‘It’s a superfood created by the bees themselves. It has the ability to change an ordinary worker bee larvae into a queen.’ I enjoy the way the plot is explained not through the usual rushed exposition or “I’ll explain later” but by an elderly Welsh man whose enthusiasm for bees figuratively explains the entire life cycle of the Chimeron. Or perhaps he’s actually as manipulative as the Doctor, with a few well-chosen words prompting Billy to transition to ensure the survival of the Chimeron species. I’m left with the sneaking suspicion that in the end Billy’s future might not be quite as he expected: he’s not going to be Delta’s sweetheart but the young princess’ stud – that’s definitely the implication of Gornowy’s parting shot: ‘The new young queen comes along and the whole colony swarms all around her, and off they go to find a new hive. A new hive and a new life.’ I can believe Delta’s in on this too: look at the little smile she gives when she kills a Bannerman at Goronwy’s farm. She’s cold as ice. I wouldn’t be surprised if she turned out to be a tyrant queen that Gavrok was rebelling against.
Whether a harmless old man or a dirty old perve, Goronwy clearly has relevance in a way Weismuller and Hawk don’t. Other than as a chance for JNT to fulfil a dream and get a Hollywood star on board (fair enough, I like Dolores Gray in Silver Nemesis as well), neither of them adds much. There’s already enough comic relief with Burton, and in the general unfolding of the story with Gavrok and his Bannermen baffled by goats then covered in honey and attacked by electronic bees (very Time and the Rani). On one level this is very thin, if charming, stuff.
Where it works for me is its romantic streak, with Billy risking everything for love, and Ray’s unrequited feelings making this poignant in a way that’s rare for the Old Testament series. It’s almost a surprise when Ray rides off into the sunset at the end, given how much time’s been invested in establishing her character and relationship with the Doctor (much more than Mel’s ever got). She becomes the Doctor’s partner in crime for this, he even calls her ‘my cariad’ and (accidentally?) grabs her chest when he’s circling the TARDIS. I think if JNT and Andrew Cartmel had planned for the show to continue in the lighter, Season 24 style then Ray would have been a perfect fit. She could pretty much slot into Season 25, although it’s harder to imagine her in Season 26 talking about her angsty childhood in Rhoose and meeting her grandma in a First World War version of The Curse of Fenric.
So that’s Delta and the Bannermen, conceptually a minor piece compared to Paradise Towers. Like the Davison two-parters, there’s a sense that the story isn’t allowed to develop very much in the interests of time – a limitation that’s gradually lifted across the next two seasons until you get to Ghost Light and Survival that are as dense as any four-parter. It’s never going to win a prize for the best Doctor Who story, but I think it’s probably the sweetest.
Next episode: Dragonfire