They say that the memory cheats. They’re wrong. I still remember being banished to my bedroom to watch Doctor Who back in October 1987, at the same time as Coronation Street was being enjoyed in the living room downstairs. The same thing happened every week, and every week I expected a classic episode.
Then along came Paradise Towers.
Even as an 11-year-old I knew something wasn’t quite right about this one. The way the actors just spoke their lines rather than investing them with any feeling. The way Bonnie Langford seemed to think she was on the stage, shouting every line to the gods. The way the music seemed to actively be fighting against any attempts at drama that might escape from the script and onto the screen.
Watching this new DVD release 24 years on it’s fair to say that nothing much has changed, with 2entertain sadly avoiding any sort of special edition treatment that might excise most of the actors and replace them with CGI replicas.
The plot, for those of you who haven’t moved on to the Wikipedia entry by now, sees the Tardis land on the Paradise Towers of the title, a rundown tower block where a war is being waged by different factions as a group of caretakers attempt to keep things under control.
The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) manages to become embroiled in the various goings-on, while the death toll rises around him.
What is perhaps more apparent on this viewing is that Stephen Wyatt’s script does have darker undertones that, had they been given free reign, would have seen Who’s position as prime time family entertainment being questioned by TV watchdogs in the 80s. Cannibalism by two old ladies? Allusions to Adolph Hitler by Richard Briers? Bonnie’s costume?
Director Nicholas Mallett could have been trying to tone down the darker aspects for the pre-watershed crowd, but if so it was hardly worth putting the script into production in the first place, meaning we’re left with something that doesn’t really cater for anyone.
McCoy tries gamely with what he’s given but there’s little of substance for him to latch onto, his Doctor, only in his second story, still something of a blank canvas with a Scottish accent. Richard Briers is clearly in another of his sitcoms and it’s only Clive Merrison who comes out of this with anything vaguely resembling dignity, managing to balance humour and menace (what little there is) equally.
For the extras we’re given a commentary featuring actress Judy Cornwell, writer Stephen Wyatt, special sounds supervisor Dick Mills and moderater Mark Ayres, which touches on various aspects of the production without giving it quite the kicking one might expect.
Horror on the High Rise, a new documentary featuring contributions from script editor Andrew Cartmel, writer Stephen Wyatt and actors including Richard Briers and Howard Cooke, does contain some honest opinion from those involved, and it’s the highlight of the disc. Wyatt remains unimpressed with the BBC’s take on his script, though he did undertake the writing process with the best of intentions.
Another short documentary, Girls! Girls! Girls! – The Eighties, brings together Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Sophie Aldred to discuss their time aboard the Tardis and it’s nice to see the various companions reminiscing, even if Fielding’s comments are tend not to deviate from her standard views on the era.
A fun production notes track helps keep up the viewers’ spirits during the long haul of the episodes, while an alternative score for the story lets us hear what it would have been like had composer David Snell not been replaced by Keff McCulloch. Deleted scenes, photos and PDFs are also present and correct.