Friday, June 29, 2012

That's It, I've Been Renewed (Paradise Towers)

We call it... the drink machine.
It's October 5th, 1987. M/A/R/R/S are at number one with "Pump Up The Volume/Antina (The First Time I See She Dance). A week later The Bee Gees unseat them with "You Win Again,"  Erasure, Billy Idol, Bananarama, George Michael, and Pet Shop Boys also chart. As do The Sisters of Mercy, with "This Corrosion," so, you know, welcome to the glory days of goth.

In real news, the south of England gets whacked with what is functionally a hurricane, killing 23 people and knocking out power across the region. The New York Stock Exchange jumps off a cliff to the tune of 22.61%, leading to similar fun on the London Stock Exchange. And Robert Bork is rejected from the US Supreme Court.

While on television, we have Paradise Towers, the supposed 8th worst Doctor Who story of all time. It is, by the way, absolutely brilliant. i say this to make clear, this is not one of my redemptive readings, that phrase implying as it does that there is something about the story requiring redemption. The only thing about this story to maybe require a spot of redemption is the acting, and we'll get there. But since everybody, when talking about this story, wants to go on about Richard Briers, let's leave the acting for as long as possible and talk about everything else first.

Because if you set the acting aside Paradise Towers fits very smoothly into a lengthy tradition of literature and thought about housing. If we were to sketch a quick history of this, it would go something like this. In the 1950s-70s there was a bizarre little fad in architecture called Brutalism. You know the type of building - those horrific piles of angular concrete that scream out the era of their production like the muted eyesores they are.

In practice brutalism marks the death throes of modernism. Modernism is a term that is perhaps even more devalued than postmodernism, which is an impressive feat when one stops to think about it. But for our purposes the two most important things to note about modernism is that it aggressively rejected tradition while still putting an enormous premium on notions of form and structure. This caused it to eventually fall awkwardly between both the right and the left. The right hated it because it was too non-traditional and because Hitler hated painters who were better than him, which is to say, virtually everybody. The left, on the other hand, noticed that an alarming number of modernists turned into fascists who were, after all, equally fond of throwing out the established order of things and replacing it with a rigidly designed new system.

After World War II, however, modernism broke out in architecture in a big way. The post-war fascination with technocracy and the sudden availability of lots of modernist architects who had fled the Nazis meant that everybody wanted to do big urban renewal projects with grand designs and visions. Hence the rise of brutalism. The archetypal product of this were what in the US are usually called housing projects (as in "living in the projects") and in the UK are council estates (as in the backronym of chav as "council housed and violent"). That is to say, government-subsidized affordable housing.

In the brutalist style this turned out to be a disaster. The standard example is Pruitt-Igoe, a shoddily constructed block of housing that quickly degenerated into a crime-ridden nightmare and was demolished less than twenty years after its construction. The two extremes of this form a clear snapshot of this sort of modernism. On the one hand, Pruitt-Igoe was an unmitigated disaster of a construction. On the other, it was built by respected architects and was an acclaimed piece of architecture. The contrast led to the ironically derogatory phrase "award-winning design" to refer to something beloved by architectural critics and thus, by implication, almost certainly a piece of crap in practice.

For those who have been following the blog for a while, you may recall that we briefly dealt with J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition just under a year ago. Ballard, in his time, was one of the more scathing critics of this sort of modernism, and indeed, one of his better books was his 1975 novel High Rise, about a modernist apartment block falling into a raging internal civil war. This sort of thing was very much in vogue in the 1970s - a criticism of the technocratic structures that underlay modernism and of the fetishistic worship of spectacle that they entailed. This was a major theme of the early Pertwee era, with its initial anxieties over technocratic structures giving way to an embrace of glam. After which Ballard and his ilk kind of fell out of fashion.

But in the 1980s, under Thatcher, this line of thought experienced a revival as, under Thatcher, urban renewal became chic again, this time in the name of redevelopment for major corporate clients. In the UK the major example is the London Docklands, which went from a working class area of London to a herd of glass and steel white elephants. (Now we're well into East London Redevelopment Act II: Olympic Boogaloo) Like the first wave of modernist redevelopment this was based on the idea of "fixing" the bad areas of the city. Unlike the first wave, instead of fixing them by providing decent housing for the people who lived there, this wave sought to price them out and get them to move somewhere - anywhere else.

This led to the rise of a second wave of concern about modernism and its effects on ordinary people. But this second wave had some interestingly different concerns. Where the first wave had mostly been critical of the way in which totalitarian modernist visions crushed individuals and led to depraved social conditions, the second wave was interested in finding an alternative to the totalitarianism. The alternative of choice has generally been community-based strategies, in which local community groups band together to produce their own cooperative solutions to their problems, developing functional structures around their behavior instead of imposing them from above. Much of the sharpest opposition to austerity programs in the UK has come from these perspectives - ones that heavily inform the political thought of Rowan Williams as well, and, for that matter, of Barack Obama, whose role as a community organizer basically meant "doing this stuff."

This second wave is, indirectly, a big influence on this blog. One of the people to come out of the late 80s critique of modernism was Iain Sinclair, a brilliantly obscurantist chronicler of the material East London who, in turn, became a mid-career inspiration for Alan Moore, whose work has increasingly combined Sinclair's psychogeography with Moore's fascination with Ideaspace, tracking the imaginary geographies of things - an idea that led directly to my discarding the physical geography entirely and taking an idle stroll across an entirely imaginary landscape of memory. And Moore's more recent work - particularly his tragically aborted underground magazine Dodgem Logic - has focused very explicitly on the failing council houses of his native Northampton and the practical lives of the impoverished in his own community.

Paradise Towers fits completely in this tradition. Kroagnan, the Great Architect who despised how people ruined his perfect designs, is a straightforward parodic critique of the modernist architect. The devolution of Paradise Towers from beautiful planned community to urban warzone is right out of Ballard. The equivalence between Kroagnan and zombies is a flat-out lift from Romero's Dawn of the Dead and its mall setting. Paradise Towers, through and through, is a contribution to this tradition of thought.

Tat Wood, in About Time, notes that it is the first story in some time to have no references to previous stories. This is a telling detail that explains at least part of why the story is unloved. The fact of the matter is that Doctor Who has, for several years now, been catering primarily to an audience of fans. Fandom is an exceedingly middle class practice, based as it is on a surplus of leisure time and the disposable income to fritter away on Dapol action figures, Target novelizations, trips to conventions, and other such commercial product. This fact is largely responsible for the maddening sociopathy of mainstream science fiction fandom - it's a self-selected group of reasonably affluent people focused on capitalist production. They are myopic by design.

A story about modernism and council estates is, in other words, utterly removed from anything that a fan in the Ian Levine model would ever care about. And to be frank, large numbers of people who talk about Paradise Towers simply don't seem remotely aware the larger literary tradition it fits into. They treat it as a naff runaround with silly concepts. And this inevitably makes it look like a much, much weaker story than it is. Which is fine - Tat Wood's observation of the way in which it breaks from past stories by not catering to fans is telling. This isn't a Doctor Who story for Doctor Who fans. It's a Doctor Who story for the British public - an attempt to think of Doctor Who as an alternative to Coronation Street (which, of course, it was in the McCoy era - directly so).

To put it another way, Paradise Towers marks a return to a very old conception of what Doctor Who is based on the bygone utopian models of what the BBC is. It's a story that is simultaneously tackling issues of concern to working class segments of society and framing them in terms of a larger and highbrow philosophical debate - something, in other words, that has something to say to large swaths of British society and that, more importantly, speaks to them as part of a unified whole. This used to be what the BBC was about and what it was for. This used to be what Doctor Who was for. About the only people really excluded from the audience to whom Paradise Towers attempts to be relevant are sad sack anoraks. Unfortunately, they were the only audience left, but that's neither here nor there.

