Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Story 146 - Delta and the Bannermen

In which the Doctor and Mel arrive at Tollport G-715 and find that they are its 10 billionth customers. The prize is a trip with Nostalgia Tours to Disneyland, in 1959. This will be in the company of a group of alien tourists - the shape-changing Navarino. The Doctor is familiar with this tour company, and so declines to go on their ship - which is disguised as a period coach. Mel can go, and he will follow on in the TARDIS. At the last minute, another spaceship arrives and a young woman rushes from it, desperate for passage. She is offered the Doctor's place on the coach. After they have all departed, another craft arrives - belonging to the sadistic mercenary Bannermen. Their leader, Gavrok, forces the Toll-keeper to tell him where the young woman went. He then shoots down the hapless official. Above the Earth, the Navarino craft strikes a small communications satellite and the Doctor has to use the TARDIS tractor beam to land them safely. Instead of Florida, they are in Wales - just outside the Shangri-La holiday camp. Everyone will have to stay here until the coach is fixed. The Doctor and Mel meet the camp manager, Burton, a young mechanic and musician named Billy, and a young woman named Ray, who carries a torch for Billy. He seems more interested in the enigmatic woman who joined the group at the Tollport. Mel is convinced she is hiding something.

That night, there is a dance laid on. One of the Navarino is really a bounty hunter, and he notifies Gavrok of the coach's whereabouts. Rather than pay the bounty, Gavrok has him destroyed - hoping to kill the young woman also. In their chalet, Mel is shocked to see that the woman - Delta - is carrying a large egg, which hatches to reveal a green, reptilian baby. Delta reveals that she is one of the last of the Chimeron race. They have been hunted almost to extinction by the Bannermen. She needs to protect the child and have the Bannermen persecution halted. Camping nearby are two American secret service men - Hawke and Weismuller. They have been tasked with finding the missing satellite - which has became embedded in the front of the Navarino craft. They are captured by Gavrok and his men. Delta is feeding the child a special foodstuff which causes her to grow rapidly. Billy secretly takes some of this substance, and consumes it himself - trusting it will make him like Delta and the child.

The Doctor has Burton evacuate the holiday camp, as the Bannermen close in. He meets an old gentleman who keeps bees - Garonwy - who agrees to help them. The Doctor notices that the child can emit a high-pitched tone which the Bannermen cannot stand. This gives him an idea how to defend themselves. The Bannermen are lured into a trap where they are covered in honey and attacked by Garonwy's bees. Gavrok has the Navarino coach blown up just as it is about to take off, and he also sabotages the TARDIS by planting a powerful explosive on its roof - killing anyone who approaches it. Billy helps set up a loudspeaker system and this broadcasts the Chimeron girl's piercing cry. This overpowers the Bannermen. Gavrok stumbles into his own trap and is destroyed by the device he planted on the TARDIS. Billy becomes part Chimeron, and he decides to leave with Delta and the child in the Bannermen's spaceship. Hawke and Weismuller have helped round up the mercenaries, and they will be taken to face justice. Billy leaves Ray his prized motorbike. The Doctor and Mel depart, as Burton has to face a coachload of new arrivals with no staff on site...

This three part adventure was written by Malcolm Kohll, and was broadcast between 2nd and 16th of November, 1987. It will be Kohll's only script for the series.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had realised that he could stretch his budget to four stories per season if one three parter was entirely filmed on location, and another was done entirely in the studio. This was made alongside Dragonfire, which would be all in studio. Kohll intended his story to be much darker - and was inspired by Kurosawa for the Bannermen look. Cast and director went for a much more light-hearted take. Many think this a huge mistake. The story is particularly singled out for its casting. JNT wants to leave Doctor Who behind him and produce light entertainment. He gets his fix with the regular Who-themed pantomimes - and by casting as many light entertainment performers as possible. The holiday camp setting immediately brings to mind the popular BBC sit-com Hi-Di-Hi!. Comedian Ken Dodd is cast as the Toll-keeper - the one bit of casting everyone picks up on.
Also amongst the cast is a real showbiz legend - star of Broadway and Hollywood musicals Stubby Kaye (playing Weismuller).
The tone of the thing often jars. Despite all the frantic running around and comedic characters, we have the Toll-keeper gunned down - shot in the back. Then we have the whole Navarino contingent blown up - after we have got to know and like them. Then there is the whole back-story of a race being genocidally wiped out.

