Another Classic Who Season Gets Special Treatment!
Season 24 of Doctor Who has a place in fandom that could best be described as a notoriety. There is an aura around this season of divisiveness that I personally have never really felt for the most part.
Season 24 is also a season of change, both on and off-screen, as both Doctor and script editor were fresh faces to the series, and offered something different from their predecessors. It ran from 7th September to 7th December 1987, and comprises of four stories and fourteen episodes.
Sylvester McCoy, who was known for eccentric appearances in comedy and theatre took the role of the Seventh Doctor – initially offering humorous and physical portrayal, and whilst this season is arguably the weakest in terms of writing for the character, as they attempted to establish the character, McCoy still manages to bring shine in the role, though ultimately wouldn’t be able to explore deeper aspects of the role until Season 25 & 26.
Following the departure of Eric Saward in 1986, Andrew Cartmel was selected to take over the role of Script Editor. Cartmel documents his journey to becoming Script Editor and his time on the series in his wonderful auto-biopic “Script Doctor”, which I recommend as an indispensable read for any fans of this era of Who.
Throughout his tenure Cartmel brought on board a fresh series of writers and gradually melded the series into what I’d arguably deem a new golden age. With Season 24, production was reportedly more rushed as there was less time to prepare, especially when factoring in JNT’s impending and subsequently cancelled departure.
Though some stories here aren’t perhaps as strong as what would come later on from the McCoy era, considering the troubled period of production there are some solid ideas and performances that shine through.
Time and the Rani
Having rewatched what is perhaps the most notorious story in Season 24 I was pleasantly surprised by the proceedings. As a post-regeneration story Rani had the difficult job of also giving us an actual regeneration sequence, sans Colin Baker who refused to appear for the scene.
Though the actual cause of the regeneration is unclear, the Tardis is attacked by The Rani and forced to land on the planet Lakertya, where geniuses have been kidnapped from time and space and brought to generate power for a time manipulator – the usage of which could result in world dominance.
Where the plot gets a bit silly is When the Rani masquerades as Mel, ginger hair and all in order to fool the Doctor into Assisting in her experiment , in what is unquestionably the most lacking aspect of the story.
McCoy also doesn’t get a lot to do here asides from excessive bumbling and slapstick as the post-regeneration routine is played out – at least he doesn’t try throttling Mel unlike Six did with Peri. It’s clear that he wasn’t given much direction on how to do the role – a fact oft repeated across the VAM surrounding the season.
Despite all the silliness and camp TATR has an re-energised air to it that would carry on throughout the season, the alien designs here and effects are impressive too – the highlights being the Tetraps, fiendish minions of The Rani, and the bubble traps which litter the planet surface and are the subject of a memorable cliffhanger.
Overall, despite its reputation for being the nadir of 80s Who to some, TATR is far from devoid of merit as Kate O’Mara’s performance as the Rani shines, and the overall story has a sense of fun and energy which establishes the tone of the season, albeit with at times mixed results.
Paradise Towers is my personal favourite story from Season 24, as it offers an inventive narrative which takes inspiration from J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise and creates an intriguing and dysfunctional culture between the factional residents within.
Writer Stephen Wyatt, the first of several new writers for the season, manages to provide some wonderful world-building as The Doctor and Mel embark on a quest to find the towers’ fabled swimming pool, as the Tardis one was jettisoned due to a leak.
They soon encounter a faction of the Kangs, all female gangs who wear specific colours to mark their individuality – whether it be blue, red or Yellow. Along the way, The Doctor uncovers the hidden truths of Paradise Towers and just why so many of its residents have “become unalive”, whilst frequently butting heads with the Chief Caretaker (Richard Briers) and his army of menacing cleaning robots and bumbling rule-abiding caretakers.
Meanwhile, Mel has her own mis-endeavours whilst being accompanied by loner Pex (Howard Cooke), a supposed hero who is actually known as a coward but puts on a brave face. She also becomes ensnared by the Rezzies, elderly residents of Paradise Towers with cannibalistic tendencies.
What makes Paradise Towers work is the chemistry and interactions throughout, and the story is almost always lively because of this. There’s a real energy throughout though if there’s anything that lets the story down it’s the final episode.
