Doctor Who episode 665: Paradise Towers – Part Two (12/10/1987)
‘That delicious little Mel…’ I can see why fans in 1987 didn’t like this: after all the backstage drama of the last few years, a black comedy about Richard Briers feeding people to a beast in the cellar while middle aged lady cannibals catch Bonnie Langford in a crocheted shawl probably made their hair stand on end. Even though it’s the best story since, this isn’t gritty and tough like The Caves of Androzani (AKA the one the show spent too long trying to replicate). It’s more like something that previously only Graham Williams might have countenanced. Divorced from its context, it’s obvious that this has more in common with RTD’s revival than it does with Androzani. It has a sense of fun, a disregard for sci-fi cliches, and a delight in the outré possibilities of Doctor Who. It’s like a Pete Walker horror film, and I adore it.
McCoy is at his most Troughtonish in the scene where he bamboozles the Deputy Chief Caretaker into letting him escape, before he joins forces with the Red Kangs and wins them over with a can of Fizzade. Obviously all the Doctors side with rebels versus authoritarians, but McCoy and Troughton do it with a sort of subversive anarchy and delight that’s very appealing. I love the Kang’s description of him as ‘the unyoung Doctor’, highlighting that he’s something different from any of the groups in Paradise Towers: he’s not an ‘old one’ but he’s not a Kang either. His rallying cry, ‘If we don’t stop the wipe-outs, who will?’, is an early hint that the seventh Doctor is on a mission to bring down evil-doers rather than reluctantly getting involved. The moment when he’s silhouetted in the carrydoors is iconic: the Batman logo replaced by a shabby Buster Keaton lookalike.
Again, Wyatt is creating a credibly bizarre society: Tabby and Tilda gossip with Maddy about the disturbing events in the Towers; the Blue and Red Kangs mourn the loss of the last Yellow. Even the Caretakers are unsettled. All roads seem to lead to some neon light bulbs in the basement, and only the Doctor and Mel, working outside the factions, have a chance to bring them all together.
Next episode: Paradise Towers – Part Three
It still feels crippled by a lack of budget for sets/filming (bar a few stand-out imaginative shots) but there’s something Sapphire and Steel-esque about it that is irresistable. Only lacking some distant ghostly children singing haunting nursery rhymes (the Kangs’ slang and wallscrawls almost count). To me the Kangs are the weakest point, very second-tier Am-Dram performances and terrible costumes/wigs, but the Caretakers and Rezzies are absolutely excellent and still feel spot-on – Dickie Briers and Clive Merrison (perhaps the definitive BBC Sherlock Holmes) are top-drawer actors, as are Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce. They’re not wasted here.
I see what you mean about the Sapphire & Steel comparison. It has a sort of queasy quality – the world not quite right – about it that’s fascinating.