A much derided pantomime of a season...and I derive so much enjoyment from it for all the wrong reasons! The Doctor and Mel face up to the wretched Rani, the scheming Kroagnon, Gavrok and his bunch of Bannermen and the sinister Kane who is waiting to exact his revenge.
The regulars -
Time and the Rani written by Pip and Jane Baker and directed by Andrew Morgan
What’s it about: An idiotic Doctor, shoulder pads Mel, humanoid bats and lizards, a Bonnie Langford impersonator and a giant brain. No I’m not making it up!
The Real McCoy: I guess the quality of a production should always start from the top and Sylvester McCoy makes such an interesting impression in his first story you have to wonder how the show survived to the next story! The Doctor wakes up gabbling and than falls over his own arse like he’s pratfalling in a pantomime! And you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Sixie strangling Peri. His first chance to show us what he is made of and stand up to a villain is him screaming ‘I’m having no part of it!’, falling over his arse again and being sprinkled with panto fairy dust! This is comic gold it’s so inept! ‘Mop my brow!’ – great dialogue, Doc. Having the Doctor be so easily fooled by the Rani’s ridiculous scheme might not be the best way to endear him to his new audience and suggest he is worth investing time in. Comical music accompanies the Doctor and Mel as they bounce across the quarry in ridiculous clothes towards the TARDIS – everybody’s fears that the show has become a farce confirmed! The wardrobe scene is beyond dreadful, it’s the show trying to capture on past glories (Robot has far superior and much funnier sequence of this nature). Playing the spoons distractedly is one of his more endearing qualities although he does get the urge to play them on the Rani’s tits at one point! ‘Me! You washerwoman!’ – his line in insults has not improved since the ham-fisted bun vendor days! The sweet look on his face as he holds Mel’s wrists and she strokes is hair is the first time I thought this could actually work with McCoy in the role – when they are sweet they work quite well! It just goes to show how the Doctor has gotten a bit foggy in his old age – it takes him three episodes to figure out what is on the other side of a door. He runs like a goon, his little legs beneath him going like a cartoon character and clamping his hat on his head! What a twat – he gives away the final equation and then when realising what he has done bites his fist – do people actually do that? As the song goes…things can only get better!
The Wretched Rani: I love her! I can’t help it! She’s everything a villain shouldn’t be and she acts like a pantomime buffoon for the most part but Kate O’Mara is simply delectable in the role, having a blast and playing up the campness for every laugh she can get (which is a hell of a lot!). After the less than successful experiment of the Trial season the show needed to reassure its audiences that it was back to business for Doctor Who and what do they serve up…Kate O’Mara hamming it up doing a Bonnie Langford impression! It’s so overwhelmingly the last thing they should have tried it makes me howl before I even get to the wonderfully silly dialogue. Audiences at the time must have been appalled at the Rani’s panto addresses directly at them but in retrospect it is so damn watchable! ‘I’m sure you must have the same sweet nature’ – she makes me die with this overdone Mel! In the TARDIS she goes from squeaky voice faux Ms Bush to super butch Rani in a second. I almost had to go to the loo when she slapped the Doctor into the mirror – when I finished laughing I cheered! Well somebody had to some sense into him. ‘I’m overwhelmed’ she tells the audience, ‘Why was the Rani dressed like you Mel?’ ‘Perhaps she’s fashion conscious’ – the Rani gets one gem after another. I know you are going to think I’m mad but imagine if the Rani had joined the Doctor on his adventures and commented dryly on his prattish actions all the time – it would have been priceless! She pulls of her wig like a bad drag queen and then is overpowered like a panto dame! ‘Let go of me you interfering maniac!’ she screams as they shove her ass into a cubicle! Unfortunately she’s not even original, the Rani only wants to meddle in time – you have a time machine you silly bitch, just head back and fiddle about like the Meddling Monk! ‘You imbecile!’ she cries waving her fist at the Doctor like all good camp villains, as they are defeated. The final scene sees her ensconced in Tetrap bondage – the kinky mare!
