Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Paradise Five written by Andy Lane (from a story by PJ Hammond) and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: The Doctor and Peri visit the planet Targos Delta to check in on old friend Professor Albrecht Thompson, only to discover that he has vanished. He was last sighted taking a shuttle to the holiday resort of Paradise 5, then never seen again. The Doctor's curiosity is piqued. They must investigate, but they must do so stealthily... Peri will go undercover on Paradise 5, while the Doctor hides in the shadows. Because paradise holds a terrible secret beneath the white marble and golden trimmings. The mute Cherubs have a story to tell. And the Elohim are coming. Beware.

Softer Six: Being that this is the first story in the lost stories season that is being translated from an old script by a modern day writer it is perhaps unsurprising that it features top quality characterisation of old Sixie. Andy Lane writes for him brilliantly, allowing him to be funny and playful and yet still bitingly intelligent and thoughtful. As he says on the interviews you can tell that Colin Baker is really starting to relish these missing stories and whilst he always gives a cracking performance there is something of an extra sparkle in being able to bring these stories, denied to him through cancellation, behind the scenes squabbles and poor script choices, to life. He has had had hundreds of years experience piloting the TARDIS and refutes that he is an amateur fiddler (to which Peri suggests he is a professional fiddler!). When Peri complains that all they seem to do these days is visit old friends (she thinks its because he wants to show people how well he is doing these days!) he asks what precisely is wrong with catching up with people, especially when you have as many friends as he does. In a nice Sawardian touch the Doctor is still pondering on who was behind the Quantum Gravity Engine in the last adventure (there were always mentioning the last story in the 80s to provide some sort of narrative to the adventures). Peri scoffs when the Doctor suggests that they will have to be surreptitious and blend in and the Doctor decides to take a stealthy investigative approach from behind the scenes. The Doctor does not believe in luck, he prefers to put his faith in detailed planning and the occasional dramatic flourish! Does he look like a box of toilet rolls? He theatrically sings Gilbert and Sullivan and is hilarious as he tries to figure out what the cherub is saying to him (‘write me a volume in the dust, my diminutive friend!’). Always thinking of his stomach, he happily stuffs his face whilst Peri does all the hard work! He is renowned for making it, usually in the nick of time! In his pocket are smelling salts given to him by Pliny the Elder himself! He can’t help repeating what people have already said but in a more technical way so nobody understands him – it makes him feel important! I was laughing my head of at his hilarious foxing of Gabriel’s insistence that somebody must have purchased his Paradise Five experience (‘a gift from a grateful employee?’ ‘I’m self employed!’ ‘Or a loving spouse?’ ‘I’m not married!’ ‘Or a close friend perhaps?’ ‘I don’t have any friends!’). He always has had the ability to wind up authority figures. An intruder, interloper and busybody – ‘you’ve got me pegged fair and square!’ It’s against his nature to hit somebody the size of a child. He defeats people with slapstick! His sonic device causes an ‘unchaining melody!’ The Doctor’s attire is so last millennium – you wouldn’t wear it outside of a nightmare! A most perspicacious guest! He a very touching moment he ruminates on his life without Professor Thompson; no more quiet dinners by the sea, no more late night dinners about the state of the universe, his life is a bleaker place without him in it. After the decidedly irresolute conclusion to this adventure he craves something brash, bright and mindless to wash away the taste of the last few days from his mouth.

Busty Babe: Never mind what I said about Peri in Leviathan, this would have been a standout story for her character, she practically holds up the first two episodes on her own. Nicola Bryant acquits herself beautifully, giving the kind of thoughtful performance we all knew she was capable of given the right material. She could really do with a break because it has just been run, run, run since the Doctor’s regeneration. Just one idyllic holiday location of sand and sea would be nice. Peri is ecologically responsible and rants at those who aren’t! Hardly the stuff that exclusive guests are made of! Peri thought the human race would grow out of the sexist nonsense that forces women into leather boots and bikinis in holiday camps! Her bureaucratic nightmare with the autopilot of the shuttle shows Peri at her cheeky best (‘which drink would you like to start with?’ it sighs), outthinking the jobs worth computer. Peri gets to be a sea nymph guide at the space aquarium. Lets face it being an overly enthused American she is the perfect choice as a holiday representative! She has been told she looks good in a bikini and has done waitressing before. Do you ever go back and ask yourself what got you to a particular and what you might have done differently? She was a straight a student at high school, the top of her year in botany and wanted to head up the Amazon and discover new plant species. Now she feels like a dinosaur on an evolutionary dead end, she never got the choice about ending up here, things just happened and she never had the chance to say no or the chance to go another way. Wow, that is some very healthy development for Peri. The Doctor will always be the first stooge to Peri. She wants to take the Doctor to Manhattan, so she can take him somewhere she knows for a change.

