Friday, 10 January 2014

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 it just doesn't get any better than this for me. He gets to be thoughtful and dark, remain sweet and funny, deal with a million problems at once and interact with people on a personal level. He reminds me of Patrick Troughton at his height, having a ball with a script that allows him to really come out of his shell and show all of his facets but focussing on the positive ones. The Doctor sends Mel on the rackety old space 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 frantic to save so many lives, this is the nutty professor we were promised. He suddenly feels much more confident with his new persona and a lot more relaxed in this environment. He’s still misquoting which remains an embarrassment but you can’t have everything. The Doctor grins at a little and plays with an apple, how can you resist a Doctor this cute? He’s really rubbish at comforting a blubbing Ray but that doesn’t stop him trying. It is like he wants to understand human emotions but they are just out of arms reach. The Doctor is known by bounty hunters as a traveller in time, clearly his reputation has spread.. 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, they have several moments together where it looks like there is more to their relationship than meets the eye. I still maintain to this day that the McCoy of season twenty four sits much more comfortably with me than the sinister manipulator of later seasons. I think that McCoy is a much more natural entertainer than he is actor but in Delta we get the best of both worlds.

Bubbly Bonnie: 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  I would never deny that there was hardly any character for Bonnie to grab hold of and yet Delta shows exactly how the character could have utilised, being kind to Delta, rallying the troops when the Bannermen are about to arrive and bluffing her way to convincing Gavrok that Delta is dead. There is hardly any of that overplayed enthusiasm that plagued so much of Paradise Towers and the result is a rock solid character that works extremely well with the Doctor. Shame it was only this story where that was the case in season twenty four. Mel has never won anything before. Enthuses about heading to 1950s Disneyland and thinks Butlins in Wales a bit grim which shows she has excellent taste. Mel’s friendship with Delta is lovely and the sort of thing she was denied throughout her time. It is very different to the more parental role she takes with Ace in the next story. 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 and the Bannermen because she seems to know everything. Peri had a habit of suggesting that the Doctor had been reminiscing in the TARDIS so I guess in his recent regeneration he has taken to nostalgic discourse (Jo Grant, the Daleks). 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 opinion.

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 planet at war bathed in twilight and the last survivor barely escaping with her life. What a shame that the atmosphere that Chris Clough has generated is spoilt by Keff McCulloch's spangly music. The toll port is a fantastically madcap location of the sort we always get these days but were quite a rarity in the classic series (because the fans would have a coronory, thinking that nobody was taking the show seriously!). The Navarinos have to be seen to be believed; they look utterly insane but are filmed with complete confidence and with great humour. Don Henderson’s Gavrok is a fantastic nasty and deadly serious, a welcome break from the camp bad guys in Rani and Towers. The lush green Welsh countryside makes for a gorgeous backdrop, it adds a touch of authenticity which is something this season desperately needs. The screaming gulls, the blistering sunshine, the seaside resort – this is a story that screams of a holiday atmosphere. The detail that is given to the Chimmerons makes them a unique alien race; the pupating child, the hexagon cell fashions, royal jelly, singing/warning sounds – the vespidar theme is imaginative and realised competently. How great are the ‘get to know you’ dance scenes since we haven’t seen the show let its hair down like this since Black Orchid. 80s Who is very often trying to be serious science fiction and forgetting that it can be a lot of fun as well. 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 always easy to pull off. The direction is terrific (Clough is underrated, I find, and his work in the Trial season and Delta is especially good) with characterful scene transitions such as 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). Some might find Burton a bit too much to take because he is such a broadly written and played character but I thought he was a delight, a sarcastic old git when confronted with notions that conflict with his life views but dashing into action with his enormous sword when he is needed.  Looking for Billy and Delta is just an excuse to show of the countryside…but what gorgeous countryside it is. In this setting even Keff McCulloch’s upbeat, groovy incidental music makes sense (the rock’n’roll Doctor Who theme kicks some serious ass). I adore the backdrop in the scene just after the bus explosion, the sea and lighthouse looking glorious behind the action. They were really figuring out how to make the show look expensive on video. 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 his handsome henchmen blaze away with bullets wherever possible. Nice to have a set of bad guys that you can simply hiss at, even if that does technically make them pantomime villains! The set piece of the Bannermen pursuing the Doctor on his bike is excellently scored with a Dick Barton inspired theme - one of the few times that McCulloch got it very right. Billy taking the alien food is precisely the sort of ridiculous gesture I would have made when I was young and in love, in fact I probably went to even more extreme lengths on some occasions. Turning the TARDIS into a booby trap is a great idea and I would have laughed my head had the Doctor and Mel returned to the Ship at the end of this adventure and been blown to kingdom cum! Death by honeybee – at this point the story has charmed me so much that I will buy anything no matter how ridicuous. It’s cute. I always cheer when the Doctor’s gang head off to take on Gavrok and his Bannermen, finally somebody is going to bring this gang of bullying despots down. Gavrok destroys a radio playing Lollipop…is there no end to his crimes? I love the small moments such Goronwy holding the book as the table is pulled away. The final showdown is excellently staged, using the entire space of the holiday camp to make the location feel as big as possible and there is an excellent shot of Gavrok underneath the Shangri-La sign with the electric guitar rocking on in the background. It feels like the McCoy era is coming together beautifully. The story ends on a song with one heart broken and two lovers falling into each others arms, proving that love can be the cause of great pain and great healing. The Skegness Glee Club pop along at the climax...the mind boggles as to who might be amongst that lot! That final wink is a perfect closing flourish.