Bubbly Bonnie: Poor Bonnie is forced into those GIANT shoulder pads that make her look like a walking action figure – astonishingly it isn’t her worst costume for the season. Mel is pretty spunky in the first episode and gives Ikona some backchat and escapes him. She is tied up and dragged over a wasteland and some would say it is no more than Mel deserves. Bonnie is made to scream and scream and scream and scream until she gets a sore throat and can barely talk. Even Ikona tells her to stop squarking. Ugh, she gets tongued by a Tetrap! Even the Doctor is in on the Mel bashing: ‘I’ve met your companion Mel’ ‘Don’t hold that against me!’ I love it when Bonnie tries out camp O’Mara – ‘He’s shrewder than you think! The Doctor has qualities you’ll never have!’ There are some mentions of Mel’s astounding technical knowledge but you would never be able to tell give all she does is run and scweam.
Dastardly Dialogue: Well I could hardly call this section ‘Sparkling Dialogue’ without you guys having me taken in for violating the trade’s description act but here are a few gems from this story that I will never forget…
‘What monstrous experiments are you dabbling in now?’
‘Why are you behaving so uppity? Could it be you think yourself superior to me?’
‘Are you as clueless as you appear Mel?’
‘Absence makes the nose grow longer…’
‘Rani! That’s the name! The evil name!’
‘I’ve had enough of this drivel!’
‘Look out! Killer insects! They kill!’
‘A hologram! As substantial as the Rani’s scruples!’
‘Blessed are the pie makers because they will make light pastry!’
‘The Last Chapter, Doctor? The denouement?’
‘Time and tide melts the snowman!’
The Good and Bad Stuff: Like the Chase this is a story which gets practically everything wrong and for it find it immensely pleasurable every time I watch it and as such I cannot separate these sections. The Rani strolls into the TARDIS in the first scene dressed up like some camp Flash Gordon reject with red kinky gloves and boots and vamp make up. The FX of the TARDIS being brought down were as good as it got at the time, it’s only in retrospect that we cringe - I rather like it! The new title sequence is a big improvement, the music has more punch and I love it when the stars explode towards you before the logo appears. Tetrap point of view shots are deliriously trippy. The music is coarse, trippy faux techno junk but it is far more experimental and striking than the muzak from Paradise Towers – why wasn’t there more of it on that McCulloch CD they released instead if his less effective work in the next story? Tinsel in the pipe and blue painted rocks, are they seriously trying to convince that this is an alien world with dressing like that? The bubble traps deserve respect and especially like it when Mel lands bobs along on the pool of water. Wonderfully mad music as Ikona finds the glitter gun! The Tetraps are the first of many McCoy era monsters that have the weird effect of being very convincing on some shots and ridiculously fake in others (the Chimmerons, Fifi, the Haemovores and the Cheetah People also have the same trouble) but I do appreciate that they were trying to do something a bit different with the 360 degrees vision. Wanda Ventham turns up in episode two and gives a genuinely heartbreaking performance and reminds us all what proper drama looks like. Mel beating up the Doctor, him spinning her around above his head and then grabbing her thick ginger and trying to pull it off has to be seen to be believed! Why is the Rani’s TARDIS than dull triangle? Couldn’t they have found something (anything) more exciting than that? The CSO inside is awful. The Tetraps look pretty creepy hanging in their darkened cave – that should have been the first time we saw them, Mel creeping amongst them as they come to life in the dark… Where exactly do the Lakertyans live in that quarry? The Centre of Leisure is a remarkably cheap set made up of a few hanging beds, fibre optics, a small pool and some peach lighting – pure luxury! Attack of the tiny green blobs, sorry, killer insects! It’s a huge pulsating purple brain – could this story be any more b movie? Apparently so as the filthy end of episode three looks (I swear…go and watch it again) like the Tetrap is trying rape Mel whilst McCoy plays with himself very excitedly! I really like the Tetrap theme as they leave their cave at the beginning of part four – this has to be my favourite McCulloch score. I realise this is hardly the story’s greatest leap of logic but just how does the Rani’s bangle reduce the Lakertyan to a skeleton? I knew McCulloch would get a camp version of the theme tune in there somewhere! Is this the only story in the history of TV that sees a giant brain destroyed by a load of exploding bracelets? Another first for Doctor Who! Ikona proves what a fucking idiot he is by throwing away the antidote – they should stone him (and there’s plenty of material lying around) for such twattish act!
