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27 April 2015 @ 08:26 pm
The Randomizer: Paradise Towers  
Paradise Towers is the first story that really has the stamp of Andrew Cartmel's style as script editor - a sort of angry whimsey with a tendency to ask the audience to join the dots themselves to fill in the backstory (though that is not so obvious here as it would become in later stories).

What really struck me, when watching this, and as I mentioned in my review of The Beast Below is how the word building doesn't quite hold together. The basic premise is that this society went to war, moving their elderly and their children into the eponymous Paradise Towers before they did so. But this fails to explain why the kangs are all female - possibly the male children were taken in by the caretakers. The elderly residents seem to be as vague about the fate of the "in-betweens" as the kangs are and you do wonder what the plan originally was for care of the children - presumably not that they end up roaming the streets.

Of course, part of this is because this is meant to be a fable about urban decay and neglect. We are intended to sympathise with the kangs - clearly a thinly veiled allegory for street gangs - and to understand that they are as they are because the caretakers and the residents view them, at best, as an irritation and at worst as food (a resource to be exploited). Of course the kangs are a charmingly middle-class 1980s vision of a street gang, and their behaviour is generally child-like rather than frightening. In fact the rezzies are also child-like and one wonders if some kind of point about infantilisation is being made - that social housing infantilises the residents perhaps, though this seems unlikely given the left-wing tendencies of writer and script editor. At any rate, this is a world, you feel, that has been shaped by the writer to make his point rather than a society that has been built out coherently from a premise.

The acting is variable, as with so much 1980s Who. The kangs and the rank and file caretakers are mostly competent to good, and Pex (the cowardly cutlet in-between who stayed behind) is a bit variable but OK. Richard Briers joins a largish group of big name actors who appeared in Doctor Who in the 1980s, give the impression that they are lost and bemused by the whole thing, and overact as a result. Given Briers is probably one of the best actors in this group his turn as the Chief Caretaker is doubly disappointing, lacking any of the nuance you might have expected him to attempt to inject into the role. Clive Merrison, on the other hand, is genuinely good as the Deputy Chief Caretaker, though you might argue that the script actually gives him a rather less one-note role to deal with. Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce (two more talented actresses turning in disappointing performances) as Tabby and Tilda, the cannibalistic rezzies are frankly embarrassing as they bounce around rather unsubtly eyeing Mel up for lunch.

In fact the direction of Paradise Towers seems very uncertain about at what level it should pitch the humour in the script. Were it not for the fact that they are trying to eat people, the rezzies wouldn't be out of place in one of the more comical shows being produced by children's TV at the time, Rentaghost perhaps? and Briers' performance once the Chief Caretaker is taken over by the Great Architect seems to come from the same place. On the other hand the mangled language of the kangs is played much more subtly and, I would say, is more effective as a result. It's as if the show, just as the intentions of the script editor have become overtly adult and political, suddenly feels the need to compensate by mimicking the style of children's shows much more explicitly. It's often an uneasy juxtaposition.

Given the run of stories that preceded this, Paradise Towers represents a step change in both quality and ambition for the show. Andrew Cartmel was to deliver better during his run, though it continued to be dogged by poor acting, low production values, and an uneasiness about how broad its humour needed to be.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/153479.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 27th, 2015 10:15 pm (UTC)
I actually like this a lot. It has flaws, as you point out, but I can forgive them due to the imagination and originality on show - not something that had been seen in the programme for a while.

Richard Briers does seem to miss the point of the Chief Caretaker: an obsessive, petty bureaucrat who likes making life miserable for people but who only becomes a psychopath at the end, but Briers just plays him as a pantomime villain.

I think I argued in my last Changing Style of Doctor Who essay that season twenty-four has real tonal problems, uncertain of how to balance the adult and childish elements, although I would disagree that the problems of "poor acting, low production values, and an uneasiness about how broad its humour needed to be" were endemic across Cartmel's time; I think there is a definite learning curve, although you do get the occasional late period setback like Battlefield (reasonable script, problematic excecution).
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 29th, 2015 09:21 am (UTC)
I think the acting remains wobbly, and while the Cartmel era learns a lot about how to get the most out of a small budget, there are time the small budget is fairly obvious. Ill-judged attempts at broad humour also continue to turn up and even stories like The Happiness Patrol where the juxtaposition is part of the point don't, in my opinion, quite get the balance right. You are probably correct that season 26 is the most accomplished of the three though, and seems the most confident in its own skin.
metanewsmodsmetanewsmods on April 27th, 2015 11:23 pm (UTC)
May we link this on metanews? We also post on DreamWidth and Tumblr.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 28th, 2015 09:56 am (UTC)
No problem, link either to this one or the DreamWidth post.

For future reference, I'm happy for you to link to any of my Doctor Who posts without needing to ask permission for each one.