Doctor Who #670: Paradise Towers Part 2

"Rules should always make sense."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.12 1987.

IN THIS ONE... Pex revealed to be a fraud. Doctor rejoins Red Kangs. Chief Caretaker feeding the building. Mel captured by cannibal grannies.

REVIEW: The new comic book aesthetic is showing its weaknesses in this second installment, as the guest characters (and up to a point, Mel) are single-minded, two-dimensional cartoons. The Caretakers are incapable of deviating from their rulebook, to the point of playing a ridiculous game of Simon Says with the Doctor that allows him to escape. The granny cannibals have but a single goal, to fatten Mel up and eat her, and everything they say and do is in service to their stomachs. Pex is probably the most egregious, a hero who flexes muscles, breaks things and tries to protect people who want no protection. But that facade breaks when the Blue Kangs reveal he's a coward who avoided the draft by hiding inside Paradise Towers, and is now trying to atone for it by acting brave. Between him and the Kangs' child-speak, there's a sense that we're looking at kids playing a game, each with their own rules. It's schoolyard logic.

But that's the thing. For the story to really work, for this society to ring true, you need to set up a timeline that would justify society falling into such absurd disrepair. If the Towers are where they sent the Youngsters and the Oldsters, why is Pex - meant to be an In-Betweener - about the same age as the Kangs? I can believe the Kangs got there as children and like in Star Trek's Miri episode, created their own vernacular and customs. I suppose this society could have been sending young boys to war - there are otherwise no boys in the Towers - but just when did the Oldsters start eating people, and the Caretakers follow their rules blindly like it was some sort of religion. Why the myth around the Great Architect when the buildings couldn't have been built more than 15-20 years ago? For this absurd culture to exist, we would need to be generations down the line, with the grannies having been kids when they moved in at the very least. Director Nicholas Mallett does a good job with the color, light and shadow, and the music is shifting away from moody ambiance towards jaunty action themes and variations on the Doctor Who theme up front in the sound mix, all of which makes the show a more vibrant "comic book" experience, but his casting shows a misunderstanding of the script.

Between the 7th Doctor's anarchic nature and the idea that a "monster" with light-up eyes is being fed by the Chief Caretaker, Paradise Towers is starting to evoke The Macra Terror. This is a further sign that Doc7 has been designed as a shade of Doc2, with Mel's childlike persona a take on how Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury (Jamie and Zoe) were pitching their performances as overgrown children, infantilized each in their own way by the Doctor's great age and wisdom. That's as maybe. While I'm entertained, I'd rather the Doctor pit his cleverness against clever people. Once you've understood the single thing that makes any given group of Tower denizens tick, you've pretty much found the key to outwitting them.

- If someone is keen on running the Paranoia RPG, Paradise Towers makes good research, I think. As a television episode, it's fun, but often on the cusp of becoming a panto.


Gordon D said...

You know, maybe it's the fact that I am not much of a McCoy fan, but I often get this story confused with THE HAPPINESS PATROL.

Granted, they're both wild dystopias (which, at the end of the 1980s, was not an uncommon theme), but I *am* looking forward to your take on the latter story.

Siskoid said...

A bit like me and Frontios/The Twin Dilemma.

Like Paradise Towers, I haven't seen Happiness Patrol since it first aired, or possibly, never in its entirety.

I've been sitting on a number of Doc7 stories that I can't wait to discover or rediscover. Also including Dragonfire and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.


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