Tuesday, February 26, 2013

7F1 - Delta and the Bannermen 1

After a couple tenuous steps into the new era, Delta and the Bannermen finally starts to feel like the new production team, and its Doctor, is finding its feet. The overt goofiness of the previous stories is gone, replaced with a more harmless sense of whimsy and weirdness. The idea of a bus full of giant alien starfish disguised as tourists from the 1950s just seems to work in this new format. Everyone just seems to be having fun here, both onscreen and off.

Well, not everyone, actually. The jovial atmosphere of 1950s Wales is offset by the grim, quarry bound shootout in the episode's opening minutes, in which we're introduced to about the only two serious (and dull) characters in the whole story - Gavrok and the eponymous Delta. But these characters are necessary to keep the story from flying off into pantomime, something the episode succeeds in avoiding, despite the efforts of Ken Dodd.

I have no problem with Ken Dodd. If I won a contest at some dodgy, isolated intergalactic spaceport, I would hope to be greeted by a showman of his sort as opposed to an emotionless automaton spitting out a congratulatory message on ticker tape. Dodd, and other outlandish characters like his toll keeper, also have the add on effect of allowing Sylvester McCoy to play the straight man, and it's during moments like these that develop his character so much more than when he's clowning around.

Speaking of that toll gate sequence, it actual signals a massive change in the way that Doctor Who will be produced in the future. Like all of Delta and the Bannermen (apart from, one assumes, the brief sequences in the Bannermen spaceships), the scene was shot on location. But unlike almost all other location shoots in the show's history up to this point, a standard brick building is used, with the aid of set dressing and night photography, to represent a space port. When Doctor Who returned to TV in 2005, using existing building interiors and exteriors to stand in for otherworldly settings was commonplace. Here's to the future, indeed...

Monday, February 25, 2013

7E4 - Paradise Towers 4

I am an insufferable sap sometimes. There is a commercial for a Canadian hardware/sporting goods store that has, on seven consecutive occasions, succeeded in causing me to weep openly at how touching it was (and, no, I cannot describe said commercial to you here lest I break into tears again, and I'm on my honour to save such waterworks for the eighth time I view this commercial). And while the classic run of Doctor Who has seldom caused me to reach for the facial tissues, the memorial for Pex at the end of Part Four of Paradise Towers always seems to catch me off guard.

Perhaps it's because so much weight is given to Pex's death, which, at around this time in Doctor Who, is fairly common thing. Beyus sacrifices himself in Time and the Rani and his wife, Faroon, is thoroughly unmoved, for instance. But because Pex's death comes after four episodes of grim pantomime, slightly overshadowed by one of the, shall we say, more noticeable Keff McCulloch scores in Doctor Who, it almost seems like we've just seen a group of children playing, and then someone lost an eye. The notion that one man's death is powerful enough to draw everyone together at the end of the story is rather moving, even if the future of Paradise Towers is dicey. What will happen to the Towers at the end of this story? Will they elect a condo board? Organize block parties? Clean?

Pex's death is the last of many jarring shifts in tone that occur in Paradise Towers. Just like it can't decide what it wants to be - comedy, tragedy, satire, horror -  to this day, I can't decide what to think of it. Its heart is in the right place, and in some ways, this story seems like a dress rehearsal for the possibly more successful The Happiness Patrol a year later (the fact that several people I've spoken to over the years often can't tell these two stories apart is not lost on me). I will say this about Paradise Towers, though: I sometimes never don't want to not watch it. It's that entertaining.