"Well, my memory's not what it was, but one thing followed another and before we knew where we were, we were in the pickle we are today."
IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands in Paradise Towers, a resort turned ghetto. Red Kangs, Richard Briers, and a Styrofoam robot.
REVIEW: Unlike the tepid resort from Mel's brochures, the real Paradise Towers ares equal parts Monty Python and Judge Dredd, by way of Clockwork Orange. Welcome to Andrew Cartmel's tenure as script editor, where the comic strips of 2000 A.D. are his equivalent of Bob Holmes' Hammer-Horror pictures. This is an absurd and extreme future where characters are subservient to satirical ideas, something newer Whovians will recognize from the Russell T Davies era in episodes like New Earth and Gridlock, though it was, of course, already part of Doctor Who's DNA in stories like The Sunmakers, for example. But however ridiculous, writer Stephen Wyatt and director Nicholas Mallett (who creates extreme environments with colored lighting cues) do manage to create a detailed world based on a closed-off apartment building. A world with its own dialects - the all-girl gangs talk of wallscrawls and carrydors (it pays to turn on the subtitles there) and have names pulled from their environment like Fire Escape and Bin Liner - and culture - the scrawls are nicely done and some tease at latter revelations. Only the bouncy robot is a true disappointment.
I'm really happy to see Richard Briers in this, doing his best Michael Palin in certain scenes, or maybe it's just the confluence of his mustached face and the Kafka-comic fascism he represents in the story that remind me of Python's trolling of military figures. The rules are absurd, and there's no way for the Caretakers to keep all those numbers straight, and just when you think they're just the guards of the week, they pull out that mustache salute. Taking the Doctor to be the second coming of the Great Architect achieves a certain allegorical resonance (the "world" is called Paradise, after all), but we haven't seen enough to decipher it yet. Meanwhile, Mel's made friends with "Rezzies" (Residents, I assume), kindly, creepy old ladies who just want to stuff her with cakes and tea. It's all played like they're going to poison her or lock her up, but that appears to be a red herring for comical effect. Not sure what the point was, though the heroic Pex bursting in to save no one in particular is a pretty hilarious moment. He's a hero without a cause, never needed or wanted. Contrasting such a typical heroic type to the Doctor's quirkier heroism could prove fun and interesting.
And speaking of the Doctor's quirks, no malapropisms! So it WAS all Pip and Jane Baker! Or post-regenerative craziness. Whichever, the 7th Doctor is probably better off without them, though once in a while would make his character a little more consistent. Here is restores his link to past personae by becoming the open-minded explorer who can't stand idle or take a vacation. While not the hyperactive clown of Time and the Rani, some McCoyisms still filter through, like tipping his hat to machinery just in case. Bonnie Langford's performance as Mel is rather theatrical and I do wish she'd tone it down a little. Mel should be a character, not a children's program presenter. I admire her gumption and enthusiasm, but her delivery can be very artificial. Her trendy obsession with fitness doesn't stop her from eating large cookies, but does seem to inform her need to find a pool. Looks like the TARDIS recently jettisoned its own - it was leaking - and that seems to have been the favorite part of her regimen. Oh, TARDIS pool... you've always been the real hero of this series, haven't you?
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A fun, satirical comic book world is painted in under 25 minutes, so the acting tends to be a bit too cartoony as a result, and the robot sinks every scene it's in.