THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMAS
"FLIP-FLOP" AND "THE
FIRES OF VULCAN."
'DELTA AND THE
RELEASED IN JUNE 2009.
THE TIME: 1959. THE
HOLIDAY CAMP, SOUTH
WALES. THE DOCTOR
AND MEL WANT TIME
OUT. THE HEDONISTIC
WANT TO CATCH SOME
VINTAGE ROCK AND
ROLL. AND A PAIR OF
CIA AGENTS WANT TO
KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
TO THEIR COUNTRY'S
WHEN THE BEAUTIFUL
DELTA SHOWS UP ON
THE SCENE, THE EVIL
IN HOT PURSUIT. THE
STAGE IS SET FOR A
WILL DECIDE THE FATE
OF A CIVILISATION...
2ND NOVEMBER 1987 - 16TH NOVEMBER 1987
Somewhat understandably, it has taken almost a decade for the BBC to release a story from Sylvester McCoy’s much-maligned first season on DVD. Fortunately though, Delta and the Bannermen isn’t merely the pick of a bad bunch; it’s actually a very charming and a reasonably convincing pseudo-historical adventure.
Watching the three episodes earlier today (the first of which is also included on the DVD in its unedited form), I was instantly put in mind of the new series’ forays in the past. Perhaps my subconscious was swayed by the predominantly Welsh accents of the cast, but I think that if you look at the tone, the pacing, and even the plot of this serial then the parallels are manifest.
“I’m calling from Wales, in England.”
Somewhere between your smoking blue suede shoes and your little
green alien, you have your weekly ‘hook’ – the “headline” that Russell
T Davies has spoken about so often in the past. Further, in Ken Dodd,
you have your (reasonably) big-name cameo. Even the straightforward
and audience-friendly narrative, custom-built to run for just an hour or so,
absolutely reeks of 21st century Doctor Who. And, just like in the current
series, lurking behind the colour and spectacle is a lot of darkness - just
count the bodies at the end of Part 2!
Most importantly of all though, Delta and the Bannermen is grounded in that assured joie
de vivre that runs through almost every new series episode. Writer Malcolm Kohll’s script is replete with exceptional dialogue, and satiated with characters ranging from the comic to the depraved.
“Are you trying to tell me that you are not the Happy Hearts club from Bolton,
but spacemen in fear of some attack by other spacemen?”
Camp Leader Burton, for instance, and the two uproariously inept CIA agents each help to instil the production with the humour that keeps it afloat, but they are also able to give staid, dramatic performances when required. Richard Davies as Burton is particularly marvellous.
What’s more, whilst Kohll’s script may be relatively unassuming, it’s still very clever. The way that Goronwy’s character (wonderfully portrayed by the late Hugh Lloyd ) keeps bees whose biology mirrors those of the Chimeron really helps to inspire a sense of magic. Incidentally, one of the DVD’s special features sees Lloyd discuss his life and his work, and it really is a mesmerising seven minutes. He led such an interesting life, working with Tony Hancock and Sid James before deigning to slum it in Who-de-Who. Normally I moan if one of a release’s featurettes is not entirely Who-related, but I have to say that I enjoyed this one.
Above all else though, Delta and
the Bannermen is all about love
and broken hearts. Sara Griffiths’
Ray – the 1950s tomboy come
Ace prototype – and her blatantly
unreciprocated love for Billy is
touching, and even a little bit sad.
Conversely, the fact that Billy is
prepared to inject himself with alien DNA to turn himself into a Chimeron just so that he can be with Delta just goes to show what a powerful and impulsive thing love can be.
Less positively, a race like the Bannermen (literally men with banners hanging from their backs) wouldn’t cut the mustard nowadays; indeed, they are the quintessential low-budget baddies. Don Henderson’s Gavrok may give them a cruel and a gruesome face, but in the end the Bannermen are just throwaway villains with no depth whatsoever. It beggars belief that they’ve been immortalised through Bannerman Road in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
I will say this for Gavrok, though: he creates the seventh Doctor. The second cliffhanger of the serial sees the Doctor approach Gavrok under a white flag and have what I would say is his first ‘seventh Doctor moment’. His burst of moral outrage is the first time that we truly begin to see the darkness festering inside him.
Above: Alan Barnes discusses the seventh Doctor comic strips in the "Stripped for Action" featurette
The DVD’s bonus material is relatively limited, but
equal to the weight of the serial nonetheless. For me
the seventh Doctor’s chapter of Stripped for Action is
the standout featurette. As I’ve yet to read a Doctor
Who comic strip, all this stuff is new to me. And from
what Alan Barnes, Gary Russell, Paul Cornell, Andrew
Cartmel, Simon Furman and company have to say
here, it seems that the seventh Doctor’s time in the
comics was every bit as diverse and as turbulent as his adventures on screen, in print and
on audio. Inconsistencies, crossovers, companion deaths… the Incredible Hulk? The mind
boggles. I’m really going to have to make a point of getting hold of the anthologies sometime soon.
On board for the commentary alongside Sly McCoy are Andrew Cartmel, Sara Griffiths and director Chris Clough. All four are good value, Cartmel in particular offering some tantalising titbits.
Above: The Trial of a Time Lord, or Deal or No Deal?
The Clown Court skit is less remarkable, but it’s an amusing diversion nonetheless. Here
the presiding Judge, His Honour Noel Edmonds, tries McCoy for wasting the BBC’s money on the set of Delta and the Bannermen. As the blooper reel reveals, McCoy corpsed twelve times during one scene (and then, it seems, a few times again whilst filming Clown Court!)
The disc is then rounded up with interview clips from the programmes But First This and Wales Today. The programmes themselves only clock in at about eight minutes between them, but the rushes from the same are also included and these are about twenty minutes long. I can’t say that I found these massively interesting (the blockbuster War Games trailer was more my cup of tea), but McCoy did make me laugh at one point when he replied to a question “well, so far I haven’t been sacked”, with a naughty little twinkle in his eye. Poor old Sixy!
“Actually, I think I may have gone a little too far.”
Years ago when I first saw Delta and the Bannermen, I never thought that I’d care enough about it to write 1,083 words on it, but I have to say that this DVD has really reminded me
of what a diverting little serial it is. Fair enough, it was never going to set the world on fire,
but if you’re looking for an hour or so’s amusement in the revived series’ matchless Welsh spirit, then you could do a lot worse than set course for Barry Island in 1959.
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