The second story with Sylvester McCoy playing The Doctor, Paradise Towers could have been a great serial. There are some interesting concepts and a dozy of a mystery (or so I thought... more on that later) but the production largely falls apart due to huge plot holes, some serious miscasting, and fairly obnoxious music.
The Doctor's companion, Mel (Bonnie Langford) feels like going for a swim, and since they had to jettison the TARDIS pool (it was leaking) The Doctor decides to take her to the ultimate luxury high-rise,
The first inhabitants the pair run into are the Red Kangs, a teenage girl gang who have all donned bright red wigs, that controls certain areas of Paradise Towers. They're constantly battling the Blue and Yellow Kangs, and playing tag with the Caretakers. This latter group is a group of bureaucratic police who try to keep the graffiti off the walls but can't do anything that isn't explicitly stated in their rule book (it turns out to be a small pamphlet for some insane reason.) The only other group that lives in the Towers are the "Rezies" old ladies who reside in clean, doily-filled flats and are starved for company (among other things.) Oh yeah, then there's Pex, a loner who fancies himself some sort of superhero and is the self-proclaimed protector of
As The Doctor and Mel soon find out, people have been disappearing. The entire Yellow Kang group is "made unalive" and even Caretakers have been disappearing. The Cleaners, robots that are presumably supposed to keep the place in shape, have been snatching people and taking them to the off-limits basement.
The Doctor and Mel try to find out just what happened to the city/building. Where are all the people? What's in the basement? Mel soon finds out that there was a war, so long ago that no one can quite remember, and all of the men and women of fighting age were shipped off, leaving just the children, invalids, and strapping fit Caretakers (what? Why didn't they go off to fight?) Of course that leaves another question: why hasn't anyone aged in all this time?
This serial is a case of a dark, interesting story having to fight against bright lighting and horrible casting. There's a lot of information about what the serial was intended to be like revealed in the commentary track and extras, and it's clear that this was a case of bad planning.
The first thing that noted is the bright lighting and colorful costumes. The Kangs are a bit dirty, but they're in red and blue and though they have weapons they actresses are happy and carefree. It's more like the Lost Boys from Peter Pan than Lord of the Flies. Toning things down would have made the mood much darker and much, much more interesting. The background music, which was generally mixed way, way too high, is very intrusive and ruins the mood too. Every time something suspenseful is going to happen, the blaring discordant electronic music pulls viewers out of the moment. It was written in a week when the original score, which is much better and available on this disc, was rejected. It shows.
The casting was just horrible too. Pax was supposed to be a parody of action heroes in general and Arnold Schwarzenegger in particular but the young not-very-beefed up actor who played the role made it seem more camp than parody. The worst was the Caretakers. When it's revealed that everyone was fighting a war (how come The Doctor didn't know about this... he knew about Paradise Towers) the role of the Caretakers confused by and I thought it was part of the mystery. Why weren't they fighting? It turns out they were supposed to be the equivalent of 4F applicants: The fat and sickly that couldn't make it in the army. When they sent off the call for actors to central casting, unfortunately they request "guards" so that's what they got. Apparently no one thought to reject them all and look for someone suitable. As it is the whole lot of them, dressed in shiny, tight-fitting leather, look like they've just returned from a gay bar.
The single worst offender in the acting department was easily the Chief Caretaker played by Richard Briers. He starts off fine, quoting rules and regulations with only a touch of inappropriate comedy. In the last part of the show, after he's been taken over by the villain, he hams it up and chews the scenery like his life depends upon it. Why, oh why did the directors never tone down the villains in the later part of the classic series? That part is really hard to watch.
Yeah, the special effects and the monsters are horrid too (what's with the Cleaners?? They're slow and not the least bit intimidating, but why would 'cleaners' be designed with a rotating saw and giant drill??) but we've come to expect that from classic Doctor Who. Usually the script and characterization can make up for that. Not this time. Though there were some interesting ideas in the script, they failed to materialize. I was really interested in why no one aged. If no one, even the Caretakers, could remember why everyone left it must have happened a long, long time ago. The dilapidated condition of the Towers themselves and the fact that the Kangs have developed their own slang (as well as taken names from the things around them (Bin Liner, Fire Escape)) also implies that it was a long time in the past. Yet this is NEVER addressed in the show. What happened to all the teenage boys? Why were a bunch of juvenile girls left to their own devices? None of these obvious questions are answered, which makes the show fairly frustrating.
This four part series arrives on a single DVD.
The mono soundtrack is very good. It's clean and clear with no hiss or background noise to take away from the story. The dialog is easy to discern and the background music and effects are never overpowering. Being a mono track, there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team and looks fine. Some scenes are a bit soft, but generally the image is clean and the colors are fine. If you've seen the other restored McCoy era stories, then you'll know what to expect.
The BBC has come up with some nice extras for this release, although it's a bit of a mystery why they included one with this disc. First off is a commentary track with writer Stephen Wyatt, actress Judy Cornwell (Maddy) and soundman Dick Mills. It's really a shame that the lead actors weren't included, but there is some interesting information, especially about the original vision of the story, that will please fans.
That's followed by a nice featuette: Horror on the High Rise (34 minutes). This piece interviews the cast and crew (though McCoy and Langford are notably missing) and provides a thorough examination of the adventure. There are also several shorter video extras: Casting Sylvester (3 min) - where a friend of the actor talks about how he got the job; and Continuity (4 minutes) - bumpers shown before and after the show when it was originally broadcast. In addition to that there is eight minutes worth of deleted scenes.
There's also a fun but off feature: Girls, Girls, Girls (21 min) where Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Sophie Aldred talk about their time on the show and the role of women in the series. I'm not sure why they included that on this disc, since none of the three actresses appear in this story and the companion who is feature isn't in the extra. In any case it's a great bit to watch, especially when the complain that Lalla Ward could change her outfit every story (or even more often) while they had to stay in one outfit for most of their tenure. They start to mention why that was (Ward was living with Tom Baker) before censoring themselves.
The story also comes with an optional pop up trivia tracks that's filled with information. Some of it is minutia, the date the episodes were filmed and ever the time that the shoots wrapped, but also background info on the supporting and incidental characters and it points out on screen gaffs. These are wonderful. There's also a photo gallery, the Radio Times listings (in .pdf format) and an alternate music track with the score that was scrapped. I only spot checked it, but it seemed to work much better than what went out over the air.
This could have been a great story with a little tinkering. The idea of a group of people consisting of a society's castoffs isolated and living in a high rise has a lot of potential. There are also some dark moments in the show, mostly ruined by the bright lighting, but they are there. Unfortunately the missteps outweigh the things that they got right and this story just doesn't work. Still, it is interesting to watch and thing about how things might have been. And for that reason along this show is definitely worth a rental.