A Viewer's Purgatory

Review of Paradise Towers (#149)

DVD Release Date:  09 Aug 11
Original Air Date:  05 - 26 Oct 1987
Doctor/Companion:  Seven, Mel
Stars:  Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford
Preceding StoryTime and the Rani (Seven, Mel)
Succeeding Story:  Delta and the Bannermen (Seven, Mel)

While I wouldn't call Paradise Towers "awful," it certainly wasn't a scintillating piece of work, either. It suffers from a strong story concept poorly realized. Not all of that is due to the special effects (though they certainly contribute), but one wonders what could have been if there had been a bigger budget.

In the manner of a disclaimer, I suppose I should start by saying that Mel is among my least favorite Companions. Therefore, anything that starts with the Doctor pandering to Mel's desire to go for a swim (because he'd jettisoned the pool from the TARDIS - something she's obviously regrown since) and includes dialog with even a passing reference to one of her typically tragic outfits (as if we hadn't been trying really hard to ignore it) is unlikely to yield an unequivocal thumbs-up from me.

The pool serves as a plot device to bring our heroes to Paradise Towers (a supposedly utopian high-rise presumably located on Earth, somewhen post-21st Century), though it's a pretty thin one. I mean, when the pool appears inaccessible, Mel is ready to abandon the plan as well as the whole damn planet ("You don't happen to know another planet with a swimming pool, do you?"). What - there's only one pool left on the entire Earth? Get real...

There are plenty of other things for me to razz, too:  the theme tune being woven into the incidental music (yuck!), the slightly Pythonesque absurdity of some of the supposedly serious situations, the ridiculously large explosion resulting from a Cleaner being hit with a single small arrow, and - of course - Mel screaming her head off yet again, to name a few. On the other hand, there are actually plenty of things that were positive - the Doctor himself, for instance.

This is only Seven's second story, so he's really just hitting his stride - establishing his character, if you will. To this end, we get such lovely moments as the Doctor tipping his hat to a doglike statue right outside the TARDIS and his beautifully rolling Scottish R's, despite the English accent McCoy has put on for the role. He also has a "which pocket did I put it in?" moment that reminded me strongly of Four. For my money, there's plenty of Doctor-y goodness to be had.

Despite some of the aforementioned flaws, there are also some very positive things to be said about the plot - or at least the atmosphere. You've got a dystopian high-rise where the Caretakers are all obsessed with rules, the Kangs (gangs of girls) seem to be stuck in the social equivalent of the playground, and the Rezzies are less interested in making ends meet than in making friends meat. I liked that there'd been enough "slippage" in language that everyone was still easy enough to understand, but little usages came out sounding quirky (e.g., a Caretaker sarcastically calling the Doctor "sunbeam" where we might have expected "sunshine") and people are named after (today's) common, everyday objects (such as the Red Kangs called Fire Escape and Bin Liner). All great ideas - they just didn't quite pan out.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Horror on the High Rise
What I found most refreshing about this Making Of is that there was a solid mix of "this is why it was great" and "this is why it failed." Pulling no punches, the creative forces behind Paradise Towers - from writer to script editor to (both) composers (one of the extra features of the disk is that you can watch with the original, rejected score instead of the one with which it was broadcast) - talk about both what they liked and what they didn't. Whether one agrees or disagrees with those perceptions or the decisions that brought about the final version we see on screen, it's fascinating to hear about the thought processes that went into the making of such a flawed yet strangely compelling story.

Girls! Girls! Girls! - The Eighties
Rarely have I gotten such a plain ol' kick out of an extra as I did with this one. Featuring Sophie Aldred (Ace), Janet Fielding (Tegan), and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), this one's twenty-one minutes of three women just dishing. They cover everything from their costumes to the changing attitudes toward women between early and late '80s to life after Who. Another installment in the Girls! documentaries ("The Sixties") appeared on the extras for The Romans, and was interesting in its own way, but just can't hold a candle to the way these three actresses candidly shared their experiences with each other and with us. This has just become my favorite Who DVD extra ever.

There is plenty of classic Who fare here - lots of running through corridors, a body-snatching megalomaniac, rubbish monsters, and so on, so if that's what makes Who enjoyable for you, Paradise Towers should be right up your alley. It's also worth tracking down for the aforementioned Girls! extra. Mostly, though, I recommend it for the spark of a brilliantly Who-type idea - as long as you're capable of pretending it all worked as intended.

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