There is, however, a pesky set of grounds for criticism. This is ostensibly trying to go for Ballard-esque 2000 AD-inflected dystopias of street gangs and cannibal old women running around a council estate. Unfortunately, it looks like a children's panto. This is somewhat dissonant, in much the same way that that claim is somewhat understated. But most of the criticisms of it miss the point. The usual line of critique is that Richard Briers as the Chief Caretaker overacts. Which, yes, he does.

The thing is, everyone overacts. It's one thing when there's one jarring note in the acting that skews a production. But here the entirety of the acting is skewed in the same direction. The Kangs are too old to be a child street gang and don't so much act like a street gang as like a childish approximation thereof. The Rezzies are over the top. Pex is a completely inadequate parody of an action hero. And yes, Richard Briers is channeling his inner John Cleese in portraying a fascist authoritarian.

But look at that list - everything is pushed towards a broad and theatrical sort of children's television. Paradise Towers isn't a Ballardian dystopia screwed up by bad acting. It's a Ballardian dystopia performed as broad-stroked children's television. It is, in other words, a completely consistent genre fusion in which one of the genres is postmodernist social commentary and the other is low-rent children's television.

Of course, fusing two flavors together is not an inherently good idea. But in this case there's a pleasant logic to it. Both children's television and Ballard have a strong commitment to a sort of wild excess. They are considerably closer than they might appear. The only reason to fault this, in other words, is if you really think that the discussions of anal sadism are the whole point of The Atrocity Exhibition. If, on the other hand, what you favor is its inventiveness and its sense of manic glee, Paradise Towers will be right up your alley.

And more to the point, Paradise Towers is a theft of what is, in 1987, a twelve year old book. It's not like High Rise is brand spanking new and innovative anymore. A piece that just wallows gleefully in the sick and twisted nature of Paradise Towers is going to be little more than Vengance on Varos without as much self-awareness. On top of that, it was never going to work on Doctor Who, both because the BBC was never going to let outright Ballard go out under the Doctor Who banner, even in a later timeslot, and because Doctor Who was never going to be able to afford it anyway.

Whereas Doctor Who can nail low-rent children's television in its sleep. And children's television Ballard carries all of the frisson that Ballard could cause in the 1970s. The dissonance between the story's apparent mood and its actual content is substantive. Ballard was always trading on the tradition of the grotesque, which the overacting is still perfectly compatible with. The tension between what the show is about and how it's being performed is tangible - which is to say that all of the grotesqueries are more noticeable through their absence than they ever could be through presence in 1987.

There's also a pleasant charm to be had in the compatibility of the underlying messages. On the one hand the ending is a mawkish festival of "but we need to put aside our differences and work together." On the other hand this is exactly how social alliances for the purposes of community organization work - people come together on the basis of shared goals like improving their living areas or not being murdered by evil cleaning robots. Yes, there's the vague threat of bathos that risks making the serious and important point about what effective action in the face of totalitarianism is look like cheap sentimentality, but it's a relatively minor risk. For the most part it comes off.

The easiest way to put this is that Paradise Towers gets away with being Ballard for kids. But this undersells what it accomplishes. It's not just kid-friendly Ballard, it's a new take on what Ballard is doing. The introduction of children's television isn't just a shift in audience, it's a materially new perspective on the concepts that deserves to be taken seriously on its own merits and terms.

In the end, to criticize Paradise Towers we have to suggest that children's television adaptations of Ballard that are about the failures of modernism is a bad thing. We can certainly make that case if we want to, but frankly, if that's not something you're interested in it's not entirely clear why you're watching Doctor Who in the first place. Stories like this are why I blog.

Is Paradise Towers flawless? God no. Everything it does well will be done better in at least one of the next ten stories. But more importantly, nothing it does well has been done in Doctor Who for years at this point, if it's ever been done at all. It's at once a clear return to the actual legacy of what Doctor Who used to be - its purpose, as opposed to its iconography - and a genuinely new take that's bang on target for the year its airing in.

This is, in other words, it. The moment where Doctor Who turned it around. We're now in an eleven story run where quality is the norm and disasters are an aberration, and, at a minimum, a ten year run in which Doctor Who is consistently good with regular outbreaks of genius. We're finally at a point where the show is not only brilliant again, but one where the trajectory from here to the present day is, save for one brief but calamitous downturn in the mid-90s, one of almost constant improvement.

Welcome back.

84 comments:

  1. I discovered the other week that, in the NE of Scotland, kids think "chav" is an acronym for "Council House and Vulgar" which speaks volumes about the RAF-influenced culture here in Moray. My understanding is that it's derived from a Romany word for "kid" or "youth".

    PT episode one has a fantastic cliffhanger; the Rezzies look demented.

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  2. "In the end, to criticize Paradise Towers we have to suggest that children's television adaptations of Ballard that are about the failures of modernism is a bad thing."

    Well, not entirely. The ideas behind Paradise Towers are great, and it's interesting how much better the story is when you read the novelisation. But the acting is uniformly poor across the board and when most people criticise Briers it tends to be his episode 4 performance as Kroagnon, which really is the nadir of acting in Who. To explain all this away by saying "Oh, it's children's television," is pretty insulting to all those who try to make children's television, well, good. Acting for children is a carefully honed skill, it isn't just being shit and over the top.

    I've never seen the story criticised for not having continuity points in it either...

    I'd certainly agree with you that there's a nice script in here, and some stonking ideas, but realisation of good ideas is surely just as important as the ideas themselves? And that's why this story is widely criticised, and I'd imagine the general public took one look at it and thought Doctor Who was just silly bad panto rubbish. Which is a shame.

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    1. I should also add that I believe pantomime is in itself a fined honed skill that's very difficult to do well, and the reason panto is used often as a derogatory term is because there are far more bad pantomimes than good, mainly owing to the fact a saddeningly large amount of people think panto just means bellowing or treating it as a bit of a laugh that doesn't require effort.

      The Kangs in this aren't grotesque, they're just poor (which even the actress interview on the DVD admits). As a nice contrast, the Rezzies are all excellent - they're larger than life, but the actresses are still acting within the story rather than trying to expand beyond it. They're deliciously creepy. Briers as Kroagnon is just pratting about in a stupid voice.

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    2. It's less that it lacks continuity references and more that the remaining audience of the show by this point was self-selected to be people for whom the ideas of this story would fall flat.

      I also don't think my argument hinges on explaining anything away as "Oh, it's children's television." I think the story clearly is children's television, and that this forms a part of how it's interpreted. It's not an excuse - if it were, I think you'd end up even further in the weeds, as this is an absolutely bizarre topic for children's television. But I think that constantly flagging its children's-televisionness is an integral part of what this story is doing.

      Put another way, the bathos I was talking about in Knights of God is largely deliberate here, even if that does risk a problem with the ending, as I said.

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    3. because there are far more bad pantomimes than good, mainly owing to the fact a saddeningly large amount of people think panto just means bellowing or treating it as a bit of a laugh that doesn't require effort.

      I'm reminded of the scene in Coupling where the Moff skewers a certain kind of children's tv by having Jane say something like "of course I can be a children's tv presenter! All it takes is talking in a funny voice and waving your arms around a lot!"

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    4. "It's less that it lacks continuity references and more that the remaining audience of the show by this point was self-selected to be people for whom the ideas of this story would fall flat."

      Ah, fair point. More that the show that's meant to be able to go anywhere and do anything has instead felt constrained to doing whatever it can to appease a small demographic. And suddenly it's doing a story for a wider audience... which it doesn't have.

      "But I think that constantly flagging its children's-televisionness is an integral part of what this story is doing.

      Put another way, the bathos I was talking about in Knights of God is largely deliberate here, even if that does risk a problem with the ending, as I said."