Other cast members of note are Don Henderson, playing Gavrok straight. Garonwy is veteran comedy actor Hugh Lloyd (best known for his own BBC shows and a regular Tony Hancock accomplice). Hawke is Morgan Deare. Burton is Richard Davies (best remembered from the ITV school-based sitcom Please Sir!). The coach-driver, Murray, is played by Johnny Dennis, who has done much to champion old time Music Hall (as has the Cyber-Controller / K1 robot Michael Kilgarriff) as well as being the PA announcer at Lord's cricket ground for many, many years. The juvenile leads are David Kinder (Billy), Belinda Mayne (Delta) and Sara Griffiths (Ray). The bounty hunter Keillor is the late Brian Hibbard - best known for the acapella group The Flying Picketts.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor and Ray are trapped in the linen closet with Keillor, whilst in their chalet Mel sees the baby Chimeron hatch from its egg...
  2. The Doctor confronts Gavrok and demands he leave. He is about to depart when the aliens surround him, weapons drawn, and he realises he may have misjudged the response to his demand... 
  3. Delta and Billy have flown off, and the Doctor and Mel are about to leave as well, when a coach load of holiday-makers turns up at the camp. Burton is determined to cope, despite having sent all his staff away...  

Overall, this story is generally dismissed as a bit of a comedic runaround, with some dodgy casting. The holiday camp setting means that it was never going to be dark and dangerous. There is some really nice FX work - the Chimeron planet and the spaceship landings. Sadly, fans have tended to err on the side of not liking it - making it third least favourite Sylvester McCoy story in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll (217th out of 241).
Things you might like to know:
  • The holiday camp location was in Barry Island, South Wales. It was mostly unused, and the cast and crew had to contend with a rat infestation. You'll notice that the grass between the chalets is very long. A real camp would never have allowed this. A number of stories post 2005 have been filmed nearby.
  • Pottering about in the long grass is Burton's dog. This is really JNT's dog, Pepsi, and we'll be seeing more of it in the final season.
  • Apart from a silly little dance when he first appears, Ken Dodd actually puts in quite a good performance. Those vehemently opposed to his casting probably felt rather satisfied seeing him shot down so early on.
  • Fans have long been fascinated by the character of Garonwy. He seems so unphased by events that there is a popular theory that he is possibly another retired Time Lord. Lloyd will go on to play a Time Lord in a fan-made video production.
  • It is known that Bonnie Langford is leaving at the end of this season, so various actresses are auditioning for both Ray and the forthcoming character of Ace. (It isn't decided yet which one will actually become the new companion). Sara Griffiths and Sophie Aldred are up for both roles. Aldred thinks she is in with a chance as she can ride a motorbike. The part of Ray actually goes to another actress who did the usual thing of claiming they can do something when they can't, just to secure a role. The actress does herself a mischief whilst practicing the bike and so Griffiths gets the part.
  • Series composer Keff McCulloch gets to do a Dudley Simpson by appearing on screen. He is in the band playing at the end of the first episode. He's the guy with the totally anachronistic pony-tail. I'm afraid to say that his OTT score for this story is one of the reasons it is so disliked. 'Subtle' is certainly not his middle name.
  • (Wanna know why it's called a pony-tail? Lift it up and you'll find an a**hole underneath...).
  • Moving swiftly on...;-)
  • You'll notice that the Doctor can sometimes be seen to be wearing glasses when he is in long-shot riding the motorbike. Simply because McCoy had to wear them to see where he was going, and it was hoped they wouldn't be noticeable. Yes, they are.
  • Just what is the Chimeron persecution all about, and how does Billy turning into one help? Apart from the fact that they can't stand the noise Chimeron young make, why are the Bannermen hunting them to extinction? It is never explained. 
  • As Billy is half-human, this still means the end of the Chimeron race as it was. How will two adults and child go about rebuilding the species? That's a very small gene pool.
  • Who is it that Delta means to take her appeal to? Might it be the Time Lords? The Navarino are using time travel technology in the vicinity after all, so Gallifrey must be keeping an eye on them.
  • Other people considered for the Toll-keeper role were Christopher Biggins - and Bob Monkhouse.
  • When the novelisation of this story first came out, the spine title was misspelt - giving Gavrok an army of only one Bannerman.
  • The story title is inspired by the great band Echo and the Bunnymen.
  • Hi-Di-Hi!
  • Ho-Di-Ho!

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