Result: What can I possibly say about Time and the Rani to convince you to give it another go? The dialogue is horrendous, the characterisation is non-existent, the plot (what little that there is) is preposterous in the extreme and the performances are so pantomime the only thing that is missing is asking the audience to say ‘he’s behind you!’ Time and the Rani is ludicrously, hilariously, reputation-destroying bad in the extreme. And I love it. There are some things that are worth highlighting, some nice camerawork, effects and even a score by Keff McCulloch that manages to work but I really love this story because it is everything that Doctor Who shouldn’t be (and certainly shouldn’t have been at the time) in the extreme and that makes it deliriously enjoyable to watch. Whilst everybody else tries to take it seriously Kate O’Mara is having an absolute ball and I could watch her until the end of time taking the piss out the embarrassing antics of the Doctor and Mel. Pure pleasure of the highest order – Time and the Rani for me is like the equivalent of a fantastic orgasm over something very naughty that lasts for an hour and a half: 9/10
Paradise Towers written by Stephen Wyatt and directed by Nicholas Mallett
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor becomes the Great Architect whilst Mel scweams and scweams!
The Real McCoy: Whilst there is the odd burrow-a-electric-screwdriver-into-you-brain-to-make-it-stop embarrassing pratfall (in places even worse than those in Time and the Rani) but on the whole this is a confident and moody new direction to take the seventh Doctor in. Paradise Towers shows you the angle they could have taken with the character before he became the master manipulator and that is more of a Troughtonesque, impish little rogue who sticks two fingers up at authority figures and loves a good mystery. Regardless of the quality of the stories (and watching this has reminded me of how badly the production side of things is letting the show down at this point) I still maintain that this was a far more comfortable role for McCoy to play and he seems to be right at home in this kind of quirky oddball story. Nothing is just rubbish if you have an enquiring mind! It’s great how he respects the Red Kang greeting and they declare what he wears as high fabshion and ice hot for an oldster! The Doctor using the rules against the jobs worth caretakers is his first genuinely classic scene (in how he mocks these authority figures for his own benefit it reminds me of scenes like those in The Ice Warriors where the second Doctor dialled up a glass of water). His absent-minded ranting about the out of control amount of mysteries that nobody seems to have any answers for feels very Doctor-ish. Not a yawner oldster! He is the only obvious candidate as a rival in the design industry to face Kroagnon. In stark contrast to his predecessor he brings all of the factions of Paradise Towers together and gets them to face and understand their differences, had this taken place in seasons 21 or 22 everybody would have been slaughtered.
Generous Ginge: Continuing the descent of Mel’s character in season 24, Paradise Towers sees the character practically orgasming with excitement from her very first scene. They really don’t want Mel to be a Kang and I fear it may be because of her ridiculous clothes in this story (which most definitely are not ice hot!). Mel has a delicious name! Can you believe that Mel chomps down on that cookie the size of Wales covered in whipped cream after the hell she gave the sixth Doctor for his sizeable girth? What I do like is her confidence her, turning down Pex’s offer of help and brave enough to explore on her own. ‘I’ve got to help my friend and I can’t waste any more tiiimmmeee!’ – Bonnie really is on a sugar high in this story! Mel walking out on Pex after discovering his cowardice is actually quite a sweet moment and a rare underplayed moment in this story (there was the odd choking moment of genuine drama in Time and the Rani as well!). Mel really must be thick because Tabby and Tilda are so happy to see her so they clearly want to do naughty things to her (ugh!) or eat her (double ugh!). ‘WEEEELLLL DOOONNNEE PEEEEXXXXX!’ – has she ever been this squeaky voiced before (I was watching this in the early hours of the morning and woke up most of the household with Bonnie’s squealing!). After all the perils she has faced so far in the Towers why the hell does Mel go for a swim? This is not a convincing human being on any level! Watch Mel throughout this story, she has this uncanny habit of standing back and sighing theatrically every time she sees something that pleases her! Not Mel’s finest hour.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Do you suppose it’s that delicious little Mel?’