      Sadly, Cartmel on the DVD seems to genuinely believe that it's all gritty drama, especially with the Kangs. You do have the fact that Pex is meant to be a comedy tough guy - and of course the brief called for a big musclehead, rather than the weedy guy we got - and the comedy of the villain and his motivation. I'm still not so sure that it's using its status as children's television in any meaningful sense. I'd also stick to my guns that, nowadays, it's still the execution of Paradise Towers that makes people dislike it, not the ideas in it. As I said, the novelisation is great (even though Mel's desire to overlook deadly danger just to find a swimming pool is bizarre).

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    5. The nub for me is still:

      "Paradise Towers isn't a Ballardian dystopia screwed up by bad acting. It's a Ballardian dystopia performed as broad-stroked children's television."

      Many of the performances in this are noticably bad, and Doctor Who has in many ways always been children's television without having to resort to the desperation of Briers as Kroagnon, or the girl who yells "Take the cleaners to the cleaners!"

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    6. Aww... but then people would no longer spend, and then the company might go under in our 'bad economy' and then guess who would be blamed for not spending, since they're easier to scapegoat?

      And I do love the line "bite the hand that feeds"... it makes us feel like warmed, cared for pets.

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  3. "The fact of the matter is that Doctor Who has, for several years now, been catering primarily to an audience of fans. Fandom is an exceedingly middle class practice, based as it is on a surplus of leisure time and the disposable income to fritter away on Dapol action figures, Target novelizations, trips to conventions, and other such commercial product. This fact is largely responsible for the maddening sociopathy of mainstream science fiction fandom - it's a self-selected group of reasonably affluent people focused on capitalist production. They are myopic by design."

    Eeeh, you do like to bite the hand that feeds you. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Very good work! If this was a message board, I'd consider making that paragraph my signature.

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    2. It's my hand too, let's be fair. :)

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    3. I feel like the internet broadens the access point of fandom a little, allowing a more casual and widely accessible arena in which it's socially acceptable to obsess over ones interests (especially televisual) in a way that was both socially and financially only for anoraks in the past.
      Not to say that middle class-ness doesn't afford one more conventions and collector's items, or that there isn't still a cut of point financially speaking where one can be far too poor to have the time or resources for geekery, however increasingly the working classes, in the UK at least, can afford all of the amenities necessary for a semi-obsessive level of fandom.

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    4. Aww... but then people would no longer spend, and then the company might go under in our 'bad economy' and then guess who would be blamed for not spending, since they're easier to scapegoat?

      And I do love the line "bite the hand that feeds"... it makes us feel like warmed, cared for pets.

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    5. And here in my archive binge on the blog I've been trying not to be excessively harsh on the people you're marketing the ebooks to ...

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  4. I’m with you on most of that, and a good overview of modernist architecture and its critics – if very simplistic about Docklands – though I was mildly surprised you didn’t make the obvious leap from the way that big (and sometimes fascist-inspired) developments required people to be ‘in charge’ of them (who were sometimes inspired to be Little Hitlers). Stephen Wyatt certainly saw it all of a piece, and has said that he wanted Doctor Who to reflect his own experience of living in crappy tower blocks with dirty corridors.

    I’d lived in a tower block too, and I remember being massively excited by this when I was 15 – I’ve loved it ever since, too (I know you often quote DWM’s “Mighty 200”; this is one of the few where I’m well over a hundred places away from ‘fan opinion’). But not just because it looked more like real life. I think you’ve missed something in your lines about it being “utterly removed from anything that a fan in the Ian Levine model would ever care about”. Because it’s true that Mr Wyatt also said he felt Doctor Who had got to a point where you had to know everything about it to watch it (in my own review, I compare this to another well-known era that for some reason you prefer to Colin’s…), yet what he comes up with demonstrates the difference between name-checking ‘traditional’ Who and writing it.

    For me, Paradise Towers is a hugely successful, hugely traditional story. As you say, because it’s tackling issues in an exciting way that everyone can understand; and because it’s doing something new, because ‘traditionally’ Doctor Who never stood still and just tried to ‘do Doctor Who’; but, for me watching as a 15-year-old fan, I recognised it as exactly the sort of story that had got me hooked on the series in the first place. If I can quote the start of my own review of Paradise Towers:

    “Traditional Doctor Who often includes fascistic guards, killer robots and ancient evil struggling to awaken, but the brilliance of this 1987 tale was to combine these elements not on a shiny spaceship or in a stylised English village but within an insane sit-com run by Richard Briers, clashing youth gangs against Mary Whitehouse types and bureaucracy gone mad in a run-down tower block. Result! Witty and inventive, the script is an ideal mix of comedy and horror in a still-fresh urban setting. Paradise Towers won a lot of awards back in the 21st Century. But not from Doctor Who fans…”

    It doesn’t fan-pleasingly name-check, say, Pyramids of Mars, yet it’s one of two 1987 that feel like folk memories of that story, telling the same sort of tale and making it new. It makes me feel a bit sorry for Eric Saward, who’d eventually discovered his voice as a one-man Bob Holmes tribute band, yet on his first attempt Stephen Wyatt delivers a script whose love of language, worldbuilding, inappropriate humour, scary horror and even cannibalism captures the spirit of Bob so perfectly that it walks all over Eric.

    So I remember being stunned, not having any contact then with fans other than my mates from school (who I rang up and raved about this story with straight after the first episode), when after years of restraint it was on this story that DWM finally abandoned the party line of praising every story and put the boot in. No, to me this was a near-perfect template for the seventh Doctor, and I’d have loved to have had more like it.

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  5. It seems we're agreeing a lot in this era! When I got to this story in my watchthrough last year, I couldn't quite believe it - I was expecting it to be indescribably awful, and instead here I get a perfectly well-made piece of television (admittedly, one that might not be to everyone's taste), as opposed to the amateurish shambles of season 23.

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    1. Season 23 is a mess... and while PT does have some problems, the script itself is quite good.

      McCoy's novelizations often do fare much better than the produced versions, but by this time the BBC mandated more camp comedy, no horror, and with smaller budgets... "Survival", if it were made for the screen the same way it was novelized, would never have been aired... but that's another story. :)

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  6. The Kangs remind me of the Badders from the final Quatermass. All are ridiculously plummy and stagey, which is explained by Neale in his novelisation as being because due to economic collapse there are no jobs for nice middle class young people, so they become street hoodlums instead.

    I think Philip's reading of 'High-Rise' is wrong though. In 'High-Rise', the residents are all affluent middle-class people like TV producers and management consultants. When something goes a bit wrong in their elected gated community in the sky they choose to revert to tribal fighting becuse it's more interesting than their other life.

    They choose to stop going to work and they choose to indulge their primal fantasies. Indeed, the protagonist finds a version of himself he feels to be authentic in the chaos and horror. This is one on Ballard's big themes, the idea that adversity enables people to become something somehow more real. Well, that and the idea that the sterility of modern life creates a boredom that ultimately produces the impetus to morally abhorrant acts.

    In some ways i think 'Paradise Towers' is the very seventies concerns of 'High Rise' filtered through the social realist cliches of punk's 'high rise blocks / urban decay / polarisation between young and old'.

    I love it.

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    1. Nigel Kneale was ahead of his time... that or people today are illiterate, preferring colorful pretty videos to gawk at...

      It is a good story, but the realization had to be a letdown because the story would make a wonderful dark, horror/suspense adventure but the Gradeism of "no violence" robs the story of so much potential.

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  7. As a materialistic middle-class fan with a surplus of free time and income to fritter away on action figures, I'd just like to say that I adore "Paradise Towers" with a passion, and have done for ages.

    It's not perfect, maybe, but my god it's fun and fresh after the last few seasons and "Time and the Rani". Just what the doctor ordered.

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  8. I'm afraid my memories of Paradise Towers are mostly of our new Betamax inexplicably recording in black and white, so I couldn't tell which Kangs were which.

    The Kangs being too old and middle-class also seems to fit into the television landscape of the 1980s, which I recall as featuring a lot of "gangs" of drama-school graduates.

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  9. The reason I love the McCoy era is the scope. I genuinely believe it's the most imaginative era since Hartnell. The show finally strips most of its continuity-laden woes and moves on, with Cartmel pouring bold new concepts into the mix.

