04 May 2004Delta and the Bannermen, by Paul Clarke
24 Oct 2004Delta and the Bannermen., by John Anderson
29 Oct 2005Delta and the Bannermen, by Steve Oliver
24 Oct 2006Delta and the Bannermen, by Ed Martin

Perhaps more so than any other era of Doctor Who, the McCoy era splits fandom down the middle, and arguably no single story is as divisive as ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. Notorious for featuring comedian Ken Dodd, whom some fans see as the worst excess of John Nathan-Turner’s obsession with casting people from the world of light entertainment, ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ combines green babies, the Welsh, bees and rock and roll; it is also, if the viewer is in the right mood, really quite good fun.

There is a great sense of joy de vivre in ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. Partly, this is because the story doesn’t take itself too seriously, presenting us as it does with toll booths for time travellers, and aliens who holiday in locations such as America during the rock ‘n’ roll nineteen fifties, but who get stranded in Wales by accident. We have a pair of inept American secret service agents who are looking for a lost satellite and briefly mistake Gavrok’s ship for it, since they don’t actually know what a satellite looks like, and we have a bounty hunter whose death reduces him to nothing but a pair of blue suede shoes. This is all very tongue in cheek, and the breaking of the usual conventions of Doctor Who by the fact that everyone seems able to travel in time (The Bannermen and the Navarinos) adds further to the feeling that writer Malcolm Kohll is quite simply doing his best to have fun and not worrying unduly about how atypical his story actually feels as a result. This is a story in which an old man seemingly communicates with his bees and in which a young man who eats Chimeron food turns into an alien prince. It almost has a fairy tale quality to it in places. There is also the fact that the Navarinos go on holiday in time and space in an old bus, which on one level adds greatly to the spirit of things, and on another may be a wry nod to the limitations of the series budget; the BBC might not be able to knock together a convincing spaceship, but an old bus is no problem.

Another great strength of ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is the character interaction. Refreshingly, this is a story in which nearly everybody the Doctor and Mel meet save for the Bannermen themselves gives their utmost to try and help Delta. What is particularly interesting is the love triangle between Delta, Billy and Ray; confounding audience expectations, this leads not to the jealously and betrayal that one might expect in Doctor Who, but instead follows a different route. Ray response to seeing Billy with Delta is to cry, and the Doctor comforts her. It would trivialize such an issue to say that she gets over it, but she manages to deal with it and continues to help Delta and Billy, and at the end, whilst she loses the man she loves, she does at least get his Vincent. Which isn’t exactly a happy ending as such, but it is a relatively positive outcome. Equally, Delta benefits; with the Bannermen destroyed and Billy transformed into a Chimeron, it is suggested that she can repopulate her planet (incidentally, I’d normally dismiss this as bollocks, but Kohll hints throughout at the insect like nature of the Chimerons, suggesting that one colossal bout of sex later, a green Welshman and his girlfriend might well repopulate a planet. Which is actually quite a scary thought). As for what Billy gets, well his motivation is obvious, but however much he may be driven by lust, he still risks life, limb and humanity to be with Delta.

Of course, Billy and Ray aren’t the only people who help Delta. The bemused agents Hawk and Weismuller, played with perfect bewilderment by Morgan Deare and Stubby Kaye, respectively, also pitch in to help after the Doctor and Ray remove the bonds the Bannermen put them in, with Weismuller getting his revenge at the end as he ties the Bannermen up. Hugh Lloyd’s slightly mysterious Goronwy happily allows the Bannermen to shoot his house to pieces as they wander into the Doctor’s trap, and sits patiently reading a book as he waits for the Bannermen to be defeated as they attack the camp. Richard Davies’ stoic Burton also provides considerable help simply because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, in the process saving Mel’s life. Burton is actually one of the greatest characters in the story, a cheerfully determined man whose response to seeing inside the TARDIS is to ask to go for a spin, his earlier skepticism about aliens quickly forgotten. A scene in Episode Three perhaps best sums up his character, when he swipes at the air with an old sword and steadfastly prepares for the arrival of heavily harmed nutters. Even camp attendant Vinnie wants to stay and help “Major” Burton, who sends him away for his own safety.

