the show's redemption even during its death throes. But, by his nature, he was never going to be responsible for a new Hinchcliffe era. In fact, given his review on The Ribos Operation in Through Time, he's the kind of script editor you draft in to tone down the violence when you think the Williams era crossed the line.
Nonetheless, Andrew Cartmel's issues with the Saward era align strongly with mine. That it was almost entirely a show without a hero and hence one that didn't work and no one but the fanboys could care about. The reason we aspire to heroes is because they channel something in us about what we wish to be capable of. Fans of Highlander want to be Connor McCloud, who's spry with a sword and has an ancient romantic soul. Fans of Star Trek wanted to be like its cast of brave, pioneering spirits.
Why I think fans still continued to champion the show in the Davison era is that, quite simply, the Doctor's achievements had changed to align more with our own. The Doctor wasn't the capable hero who could defeat Daleks or Silurians anymore, but he could rattle off all the detailed facts about their history we fans wanted to accumulate. And maybe that does appeal to a certain empirical aspiration we have, but, to anyone else watching, there was just no reason to care about someone so incapable they made the onscreen conflicts a foregone defeat even when the plot device to save the day was at his feet in abundant canisters of kill all the invaders gas from episode one.
Cartmel sought to change this, instructing writers to look to the comic book zeitgeist of Batman, Watchmen, V for Vendetta and Judge Dredd for inspiration. Previously, 80s Who in style and content was downright repellent to casual viewers. Whereas 70s Who had been written specifically so anyone could come aboard, however late they were to a given story.
In the comics medium, a lot has to go into each frame to convey mood and emotion without the aid of sound,and to draw the reader in to read more based on that emotive first impression. Something 80s Who had in the main seemed completely illiterate at.
As I've often cited, compare how the scene in The Sea Devils where the Navy bombings bring Sea Devil corpses to the surface conveys everything the story has to say about mankind's blind aggression in a few seconds' screentime, whilst Warriors of the Deep fails to convey any coherent understanding of the sort in 90 minutes.
Cartmel perhaps knew the show needed to be stronger and more emotive by frames per second, and what we have here is a strange hybrid between live-action comic strip and fringe theatre. Note, however, that the Doctor treats the Kang's graffiti drawings as a significant cultural artefact of this world and a conduit of its urban myths. But the main quality Cartmel wanted to replicate from the comics was its emphasis on darker heroes and their V for Vendetta-style grand masterplans. From this came the idea of the Doctor as a cosmic chess master. Something we hadn't seen in the show since The Invasion of Time.
But in Paradise Towers that ambition becomes problematic. The scene where McCoy shines the light at his interrogators and turns the tables on them just comes off as forced and unbelievable and as desperate overcompensation on the show's part. It pushes the 'dark' Doctor angle too soon and prematurely. Having the Doctor be a cosmic 'chess master' requires a discipline at the game that the writers often lacked. And, as yet, the production team wasn't remotely on the same page as Cartmel, nor was Wyatt's script.
The Cleaning Robots are designed to basically be the new sanitized Daleks, only slower, more unwieldy and less maneuverable, and only as deadly as their claw's reach. And therein lies the problem. The less maneuverable chess pieces are the less powerful, but the story tries to bill them as the terrifying big bad anyway, even though the actors have to visibly maneuver themselves into its claws in order for it to kill. As a chess metaphor, it's just not playing by the rules and thus gives us no grounds to be impressed by the Doctor's wiser strategy because the adversity feels false, and thus the drama fails to be compelling and the story quickly becomes painfully boring.
There's something kind of cute about the Kangs and how they quickly take to this buffoonish Doctor as being actually quite cool in their eyes. But, as a portrayal of gang culture, it comes off as sanitized and toothless. There are bizarrely times when a gang of teenage thugs can be found in a state of placid calm at odds with their more volatile or psychotic behavior. But these Kangs are supposed to be a nightmare extreme of youth ran wild in a future where no community exists to restrain them.
There's no sense of real danger or viciousness to them. They're sanitized into being acceptable good guys with codes of honor forbidding them from giving other gangs more than a good scare. If they're forbidden from killing, then why do they have harpoons in the first place?