    The McCoy era is sadly not given the budget and didn't have the biggest audience, but it certainly had a hell of a lot of potential.

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    1. Absolutely agreed!

      The novelizations I cherish and what's made on screen isn't bad, but so much opportunity was robbed due to money and time concerns. JNT did his part in assembling a new staff to improve the show, right down to what all the suits wanted, but they wanted the show gone. I'm amazed, and happy, the show got two more years...

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  10. I last watched Paradise Towers during a Hartnell marathon, somewhere around the time of The Space Museum, and it fit right in: quality kids' TV that wasn't that concerned with making sure all the ideas fit in together. I like it a lot. Some disconnected thoughts:

    * It is the story that suffers most from the move to all-video. If it had been made on film the corridors would have felt gloomier, the building would have felt bigger, and the oppressiveness would have been more real.

    * I think this is the first youth rebellion since The Krotons, another thing that makes it feel very sixties. Vicki wouldn't have been tall enough to be a Kang but otherwise she'd have fit right in.

    * Partly because the tower block never feels real, I don't think the setting is as powerful as you say. The script doesn't put enough emphasis on the good intentions gone wrong side of social housing: things go wrong because the Great Architect turns into a generic villian. It would have been more effective if it had been a more Happiness Patrol / Macra Terror style dystopia where the Architects are insisting that everyone has a good time, or if it had taken a broader canvas and had more different kinds of Rezzies. As it is, it's too far from being realistic for its social critique to be effective.

    * The main pleasure I get from it is from the details of the execution. For the first time ever in Doctor Who we have a script by someone who's clearly from legit theatre, not from stage-on-TV, with full knowledge of theatre games, improv, keeping energy levels high, and leaving words out of the script to give the actors space to work. This script was written to be spoken, not written to be read, and it's a breath of fresh air after Saward's and Pipnjane's awkward overwritten efforts. Going against the local consensus, I also think there's a lot of good acting. Clive Merrison is fantastic, the Kangs give it everything, Pex is okay towards the end, and I feel that if you're approaching it as half-panto, half social comment, Richard Briers is certainly in line with the rest of things.

    At the time it was first broadcast, I didn't like it: it was a silly, stagey kid's show, the plot was unoriginal, it seemed amateurish in a way that even Trial of a Time Lord didn't -- at least in Trial of a Time Lord all the actors were taking it somewhat seriously. If you'd told me it was a turning point at the time I wouldn't have believed you. But the difference that comes out, and the flipside of the amateurishness, is that they *aren't* taking it deathly seriously any more. They're finally having fun. It takes a few more stories until we have the fun too, but we get there. At last, the show's being made by people who enjoy coming into work.

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  11. I have always had a fondness for this story, but more because I could see what they were aiming for than because they actually achieved it.

    With the tone of dystopian satire I think they were basically aiming for "Brazil" for the teatime audience. The most useful analogy in Doctor Who's own history is "The Sunmakers" which aimed for a similar social satire populated by grotesques, and worked on its own terms much better because of (a) Robert Holmes and (b) the general level of acting was at a higher level.

    I think you are mistaken in saying that it's the lack of continuity references that doomed this in fan opinion, but just that the tone is all over the place. To make this kind of black comedy work takes all the creative types being on the same page, under the assured hand of a director who knows exactly what effect he's trying to achieve...which they evidently were not.

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  12. To me, the whole thing works as a fable. All the techniques of good worldbuilding like inventing vocabularies and establishing entrenched social habits and relationships go into creating a world that seems to have compressed generations worth of social neglect and underdevelopment into maybe five or ten years. The performances are over the top because they're expressing the essences of the social classes and ideas they represent (rebellious but directionless youth, stuffily officious enforcers of arbitrary rules, self-absorbed aging middle class) rather than realistically portrayed individual characters. Taken this way, the only real flaw with the acting is the Richard Briers doesn't know how to play an intelligent zombie correctly, a technique that for the moment was exclusive to American film.*

    Most of the other commenters have summarized my praise of the story quite well, but there's one thing I noticed that hasn't come up. The Mel-Pex scenes are written seemingly with the purpose of showing that Mel is entirely unsuited to this kind of adventuring lifestyle where there's real danger. Even after establishing that the tower block is overrun with killer robots, she's still intent on going to the swimming pool, not just to meet the Doctor, but seriously to go swimming. Her character never seems to understand that it could be dangerous unless she's actually being threatened at that exact moment. I feel almost as if Cartmel and Wyatt knew Mel was fit only for a Pip and Jane style kiddie's show instead of properly intelligent children's television, and wrote her scenes in Paradise Towers specifically to illustrate how unsuitable she was for the style of Doctor Who they were developing.

    *That was a Day of the Dead joke, not about mainstream American film generally, because I said intelligent zombies.

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  13. I've been waiting to see you cover this one for a very long time (you've been talking it up in the comments since at least Troughton), and you didn't disappoint. I was frankly worried that the task of finding a positive reading of this story would be too much for anybody, but you did it, and now I'm watching it again - with perspective this time. Well done!

    Also, in all honesty, you're pretty much spot on about fandom. I've been to a lot of cons in my time, and they would wither and die without a certain regular influx of disposable income.

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    1. Well, the fans who can afford to travel to go to conventions -- especially the big expensive ones -- aren't necessarily representative.

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  14. Here's what I love about Paradise Towers: It's a proper bit of mythology. We start with the Tower itself, which is the axis mundi of the world, connecting the Great Pool in the Sky (Heaven) to the Underworld Basement (Hell) like a magnificent World Tree, which unfortunately has become diseased by the residing consciousness of its Creator, a gnostic demiurge who believes *he* is the point of creation. To heal the Tree, the false god must be destroyed. No, better yet, he must be rewritten, starting with the wall scrawl.

    More than anything, though, this story stands as a refutation of the Saward era, which has the rottenness of misanthropy at its core -- a belief that people are rubbish. This ethic is undermined at every turn, from the Kang funeral rites to the lampooning portrayals of anyone who's partaking of the Towers' monstrosity.

    I wouldn't call the acting "pantomime" -- if anything, I see a camp aesthetic, in this case taking the air out of villainy and mocking it on the floor. The over-the-topness of the acting is in direct proportion to qualities the script mocks: the Caretakers in their authoritarianism and rule-obeisance, the Rezzies in their cannibalism, Pex in his faux-heroism, the Kangs in their cliqueishness. When each of these factions steps out of the "role" to become fully human, the acting subsequently becomes less arch.

    Only Kroagnon is consistently mocked, from the neon-light eyes to the zombie-esque Briers, because Kroagnon has no interest in returning to humanity. So I find it interesting that the Doctor is initially mistaken for The Great Architect -- because McCoy's portrayal is also a constant, which is ironic for a mercurial, chaotic magician.

    In one fell swoop, the Cartmel era takes off with a rejection of the previous era, which in itself isn't new, but this time it's more pointed and masterful than other reboots could have dreamed. We even get a proper mercenary story -- Pex, the would-be military man who ran away from war, is a buffoon while he preens like a hero, but when he rejects mercenary values and sacrifices himself for the greater good, he becomes a fully realized human being, worthy of a Kang's funeral rites.

    In the end, Paradise Towers rejects the Sawardian ethos that people are horrible, life is grim, and that all is fighting and horror, tooth and claw, ad nauseum. It makes me wonder what would have come from the Sixth Doctor had JNT enacted a regime change at the end of Davison's run and restored the heart of soul of Who before it was too late.

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    1. Yes.

      I've always read 'Paradise Towers' as a complete and total slap across the face of the last three or four years of Who in general - the first time I watched it I thought it was terrible, hilarious, and deliberately, savagely aware of just how terrible and hilarious it was. It's also fun, in a way that the dreary Saward stories seldom managed to be.