Ultimately, all of this characterisation works so well, because the cast give it their all. In particular, Sara Griffiths is great as Ray, who in retrospect I wish had stayed on as replacement for Mel, instead of the replacement that we actually got (much, much more on that in later reviews…). Ray bonds well with the Doctor, and this results in some great moments not only for Griffiths, but also for McCoy. There are some nice scenes in Episode One, as the Doctor is forced not to deal with alien aggressors, but with a heartbroken teenager and tries his best despite his obvious discomfort. When Billy sings to Delta, and this hurts Ray, she dances with the Doctor instead, who looks decidedly uncomfortable, but obliges anyway. He later comforts her, again awkwardly, with the great malapropism “there’s many a slap twixt the cup and the lap”, which is rather more amusing than virtually all of his malapropisms from ‘Time and the Rani’. In those moments, McCoy’s performance finally seems absolutely perfect for the first time in Season Twenty-Four.

Indeed, McCoy is very good here. When the Doctor sits hugging Billy’s Stratocaster, he gloomily notes, “love has never been known for its rationality” and McCoy makes him sound genuinely melancholy about this, as though hinting at things in the Time Lord’s past that we’ve simply never seen before. Equally, McCoy does well with his lines at the end of Episode Two, as Gavrok sits and gnaws at his meat and the Doctor stands and threatens Gavrok with the legal consequences of his actions. McCoy delivers his lines with an air of massive contempt, which works very well, and whilst he is notorious for his inability to portray anger properly, he manages to get real fury into his “Life? What do you know about life?” line. The script helps him enormously of course; this is story in which a rather proactive Doctor single handedly saves the Navarino bus via the TARDIS and later replaces Murray’s Quarb crystal twice. He sets out to save Delta from the Bannermen as soon as he realises that they are in trouble, and defeats his enemy with bees and honey. Bonnie Langford too does well here, in possibly her best Doctor Who television story; she’s far less cloying than in ‘Paradise Towers’, and like McCoy genuinely seems to be having fun. As usual, Mel’s instinct is to help people, and it is this that allows her to gain Delta’s trust. But Langford also gets to portray shock and horror as Gavrok destroys the Nostalgia Tours bus and its passengers, and she conveys it very well.

Whilst I’m on the subject of acting and characterisation, it is worth noting that the much-maligned Ken Dodd is actually OK here, although admittedly he is just playing himself. Nonetheless, this is pretty much the only Doctor Who story in which he wouldn’t actually seem out of place, and whilst I wouldn’t describe his casting as inspired, it by no means deserves the controversy that it has gained. Don Henderson on the other hand is very well cast. The Discontinuity Guide asks the question “But who told Don Henderson to play it so straight?” which I feel slightly misses the point. ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ works in large part because despite the sense of fun it also features some serious issues. The biggest flaw in the story is that we don’t know why the Bannermen, and Gavrok in particular, want the Chimerons dead; we never learn if they are mercenaries, soldiers, or criminals on the run. But despite this shortcoming, Gavrok works as a villain because he is presented as a real threat. Whatever his motivation, he wants Delta dead and has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way; he shoots the Tollmaster in the back, he slaughters the Navarinos because he thinks Delta is on the bus, and above all he has proved himself willing to commit genocide. The point of all of this is that were Henderson to send the part up, the whole feel of the story might so easily cross the line into farce. A real threat is needed to give the other characters something to pull together against, and Gavrok provides it, even cutting off the Doctor’s escape route by booby-trapping the TARDIS. Were ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ possessed of a villainous performance as over the top as Kate O’Mara’s in ‘Time and the Rani’ or Richard Briers’ in ‘Paradise Towers’, it simply wouldn’t work. And in keeping with the spirit of the story, it feels entirely appropriate that Gavrok is ultimately hoist by his own petard.

