Monday, 17 May 2010

Delta and the Bannermen

The Seventh Doctor and Mel help to protect an alien queen in an holiday camp in Wales, 1959.

The first thing to say about this story is that Delta and the Bannermen has the coolest title of all Doctor Who stories. Obviously, it takes off the Indie band Echo and the Bunnymen.

When I first watched this story, in the first fifteen minutes, I felt amazed at how awful it seemed, but strangely as I continued to watch, I started to enjoy it.

A lot of fans hate this story. Many fans grudgingly allow that it made a nice relief after the heaviness of the Colin Baker years, but regard it as rather weak. A small minority of us, including me, regard it as one of the greatest Doctor Who stories.

Why are the really dark and grim stories so popular? I think Doctor Who is often at its best when it is light and fun. Perhaps Delta and the Bannermen is a little deeper in fun than even City of Death, but it works.

Part of what makes it work is the summery atmosphere and the glorious south Wales countryside. This is a pastoral adventure with love in the air. This together with the 50s setting, I am slighted reminded of the comedy drama, The Darling Buds of May.

Delta and the Bannermen is a story about nice people outwitting and defeating a bland, dull and brutal bunch of bad guys, but it is more than this. The pastoral setting is used to create a celebration of love, sex, reproduction and family. It is celebration of life itself. This is brought out through the love story, through the birth of the Chimeron princess and through Goronwy's expositions on the life cycles of insects. It is beautiful.

As the Doctor points out in his confrontation of Gavrok, the Bannermen are totally opposed to life, they only seek to destroy:

"What do you know about life? You deal in lies, treachery, and death. Life? You promise life but in the end it will be life that defeats you."

Pertwee gave lots of pacifist speeches, but in the end he always ended up relying on UNIT and big explosions. Here the Doctor outwits the villains with honey and a little girl singing.

The nostalgia for the 1950s adds to the fun of the story. Perhaps it is regrettable that it is not quite true to life. While the story celebrates the tackiness of holiday camps, it turns a blind eye to some of the darker, more prejudicial aspects of the 1950s. In this, Remembrance of the Daleks handled nostalgia somewhat better, by portraying the racism of the 1960s.

There are other criticisms that can be levelled at the story; the continuity problems, some wooden acting from the guy playing Billy, the Doctor visibly wearing spectacles on the motorcycle, the baby's changing appearance and of course the deaths of the alien tourists which detracts from the lighter nature of the story.

Bonnie Langford's Mel has been much maligned and called the worst companion of all. Regardless of what you think of Mel (and I quite like her) she fits into this story perfectly, being nice, cute and fun.

While Sylvester McCoy does a lot of clowning, he gives us a much darker Doctor. He mysteriously knows about Goronwy, he shows menace in his confrontation of Gavrok and stands at a distance from the other characters by his comment about the 'irrationality of love.'

The alien queen, Delta is as wooden as her lover, Billy. But she is an alien and looks lovely. A pastoral story like this needs a beautiful mother figure.

Ray is a great character too, along with her cute exagerrated Welsh accent. Given that she loses Billy to Delta, the end of the story would have been the perfect moment for her to become a companion. But that would have of course meant no Ace and it would have altered the character of Seasons 25 and 26 enormously to have Ray in the TARDIS.

The two CIA agents don't contribute to the plot and seem to be padding, but it is delightful to meet CIA agents who are just unbelievably kind and jolly!

We must not, of course, forget the fantastic performance Don Henderson puts in as Gavrok. The sight of him eating raw meat is fantastic.

The script has got to be one of the best, with some hilarious lines:

"You are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?"

The music is great too!

I enjoy this story so much more than Pyramids of Mars.

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