Friday, 22 July 2011

Paradise Towers - Reviewed

Paradise Towers has just been recently released on DVD and with our review of the story appearing in a previous issue of Fish Fingers and Custard, we've decided to unearth it and present it in it's original form.

It’s too easy to dismiss the majority of the late-80’s stories as ‘the point where Doctor Who went wrong’. I’ve read and listened to some very unfair comments about the latter stories that don’t take into account the restrictions of which the production team had to work with. I honestly believe that Paradise Towers was one of these stories that would have been a great, if it wasn’t for the budget (or lack of) afforded to Doctor Who by a BBC, who where then determined to let the show die a slow and painful death. But that doesn’t mean mistakes weren’t made by the production team…


Ever since I first watched Paradise Towers, I was intrigued by the storyline: A luxurious tower block that had plunged into anarchy, amongst the folk that lived there. Many people aren’t aware that the plot was based on the novel ‘High Rise’ by renowned author JG Ballard. The story chronicles the rising disorder among the residents of the Tower Block, who classically, are divided up amongst Working Class, Middle-Class and Upper Class groups. What’s more poetic, is that the higher up the tower block you go, the ‘better class’ of people there are. Although by the end of the book, everyone is pretty much equal in their savagery. What makes High Rise all-the-more engrossing, is that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it could happen today.

Paradise Towers on the other hand, replaces the 3 social groups with Kangs (groups of teenage girls) Ressies (residents) and the Caretakers, who ‘look after’ the building. One-by-one every one of these groups are being picked off and it’s up to The Doctor to try and find out what is happening and to unite the factions to save Paradise Towers from imploding

First of all, let’s go through the negatives. The music, like all of the McCoy era, is utterly awful. It sounds like the music used in arcade games. At one point, I was expecting Pac Man to come bouncing round the corner, give a cheeky grin and flash his arse at The Caretakers, before speeding off to continue feeding his pill habit. This was 1987 for goodness sake, what on earth was going through the minds of Keff McCulloch (composer) and JNT? The music played during the Kang’s ‘how you do’ greetings with The Doctor was utterly cringeworthy too. The music was just too light for this type of story, it’s just totally off-putting (and it really doesn’t help when it’s shit too!)

I felt that some of the lines, early on in the story, weren’t delivered as well as they could have been. It all seemed forced and fake. Maybe it was a production problem, rather than bad acting? I’m not sure. But before I watched Paradise Towers again, I read the novelisation and as you’ll find with most books – the real thing NEVER lives up to your imagination. The same could be said of the Chief Caretaker (played by Richard Briers), as I never felt that he neither looked nor sounded authoritative enough. It also didn’t help that he reminded me of Blakey from ‘On The Buses’ - not just in looks but his mannerisms too. He was about as threatening as a Twilight fan, drunk on alcopops, asking you for a fight because you called Robert Pattinson a ‘bad actor’ (or words to that effect!). And I’m not even going to go into that ridiculous sliver costume/make-up that Briers had to wear in Part 4!

It’s a shame, because these are things that could so easily have been ironed out. I suspect that JNT told Briers and the other actors to ‘ham it up’ but I think that disrespected the script and a great novel in High Rise. There’s no doubt in my mind, that if it was made today, it would be intensely gripping. There’s only so far the ‘they had no budget’ excuse can be stretched, but when you’re making ridiculous, pointless and expensive costumes for Tilda and Tabby, as well as the Chief, when normal clothes would have sufficed - it’s hard to defend the production team.

Going back to High Rise and you can see why the writer, Stephen Wyatt, based this story on it. We’ve got all types of people falling out over trivial matters to start off with and then it slowly gets worse and worse and worse. Before you know it, you’re reading about how the residents are killing each other because they had the cheek to invade ‘their floor’ and towards the end of the book, things get a lot more violent and a lot more graphic.

Of course, this episode was never going to be as violent as events depicted in High Rise (can you imagine how many heart attacks Mary Whitehouse and the rest of Middle England would have had?) but the story would have been so much better if just a hint of threat loomed in the air. Did we really think those two old ladies would have eaten Mel? Did we really think the Chief Caretaker was anything less than camp? Did we really think that the cleaners looked convincing? The whole reason of why the Great Architect was locked in the Towers in the first place, is a little bit dubious and a lot more information would have been extremely useful.

The main positive for me, was the redemption of Pex, an almost-comic book character that hid on board a ship taking the residents to Paradise Towers in the first place. Speaking of which, the story (again) would have benefitted from more information about this ‘war’ that Pex was running from. You can see him slowly developing throughout the story and you could sort-of see his sacrifice coming. I think it’s important that moral stories like this are placed in Doctor Who – Pex ran from his ‘duty’ all the time, but when it finally came to it, when he HAD to do it - he did his duty, no matter how scared he was.

I really enjoyed the scenes with The Kangs, who were depicted as a ‘tribe’ within these dirty, murderous towers, excellently. I liked that they had their own take on the language (“Icehot” – “Cool”) and the fact that they couldn’t give a flyer about authority.

Stories like this are perfect for Doctor Who – it’s dark, damp, a little violent and with a mystery behind it. All we got was crap costumes, poor acting and music that was rejected for Galaxian in 1979. Paradise Towers is a story that could – and should have been done better.

Much like the majority of the McCoy era, it was another missed opportunity.


The R2 DVD of Paradise Towers is available to buy now, from all good retailers. And some bad ones too.

(Review taken from Issue 2 of Fish Fingers and Custard)

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