Overall then, ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is, for me at least, far better than its reputation suggests. It benefits a lot from the extensive location filming, as Doctor Who usually does when it can be bothered to climb out a quarry, and the peaceful Welsh scenery surrounding Shangri La looks fantastic. It’s also nice to hear some real rock n’ roll on the soundtrack, although it is rather less nice to hear Keff McCulloch. This is arguably his best score for the series up until this point, but please understand that choosing Keff McCulloch’s best incidental score for Doctor Who is rather like choosing the least smelly turd. Unpleasantly, he ropes in his girlfriend’s ghastly group to give us the saccharine cack “Here’s to the Future”. McCulloch aside though, the only other real let down of the production is the two lacklustre explosions and frankly they just aren’t enough to spoil the fun.

Next: the final audio interlude before ‘Survival’, as I nip over to the BF board for ‘The Fires of Vulcan’, then back here for the rest of the McCoy television stories!

Filters: Series 24 Seventh Doctor Television

The ratings for your last season were a disaster - what do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO? Do you look at the pattern of the 1980s, where from a strictly ratings perspective your two 25 minute Saturday afternoon seasons (18 and 23) have proven to be the least successful of the of the decade? Do you reflect on the fact that the two episodes per week format has been the biggest ratings draw of the last six seasons?

Or do you stick with the weekly half hour serial format that has patently died a slow and lingering death?

By the mid-80s audiences had proved reluctant to stick with a serial for the three weeks it takes to reach the conclusion. The Davison seasons overcame this to an extent because part four was broadcast just over a week after part one, whilst during season 22 that deficit was reduced to a single week. Heaven knows what was going through JNT's mind when he agreed to a fourteen week serial...

What I'm getting at is this; having been forced to regress to a format that should have long since been abandoned, through accident or design Cartmel comes up with the best compromise he can, the three-parter. It would be unfair to saddle the three-parters with the generalisation that they were simply four parters with the crap episode taken out (that's part three, by the way), but they are certainly a natural step on the path to self-contained 45-minute episodes that would become genre television's stock and trade in the 90s.

In their most simple terms, Cartmel has reduced the formula thus: episode 1, exploration; episode 2, investigation; episode 3, resolution. The episode 3 exposition instalment that has bogged down Doctor Who plots since time began is removed and the resolution is now only 14 days away, rather than 14 weeks.

In short, I think three-parters were a good idea.

And so on to Delta itself. It's fab. I am totally unashamed to admit that I love it to bits. It feels like the first story to be made exclusively for my generation (by my generation, I mean people who weren't about in the 70s), which probably explains why anyone over a certain age hates it.

A group of rock and roll loving aliens go on a trip to Disneyland in a spaceship that looks like a bus, crash in to a satellite and find themselves in a holiday camp in Wales in 1959. There they meet Burton, who deadpans the line, "You are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?" in a way that Leslie Nielsen couldn't have bettered. Thereafter he wanders through the story like Captain Mainwaring on acid, facing the bad guys with an enthusiasm that seems almost improper for a tale about genocide.

You couldn't make it up, well... er... yes you could, evidently.

After eight weeks of toil Sylv is getting a grip on where he wants to take the character. He dances uncomfortably with Ray, confronts Gavrok, rides a motorcycle, hugs a stratocaster and talks about love in a way than none of his predecessors could have done. Then he hatches a plan to defeat the bad guys with honey; he's a joy. Bonnie is still as stilted as usual, but she seems on firmer footing back on earth with (regular?) human beings to interact with.

As for the guest cast, Ken Dodd is Ken Dodd and doesn't bring shame on his profession in the way Richard Briers did a week before; Don Henderson is Don Henderson - I've never seen Z Cars but from what I've seen of him in other things, here he plays the same gruff character he'd been playing for the previous thirty years. Stubby Kaye is Stubby Kaye; actually, can you see a pattern developing here? By the same token I can only assume that David Kinder and Belinda Mayne are as bland in real life as they are on screen.