Standout Performance: Alex McQueen and James D’arcy provide a very memorable double act as Gabriel and Michael, the campest queens we have ever seen in Doctor Who (‘You hoo! Doctor!’). I’m sure had this story been transmitted any hint that these two were a couple would have been stamped out by JNT (unlike RTD who would have them tonguing each other in every scene!) but as the first blatantly homosexual villainous couple in the series they are an absolute hoot! Gabriel loquaciously wraps his tongue around some very fruity language and Michael is a technical genius with a penchant for sadism! Their last scene together as the space station smashes into the planet is priceless – ‘What do we do now? G and T?’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The whole planet will end up buried in ticker tape! And ‘I think we’re going to drown in information!’
‘There is no dirt in paradise.’
‘Torture devices don’t usually come with cushions.’
‘We’re in the leisure industry! Of course we’re criminals!’
‘What’s that?’ ‘Coming over the hill! Is it…a monster?’
‘I don’t want this job!’

Great Ideas: Machines listing the stock market over a thousand planets for anyone who wants to know, a whole planet built on financial information.
Rather than it feeling like a tacked on introduction to the story, Andy Lane’s first episode is an unusual approach to storytelling, not taking us straight to the action but building up the mystery of the missing Professor Thompson and following him. Paradise Five is an exclusive resort where only the finest food and drink is served, located on a space station around a barren world so you wont be disturbed. The Paradise Lounge contains the Paradise Machine, upholstery so soft you would think you were floating in the clouds and subsuming your mind. The cherubs are a slow, dimwitted slave race, superficially resembling chubby little children. Professor hasn’t returned home but is no longer at Paradise Five…where have he and the other guests gone? Not a single guest packs to leave. The Doctor ponders on whether the colleagues/spouses of the guests of Paradise Five have entered into a dark deal with Gabriel; a trip to Paradise Five will be a trip of a lifetime – their last trip! The Collection shuttle that takes the guests away is alien, Eloheim. Michael and Gabriel plan to put the station into a decaying orbit, the ultimate spring clean as it crashes into the lava field and then they can grab their dosh and build a life together. Paradise Five’s previous guests are chained in a dark pit with no hope of escape. In a brilliant moment of surprise Professor Thompson is revealed to be the cherub the Doctor has befriended! There is a civil war in the higher dimensions, a rebellion against the angels. The Eloheim want to get involved with the lower races (is, us) whilst their leaders want to devote themselves to more abstract pursuits. They need foot soldiers in the higher dimensions, unencumbered by the senses of the physical body. The Paradise Machine is a recruiting tool, test for those who are suitable or not. They recycle what is left into the cherubs. What a pair of psycho’s – Michael breaks the neck of the Professor cherub and Gabriel guns down Mr Tapp just for the hell of it! A multidimensional conflict of ideals, higher dimensions does not imply higher moral values and this is a war like any other. There is no cure for the cherubs, three quarters of their minds and bodies have been siphoned off.

Audio Landscape: Barnaby Edwards has always been one of my favourite directors and he manages the impressive feat of keeping this story quiet so the performances and the ideas shine through and provide an impressive number of evocative soundscapes. The console fizzles and phuts at the beginning, ticker tape printer, glittering waterfalls, bubbling rivers of lava, the tannoy at the terminus, retro rockets firing, service drones whizzing about, dripping, clanking pipes and a steam pump system, squeaky cherub voices, groaning air pumps, Peri pouring a drink and adding tinkling ice, hovering, Mr Tapp’s horrendous (but very funny) singing, whistling in the darkness, your thoughts echoing away in the Paradise Machine, the shuttle door hydraulics, bubbling aquarium, Michael’s blaster, prisoners screaming, Chinese water torture, whispery Eloheim voices, birdsong, trees swaying, klaxons, fireworks, sirens, bells, a horrid hissy serpent, the astonishingly violent crash into the planet, crackling flames, Reading back over that list it is an extremely impressive audio soundscape and yet you never feel overwhelmed by it. Very well done.

Musical Cues: Another apparent and atmospheric eighties score with lots of throbs, pops and whizzes with some almost scream like stings between scenes.

Standout Scene: Definitely the end of part three – who ever saw that coming? I also really liked Peri wangling refreshments from the autopilot, the Doctor’s hilarious singing and the trip into the Paradise Machine with fireworks and church bells going mad!

Result: Another impressive entry in the lost stories season, if we had had a season with stories like Leviathan and Paradise Five we would have been declaring the mid eighties as the renaissance of Doctor Who! This is a quietly menacing story that keeps the mystery of the Paradise Machine and what has happened to the previous guests at arms length leaving you desperate to know what has happened. The Doctor is more playfully commanding than ever and Peri gets the chance to take centre stage and question her direction in life and in both cases it is gorgeous characterisation. It takes the unusual approach of keeping the war in the higher dimensions anonymous and concludes with no easy answers for the cherubs and in both cases it is thoughtful and effective. PJ Hammond’s ideas are top notch, Andy Lane’s scripting is witty and perspicacious and Barnaby Edwards’ provides his usual stellar direction. A special mention for Gabriel and Michael; beautifully played gay villains who top the ‘I wish they could return’ list: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/105-Doctor-Who-Paradise-5

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