Doctor Who Season 24: Paradise Towers Review
Having opened the new era and series of DOCTOR WHO with the reassuringly familiar presence of a quarry, PARADISE TOWERS provides a similar comfort factor of that time-honoured Whovian trope of endless, conspicuously similar corridors, plus the inevitable return of the Doctor’s perennially ill-fated attempts to take a holiday.
Beguiled by the sales brochure, Mel (Bonnie Langford) persuades the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) to travel to Paradise Towers, a luxurious 22nd-century tower block with a tourist-tempting swimming pool on its roof. When the time travellers arrive, though, they find the once-opulent development seems to have fallen into disrepair and genteel anarchy. While the Head Caretaker carries out his duties to the very letter of the law, something is stirring in the secret basement below the habitation levels.
Long-time Whovians, of course, are aware there is a swimming pool already in the TARDIS although it’s quickly mentioned in passing that it’s been jettisoned because it was leaking (presumably, at some point before THE ELEVENTH HOUR the Doctor gets around to rebuilding it). It’s a flimsy pretence to bring Mel and The Doctor into the adventure but, as we’ll soon find out, it’s quite a flimsy adventure and while PARADISE TOWERS has its share of ideas, they’re as superficial and substantial as the undercoated plywood sets which blight this most basic of adventures.
Unlike its immediate predecessor, there’s no location shooting here – unless you count the extremely underwhelming and in no way galactically renowned swimming pool scenes which look like they were filmed at the Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre. It’s parsimoniously studio-bound in a very distinctive McCoy-era way (you could easily intercut this story with scenes from, say, the following season’s THE HAPPINESS PATROL without missing a beat) and the direction, by Nicholas Mallett (who would go on to helm arguably McCoy’s finest adventure in THE CURSE OF FENRIC), seems uninspired by the moribund setting. Even by DOCTOR WHO standards, PARADISE TOWERS lacks any sense of kineticism. There’s precious little scope for the CGI effects which enlivened TIME AND THE RANI and Mallett seems content to keep his camera largely static, cutting interminably between shot and reverse shot to move the flaccid story along.
The story itself, by series newcomer Stephen Wyatt, borrows liberally from J G Ballard’s HIGH RISE but it drapes these borrowed clothes over a story which isn’t quite sure what it’s about or who the villains actually are. Lacking Ballard’s admittedly heavy-handed metaphorical and satirical bite, PARADISE TOWERS comes off as a bit aimless and meandering. For a season that introduced the new 4-4-3-3 serial formation, it’s surprising that this early into proceedings we already have a serial that feels very much like a three-part story stretched out to four episodes, especially as both DELTA AND THE BANNERMEN and DRAGONFIRE feel rushed and in need of a little more breathing room.
This story also manifests one of the worst aspects of late-era JNT DOCTOR WHO, a penchant that Chris Chibnall seems all too eager to embrace: stunt casting. Richard Briers is absolutely terrible as the Chief Caretaker – and even worse once taken over by Kroagnon, the so-called Great Architect. It’s a horribly misjudged performance and, quite honestly, embarrassing to watch.
PARADISE TOWERS isn’t a total loss. There’s some lovely design work around the cleaning robots. Unfortunately, they were a late addition to the script which didn’t feature any traditional DOCTOR WHO ‘monsters’ and they never feel anything but tacked-on to a story that already had too much and not enough going on and, if anything, feel a little too desperate to become iconic monsters for it to work. We also get the emergence of an umbrella as the Seventh Doctor’s accessory of choice – but not yet his distinctive question mark branded one, just a traditional whangee handle this time.
PARADISE TOWERS is the last time this era of DOCTOR WHO feels like it’s not sure of what it is and who the Doctor is after his recent regeneration. While it will still take a story or two more for new script editor Andrew Cartmel to really find his feet, the last two adventure of season twenty-four at least contain the seeds of what would blossom into a bold and visionary swansong for the venerable sci-fi series.
Doctor Who The Collection: Series 24 will be released on 28th June 2021 and is available to order now.