It is revealed that the creator of Paradise Towers – The Great Architect Kroagnon – still lives in the tower, dwelling within the basement and ordering the inhabitants to be executed due to their “ruining” of his creation. At the end of episode 3, Kroagnon devours the Chief Caretaker and takes over his body, having failed to find a suitable specimen from the other residents.
Sadly the execution of this is to have Briers wander around in grey make-up with a low droning voice and the result is more silly than sinister – perhaps using a voice modulator might have improved this slightly. Another negative is that the cleaner robots, though well-designed, are lumbering and slow in the story.
That said, the final episode though flawed is still a lot of fun, and gives the characters a chance to team up and defeat Kroagnon. Something of note here as well is the score – Keff McCulloch returns here, having been drafted in to redo the score at short notice due to the original David Snell music being rejected by producer JNT. It’s very eighties but also gets stuck in my head from time to time.
Overall, Paradise Towers is a great time; offering a better use of humour and wit and pairing this with some impressive sets and characters. It’s clear that unlike with TATR that there was a better hold on what the story wanted to be and how best to execute it, and it makes for one of my overall favourites for the era, even if the final episode isn’t quite as strong as the preceding ones.
Delta and the Bannermen
An ode to the 50’s and a unique Doctor Who story in terms of tone and trying something different, Bannermen is another story from this season that I’ve always liked and here my thoughts haven’t changed.
The premise involves Delta (Belinda Mayne) the Chimeron Queen and last of her kind escaping from a deadly war whilst being tracked by the Bannermen, led by the fierce Gavrok (Don Henderson on devilishly fine form) She ends up hitching a ride with an intergalactic tour bus which also houses Mel and a host of friendly characters.
The Doctor and Mel have won a prize tour to Disneyland in 1959 upon their arrival at an intergalactic tour booth, home to the colourful Tollmaster (Ken Dodd). Due to a collision with a rogue satellite, instead of Disneyland the bus arrives at a Welsh holiday camp.
Soon after Gavrok and his men arrive and chaos unfolds. Meanwhile, a pair of CIA agents (Stubby Kaye & Morgan Deare) also become embroiled in the conflict, as do other colourful characters like a cheerful beekeeper (Hugh Lloyd), bikers Billy & Ray (David Kinder & Sara Griffiths), and the camp’s amiable host Burton (Richard Davies).
What keeps the story as interesting as it is comes from the pacing. The story covers a solid amount of ground in just three episodes and remains engaging throughout – it’s variety feel and almost musical narrative were not attempted again, even if some music cues weren’t quite appropriate for the moment. The combination of cabaret and then scenes of violence and murder is also quite something.
Though said pacing can be a bit frantic at times the extended editions included with this release allow the story to breathe more so than before.
Infamous literal cliffhanger ending aside Dragonfire is a decent romp which sees the Doctor and Mel visit Iceworld in the hopes of finding the mythological dragon which supposedly roams the forbidden areas.
The story also introduces Ace (Sophie Aldred), who would become the new companion and remain so for the remaining seasons, as Mel departs at the end of the story.
She decides to hitch a ride with Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby) a rogue who last appeared in Trial of a Time Lord, who is also at Iceworld hunting the supposed treasure being guarded by the Dragon. Meanwhile, the sinister Kane (Edward Peel) is trying to harness a power source, which is supposedly in the possession of the Dragon.
Dragonfire is memorable for one of its cliffhangers, which has the Doctor purposefully climbing down a steep ledge and being left to hang perilously by his umbrella, all whilst McCoy makes a number of peculiar faces. The titular dragon actually turns out to be mechanical and has a decent design.
The sets here are sadly also a bit cheap looking with all the polystyrene snow and ice – especially the sculpture of Kane’s departed lover which detracts from one or two sequences but otherwise the story is one I’ve never had much thoughts about but does have some memorable moments – it was nice seeing Glitz return and Mel’s goodbye scene, repurposed from the initial audition sequences, is also touching.
Best Story: Paradise Towers
Worst Story: Time and the Rani
Must see: None this season.
Check out Part Two of the review, which features a rundown of the packaging, special features and audio/visual details as well as a final review score.
By HW Reynolds
Images Courtesy of BBC