      Philip's quite right to say that everything it does will be done better... but never this dreadfully, or this effectively, again. If the Trial was a narrative collapse, 'Paradise Towers' is sitting in the ruins, laughing hysterically at everything that brought it to this stage, and making damn sure that none of that fatally damaging guff will ever be taken seriously again.

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  15. with Pex, wasn't it the case that he was intended to be a brawnier, Schwarzenneger type and instead was miscast as the fairly scrawny Howard Cooke? It seems natural that Cooke would be a coward---i think the intended point was that some muscular Stallone-type doofus was actually terrified of fighting.

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    1. I like the casting of Cooke -- it makes Pex more an examination of the posing of the macho hero rather than the iconography. And I especially like it given that Pex moves away from that examination and becomes a character in his own right. In his struggle to be "seen" his lack of brawn works against him, but when he finally and irrevocably becomes absent he's fully visible.

      (I'm not sure how much it's intended by its creators, but it's as if the story is holding a conversation about the difference between Being and Appearance. There's a wonderful notion from Parmenides that everything that "is" has an "appearance," yet distinct from the essence of that particular being.)

      How telling is it that the final shot of the serial focuses on the wall-scrawl "Pex Lives" under an X symbol made of red and blue lines, the union of opposites?

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    2. What I want to know is: why does Pex have a mushroom tattooed on his neck?

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    3. I think scrawny Pex works in the story's favor. He's essentially a big, overenthusiastic kid, so his action-hero bluster is all he thinks he needs, especially since he doesn't really look the part. The audience knows he's no Stallone, and even Mel gets tired of his act long before they get to the pool.

      And, for storytelling purposes, his sacrifice at the end might not have had the same visual impact if he were built like ze Karkus.

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    4. I largely agree with Mr. Russell here. I think Pex as he stands is terribly useful for the story in that it explicitly marks Paradise Towers as "the sort of place where this is what an action hero is like." Because the whole point of Pex is that he's a rubbish action hero, having him played by someone who clearly isn't one helps. It's a glimpse of what these people were before this crisis of Modernism screwed up their lives. The Kangs are similar, as someone noted. They're a gang, yes, but they're a child's gang of capture the flag players.

      Actually, as parts of the Towers go it's the caretakers that fail the most for me, lacking any clear connection to the building maintenance crew they presumably once were. They're too police-like and not enough grumpy working class maintenance blokes.

      I mean, part of the Ballard concept is that these are ordinary people gone mad and playing at crazed roles that they're I'll suited to. In this case though, it's a crap children's show gone Lord of the Flies, not a realistic tower block. I continue to find the idea of "bad children's television gone High-Rise" to be a brilliant use of Doctor Who. Which has, after all, been exhibit A in any discussion of the sort of crap children's television this evokes more than once.

      But more to the point, I think a more realist, less "panto" Paradise Towers would lose the giddy charm of this. The fact that Pex and the Kangs are so toothless is part of the sick and pervy charm of this. I think the gap between the two faces of Paradise Towers is where its power comes from. Straight "Doctor Who does Ballard" would be so much duller.

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    5. But more to the point, I think a more realist, less "panto" Paradise Towers would lose the giddy charm of this. The fact that Pex and the Kangs are so toothless is part of the sick and pervy charm of this. I think the gap between the two faces of Paradise Towers is where its power comes from. Straight "Doctor Who does Ballard" would be so much duller.

      Exactly! I thought this came across strongly, even on first viewing. Last night I watched the making-of and listened to the commentary for the first episode. There were a few insights and intentions I hadn't picked up on - the caretakers being written as a more "dad's army" bunch, for one - but mostly the production matches up well with the vision.

      (And having mentioned the caretakers, I can see how this would have been an improvement - but watching it in ignorance I wasn't bothered by their bog-standard guard appearance.)

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  16. For once, the timing's worked out perfectly for me: I watched this for the first time yesterday. I was going to watch just the first episode, but my son really wanted to see the rest, and I knew this blog entry was coming up, and I was really enjoying it, and, and... well, I weakened.

    The first three episodes are great! The fourth is a bit meh, but even that one's not a disaster. Overall I give it a 6/10, pretty close to average (and at least 80 places higher than the DWM Mighty 200 ranking).

    I'm guessing most people are put off by the acting? It reminded me of State of Decay, in that if you think it's supposed to be naturalistic then you have to regard it as a total failure; but it obviously isn't trying for that. Seen as a satirical pantomime, Paradise Towers is spot on. OK, so a couple of the Kangs are a bit dodgy and Richard Briers' Kroagnon isn't the best choice; but that's no more of a problem than many other stories, and the latter only really affects the last part (his Chief Caretaker is great).

    My experience of the seventh Doctor is rather like recent viewers' experience of River. I caught his death/regeneration story in 1996, then read his final book appearance (Atom Bomb Blues), then moved onto his proper TV era - starting with Survival. I've watched his final season in precisely reverse order (though with Remembrance, Silver Nemesis and various short stories, comics and audios slotted in at random times). The last story I watched before this was Delta, though I've now got Ace Adventures and hope to watch those two stories before the relevant blog posts. I'm tempted to save Time and the Rani for last, though that depends when Greatest Show comes out!

    I'll save more about my general thoughts on this era for other comments.

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  17. I've just realise that the seventh Doctor does so much fight bad people as he fight bad systems. He turns up and gets the hang of what's going on, much like the First Doctor, but instead of being subject to the excesses of a system or culture and then escaping/destroying he tends to reset that culture or system.

    In terms of the in show narrative it's unclear at what point the Doctor decides to do this. I often wonder just when he decided to choose to act in this way.

    The interventionist Doctor is kind of overshadowed by the manipulative Doctor. It's interesting in terms of the politics of the eighties that the Seventh Doctor choses his battles. Most of the time he has either popped in to clear something up, so is there with purpose, or could just walk away.

    So we have a Doctor who is sort of the dream of activists, not anarchists. He doesn't throw the pieces up the air bt reassembles them with various degrees of artfulness.

    It's only just struck me how much of a shift a Doctor who makes stories happen is from a Doctor to whom stories happen.

    It's also a huge challenge to conservative fandom, because it suggests that if the Seventh Doctor turned up in your neck of the woods you might just be one of the safe and happy lives he chooses to upend.

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    1. the dream of activists, not anarchists. He doesn't throw the pieces up the air

      Neither do anarchists, generally.

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    2. Well, they certainly explode them, though... :-P

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  18. The acting is a problem here. There's a lot to like about Paradise Towers, as Phil says, but those good points are all present in the script. Drama = script + performance, and it's the second variable in that sum that lets the story down.

    However, there are tow distinct acting issues here (or possibly two-and-a-half). The first is simple competence. The Kangs are clearly aiming at the right kind of performance, they just aren't hitting the mark. They should be like the freakish lowlife in Escape From New York - instead, they come across like stage school kids failing the audition for Escape From New York. (The half point here is Pex - the actor just doesn't seem right for the role, whichever way you cut it, but he's not delivering a poor performance per se.)

    The second, more interested problem is of misconceived performances by skilled actors. Much has been made of Richard Briers in episode four, and it is indeed the second-worst performance by a high-calibre actor in Doctor Who history. But another misconceived performance which doesn't get much attention is Bonnie Langford's interpretation of her role.

    The basic problem for the actor given the role of Mel in this story is "Why the hell is she so obsessed with the swimming pool even when things get dangerous?" Langford basically fails to answer this question, and so Mel's actions seem inexplicable and unconvincing. However, if she had played it such that she fancied Pex, then her taking him to the pool and insisting that he come in with her would seem well-motivated and believable - she would be coming on to a good-looking guy, not bizarrely obsessed with sport. She could have done this without changing a single line of dialogue. And of course her disappointment with Pex's evident feebleness during the pool attack scene would be all the greater.