‘Report from floor 109 Chief! It is believed that one of the oldsters has fallen down the standard issue waste disposal units!’
‘What a naughty little girl we are! Looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth!’
The Good Stuff: I can see what they were going for with the opening and the shadow falling over the Kang is scarier than anything in the preceding story. I really like the thought that has gone into the Kang speak, to make this a convincingly rough and alien language (although all of the performances are far too middle class and enthusiastic for their own good – these should have been dirty, feral, frightening girls). It does look studio bound but some thought has been put into the dirty, litter strewn, gratified sets, the lights have been brought right down and if they had been shot with some more care it could have been a very memorable location (this story is crying out to be shot on film). ‘My memory’s not what it was…but one thing followed another and we were in the pickle we are today!’ – I love the way the story skips so confidently over the backstory with that cheeky turn of phrase! Depending on how ill-disciplined your mind is Mel meeting the old dears is either very entertaining or very naughty! Gah those shots of the cleaner should be absolutely terrifying, its carrying off dead bodies for some unknown nefarious purpose but these scenes are drowned out by jaunty music and spoilt by the comical foot sticking out of the back each time! I can remember being scared out of my wits ages 7 of those ‘HUNGRY!’ flashing lights – my mum refused to let me watch for a week. The reveal of Tabby and Tilda as an early Kim and Aggie in How Tasty is your Housekeeper? makes for a fabulous cliffhanger, especially fun because Mel has completely failed to spot all the clues that they want to eat her out! All this throwing of cutlery would have been frowned upon in earlier years but nobody was watching to give a shit anymore. The pool robot is designed with a lot more care than the cleaners, it’s a shame we couldn’t have seen more than him. I love how tightly constructed the story is, Wyatt introduces all of the elements (Kangs, Rezzies, Caretakers) and builds up the nature of the villain throughout the first three episodes and the opposing forces all come together with their various strengths just as Kroagnon is revealed. Pass this script on to other Doctor Who writers of how to pace and structure their story, its full of incident and drama and locks together like a perfect jigsaw. The last scene (and especially the last shot) is very good; it’s the sort of restraint that should have been evident throughout by the director, actors and musician.
The Bad Stuff: The music is truly dreadful throughout, I cannot imagine how bad David Snell’s score must have been to have destroyed the atmosphere as much as this (it was probably really creepy and at odds with the colourful direction but surely that would work better than this?). Basically the score sounds like an eighties disco through whether we are watching kids being hunted, old women going mad with carving knives, men being possessed, it’s the same jaunty, groovy music throughout. What’s worse the more you listen to it it becomes almost hummable! Probably a good chance this is the worst score ever. Richard Briers’ ridiculous voice over the walkie-talkie destroys any sense of tension in the opening scenes and besides how many times do we have to watch that poor caretaker to the slaughter walking around scared out of his wits? The direction of people running around is so static and theatrical you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching a recording of a stage play in parts (it looks like actors larking about in a studio). Pex is hopelessly miscast and it completely spoils the surprise about his character because he looks and acts like a coward throughout! Is it just me or do the Kangs look like scary punk lesbians? The daft Hitler moustache salute. Richard Briers, one of the greatest actors this country has ever produced, gives potentially the worst performance by any actor in any Doctor Who story, camp, comical and completely at odds with the story itself. If he had toned it down and played the chief caretaker with some menace this could have been way darker. The scene of the Doctor surrounded by the cleaners and doing a farcical pratfall through the door into the Kang HQ was made all the more cringeworthy by the fact that my McCoy hating husband walked in the room wrapped in a towel and dissolved into fits of laughter. I cannot decide whether Tabby being dragged down the waste disposal chute is hilarious or mortifying so I’m erring on the side of caution. One question that always bugs me is why they kept Kroagnon in the basement rather than just locking him up in prison? That is a pretty average pool for Mel to get so excited about! The end of episode three is really awkward with McCoy gurning and deliberately shoving his neck in the claw to create some tension! Is Richard Briers channelling Tom Baker in his performance of the Kroagnon possessed Chief Caretaker? He’s glassy eyed, slurring his speech and acts totally pissed! The pool robot is clearly not holding Mel under the water (plus I refuse to feel sorry for such a stupid woman!). Crochet and crossbows is all it takes to disable the cleaners! McCulloch’s percussion hand movements! Oddly Kroagnon is defeated by an insult of one of his doorknobs! Pex’s sacrifice should be a really moving moment but with McCoy being preposterously shoved against the wall over and over by a grunting Richard Briers destroys the emotion somewhat!
