Doctor Who #673: Delta and the Bannermen Part 1

"Tonight is your lucky night. Because you are our ten billionth customer."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Nov.2 1987.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Mel win a trip to 1959, but the space bus crashes at a Welsh holiday camp. There's a princess on the run, old Americans tracking a satellite, and a rock'n'roll dance.

REVIEW: It was present in Time and the Rani and in Paradise Towers, though perhaps disguised as other things (comic bookness and satire), but Delta and the Bannermen is such an obvious romp, perhaps the first of its kind since The Romans, that I'm ready to call it one of the new guard's main ingredients. I'm talking about whimsy. If whimsy doesn't delight you, you'll think this episode is a terrible waste of video tape and stupid. If it does, then go with it and you'll have fun. I did. I mean, this is a story in which the TARDIS is stopped at a space-time poll run by the stunt-cast Ken Dodd in a glittery purple band uniform, who immediately informs the Doctor and Mel they won a prize for being the 10 billionth ship to pass through, an absurd trip to 1959 Disneyland aboard a flying bus that hits an American satellite and crashes down to "Shangri-La", a run-down holiday camp in Wales. Cue rock'n'roll cover bands, Mel bunking with an alien princess, and folksy Americans watching the skies for their missing sat with a hand-held telescope. Though there are murderous villains in it - and the violence is pretty shocking when it happens, which is somewhat at odds with the tone - it still feels like a fun vacation.

It's incredible how much like the new series this feels. Russell T Davies retained this sense of whimsy, but it's more than that. The transformation arch the goofy aliens use to turn into humans is an obvious precursor of the chameleon arch from Human Nature, but would also seem to have a link to the human-looking aliens seen on the Titanic spaceship in Voyage of the Damned. It does seem to be the same kind of tourism. There's gay subtext in how brill-creamed Billy ignores wannabe-companion and biker chick Ray, though his interest in Delta belies that later. The Doctor dances, a Billy substitute so Ray can ignore her broken heart (a damn sight better than her crocodile tears, not a great moment). And it takes place in Wales! I don't think I would have gotten the "Wales, England" joke from the American agent Weissmuller at the time, but I chuckle at it now. So it's hard not to see this story as a major inspiration for Davies. Even the flying bus thing returned in Gridlock!

Now, I agree, things get a little TOO ridiculous in points. That Billy is trusted with an alien engine, for example, is fudging it. Similarly, we might ask why a space-time toll station is giving out free trips to people already traveling space-time. And the Americans talking to the White House from a police box in the country and expected to track a satellite without any equipment? Doesn't really work, does it? But there are too many things that make me happy in this episode to give those criticisms a lot of weight. The aliens more or less limboing through the transformation arch. The music, including the western cue for the bounty hunter following Delta. The bit where the Doctor tries to eat an apple in that sad cafeteria, but keeps getting interrupted. The way the satellite is jammed into the bus' front grill. And the look of the Chimeron soldiers, pretty much exactly like green toy soldiers that come 100 to a pack. It's a bit all over the place, but I love that stuff.

VERSIONS: The DVD includes this episode's first cut, with plenty of extra lines, but no music or sound effects. The largest addition is a TARDIS scene about the ship's "kitty", where the Doctor keeps his credits for the tolls. The cliffhanger includes the crucial information that the monster in the egg is Delta's baby, just as Billy walks in.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A crazy romp that goes for broke and isn't ashamed of itself. Rough around the edges, like the holiday camp, but ultimately a lot of fun.


Timothy Brannan said...

I always kinda liked this episode.

Bill Doughty said...

I watched this a few years ago and... well, I didn't have the sort of positive opinion of it that I think you're headed for (at least based on episode 1). It has its moments, and compared to how cheesy the rest of it is, Mel fits right in for once, but yeah, this one just isn't for me.

Interestingly, I read an interview a long time ago with Sophie Aldred where she said when she was cast as Ace, she had originally come in to audition for "a character who rode a motorcycle," so I'm pretty sure she was up for the role of Ray, making that character a wannabe companion in more ways than one! It's interesting to imagine how different both roles would have been if Aldred had been cast in this one.

Siskoid said...

Yes it's true, it's what I was referring to.


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