    If she had done this, it would also have helped motivate her departure in Dragonfire. Although she decided Pex wasn't up to snuff, she was still on the lookout for a bit of space rough (now that the Doctor had transformed from big blonde Colin into gentle, sensitive Sylv) and was only too happy to leap into the questionably virtuous arms of Sabalom Glitz. Sadly, it would be another season before the notion of the companion having sexual desires would be countenanced.

    Having said all this, the acting is by no means all bad. The guards (including non-zombie Briers) and the Rezzies all do a fine turn in heightened comic satire, and McCoy is as watchable as ever. The problems, though, are too big and too pervasive to dismiss.

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    1. I think the Kangs hit the mark more often that you think, Iain. But I see a different mark than you do. I didn't see them as intended to be freaky lowlife, but overgrown kids. Without the guidance of adults, their schoolyard games of capture the flag have come to define their society. The big reveal of the Kangs' nature is when the Blue Kangs break into the Red Kang headquarters — sorry, brainquarters — and declare some kind of victory. They're women in their late teens whose society has been defined by the games of five-year-olds.

      And I stand by my earlier point that Mel in this story is written as a mockery of oblivious kiddie's show mentality. She's obsessed with the swimming pool because she actually is kind of stupid, and thinks that because she came here for a vacation, all the killer robots, cannibal old ladies, and overgrown schoolgirl gangs are immaterial to that purpose. Andrew Cartmel and Steven Wyatt know exactly what Mel was designed to be, because they understand the condescending perspective her character's designers had for the show.

      I watched Dragonfire last night, and however childishly that Ace acts at points in that story, she still has more of her wits about her when the shit goes down than Mel does.

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    2. I agree pretty much with Iain, even down to which performances are good and which are bad. And for me, no matter how good the ideas in a script are, they still live or die by the execution and performance, just as great actors will look stupid with a bad script.

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    3. "And I stand by my earlier point that Mel in this story is written as a mockery of oblivious kiddie's show mentality. She's obsessed with the swimming pool because she actually is kind of stupid"

      Giving a character - especially one of your leads - a stupid motivation and then say it's written as mockery just seems incredibly lazy. Do they really gain more by mocking Mel in this way than they would if they'd given her decent character motivation and treated her seriously? I'm not really a fan of this sort of line of thinking, especially as to me it seems you could eventually explain away anything shit by saying "It's a satire of X and Y."

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    4. Call it my own attempt at a redemptive reading. As this story was actually written and filmed, Mel's motivations are ridiculous. But as I was watching it, every time she and Pex showed up on screen I laughed myself sick. There have been characters in Thomas Pynchon books whose stupidity mocks the narrative and literary conventions and traditions they represent. If he can do it in a 1300-page novel and call it high art, I can watch it happen in Doctor Who and at least call it entertaining television.

      I saw the show using the differences between the two storylines of Paradise Towers to engage with an unfortunate part of its recent history and move on. Mel and Pex are just wandering around having disconnected adventures while looking for some purposely empty MacGuffin of a swimming pool. Meanwhile, the Doctor is actively investigating the structure of this society and learning about it, knowledge that he uses to help band the people of Paradise Towers together and defeat the villain who's trying to kill them all. Those are two styles of sci-fi adventuring coming together: the conceptually empty adventure show of monsters and running down corridors of Pip and Jane Baker, and the literate intelligent sci-fi of Andrew Cartmel. The Mel narrative is really only good for a laugh. The Doctor narrative actually gets stuff done. The most practically significant path lays out the future direction of Doctor Who.

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    5. @Adam The Mel narrative is really only good for a laugh. The Doctor narrative actually gets stuff done. The most practically significant path lays out the future direction of Doctor Who.

      Actually, I don't think Mel's role is completely useless. Consider the end shot, "Pex Lives," under a Red and Blue "X" -- symbolizing the union of opposites. Well, that's where Mel is at the beginning of the story, for she's just as childlike as the Kangs in her quest for a good swim, but unlike them she embodies both the aspects of Red and Blue (Fire and Water), so she isn't interested in playing the "us vs. them" game; for this she's made an outcast.

      Pex is also an outcast, so it's natural for these two to pair up, and they're like mirror-twins, with Mel's bravery and Pex's cowardice. Together they visit the places of Fire (the Basement) and Water (the Roof) and during their adventures Pex understands what it's like for someone else to believe in him. When that trust is breached and faith is lost, it drives Pex to step up his game and actually step into bravery.

      So Mel isn't there just for laughs, she's there to drive the emotional arc of the story.

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    6. I don't think Mel's motivations are problematic in the least. She says that she'll meet up with the Doctor by the pool if anything happens. They get separated. So she tries to get to where he'll be waiting for her. Where is the difficulty?

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    7. There's going to the appointed rendezvous, and then there's going to the appointed rendezvous, stripping down and going for a swim in the middle of a violent and chaotic situation.

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  19. Oh, and the robots are fucking shit.

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    1. Are you kidding? The robots are fantastic! The whole notion of monsters is being lampooned, all with a very Eighties camp aesthetic. Again, it's a rejection of the previous era, which tried more often than not to do grotesque horrors in a very serious fashion (though it just as often failed as succeeded.)

      Does no one appreciate camp?!?

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    2. I appreciate it. They're supposed to be terribly designed as monsters: they're robot garbage trucks that happen to be disposing of people now and then.

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    3. Unfortunately, they don't look all that effective as robot garbage trucks.

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  20. Philip-- wonderful essay. I dind't understand half of it, but I appreciated where it was coming from. and I've spent enough time building 3D computer models of buildings for a sci-fi comic-book series to know that architecture has long been one of my fascinations, even if i never found a way to make a living at it. (Ah, "if only" I'd taken architectural drafting instead of mechanical.)


    "This used to be what Doctor Who was for."

    One wonders, how it ever got so far off-track. I've always liked this story, and from the beginning saw it as another one of those "mad" sci-fi concepts of looking at some aspect of society, and then pushing it to absolutely insane levels, in order to dissect it. The Tennant story about the underground super-highway did the same thing, but was far crazier than this thing. Come to think of it, growing up watching the Adam West BATMAN, little in this story really seemed that wild, by comparison.

    I loved when someone (I forget who) suggested that this story was so "sick and twisted", that if it wasn't for the level of humor, it might have received more complaints than "THE DEADLY ASSASSIN".


    "Richard Briers is channeling his inner John Cleese in portraying a fascist authoritarian."

    HAH! I'm so glad you said that. Can you imagine if they'd actually gotten John Cleese to play that part? (Then again, last time I watched "REVELATION", I started thinking how it might have gone if he'd played Eleanor Bron's assistant.)


    "The moment where Doctor Who turned it around."

    I know I'm the odd one... I thought it was the instant Sylvester woke up in The Rani's workshop. But in that story, Sylvester is the one really good thing going. This story is where we get to see the first real "Sylvester story".


    "save for one brief but calamitous downturn in the mid-90s"

    HAH!!! The friend of mine who always says he "liked" Peter Davison also insists that he "liked" Paul McGann. I used to think McGann was the one good thing about that movie. After the last time I watched it, I changed my mind. That hurt.


    "an attempt to think of Doctor Who as an alternative to Coronation Street (which, of course, it was in the McCoy era - directly so)"

    It takes a deliberate act of sabotage to schedule a show against what you know is the highest-rated program on the other channel. The same thing happened to THE AVENGERS when ABC in America moved it from its successful Friday @ 10 PM slot to Mondays @ 7:30. Idiots. Some feel the Tara King episodes were among the best on that show, as well. But who got to see them initially? Not enough people.


    David:
    "I should also add that I believe pantomime is in itself a fined honed skill that's very difficult to do well, and the reason panto is used often as a derogatory term is because there are far more bad pantomimes than good, mainly owing to the fact a saddeningly large amount of people think panto just means bellowing or treating it as a bit of a laugh that doesn't require effort."

    EXACTLY the difference between the 1st season of BATMAN and what came after. There's a reason it hit #1 in the ratings so fast-- and plummetted so fast later on. Among other tings, they promoted the show's worst writer to story editor. (Hmm, why does that sound familiar?)