Result: As a script Paradise Towers is damn scary with rough, dangerous kids, killer robots, frightening old women, murderous authority figures, terrifying lifts and disembodied voices that possess people and turn them truly psychotic. Somewhere along the line all that potential is thrown out of the window and the director assembles a pantomime version of the same story. I don’t think there is a single story where the tone of the script and the tone of the production are so at odds which is such a shame because this could (and I mean this) genuinely be one of the best stories of the eighties. The performances are exaggerated, the musical score cooks, eats, digests and excretes the tension and the whole things feels as though it takes place in a BBC studio rather than a High Rise. Stephen Wyatt has injected his story with real wit and intelligence and unearthed some marvellous sources to influence his work but it is all wasted on a time when the production team behind the show are completely at sea. Such a shame: 5/10
Delta and the Bannermen written by Malcolm Kholl and directed by Chris Clough
This story in a nutshell: All board to the rock’n’roll years in Shangri-La, Wales!
Master Manipulator: Absolutely my favourite story as far as McCoy is concerned. No word of a lie when it comes to the seventh Doctor is just doesn’t get any better than this for me. He gets to be thoughtful and have dark thoughts and still remain sweet and funny at the same time. He reminds me of Patrick Troughton at his height and having a ball with a script that allows him to be so magical. The Doctor sends Mel on in the bus whilst he will follow on in the TARDIS. Perhaps he’s not as fond of her as we all thought! I love the scenes of the Doctor working frantically around the console and doing something magic to save so many lives, this is the nutter professor we were promised. He suddenly feels much more confident with his new persona and so relaxed in this environment. He’s still misquoting but you can’t have everything. The Doctor grins at the little and plays with an apple, what a shame he was never this cute before. Aww…he’s really rubbish at comforting a blubbing Ray but that doesn’t stop him trying. The Doctor is known by bounty hunters as a traveller in time. Watch as he marches up to armed bandits and confronts their leader with nothing more than moral outrage, he’s magnificent. He says love has never been known for its rationality as though he speaks from personal experience. The Doctor’s unspoken affection for Gorownry is gorgeous.
Bubbly Bonnie: My first Mel story! Just to annoy everybody I have to tell you that I find Melanie Bush a breath of enthusiastic air in the eighties where we have been tortured by the incessant whinings of Tegan and Peri. It helps that Bonnie Langford is a close friend of my husband’s dad and she has behaved very charmingly since she left the show and done some superb work with Big Finish. Many people find Mel a cardboard screamer and she was but she’s my cardboard screamer and I love her to bits. Mel has never won anything before! Enthuses about heading to 1950s Disneyland and thinks Butlins in Wales a bit grim! Mel’s friendship with Delta is lovely and the sort of thing she was denied throughout her time. She really goes out of her way to be kind and helpful and suddenly feels more like a real person. The Doctor and Mel must have had a lot of off screen conversations about regeneration, Bannermen because she seems to know everything! If Mel makes and arrangement she will stick to it. I like it that we see Mel thinking on her feet, her quiet reaction to the bus explosion and lying through her teeth to Gavrok shoving his gun in her face. Mel is described as more use alive than dead…which some might find a matter of taste!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Welcome to Shangri-La where your dreams come true!’
‘What do you know about life Gavrok? You deal in death! Lies, treachery and murder are your currency!’
‘Here’s to the future. Love is the answer.’