But the two who really steal the show are Richard Davies and Hugh Lloyd. Davies I mentioned before, he's possibly my favourite character in the whole thing. There's only been two characters in the whole series that I wish had joined the TARDIS crew; the wonderful D84 is the other. Hugh Lloyd as Goronwy adds a wonderfully magical edge to every scene he's in, and provides all of the exposition. In fact, sometimes I wonder if 'Goronwy' is welsh for 'Basil.' For example, when he's talking about the Queen bee secreting hormones into food to create a mate, he's not really talking about bees... or perhaps I'm just reading too much into it.

Either way, I love this tale of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to bits. Really. Oh, and if Malcolm's Mum could put the cheque in the post, that'd be great.

Filters: Series 24 Seventh Doctor Television

Like its season twenty-four stable mates, ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ divides fan opinion straight down the middle. There are those who believe this story to display the worst excess’s of the McCoy era; garish visuals, badly cast guest stars and with a silly pantomime like theme running through. In many respects, these people are right. ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ has these qualities in copious amounts. However, I am of the opinion that watched on its own terms this serial is a lot of fun.

Malcolm Kohl has scripted the most wonderfully silly story here. The basic outline of the plot is thus; Delta, the last of the Chimerons, is fleeing persecution from the evil Bannermen, led by Gavrok. She manages to escape their clutches and tags along with a bunch of Navarino holiday makers, whose destination is 1959 Disneyland. Following a collision between the Navarino bus and an American satellite, the Navarion’s crash land not in Disneyland, but at the Shangi-La holiday camp in South Wales. Needless to say, the Bannermen aren’t far behind…

The cast for this story are a mixed bunch. Most famously Ken Dodd shows up as the toll master, complete with garish costume and, erm, ‘party hooter’? Actually, given the tone of the piece, Dodd isn’t as bad as you’d imagine. Besides, he’s barely in the thing. Don Henderson as Gavrok is wonderful. He plays the part totally straight and is a very menacing threat that the Doctor must defeat. Belinda Mayne, playing Delta and David Kinder playing Billy are the weak links here. This is a real problem for this serial, as the love story between Billy and Delta is one of the most important elements running throughout. As a consequence of their lack of chemistry and wooden acting I never really bought this element of the plot. Now, mention must go to Sara Griffiths, who plays Ray. Originally scripted as a possible replacement for Mel, Ray gets a lot to do in this story and fills in as a companion for the Doctor whilst Mel is busy doing whatever it is she does. Griffiths, despite some shaky moments, does well. She also has the benefit of being incredibly cute, which is never a bad thing in my book! Those who watch QVC in the UK will be familiar with Griffiths, and they can also attest that she still looks as good today as back in ’87.

Sylvester McCoy is still finding his feet here. For the most part he makes little impression. A few lines scattered throughout make up for this however, and at least he’s better here than in ‘Time and the Rani’. Bonnie Langford really isn’t too bad here. She seems to be playing Mel in a less hyperactive fashion, and although the role of traditional companion is taken by Ray here through a lot of this serial, when she is on-screen she doesn’t sink to the depths she did in, say ‘Paradise Towers’.

‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is a real mixed bag. The basic plot and story idea is quite entertaining, and as someone else has mentioned could have been penned by Douglas Adams. I enjoyed the opening action scenes on the Chimerons’ home planet, and the way the Doctor defeats the Bannermen through the use of honey is silly, but is in keeping with the rest of the script.

Unfortunately, bland direction from Chris Clough and some more awful incidental music from our mate Keff McCulloch stops this one from being thought of more highly by fans.

I can’t help but love ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. It’s a far from flawless production, and indeed in places is laughably bad, but the overall atmosphere of the piece is so joyous, I always end up getting swept with it. This isn’t the turkey some would have you believe. Oh, and did I mention Ray is pretty hot?

