Friday, 10 January 2014

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: 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 of his latter seasons 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 persona 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! He has been at this game long enough to respect the local customs and as a result is declared a man of high fabshion and ice hot. The Doctor using the rules against the jobsworth 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 amount of mysteries that nobody seems to have any answers for feels very Doctor-ish. Officially declared 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 by the story's end but the new Doctor has created something of a dysfunctional family in the Towers. The characterisation is responsible in this story but the direction and McCoy's performance occasionally lets the side down.

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 and right through to the last. They really don’t want Mel to be a Kang and I fear it may be because of her ridiculous clothes and over enthusiastic attitude. Mel has a delicious name, apparently. 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, she might be voluminous when faced with danger but that doesn't stop her turning down Pex’s offer of help and being 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, stressing every other word. Mel walking out on Pex after discovering his cowardice is actually quite a sweet moment and a rare underplayed moment in this story (both Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers manage to pull off the occasional, unexpected moment of poignancy). She's either got a death wish or she is really incapable of picking up body language because it is clear that Tabby and Tilda have more in mind for her than simply looking after her whilst she visits the Towers. ‘WEEEELLLL DOOONNNEE PEEEEXXXXX!’ – has Bonnie ever been this squeaky voiced before?  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. With danger hiding in every corner you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be something nasty lurking beneath the water. Watch Mel throughout this story, she has this uncanny habit of standing back and sighing theatrically every time she sees something that pleases her. Pure pantomime. 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: You can see precisely what they were going for with the opening scene with a rough young slip of a thing being pursued through dirty corridors and being confronted by a monstrous piece of equipment that gobbles her up. Conceptually that is a really frightening opening. Some real thought has gone into the Kang speak, to make this a convincing 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 effort 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 Mallet could have captured the grungy, squalid tone that the script is trying to push (this story is crying out to be shot on film in a genuine derelict block of flats). ‘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 this cheeky turn of phrase. Depending on how ill-disciplined your mind is, Mel meeting the old dears is either very entertaining or very naughty. The Cleaners should be the most frightening killer robots that the Doctor has ever faced, faceless automatons with cleaning attachments (although what a cleaning needs a drill head for baffles me) but this is another incident where Keff McCulloch's jaunty music craps all over what could have been a striking scare (the comic foot sticking out of the back of the garbage section doesn't help). 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. It's a terrifying voice. Despite the fact that Tabby and Tilda are clearly up to know good in the best traditions of pantomime, the end of episode two is still rather chilling. All this throwing of cutlery would have been frowned upon in earlier years but nobody was watching to give a shit anymore and the censors seem to have taken their eye completely off the ball. 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 and yet how simple the story is, especially in the wake of the long and scattered plotting that made up Trial of a Time Lord; 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 in the last installment with their various strengths just as Kroagnon is finally revealed to defeat him. Pass this script on to other Doctor Who writers of how to pace and structure their story, it's 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 in evidence 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 which we are watching kids being hunted, old women going mad with carving knives, men being possessed, It's extremely disconcerting (and not in a good way) to watch potentially horrific acts underscored by an eighties disco beat. What’s worse the more you listen to it it becomes eminently hummable. Some people opt for Time and the Rani but I would put this story forward for the position of worst score ever. Richard Briers’ ridiculous voice over the walkie-talkie destroys any sense of tension in the opening scenes, punctuating the nervy moments with something blatantly comic. The nervous caretaker wandering the corridors seems to play out ad nauseum, by the time he finally dies it is almost a relief because the story can move along. The direction is so static and theatrical that you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching a recording of a stage play in parts (in places it literally looks like actors larking about in a studio). Pex is a character that could be made to work if they had cast the part adequately but Howard Cooke looks and behaves like something of a coward throughout, which rather ruins the surprise. Is it just me or do the Kangs look like scary punk lesbians? That daft Hitler moustache salute, it's hardly a subtle homage, is it?  Richard Briers is potentially one of the greatest actors this country has ever produced and yet his appointment to a Doctor Who story seems to give him carte blanche to overact terribly and as a result he gives would could be said to be the worst performance of his career; 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 a much darker, sober piece. I will never forget how embarrassed I was when Simon walked into the room just as the seventh Doctor was surrounded at all sides by the cleaners and took a comedy dive into the Kang Headquarters, pratfalling all the way. He walked out the room shaking his head. Sometimes he just cannot understand why I love this show so much. 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 watch and I'll heave with laughter at her fluffy slippers vanishing down the chute and another and I'll be burying my head in a cushion. Why was Kroagnon kept locked up in the basement where he can plot his revenge? Why wasn't he carted off to the nearest prison? The only answer I can think of is that the original inhabitants of Paradise Towers wanted to give him a fighting chance. More to the point, why aren't there any young children in the Towers? If the inbetweeners went off to war 'a long time ago' and there are teenagers running about I can only assume that the inhabitants are having sex...so where are they squirreling all the infants? Unless they all ended up on the Rezzies menu. That is a pretty average looking swimming pool for Mel to get so excited about it. Where the cliff-hanger to episode two is quite effective, it is followed up in part three with something mortifying. McCoy gurning at the camera whilst trying to force his neck into a giant metallic claw which clearly couldn't grab hold of anything. Is Richard Briers channelling Tom Baker in his performance of the Kroagnon possessed Chief Caretaker? He’s glassy eyed, slurring his speech and looks for all the world as though he is completely rat-arsed as he lumbers about the corridors of the Towers. The pool robot is clearly not holding Mel under the water and Mel's hair is not wet enough when she surfaces to suggest that she has been held under the surface. If the residents had known that all it would to disable the Cleaners was crochet and crossbows they might have taken back the Towers years ago! McCulloch’s percussion hand movements have to be seen to be believed. Is this the only story where the villain is defeated by an insult about the design of one of his doorknobs? Pex’s sacrifice should be a really poignant moment but with McCoy being preposterously shoved against the wall over and over by a grunting Richard Briers, the sentiment of the scene is spoilt somewhat.

Result: As a script Paradise Towers presents a scary, contemporary locale complete 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 horror 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 with each other 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 an idiosyncratic 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

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

No shallow bit on Pex? Maybe it's just me...

Corpus Christi Music Scene said...

The DVD has the option to play the episode with the original rejected score

Joe Ford said...

Pex does nothing for me but I am glad you can get some enjoyment out of this story that way! :-)

Joe Ford said...

I have since listened to the rejected score and whilst being a little repetitive, it is streets ahead of McCulloch's stuff in terms of mood and atmosphere.

Nell Swatt said...

I actually suggested T P McKenna for the roe of Chief Caretaker which suggests where my thoughts were gong. But we were probably trying to move too fast too soon all along.

Paul said...

I'm not sure it's entirely fair to suggest the production team were all at sea. While I share your love for Time and Rani, that story really sounds like a Baker script - in part that is because of the Bakers' scripting technique: characters declare at each other. This is most clear in most of the scenes between McCoy and O'Mara in the laboratory and in the terrible first scene between McCoy and Langford. Paradise Towers sounds completely different and benefits enormously as a result. Even without Briers' performance, this was always meant to be funny - black humour, but funny none the less. It's a Ballard story with a dose of Burgess thrown in. This is the first step towards Season 25 and 26 - the late Renaissance starts here.