The Good Stuff: The opening scenes are immediately more gripping than anything we have seen so far in season 24; a twilit planet at war, the last survivor escaping (but it is a shame it is scored by McCulloch’s disco music). The toll port is a fantastically madcap location. The Navarinos have to be seen to be believed; they look utterly insane but are filmed so confidently and with such humour. Don Henderson’s Gavrok is a fantastically grave and villain and after two camp nasties in Rani and Towers. The lush green Welsh countryside makes for a gorgeous backdrop, it s touch of authenticity which is something this season desperately needs. The screaming gulls, the blistering sunshine, the seaside resort – this stories screams of holiday atmosphere! The detail that is given to the Chimmerons is very nice; the pupating child, the hexagon cell like fashions, the royal jelly and singing/warning sounds – the vespidar theme is great. I love the ‘get to know you’ dance scenes, they are great fun, we haven’t seen the show let its hair down like this since Black Orchid. The Billy/Ray/Delta triangle works because you really feel for Ray but at the same time you are really glad that somebody is looking after Delta. It’s a love triangle where all three characters are sympathetic and likable and that isn’t easy. The direction is terrific with midnight scenes of Billy visiting Delta, he and Mel sitting silently on the bed and the fade to the sun rising in the morning. Goronwy talks pure poetry (never under estimate the power of nature). Burton should have been a companion, he’s such a sarcastic old git and then steps into action hilariously with his huge sword! Looking for Billy and Delta is just an excuse to show of the countryside…but what magnificent countryside it is. In this setting even Keff McCulloch’s upbeat, groovy incidental music makes sense (the rock’n’roll Doctor Who theme kicks ass!). I adore the backdrop in the scene just after the bus explosion, the sea and lighthouse looking glorious behind the action. Isn’t it great how the Bannermen have no redeeming features whatsoever – Gavrok savages a raw chunk of meat, he shoots the Doctor’s white flag and blaze away with bullets wherever possible. The set piece of the Bannermen pursuing the Doctor on his bike is excellently scored with a Dick Barton inspired theme. Billy taking the alien food is precisely the sort of ridiculous gesture I would have made when I was young and in love. Turning the TARDIS in a booby trap is a great idea and it would have been so great had the Doctor and Mel returned to the ship after the danger has passed and been blown away! Death by honeybee – at this point the story has charmed me so much I will buy anything. It’s cute. I always cheer when the Doctor’s gang head off to take on Gavrok and his Bannermen! Gavrok destroys a radio playing Lollipop…is there no end to his crimes? Teehee, I love the small moments such Goronwy holding the book as the table is pulled away. The final showdown is well staged and I love the shot of Gavrok underneath the Shangri-La sign with the electric guitar rocking on in the background. It all ends on a song with one heart broken and lovers falling into each other’s arms. The Skegness Glee club deserve a story of their own! That final wink is perfect.
The Bad Stuff: The baby coming out of the egg isn’t so bad but you can see the puppeteers thumb working the mouth! Shooting Ken Dodd in the back feels wrong somehow. That poor baby is painted green! Hawk and Weismiller are entirely superfluous characters but beautifully played and a lovely pair. The bus explosion is beyond lame after the impressive pyrotechnics that sent the tents up!
The Shallow Bit: Billy is the first of many cute guys to pop up in the McCoy era (see also Mike in Remembrance, Bellboy in Greatest Show, Ancelyn in Battlefield and Sorin in Fenric). Mel looks fearsome in her denim jacket and scarf.
Result: I bet John Nathan-Turner loved this story and rightly so. Delta and the Bannermen boasts superb location work, a funky score, blissfully warm and colourful characters and a charming, nostalgic atmosphere. It’s full of cute, silly moments and enjoys a more relaxed, holiday atmosphere that makes it extremely enjoyable to watch. You’ve got sex (Billy and Delta), drugs (Billy sucking down on naughty alien medicine) and rock’n’roll (the fabulous dance scenes in part one). You’ve got McCoy at his absolute peak and Bonnie given decent material for a change. You’ve got evil mercenaries, mysterious beekeepers, motorbike chases and lots of honey! I love Delta and the Bannermen, it’s a story I have watched over and over and I have never understood the bile that is directed at it: 9/10
Dragonfire written by Ian Briggs and directed by Chris Clough
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor visits a freezer centre and exchanges a ginger doughnut for a mega naff explosives expert.
