Saturday, December 3, 2011

Paradise Towers

Paradise Towers isn't too bad a story. It even sniffs around the borders of being pretty good. The fundamental idea is a Doctor Who twist on J G Ballard's 'High Rise' but with added Richard Briers. There's a large, impressive Tower block rotting away and deep in its basement something unpleasant and hungry lurks. Into this stumble our heroes Mel and the Doctor.

The main problem with this story is that it is unbalanced by two performances. The first is Bonnie Langford's. I'm trying not to repeat tired cliches about Bonnie Langford. I'm going to blame - as I did back in the Trial blog - the team that created Mel in the first place and seemed content to make her a caricature of how Bonnie Langford is perceived to be. As a result she's over-enthusiastic and over-theatrical. She's asked to do too much screaming and not enough acting.  Accordingly played with Sylvester's quieter and more naturalistic Doctor she jars. Sorry Bonnie. It doesn't help that in 'Paradise Towers' Mel seems both stupid and irrationally focused on going for a flipping swim.

In my head I have this idea that in an alternative universe they still cast Bonnie but they made Mel a stronger character and gave her some proper guidance or direction. That alt-universe Mel doesn't get the same flak as the one in our universe. But enough of my weird theories.

The other odd performance is Richard Briers. Richard Briers is a bloody good actor and there are moments in 'Paradise Towers' where he shows that, especially when he's playing the rule bound, still alive Chief Caretaker. Where I think it goes wrong is when he's playing the zomibified, taken over by Kroagnon Chief Caretaker. At that point he seems to be channelling one of Monty Python's Gumbys with all the subtlety and lack of threat that implies. To me it looks like over-acting. And it doesn't make for a memorable villain.

That being said I like the society of Paradise Towers with its Kangs, Rezzies and Caretakers. The Kangs - called things like Bin Liner, Fire Escape etc - are divided into gangs. There's Red, Blue and Yellow (although the last Yellow Kang bits the dust pretty early on) Kangs. They've got slang and attitude. I like the slang stuff. It makes Paradise Towers seem a realer place.

Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce make Tabby and Tilda, two ostensibly sweet old ladies magnificently sinister, although Mel seems a rather skinny thing for them to be so excited about. Clive Merrison as the Deputy Chief Caretaker manages to underplay his part in contrast to Richard Briers and is all the better for it. One of my favourite scenes in the whole story is the Seventh Doctor's use of the Deputy-Caretaker's rulebook to out-manoeuvre his captors and escape.

Mention should be made of Howard Cooke who plays Pex. Pex is the one resident of Paradise Towers who doesn't really fit in. He's a coward who hid aboard a transport to Paradise Towers rather than face military service and pretends to be a heroic protector of the other occupants of the Tower. This pretence mainly seems to be aimed at himself as the rest of the population of the Tower seems to mock him. In  the case of the Kangs directly to his face. Calling him a 'cowardly cutlet'. In chorus.

I've always found bullying gangs of chanting girls pretty sinister and there's a lot of that in 'Paradise Towers', mainly aimed at Pex. But in the end Pex dies a heroes death and all is well in the Doctor Who universe. Oddly I felt a weird parallel between the way Pex is effectively bullied and shamed into being a martyr and the scene between Ian and the Thals in 'The Daleks' where Ian demonstrates that despite their claims of pacifism there are some things that they will fight for. I know I'm taking this far to seriously but I feel a bit uncomfortable about the way Pex is treated in this story. It doesn't feel very Doctor Who-ish even if it seems heroic.

However despite my complaints this isn't a bad story, it just isn't a great one. I hadn't watched it since it was first broadcast back in 1987 so it was nice to have a few memories dusted off. I can't see myself rushing to watch it again soon.

Build high for happiness.

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