Paradise Towers just doesn't really speak to the kind of youths who know first-hand that savage world of gangs and psycho kids. Not in the way that Genesis of the Daleks and The Deadly Assassin did. Instead, it comes off as preaching from a position of ignorance. The story doesn't seem to truly understand our inner violent nature. Only its own 'cleverness' at subverting expectations in revealing the old ladies to really be murderous cannibals because it makes a good storytelling twist. Same reason we never understand why Kroagnon became a murderer. It might have helped maintain the illusion and the suspense if the Kangs had remained hostile and suspicious towards the Doctor a few more episodes, making passing territorial threats, before gradually getting curious about him and coming to trust he's on their side.
There's not enough layering to the storytelling, and, like so much of Season 24, it feels like it's playing down to an audience assumed to be as intellectually stunted as the Kangs. The worst example being how the Doctor fools the Caretakers into turning their backs whilst he pick-pockets them. By which point any suspension of disbelief becomes impossible.
And this is where I think Tat Wood's defence of this story and this era in About Time 6 gets unstuck. Tat makes a point of this era being a return to form mainly by not just pandering to the fanboys in the way the Saward era had beforehand; he even highlights how the Caretakers play as a parody of the more infuriating wankery of Anoraks, with their rigid devotion to their little book of facts and obsession with petty point scoring and myopic inability to see what embarrassments of themselves they're making. But it's only through being a fan himself that Tat can appreciate the joke. Anyone who isn't in on the joke isn't going to recognise the kernel of truth in the portrayal, and thus aren't going to believe in it. So the show's ultimately still condemning itself to death by niche.
However, I see how for many fans the moment where the surviving Caretaker finally joins with the residents on the roof, having tired of his dirty job, reflected their own realization that fandom then was getting too bitchy and insular and that there's more to life. It's also a clear rejection of Saward's 'every man for himself' ethos and a return to the show's socialist values.
Mel comes off as a horrid, utterly unlikable snob here. She snubs Pex's enthusiasm for her company, as though she has some strange phobia of men, and seems incredibly stupid when being openly disdainful of the Kangs, as though asking to get herself harpooned. In fact, concerning Pex's secret of being actually a coward underneath the macho front, any woman in Mel's place would've sussed this out early on, yet jarringly Mel responds to the eventual revelation with astonishment and feeling betrayed.
In the pool scene, Pex's cowardice just gets stupid. For a prolonged period, Mel is grappled and terrorized by a crap aquatic robot, her screams only reinforcing to us how terrified we aren't by that pathetic lump of plastic. And yet Pex, despite being armed and at a safe distance, just stands there doing nothing whilst she's attacked. It'd be one thing if he was scared of shooting Mel by accident, but he doesn't even bother drawing his weapon. Surely his bond with Mel should've made it instinctive for him to act to save her, and the fact he doesn't just makes him seem sociopathic and malevolent.
This bizarre, squeamish failure to implement the proper hardware for the scenario defines the story's very climax. If harpoons can destroy Cleaning Robots, why didn't the Kangs do that ages ago? For that matter, why not harpoon Kroagnon rather than going to needlessly cumbersome lengths with dynamite? Well, because the show won't risk any graphic content.
The problem is the story plays Kroagnon as an invincible end-of-level boss, when he's really just as weak and mortal as his many victims. And it has to contrive some way for Pex to sacrifice himself for another Earthshock ending. But it just makes his death seem completely avoidable and bone-headed and impossible to take seriously as a sacrifice, resulting in a tonal mess of an infuriating pantomime trying to become a tragic teen drama too late.
If his death had mattered against a foe that could only be taken down this way, then it'd count for something. Instead, the climax is a mess that just doesn't deliver, makes the perseverance unrewarding and ends on something resembling a bad joke in a story that's completely lost its senses. And yet there is perhaps all the more desire to make sense of it and gripe at how it could've been and the big notes it was hitting for. Pex having been such a lively presence does make his dying young especially harrowing.
We'd been drawn to this show by a masochistic attraction to its uncompromising grimness and harsh realities, and perhaps inevitably, even after what seemed the last straw, this show drew us in again.