The Bad Stuff: The baby coming out of the egg isn’t so bad but it is clear there is an operators thumb inside trying to make the mouth look convincing. Shooting Ken Dodd in the back feels wrong somehow. That poor baby is painted green! Hawk and Weismiller are entirely superfluous characters but it s hard to object to them when their every appearance puts a big smile on my face. The bus explosion is beyond lame after the impressive pyrotechnics that sent the tents up.

The Shallow Bit: Billy is the first of many memorable cuties 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 addictive to watch if you are in the right frame of mind. 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, McCulloch's terrific electric guitar themes). McCoy is at his peak, commanding attention but also sweet and personable and Bonnie is allowed to behave like a human being for a change rather than a walking fitness instructor. There are 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. I know some fans of the show that consider this the worst that it gets but with witty dialogue, engaging performances, a great pace, imaginative notions, terrific location work and an infectious sense that everybody is having a whale of a time I find that assertion hard to comprehend. Delta isn't perfect but it sees the McCoy era finding its confidence, having a blast and producing something unique whilst doing so. Approach with the right frame of mind: 9/10


David Hancock said...

Fully agree with your comments about Bonnie. Tegan and Peri were ok companions; but Mel was a major breath of fresh air - a companion who enjoyed her travels and loved having adventures. Big Finish has given her a wealth of new brilliant material that surpasses most of the quality of what she had on TV; but she was always underrated.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of some of the sillier stuff (The green toy soldiers, the alien tourists looking like tourists in a space ship that looks like a tourist bus, the two Americans..), and the story isn't brilliant, but I absolutely agree that it lets it's hair down and is lots of fun to watch.

And Mel does do well in this story, with the exception of the inexplicable screaming in the cliffhanger.

Burstingfoam said...

Hurrah! Another person who loves this most gloriously sunny and fun story. This really is as good as classic Who gets, as far as I'm concerned, and I don't care who knows it. And I totally agree on McCoy - the wandering anarchist vagabond of season 24 is so much more appealing (and plays to Sylv's strengths as a performer)than the contrived manipulator of the later two seasons

carlr said...

A great story! Really like Delta and the Bannermen - it's like they bottled lightning. I can't imagine another episode of Who having such a novel take on the show ever again. Which is a little bit sad. I hope I'm wrong.

Joe Ford said...

The only story that has bottle sunshine quite as addictively for me is The Unicorn and the Wasp.

Blogger said...

TeethNightGuard is selling precise fitting and high quality customized dental protectors.

David Pirtle said...

The weakest links in this story are Delta herself and Billy. Delta doesn't convey any sense of urgency, and Billy is sleep-acting. Their scenes might belong to another program entirely. But I'm at least glad to see that there's at least one McCoy story you properly adore, even if I don't entirely agree.