    Philip Sandifer:
    "Dapol action figures"

    I should point out I have the Dapol "25th Anniversary Playset", which had a TARDIS, a TARDIS control room with a central console whose time rotor movced up and down at the exact speed of the one on TV... except it had 5 sides instead of 6, owing to the designing using a photo and not getting it right. Perhaps most strange were the figures included-- Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford, AND, K-9!!! (Wouldn't that have been a blast if K-9 had actually been in Season 24?)

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  21. Alex Wilcock:
    "to me this was a near-perfect template for the seventh Doctor, and I’d have loved to have had more like it."

    Me too. I loved all your comments, but this last one summed it up. This could be why I thought "THE HAPPINESS PATROL" was by the same writer (when it fact it was 'GREATEST SHOW").


    William Whyte:
    "Clive Merrison is fantastic"

    One of my fave scenes is with "the rule book". "Rules should make sense. If it's in there, there must be a reason..." Blows my mind to think this is the guy who managed to do EVERY Arthur Conan Doyle HOLMES story (something Jeremy Brett, sadly, was unable to do). I was watching "TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN" the other week, and for the first time, it hit me, whenever I'd see Merrison on screen, I'd yell out, "Deputy Chief Caretaker!"


    Jane:
    "I find it interesting that the Doctor is initially mistaken for The Great Architect -- because McCoy's portrayal is also a constant, which is ironic for a mercurial, chaotic magician."

    I must say, that's one point in the story I don't quite "get". Does the Chief Caretaker genuinely mistake him for the Great Architect, and if so, why? And if so, WHY does he then condemn him to death, since he seems to be worshipping the imprisoned spirit of Kroagnon in the basement? A recurring flaw in the McCoy era is a lack of coherent explanations. I love these stories, but too many of them feel like they need at least one more script draft before they'd be finished. I suppose that puts them on the same level as the 3rd season of LOST IN SPACE, which really tried so hard to be better, but didn't quite get there.

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    1. I don't think the Chief Caretaker knows Kroagnon is the beast in the tower basement. Would he really call the Great Architect all those pet names? The Chief Caretaker is just as bound by rules and orders as all the caretakers are; clearly one of his tasks before the bulk of the population abandoned the tower was to look after the beast. If he wasn't told what the beast actually was, he would have interpreted this "look after" in terms of the building's secret pet. It didn't learn to speak complete sentences until the climax of its scheme to regenerate itself.

      As for why he'd want the Great Architect dead if he ever showed up, from the Chief's perspective, he's in charge of Paradise Towers, and the Great Architect would be the one authority who could legitimately usurp him. Mistaking the Doctor for the Architect, he'd be on guard not to lose his fiefdom. The Chief Caretaker is a typical petty dictator benefiting from a system that allows no one to question his authority.

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    2. In a sense, the Doctor is a Great Architect -- he's the architect of the ongoing adventures of a long-running television series.

      More than that, he is someone who carries a natural sort of authority -- not the authority that comes from possessing force, but the authority that comes from someone who knows who he is and how he wants to be in the world; he's a "confidence" man.

      The other person he's juxtaposed with is Pex, via certain shared lines of dialogue, so it makes sense the three of them converge in the climax.

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  22. Thanks for the background information. I remember being somewhat baffled by this episode when I first watched it; it was obvious something was being satirized, but didn't have the first clue what.

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  23. a modernist apartment block falling into a raging internal civil war

    Neal Stephenson does the same for big concrete university complexes (like the one my office is in) in The Big U, an early novel he apparently doesn't care enough for to reprint.

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  24. In a funny way, this story parallels The Ark in Space.

    Tom's debut feels like it's part of the past, then Ark shakes it off. The same happens here.

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  25. Adam-- thanks for the "explanation" about The Great Architect. Makes sense to me! A few lines of dialogue in tha actual story would have helped. As I said, this was a recurring problem for all of Seasons 24-26. a little fine-tuning could have gone a long way.

    Lewis-- there's also a huge shift in tone between Pertwee's 1st & 2nd stories. Like Tom Baker, that's when the change in production teams actually happened. When I first saw "SPEARHEAD" in the mid-80's (more than a decade after I saw "SILURIANS"), I was shocked that Pertwee was so much fun. It hit me, "He's doing Patrick Troughton!" Then Letts & Dicks take over, and he gets all "serious" with a huge chip on his shoulder about being stuck on Earth. He didn't lighten up again until "DAY OF THE DALEKS". But in some ways, it doesn't feel like the "real" Doctor returned until "THE TIME WARRIOR".

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  26. Adam, Jane-- wonderful comments / analysis of Mel in this story. I will admit, I came to adore Bonnie Langford before I ever saw a single episode of her on the show (about 2 weeks before she filmed her 1st one, as a matter of fact). Yet, over 6 stories, I think she only got written decently twice. (And this was definitely not one of them.) Which really hurts.

    Also, it's a toss-up as to which outfit was worse-- the one she wore in RANI or in this story. YEESH! (And to think, Dapol did action figures of her in BOTH of them.)

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  27. Oh, I can't wait to see what you have to say about the Paul McGann movie...

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  28. I'm a fan of this one too. For a long time I've been afraid that if I watched it again I'd like it less. You've got me thinking I might like it more instead.

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  29. In the 1950s-70s there was a bizarre little fad in architecture called Brutalism. You know the type of building - those horrific piles of angular concrete that scream out the era of their production like the muted eyesores they are.

    I am intimately familiar with this style of architecture, as I work in a hideously Brutalist building. It even reinforces the "structures" and "systems" philosophy of modernism, as it used to be used by the Department of Defense. I always describe it as "the ugliest building in Washington D.C." although it has an incredible amount of competition in the nearby area.

    Kroagnan, the Great Architect who despised how people ruined his perfect designs, is a straightforward parodic critique of the modernist architect.

    Perhaps she was never a huge influence in the U.K., but I'm shocked you or any of the other commenters didn't mention Ayn Rand in any of this. As soon as I heard "architect who despises how people ruined his perfect designs" and "urban housing" in the same context, my mind immediately went to Howard Roark, the sociopathic protagonist of The Fountainhead. He hates the idea of "his building" being used for something as "parasitic" as public housing to be so abhorrent that he blows the whole thing up! I think Ayn Rand considered herself very modernist, and Roark's buildings most certainly would have been brutalist. And of course, her philosophy is the basis for go-it-alone libertarianism, which is in direct contrast to community organizing. I wouldn't say that this is a direct critique of the character in the Fountainhead, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if it was some sort of reaction to it.

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    1. I for one have never been a big fan of this story, because as some have pointed out the acting is crap.

      With that said I hadn't read Ayn Rand The Fountainhead when I first watched this story in the late 80's and didn't make the connection in the mid-90's when I re-watched this story, even though I had read The Fountainhead by this point.

      However, when I first stated reading this entry of the Eruditorum and Phil talked about modernism and brutalist architecture, Rand and her sociopath hero Howard Roark pop into my head. I am so glad someone else has made this connection. Wyatt & Cartmel may not have directly even thought of Rand and her "nutter" libertarianism, but a critique of modernism is by default a shot at Rand (which means it has improved in my eyes slightly just on that point alone).

      Oh, I am also one who thinks the novelization worked better that the TV version. Still, I guess I will need to do one of those middle class things fans do and buy this story give it another look.

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    2. Ayn Rand is essentially unheard of in the UK. After hearing her enthusiastically cited by American internet libertarians back in the 90s I did manage to track down one of her books in the University library. Jesus, it was awful.

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    3. @Iain Coleman

      I think you have to be American to really "get" libertarianism. I've read a couple of Rand books - Anthem and The Fountainhead - and I can see what she's striving for, and how attractive it is to citizens from a country that was founded 200 years ago on pioneer spirit. However what Rand preaches isn't something that the British either need, or want, or even comprehend.