Master Manipulator: I know this wont me very popular but I find that McCoy was actually at his best for the most part during season 24. Whilst a lot of other people seem to prefer him grumpy and manipulative I prefer to think of the seventh Doctor as a little leprechaun hopping about the galaxy for larks, standing up to villains such as Gavrok and Kane but generally enjoying his travels and poking his nose where it isn’t wanted. Its far more appealing than the off screen employer of companions he would become in the New Adventures, juggling the fates of planets for his own schemes and undertaking the responsibility of the entire universe. What a twat that Doctor is. In Dragonfire the Doctor is following his nose for a mystery, chasing myths and dragons. He declares regeneration as the difference being purely perceptional. He turns his back on Glitz when he hears what nefarious schemes he has been up to lately. I love how he attempts to bamboozle the guard with tongue tripping technobabble but ends up being bamboozled himself! Look at the mad glint in his eyes when he tells Belasz that she has been purchased like everything else in Iceworld. The darkness is emerging and he really seems to enjoy twisting the knife in when he explains what has happened to Kane’s solar system. Before the new series we rarely got the sense that this man is a lonely homeless traveller but his melancholic reaction to Mel’s decision to leave him really drives that point home.
Grating Ginge: I’m not quite sure what happened to Mel in season 24. I personally think she worked far more effectively against Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor in the two stories of Trial of a Time Lord, she really seemed to compliment his colourful personality and they shared some wonderful moments. However despite the writers giving her some independence in her last four stories (she really strikes out on her own in Rani and Paradise Towers) she seems to swamp McCoy’s quieter Doctor with her insane chirpiness and abandons her intelligence and merely reacts to the nasties with a scream. A shame because Big Finish have shown how adeptly Mel could have been used throughout this season (Fires of Vulcan sees her at her peak). She declares a freezer centre a boring place to visit (good point) but then upon meeting up with Glitz and his near arrest she stands up a shouts ‘if you kill him, you kill us too!’ (What the fuck?). Who would say that under any circumstances, least of all so casually?). Her lungs are the most exercised since Victoria and she pierces this story at several points, when confronted with the dragon, when almost frozen, when menaced by Glitz’s zombie crew. Clearly they thought there was nothing interesting to do with this character. Oddly for goodie two shoes Mel she starts tossing bombs that could seriously injure people for kicks! Somehow she manages to head butt a staircase. ‘Why do we always get left out?’ Cause together you and Ace make the most annoying pair of old whiners. Mel’s leaving scene is pretty unique in Doctor Who, not melodramatic or milked for tears or off screen but simply two good friends saying goodbye to each other nicely. Once again a rubbish companion gets a decent send off!
Oh Wicked: This is where it all begins. I always sound so harsh on Ace and yet I find that she compliments McCoy far better than any other companion compliments their Doctor throughout the eighties. They share the great chemistry that Baker and Bryant had whilst the characters manage to get along at the same time! McCoy and Aldred clearly adore each other, which often shines on screen. My two complaints are that Aldred is by far a better performer than McCoy and was given material that far outshined him in her last year (Battlefield excepted) and her character as written is actually the most unconvincing in Doctor Who’s long history. She has conceptualised by middle class men who give her god-awful slang and attempts to be modern and with it that fall flat on their face. She’s a sixteen-year-old girl from Perivale who was whipped up in a time storm to Iceworld where she works as a waitress and walks around with ladders and explosives in her rucksack. The fact that Sophie Aldred manages to subvert her horrendous material even some of the time is credit to her and in stories such as Remembrance of the Daleks, Ghost Light and Survival she really comes into her own. Dragonfire sees Ace written at her most childish and as a result Aldred rarely gets any opportunities to shine. It feels as though she is dumbing down her performance for kids telly but really it’s the scripts fault. Lets take a little look at some of her choice dialogue. ‘You male chauvinist bilge bag!’ ‘A grade A hundred percent div!’ ‘Birdbath!’ ‘Mega!’ ‘My real mum and dad would never give me a naff name like Dorothy!’ No actor could make this dialogue sound authentic; it would challenge even the greats! Ace tags along with the Doctor’s hunt for dragons. She manages to be petulant, rude, arrogant and accusatory in her first episode – its like we’ve got Adric back! The look in her eyes when Kane offers her the chance to travel the 12 galaxies is far more convincing than he horrid slang. Ace’s story about looking up at the stars when she was younger touches on something magical, the real ideas behind her character peeking through the duff street cred. All this nonsense about Ace not screaming…she lets out a belter of a ‘Doctor!’ in her first story!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Hurry…while stocks last.’
