One had to be the worst, and this is it. Already I am imagining some of the exclamations:
As I have mentioned, I began the exercise by grouping the stories into broad categories – and around ten stories fell into the bottom category with ease, leaving me to deliberate which of the ten I had the least warmth for.
I spotted this story for sale on VHS as a child and, ever eager to broaden my knowledge of Doctor Who, pointed it out to my dad. His short, matter-of-fact reply was: “Don’t bother. That one’s rubbish.” So when I came (around 20 years later when VHS had gone extinct) to buy the serial on DVD, I braced myself for the worst, and tried to imagine it wouldn’t be as bad as my dad had predicted.
As you can tell by the lowest of low rankings, it was exactly as bad as my dad predicted.
The tragedy is – it didn’t have to be this way.
The story revolves around Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor arriving at the titular Paradise Towers with his companion Mel. There is a sinister power at work behind the Towers, which were built as a refuge for the planet’s population while the young men went to war. There are three groups living in the Towers, and each of them are disappearing one by one, while respectively trying to manage the chaos (the caretakers), win a tribal gangwar (the ‘Kangs’ – divided into red and blue gangs of teenage girls) and eat the other residents (the old residents – nicknamed ‘rezzies’). Oh, and a rather embarrassing chap called ‘Pex’ – a young man who portrays himself as guardian of the Towers, but is a coward avoiding military service in the war And there’s also the mysterious question of why the cleaning machines are eating residents (it turns out the cannibalism of the Rezzies is a very unsubtle red herring).
If this had been produced in the modern series, one imagines it would have been similar to the ‘God Complex’ – sinister, claustrophobic and mysterious. There are a number of reasons why this is not the case. The biggest reason is a recurrent theme in my lowest rated stories – it was produced in the 1980s. Everything that typified the eighties – the huge hair, the wild colours, the techno music – all of this fed into Doctor Who. Another problem with this era is that where the older stories have production values consistent for their time, eighties Doctor Who looks and feels tired. This story is no exception – neither the sets nor the characters are believable.
Added to that is the quality of the acting. Richard Briers severely hammed it up as the Chief Caretaker, and even more so when his character is possessed by ‘Kroagnon’ – who would be an even more impressive sinister power hidden in the background if Briers hadn’t overplayed the ‘I’ve been possessed’ business. As for Mel … well it rather speaks for itself that 52% of a viewer survey at the time wished that the Rezzies had eaten her after the episode 2 cliffhanger! While I will opine later that Bonnie Langford could have made Mel work as a character, in this episode she manages to alternate between helpless screamer and annoying petulant optimist with extraordinary ease. The kind of screaming damsel in distress that Doctor Who got away with in the 1960s grates after such strong companions as Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.
Perhaps then that’s why I judge this story so harshly. Sylvester McCoy, lumbered with the ‘clown’ persona he’d been given for his first series, doesn’t have the chance to portray the darker Doctor he would go on to master, nor to play off against the strong companion he would eventually have in Ace. The acting is so comical that even the DVD jacket acknowledges that it would have been prime material for Harry Hill’s TV Burp to mock. But the plot had the potential to be so much grittier and believable – and so with that disappointment compounded on top of the generally cringeworthiness of the story, I think Paradise Towers is highly justified as being my least enjoyed Doctor Who story.