Review: DVD: Doctor Who: Paradise Towers

2|entertain/BBC DVD
Out Now

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) visit Paradise Towers, a futuristic high rise that’s gone to the dogs.

OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve always had something of a soft spot for Paradise Towers. Many Doctor Who fans hate this early Sylvester McCoy adventure, and it is true that it is incredibly clunky and often badly realised, but the ideas and script are great (not surprising, given the obvious inspiration in J.G. Ballard’s High Rise).

Most interesting is the language of the Kangs, the all-girl, colour-coded gangs who dominate the abandoned tower. It’s a clever conceit, dealing in a believable way with both the fact that this is an alien world and that society had devolved so much, youth language had gone with it (echoing the work of Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange, perhaps).

A target for disenchanted fans was the casting of Richard Briers as the Chief Caretaker, seen as another example of producer John Nathan-Turner’s stunt casting of comedy stars in the show during the 1980s. However, Briers was an acclaimed Shakespearean actor who brought a quirky intelligence to the part (at least, until he’s taken over by the Great Architect). Briers describes his performance as “interesting” in an interview on this DVD.

Yes, it’s horribly over-lit and the pool cleaners, supposed to be a major menace, are a bit rubbish, but Paradise Towers is driven by its ideas and dreadfully let down by its realisation. In many ways, it is superb Doctor Who that would work great remade and reformatted for today’s version of the show, but which looks terrible so puts a lot of people off before they’ve even had a chance to engage with it.

Among the extras, ‘Horror on the High Rise’ is an interesting ‘making of’, presented and narrated by composer Mark Ayres. Now, while Mark is certainly good value when it comes to the controversy over the unused David Snell score (included as an option on the DVD), he is not the most natural presenter in the world. He’s clearly not too comfortable on camera and his voice is rather dull and monotone, plus the approach of having him introduce each sequence of interviews is rather odd. Maybe it’s an experiment, but one not to be repeated. Everyone involved, especially script editor Andrew Cartmel and writer Stephen Wyatt, are honest about the show’s many shortcomings, but they are also clear about the elements they thought worked well.

‘Girls, Girls, Girls: 1980s’ sits Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Sophie Aldred down for 21 minutes to discuss being a ‘Doctor Who girl’ in the 1980s in a wonderful, freewheeling, and affectionate chat. It is clear that Sutton and Fielding got on well together and they have a great laugh reminiscing, while Aldred often takes on the role of interviewer, perhaps at the expense of talking about her own experiences. There are some great stories here and the trio obviously share some form of survivors’ camaraderie. In addition, a gleeful Clive Doig confesses to having been instrumental in the casting of Sylvester McCoy in the brief ‘Casting Sylvester’ interview.

Verdict: Build high for happiness. 7/10

Brian J. Robb

Check our other Doctor Who and Torchwood reviews here

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