The Good Stuff: The music is very good indeed after nearly a whole season of McCulloch madness (although I do love his freakish score for Rani and the period music of Delta) it is lovely to have some understated atmospherics and the score really adds chills to the tale. Patricia Quinn’s Belasz shines and her scenes with Edward Peel’s Kane are the best character scenes of the year, loaded with poignancy and regret. Kane makes for a great villain simply because he is so intense and quietly menacing. Whoever was responsible for the shots of the planet deserves a clap on the back and Dominic Glynn’s music makes these sweeping scenes feel epic. How unbelievably cruel is Kane telling Belasz she can leave before murdering her? The undocking and destruction of the Nostferatu is well realised. There is a nice touch of horror with Kane’s face melting. Why couldn’t we have had Mel and Glitz the sitcom, the alternative to Red Dwarf?
The Bad Stuff: I always commend the designers on Doctor Who because for the most part they manage to make the show feel as though it has a far bigger budget than it does. Often the sets look very expensive and stylish, Not so in Dragonfire. This is one of those stories that expose the budget in all the worse ways. The sets look studio bound and plastic; it’s all cheap see through ice, fake backdrops and billowing curtains. The singing trees is the worst example, lit up like some god awful Santa’s grotto and the ice garden is the same set with a few white flowers strewn about. It wouldn’t be so bad if these locations weren’t given so much build up. The milkshake scene is dreadfully wooden and is it worth mentioning the crappy Cantina rip off? So much of this story feels over rehearsed and theatrical, its pure panto. The end of episode one is probably the worst scene in Doctor Who; it’s certainly the worst cliffhanger. A clever director could have made this look convincing but Clough literally translates what is in the script with as little effort as possible. You really can tell he is bored with Doctor Who at this point. The Doctor and Glitz literally get to perform pantomime antics. Ace seems to be very proud of her Nitro Nine but it is less effect than a wet fart, I have seen more frightening sparklers! Why is the Doctor the only person who slips on the ice? If the creature has simply been wandering about for 3000 years why has it taken Kane so long to find it? The ANT hunt dialogue is ridiculously melodramatic (‘leave the water pistol at home!’). The attack on the café is shockingly awful with the bartender not even reacting to being shot in the stomach! That little girl is made out of stern stuff; she experiences a massacre, is shot at and is menaced by the dragon and she’s still all smiles! In true panto style Glitz stares straight at the camera and declares ‘Kane!’ Nobody behaves believably in this story – ‘Ah you there, I know everybody has been murdered horribly but I appear to have mislaid my child!’ ‘Goodnight Teddy!’ – you could cut out so much flab and make this a two parter. Couldn’t Kane have built a new power source in 3000 years? Why leave Kane with both a functioning spacecraft and the power source? Why call Mel Doughnut? Why didn’t Kane check out his solar system that he wants to wreck havoc on in over 2000 years? This script really doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
Result: Never before or since has Doctor Who felt more like a pantomime. A cheap, plasticky production with cardboard characters, a script that gets more illogical as it proceeds and performances that verge on caricature. The script tries to suggest that dark things are going on but nobody told the director who overlights and shoots the story with careless abandon. Edward Peel and Sylvester McCoy single handedly give this story some credibility, a great villain and a sparkling Doctor but the story irritatingly keeps them apart until the last possible moment. Too many unanswered questions, farcical action sequences and gaps in logic, Dragonfire is often touted as the best story of season 24 but I think it’s the worst: 4/10