I’m afraid my list doesn’t make any better reading for fans of the seventh doctor …
I first encountered this serial as a TV repeat on UK Gold (now foolishly renamed Go On Laugh Daily) – only catching the first episode by chance as a young teenager. As with Paradise Towers it was yet another triumph of youthful hope over seasoned experience – I quite wanted to watch the rest of it, but my ever wise dad advised against it.
That meant when I finally got my hands on the DVD I had slightly less dread than when I watched Paradise Towers. A sure fire way to set oneself up for disappointment!
It is now time for a spoiler – albeit one that shouldn’t come as a shock. Only one story from Sylvester McCoy’s first season managed to escape my bottom ten – and that finished eleventh from bottom. As I remarked before, many of the serials in this season could have been easily improved by allowing McCoy to transition instantly to the devious and manipulative Doctor we see in Season 25, or if Mel played a stronger role as companion. To be fair to Mel, in both this serial and the next (Dragonfire) her role is much less scream-at-the-monster – but in both serials she is somewhat usurped by another strong female character – in this case Ray, who performed so strongly she almost was accepted as the new companion rather than Sophie Aldred’s Ace.
The story itself ought to work quite well. An alien queen fleeing an attempted genocide with her child, with her would-be murderers chasing in pursuit is quite an interesting concept – and while the setting is hardly the most glamorous (think Butlins and massively downgrade your expectations) – the ordinariness of the ‘Shangri-la’ holiday park in Wales ought to be a wonderful juxtaposition to the extraterrestrial invaders.
Sadly for McCoy, the word ought typifies Season 24. But let’s give some credit where it is due. Leaving aside the very lame cliffhanger to episode 2 (the Doctor announces to a group of armed men that he plans to leave, then is astonished when they instead point their guns at him) it is a reasonable attempt to tell an interesting story. The quality of acting isn’t actually that terrible – more just badly explained. One senses that if this had been a four part story, and they replaced the awful incidental music on the banjo with something more urgent, then a compelling story could have been told – one where we understand why Ray’s love interest Billy falls in love with Delta, the alien queen; or why the child, who is but an egg in episode 1, has become a child of 16 by the story’s conclusion. And I must be honest – I am still none the wiser as to what the point of the resident beekeeper was, other than to give a somewhat spurious suggestion as to how Billy can transform himself to be like Delta. There is that frustration that a really good story could have been told … with an extra episode and better production values.
Delta and the Bannermen however, does mark a turning point. It was silly, but not as silly as Paradise Towers. There were signs that the appalling production values of Time and the Rani were a thing of the past. And there were also the indications that Sylvester McCoy was going to stop playing the clown, and that the companion was due to stop screaming and start playing a meaningful role.
Sadly however, there is only the hint of what was to come, and really not enough to redeem the story. Like Paradise Towers, this is a DVD I probably won’t watch very often!