Monday, 8 February 2016

Story 145 - Paradise Towers

In which the Doctor and Mel decide to have a short holiday. She picks a visit to Paradise Towers, which has a famous swimming pool on its roof. When they arrive in the vast residential complex, they find that it disappointingly run down. The corridors are rubbish strewn and the walls covered in graffiti. They meet a group of young women dressed in red - one of the colour-coded girl gangs known as Kangs who live in the Towers. Their rivals are the Blue Kangs. The Doctor learns that the last of the Yellow Kangs has been made "un-alive". Elsewhere in the complex, one of the Caretaker staff is killed by one of the Cleaning Machines which patrol the corridors. The Doctor and Mel become separated. She meets a couple of the residents - elderly ladies Tabby and Tilda. They invite her into their flat and seem reluctant to see her leave. They insist she eats some of their cakes as well. Suddenly a young man named Pex breaks down the door. He claims that he is the Tower's defender and had come to rescue her - though she did not think she was in any danger. The Doctor, meanwhile, is captured by the Chief Caretaker. he accuses the Doctor of being the Great Architect who built the Towers, and so must be executed...

The Doctor tricks his guards and is able to escape. Mel and Pex find themselves threatened by the Cleaning Machines, and split up. Mel finds herself back at the flat of Tabby and Tilda. It transpires that they intend to eat her. Both are killed by a metal tendril which pulls them into the waste disposal system, and Pex once more comes to the rescue. Mel discovers that the Kangs belittle Pex - claiming he is really a coward. Some years ago all the young people left the Towers to fight in a war. Pex was afraid to go and stayed behind. The Doctor joins the Red Kangs in their hideout, and gains their trust.
The Chief caretaker makes regular visits to the basement, where the real Great Architect - Kroagnon - resides. He had been unhappy that his perfect building was going to be spoiled by having people living in it. The inhabitants of the Towers turned on him, and only his disembodied mind survives. The Chief knows that Kroagnon is using the Cleaning Machines to kill people and bring their bodies down to the basement.

The Blue Kangs attack the Red Kang base, but the Doctor gets both gangs to work together.Mel makes it to the famous swimming pool - only to be attacked by an aquatic Cleaning Machine. Kroagnon takes over the Chief Caretaker's body so that he can roam once more through the corridors of his Towers. As Cleaning Machines kill all who they come across, the remaining residents and Caretaker staff make their way to the swimming pool area. The Doctor encourages all of them to set aside old differences and to fight together. A trap is set to destroy Kroagnon. This only partly works. Pex sacrifices himself to destroy the Great Architect. The Doctor and Mel leave the Towers, whose inhabitants are now all co-operating with each other.

This four part adventures was written by Stephen Wyatt, and broadcast between 5th and 26th October, 1987.
This is the first story that script editor Andrew Cartmel could really call his own - with Wyatt the first of the new writers that he commissioned from the BBC's script pool.
Cartmel was a big fan of Sci-Fi comics - 2000AD in particular - and wanted to have stories that had a more serious, political edge.
The idea of lethal buildings was not a new one. One of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations had featured a building that turned people into mince-meat, for instance. Both The Avengers and The New Avengers had featured stories in which a computer-run building started bumping off its residents.
An obvious source for this story was JG Ballard's High-Rise.
The story also looked at general themes of urban decay - with gang warfare, and the isolation many occupants of tower blocks felt, having been uprooted from their traditional communities.
There are a lot of things that don't quite work with Paradise Towers. The Kangs should really be much more grubby and feral. On screen, they are a bit middle-class drama school and too well groomed. Some of their pidgin-English is quite fun, but you do get the impression this was written by someone who had never met any real gang members.
The back-story behind this society does not make a lot of sense. Just how long ago was this war? Pex is a young man, so presumably only a couple of years ago, but everyone talks about it as if it is almost legend. And where are the male equivalent of the Kangs - young boys who would have been too young to go to war? There are no middle-aged people at all on view - apart from some of the Caretakers. Did all of the young women also go off to fight. One other thing absent is some context as to where we are. It cannot be Earth, as it does not fit with any of the future histories of this planet elsewhere in the series, so presumably an alien world. An Earth colony perhaps? But where is the wider society?
A design problem is the Cleaning Machines. Too big and cumbersome, and slow-moving. And their tools don't seem to have anything to do with any likely cleaning tasks.

There is a formidable cast on view - though sadly not everyone treats the script seriously. Principal guest artist Richard Briers, as the Chief Caretaker, is the main culprit in terms of unrealistic performance. He decides to play him as an OTT Hitlerian jobsworth. Or Blakey from On The Buses. He starts off over-playing, then goes up the way.
Tabby and Tilda are veteran actors Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce respectively. Spriggs had almost been cast as Chessene in The Two Doctors a couple of years before. Judy Cornwell plays another of the Rezzies - Maddy. Pex is Howard Cooke, and the Deputy Chief Caretaker is Clive Merrison, last seen in Tomb of the Cybermen. Amongst the Red Kangs is Julie Brennon, once wed to Turlough actor Mark Strickson.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Chief Caretaker tells the Doctor that he believes him to be the Great Architect - and so faces execution...
  2. Mel screams as she is bound in a crochet shawl by Tabby and Tilda, and threatened with a toasting fork...
  3. The Doctor and some of the Kangs see the Chief Caretaker being taken over by Kroagnon. As they attempt to flee, the Doctor is seized by the throat by a Cleaning Machine...
  4. The now united residents of Paradise Towers perform a ceremony in honour of Pex, as the Doctor and Mel depart.

Overall, a huge improvement on the previous story - in terms of script quality and Sylvester McCoy's performance. The first sign of how the Seventh Doctor's era will develop. Could have done with being a bit darker and with more naturalistic performances.
Things you might like to know:
  • Stephen Wyatt wasn't happy with the casting of Pex. He wanted a hulking Rambo-like figure - so that his appearance contrasted with his cowardliness. 
  • He also wanted the Caretakers to be all old men in shabbier uniforms, and regretted bumping off the cannibalistic Tabby and Tilda too early.
  • Wyatt was commissioned for another story while this one was still being made. Paradise Towers was not his first story idea. Cartmel did not like the original idea and this story developed during further meetings.
  • Producer JNT asked for the Cleaning Machines to be made more prominent, so that the story had a "monster".
  • Following the Hungerford massacre, all BBC shows were asked to tone down on screen violence. Originally Mel was to have been threatened with a carving knife at the climax of Part Two, but - bizarrely - this was replaced with an even more vicious looking toasting fork.
  • The Doctor mentions that they had to jettison the TARDIS bathroom when it started leaking. If it's the one we saw in The Invasion of Time - a big swimming pool - then this might explain why Mel wants to visit the Towers.
  • The pool we see in this story is just so underwhelming. It is just an average sized indoor pool that you would find in any big house in the stockbroker belt. Hardly worth traveling across the galaxy for. These scenes were the only location filming for the story. The owner had been away for some time, and the pool was not heated.
  • The rather annoying music is courtesy of Keff McCulloch. He was called in at the last minute (well, three days before the first episode needed to be scored) to replace original composer David Snell.
  • It had been hoped that Edward Hardwicke would play the Deputy Chief Caretaker. He was well-known at the time for playing Watson to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes. Apparently Roger Daltrey and Ian Richardson were also approached. The Chief was almost TP McKenna, who will appear at the end of the next season.
  • Talking about his performance later, Briers claims that he was never asked to tone it down in any way. Briers was the nephew of British comedy great Terry-Thomas, and though he never appeared in Doctor Who again, he did feature in Series 2 of Torchwood. His wife played Jenny in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

No comments:

Post a Comment