when the Doctor AND MEL VISIT PARADISE TOWERS, instead of  the LUXURY THAT THE brochure promised, they find dark, rat infested corridors full of RAMPAGING cleaning machines, undisciplined street gangs and APATHETIC caretakers, MANY of whom are GOING MISSING... 






Paradise Towers

5th october 1987 - 26th october 1987







It’s an understatement to say that Sylvester McCoy didn’t have the greatest of debuts as the Doctor, and unfortunately things didn’t improve much at the second time of asking. In fact, Paradise Towers is, in some ways, even more painful to watch than Time and the Rani, because whereas Pip and Jane Baker’s utterly unmeritorious debacle is unmistakeably that, noted theatre and radio writer Stephen Wyatt’s script for Paradise Towers is abounding with striking ideas - none of which are successfully translated onto the screen.


One of this DVD’s most engaging qualities is its candid acceptance of this in the bonus material, which ranges from a rare Mark Ayres-moderated commentary all the way up to a thirty-five-minute retrospective ‘making of’ piece entitled Horror on the High Rise. In both the programme and the commentary track, each of the contributors have compelling comments to make about what might have been done differently and how the serial might have been improved upon as a result, particularly the story’s then-debutant TV writer and his script editor, Andrew Cartmel. From making the Caretakers’ woefully-slim rulebook into something emblematically huge and unwieldy to reining a detrimentally-rampant Richard Briers in, Wyatt and Cartmel scroll through a litany of should’ves, the collective upshot of which would have been a completely different – and, indeed, far superior - serial.


Above: Writer Stephen Wyatt discusses his bold plans for Horror on the High Rise


More interestingly still, Wyatt also explains the rationale behind absolutely everything in his script, much of which was sadly lost in the translation from script to screen. For the first time since watching the material that accompanied Ghost Light upon its DVD release in 2004, watching a classic Doctor Who DVD has enabled me to better understand the story that its writer wanted to tell, and perhaps even develop a little sympathy for it. But only a little.


The backdrop to Paradise Towers is certainly fantastic Who fodder. Inspired in part by J G Ballard’s 1975 novel High Rise, and driven by the writer’s conscious desire to draft a script free of confusing continuity trappings and “kidified” components, both of which he felt had soured the show’s previous season, on paper Paradise Towers promised an intelligent tale saturated with humour and horror, and defined by a prominent urban edge. The story would tell of a once-great luxury skyscraper now gone to seed following the departure of its fit adult population, who’ve gone off to fight in some indistinct war. As a result, Paradise Towers is now populated only by female kid gangs (‘Kangs’) who pluck their bizarre names (Bin Liner, Fire Escape etc) from their environment and employ a verbiage that’s all their own; old and ailing residents (‘the Rezzies’) who, sick of their endless baked treats, will do anything for a bit of protein; flat-footed or otherwise-flawed adult men (‘the Caretakers’) who have assumed at least some vestige of responsibility for the building; and a lone, muscle-bound coward whose delusions of grandeur belie his lonely and deeply-penitent inner self. As written, the story satirises everything from ’80s vigilante movie heroes in the Rambo mould to American street gangs, and does so rather well; there are even shades of Douglas Adams’ piercing wit in some of its best-written scenes. The delightful two-hander between Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Clive Merrison’s Deputy Chief Caretaker, in which the Doctor uses bureaucracy to stifle bureaucracy, could have been torn out of any of the five parts that comprise Adams’ lauded Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.



When it comes to execution though, the production team get everything wrong. The potentially-atmospheric tenement sets are floodlit, killing any attempt to endanger the necessary dark and brooding mood. The robotic Cleaners are so cumbersome that actors have to drag the Cleaners’ mechanical talons to their own throats in order to make their characters’ deaths look even passably convincing. The Caretakers, originally conceived as the only adult men in the building unfit for conscription, for the most part appear to be fit and well, while the character written to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t have weighed any more than nine stone soaking wet. Even Richard Briers, the story’s star attraction, really lets the side down with a performance that turns from precise to pantomime on a sixpence. By the end, it’s like watching a pallid Adolf Hitler impressionist impersonating the chain-clunking ghost of cliché. This frightening lack of care runs right down into the comparative minutiae of the plot, where significant moments are fudged just so that Mel can get her trademark scream into the mêlée, or bored-of-toasting-fork actresses can wield nine-inch, spell-breaking breadknives.


As for the regulars, Sylvester McCoy’s second appearance as the Time Lord might be an improvement upon his first, but only by default. By Wyatt’s own admission in the commentary, the Doctor’s part in Paradise Towers was written generically as he had no idea who would be playing it, let alone how he would be playing it. Resultantly, there are very few moments here that are redolent of the seventh Doctor as we’d later know him. Indeed, beyond the odd spur-of-the-moment physical ad lib and occasional serendipitous scene that happened to cater to him, McCoy’s performance is markedly flat. Bonnie Langford is similarly short-changed – Mel had a fairly disastrous time on television that is succinctly summed up by her undermined thread in Paradise Towers, in which she’s forced to play second fiddle to an incompetent buffoon instead of holding his trembling hand.


Above: Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred put the world of Who to rights in Girls! Girls! Girls!


Langford is conspicuously absent from the DVD’s Girls! Girls! Girls! instalment, which this time around looks at the Doctors’ companions on television during the 1980s. In a departure from the usual talking heads-style documentaries generally found on classic Doctor Who DVDs, Robert Fairclough’s twenty-two-minute programme takes the form of an informal discussion between actresses Sarah Sutton; Janet Fielding; and Sophie Aldred as they reminisce about their mutual experiences working on the show. Whilst I’m sure that their topics of discussion were directed by an unseen interviewer, the companions’ chat feels very organic and down-to-Earth; it almost feels like you’re listening into a conversation at the next table along in the pub (something that my psychologist wife is not only remarkably adept at doing, but worryingly passionate about). Topics include, but aren’t limited to, the sexism rife in the series, and Fielding’s role in kicking it into touch; life after Who (or “the turning off of the tap”); and, of course, studio tolerance of female armpit hair.


The remainder of the disc’s features are quite ephemeral in comparison – well worth a look, but not really for revisiting. The eight minutes’ worth of deleted material is quite interesting, as are former Jigsaw producer Clive Doig’s musings about his hand in the casting of Sly McCoy, who strangely doesn’t have any part at all to play in the DVD’s special features. There are also a few minutes of trailers and continuity announcements for those interested in such things, an option to watch the story with its axed David Snell score, as well as the standard (but invariably informative) production subtitles and photo gallery.



Overall, my opinion of Paradise Towers is perhaps best summed up by the tardiness of this review, which has appeared on the site more than two years after the DVD’s release (by which time its price had dropped to a sum that I didn’t begrudge parting with in the interest of completism). The kindest thing that I can say about it is that’s better than Time and the Rani, which is perhaps the faintest praise that a Doctor Who serial could ever be offered; the cruellest things would be that, despite Wyatt’s noble intentions to renounce the childish trappings of the previous season, Paradise Towers often surpasses them.


So that’s me, putting the world of Paradise Towers to rights.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2013


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