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    4. Speaking as an American, I personally think you have to be an emotional toddler to "get" libertarianism. That said, my recollection is that Howard Roarke didn't object to his building being used for public housing, he objected to the builders making some changes to the design without his consent and that was enough for him to blow it sky-high and then get acquitted despite representing himself. Also, he rapes the female protagonist who pines for him for the rest of the book before marrying him at the end. Awful, awful book.

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    5. my recollection is that Howard Roarke didn't object to his building being used for public housing, he objected to the builders making some changes to the design without his consent and that was enough for him to blow it sky-high

      Correct. He had no objection to its being public housing. The only payment he'd asked for designing it was that it be built as he'd designed it.

      the female protagonist who pines for him for the rest of the book before marrying him at the end.

      She actually spends the book trying to destroy his career, in order to convince him of the preferability of withdrawal-based Stoic-style individualism over engaged Aristotelean-style individualism. The four main characters represent four different conceptions of individualism and/or self-interest: Aristotelean (Roark), Stoic (Dominique), Nietzschean (Wynand), and conventional (Keating).

      Rand is a lot more complicated and nuanced than the posters here are giving her credit for. I recommend Chris Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical for an understanding of what she's actually about. (And there is incidentally no such thing as go-it-alone libertarianism. Libertarianism is about association and community.)

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    6. Ugh... don't try to defend her, Berserk; she was crazy.

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    7. Nothing about Berzerk's writing here or on his blog has ever suggested to me that he thinks Rand is right about much of anything. But she deserves to be understood prior to being hated, surely. One has a moral and intellectual obligation to hate the correct form of her argument.

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    8. I think she's a fascinating mix of the deeply right and the deeply wrong. As I've written elsewhere: "It transpires, then, that there are in effect two Rands, or two strands in Rand: a left-libertarian, feminist, anti-militarist, anti-corporatist, benevolent, experimental strand, and a conservative, patriarchal, homophobic, flag-worshipping, boss-worshipping, dogmatic strand. Which strand represents the 'true' Rand? Well, both of them; she just is precisely the person who tried to combine these two strands."

      I think she made some genuine contributions to philosophy too, though not at the level that she or her followers imagine. See this encyclopedia entry on Rand, which I co-wrote with someone more Randian than myself; I'm the principal author on the metaphysics and epistemology sections, but not the ethical and political sections.

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    9. Hi storiteller! Thanks for introducing me to this blog!

      And ye gods, the brutalist architecture in D.C. is *horrible.* For three reasons, really: The innate horribleness of brutalism, the way it clashes with the neoclassical and Georgian aesthetics of most of the rest of the city, and the sheer impracticality of much of it. (For example, the fugly concrete Metro stations, cunningly designed to create lots of overlapping echoes and thus make it impossible to hear announcements.)

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    10. I don't know much about Rand, due to the "essentially unheard of in the UK" thing, but BeserkRL's comment here reminds me of a line in xkcd that was something like "I agree enthusiastically with the first 75% of every sentence by Rand, and then she loses me at 'therefore, be a dick to everyone'."

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  30. Topic? I finally watched PT all the way through, and I think the complaints about Mel are spot on. Her deciding to go swimming under those circumstances may be the most ludicrous thing a companion has ever done in the history of Doctor Who that didn't involve abruptly leaving the Doctor to marry some annoying twit. Not to mention the fact that her gushing over the pool itself was utterly hilarious when we finally see the Pool in the Sky and realize that it's less impressive than the indoor pool you'd find at any 3-star hotel in the world. If you eliminated every Mel scene that didn't directly advance the plot and got Brier to at least try to act in the last episode, and this story could have been a classic.

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    1. I suspect the business about the "Great Pool in the Sky" may be part of the point, Alan.

      Who in their right mind would put a swimming pool at the TOP of a high-rise? It's only wonderful because *nobody's ever used it, or even seen it, before.* The elevators don't work, and the stairs are probably halfway torn to bits. And IF you got up there, the Aqua-Cleaner would most likely kill you.

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  31. Coming extremely late to this party, only having discovered this blog a couple of weeks ago (and it's taken me this long to get to the McCoy era after starting at the beginning).

    I get why you like this, and I can see how "Paradise Towers" could've been very, very good. (For the record, "The Happiness Patrol" is one of my favorites.)

    My own experience with "Paradise" was seeing it on a PAL-to-VHS videotape dub. As it had only recently aired in the UK, I only had the first three episodes. And what I remember most about the story was that when I got to the Episode Three cliffhanger, I realized that I simply DID NOT CARE about seeing how it ended.

    It was the first time I'd ever felt that way about a "Doctor Who" serial, and I lived through the time in which third-generation dubs of Colin Baker stories were rare and precious commodities in the U.S.

    Thankfully, things were soon to get better, before they got much, much worse...

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  32. Like you, I kind of loved this story and was surprised to find out that it's one of the least popular amongst the classic stories. (This might also indicate how being a "fan" doesn't necessarily make one a part of "fandom.")

    I saw this as going back to the Douglas Adams humorous, satirical tradition in Doctor Who. Watching it that way, all of the overacting totally made sense. Overacting suits larger than life characters well. Social commentary also sometimes goes down better, especially in a show targeting a family audience, when it's presented with humor rather than all doom and gloom. (A doom and gloom version of this story could also be interesting, but probably not very family-friendly.)

    Perhaps I took a different reading on the story than was intended with how the Towers got to be in the state they're in. The complaints that the Kangs are clearly not children seem silly to me. Do audiences think that all of this happened overnight? I assume it could have taken up to a decade for the Towers to devolve so (unless I wasn't paying attention during explicit exposition that tells us how old the towers are), which would totally give the necessary time for the children to grow up. They are still the "young ones" because there's no one there younger. (However, what did bother me is what happened to the boy children and old men? Were they forced to stay and fight in the war?) And there had been enough time for the children to develop into 3 gangs, one of which has also had time to get completely wiped out. This implied to me that the Rezzes, Kangs, and Caretakers have all been there at least a few years already.

    The moment that really sold me was the Blue Kang funeral rite for the Yellow Kang girl. The fact that a gang would still honor the dead of their rival with such a ritual was oddly moving and optimistic in a story with such dark undertones.

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  33. Thank you for this. "Paradise Towers" was one of the brightest highlights of my own recent Doctor Who marathon — not just the moment when I could finally stop cringing, but easily one of my top five Classic Who stories in its own right. I honestly could not understand where its poor reputation came from.

    You've captured beautifully my experience of watching it.

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  35. I wrote this story. Nobody is required to love it. and many people don't. But I'm touched by the degree of thoughtfulness and respect being given here to what I was trying to do against the clock and against the totally self-referential episodes which preceded it.

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  36. Coming in clean, I liked this story a lot. You can see a clear delineation between the budget restraints (revisiting the mufti-floor atrium over and over) and what they we attempting to do, obviously. Still: For my money, it's better than any of McCoy's location shoots.

    The Kangs can be squared away as feral children. I would even argue that their age adds to the general creepiness. They could have played it straight, and gone full-on Lord of the Flies, but there's an endearing quality to how the Doctor befriends them. They don't attend school. They don't know how to operate soda cans. They've taken their gangsta handles from placards and trash bins. The Doctor is the only father figure they've seen in a decade, and he neutralizes them quite handily. Another reason the Kangs work is that it's all-female. A tidy reversal of power; the sort that worked so well on Happiness Patrol. (The emasculation of Pex is painful to watch.)

    On the demerit side, Kroagnan was introduced a little late, and it was a bad idea to implant him Biers. Why him? What makes him such a fine specimen and sets him apart from the other "mobile rubbish"?

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  37. "The only reason to fault this, in other words, is if you really think that the discussions of anal sadism are the whole point of The Atrocity Exhibition. If, on the other hand, what you favor is its inventiveness and its sense of manic glee, Paradise Towers will be right up your alley."

    Ouch.

    :)

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