Paradise Towers

Written by:
Stephen Wyatt
Directed by: Nicholas Mallet
Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Year: 1987
Video Availability: Try

Paradise Towers disappoints me more than any other Sylvester McCoy story. A modern (postmodern?) story set in a high-rise tower block, with gangs of girls that murder each other amidst the run-down tenements. Graffiti and decay are everywhere, while the residents are cannibals and the crooked security guards run cleaner robots who have gone haywire and strangle anyone who comes in their path. Sounds great, doesn't it? Not only is it a top arrangement for drama and an immensely interesting setting, but it also has wide remit for social commentary. Time and the Rani, Delta and the Bannermen and even Dragonfire all had "crap but enjoyable" codings. However, Paradise Towers disappoints because, unlike its season peers, it had so much potential.

Sadly, however, the production regime of the time forced it into silly, overly lit light entertainment candyfloss. Sylvester's fairly in control, though is often incoherent, while Bonnie gives her worst, most Violet Elizabeth performance. The direction by Nicholas Mallet is actually quite reasonably thought out, with more unusual angles than you would expect. Despite being omnipresent throughout, it's actually 21 minutes in before we see Richard Briers's face. However, any achievements in this regard are blown wide open by the idiotic decision to commission Keff McCulloch. A point of note is the non-speaking black actress who plays a Kang in this 80s product of British Television.

Pex is amusing, but this is more Bodger and Badger humour than the once-sophisticated Doctor Who. Relatively entertaining, but it all could have been so much better...
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Some good bits, some bad bits. The Doctor getting away from the guards by using the rule book is one of the few bits to get praise, yet is a little too silly. "Taken to the cleaners" is definitely inspired, and the multi-tiered sets are wonderful in principle, though Pex bending a "steel" light takes it beyond Bodger and Badger and into Radio Roo territory. And with Tabby and Tilda you could have put this on Children's BBC with some kiddie canned laughter and no one would have batted an eyelid.

Twelve minutes in and Keff's music segues into the Who theme, always a sign of pure tack, while Sylvester rolls his Rs more here than in any other story. Well, he is a bit of an Rs, isn't he? One curious dating effect is the old ring pull on the can of "fizzade", while the Great Architect's rulebook seems to demand that if you're Caretaker five six nine stroke ten subsection B then you're a black non-speaking role. A plot hole unexplained is where or how the Kangs get food to eat. And as for Richard Briers - great actor, lousy performance - and the Cookie Monster. Well, the less said the better...
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This could be so brilliant played straight. Preparing Mel for eating, Tilda rages: "I do think by now you should be appreciating that though Tabby and myself are not averse to a humorous remark now and then, no joke was intended." With the script tighter, the sets darker, the direction more pacy, and - most importantly - better actors, this could have been a black comedy classic. seriously. And how did that robot get up the waste disposal chute? I note that even though it's clearly spelt out, Mel gets no "you want to eat me?" line, meaning I can't make a pathetic and crass remark.

The routine with all the rule numbers is now getting tiresome, and aren't the robots far too clean and plasticcy-looking? Weird, too, how the Chief Caretaker bribes Maddy by offering her a flat where she knows two people have just been murdered. The episode ends with the Doctor performing five gurns.
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Richard Briers's bearable performance of the first three episodes now descends into cringing farce. And is it worth me mentioning again just how bad Keff McCulloch's music really is?

There's something faintly unsettling about seeing Bonnie Langford in a bikini. I suspect it's because of her anti-Peri stature she produces a Lolita effect, which can be disturbing.

In concept this is by far the best season 24 story - in execution it's arguably the worst. Worrying to see the Doctor's resolution to the situation is committing murder, while the final shot of "Pex Lives" in graffiti wall scrawl is ruined by sloppy direction that sees it in view for at least half a minute before it's revealed as the final "twist".

A great shame. What was, on paper - with a bit more script editing - probably a great story, is, on screen, a disaster. Some of the most embarrassing scenes ever witnessed in Doctor Who are here, from Briers's crude send-up to the tacky production. All of the season 24 stories are weak, but this one should have been so much more...
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