Filters: Series 24 Seventh Doctor Television

Hope you’re in the mood for some good eatin’, ‘cos I’m gonna roast a turkey! Season 24 is condemned almost universally as being one of Doctor Who’s weakest: excessive, poorly made and with a ridiculous tone that drives the series into a different but equally poor direction to the one it recently held. However, it always seems to me that Delta And The Bannermen gets of scot free, with many praising it for its intelligent teasing of science fiction values. I say intelligent, but I simply want to get into the swing of the sarcasm that’s going to characterise this review. This is because Delta And The Bannermen is my candidate for Worst Story Ever, one of the only moments to make me ashamed to be a fan. And I don’t like saying that.

Oddly though, it actually begins fairly well with a decently staged battle scene, with some good special effects and some decent pyrotechnics. What lets it down though? The same thing that let a lot of other stories down. Keff. McCulloch. There are so many opportunities to slate him here that in the interests of avoiding repetition I’m going to get it all out of the way now: he is actually Satan himself. His attempts at parodying 1950s rock and roll are revolting (appropriate, though) and this is the third story in a row where a sickening synthy version of the theme music has been jammed into the incidental music. And that’s saying nothing about the sickening synthy version of the theme music that is, in fact, the actual theme music.

Ken Dodd’s manic overacting is painful to watch and, as usual, every time Mel opens her mouth I get the overwhelming desire to plug it with my shoe. While I’m listing through the rubbish characters, then you have to love those comedy Americans! Just picture the forced rictus smile on my face as I wrote that. Stubby Kaye’s line of “Wales, in England” is just about bearable, but a cheap shot. Other than that, it’s dire; the acting is stagy and the dialogue – “it’s exposition, but it’s funny!” – is too crummy for words.

The Navarinos and their bus become part of a completely comedic, parodic universe for the episode that puts it at complete odds with the programme it’s supposed to be. Could you ever imagine the bus being hit by a meteorite and crashing on Sutekh’s rocket, or next to the Chula ambulance? No. Reason? Those two examples are intelligent, well thought-through ideas, and this one belongs on the scrap heap. That’s a big problem with this story: the complete lack of thought. We never get told why Gavrok wants to kill the Chimerons, we never get told why the baby grows like it does; the villains have no real motivation, and many of the other characters act bizarrely as well: see the cliffhanger to part two (the Doctor’s thinking just makes no sense). At least Don Henderson and Belinda Mayne play it straight, although Mayne is so poor that she must have blackmailed the productions staff into casting her. When she shoots the communication screen, Gavrok’s explanation that she “somehow” switched it off demolishes what little credibility he ever had.

The dancing passengers on the bus is another cringe-inducer, and Hawk and Weismuller continue to bury the episode. The special effects of the bus crash are straight out of Button Moon (a shame, as the effects are generally one of the few real good points about season 24), although it’s nice to see the TARDIS actually being used for one. It was always a simple tool for establishing setting but this was taken to an extreme in the McCoy years and to see the Doctor doing something other than piloting it to Earth is a relief.

I’d have to agree with Mel’s assessment: they picked a sucky location, a cheap, run-down package-holiday nest of putrefaction only redeemed slightly by the pleasant countryside around it. Give me a good old reliable quarry, any day. And I’ve nothing against the Welsh, I’ve lived with several in my time, but Burton is seriously annoying. Ray is slightly better (especially in those leathers, nudge nudge), but her exaggerated cute-little-girly characterisation grates. She could be OK, if only she didn’t open her mouth so much.

The Doctor gives the mechanic Billy free reign with a load of alien technology. Timeline? Aw, who cares, let’s rock!

Ken Dodd’s death, after all these jokey shenanigans, seems unnecessary and inappropriately nasty and mean-spirited (a lot like the death of Clive in Rose). If Malcolm Kohll had to pick such a nauseating tone as he largely does, he should at least be consistent.

At the party, Billy is dressed up in a cheap James Dean / Marlon Brando parody. This may seem minor, but in a sense it epitomises what’s wrong with the story: it proclaims to tease 1950s stereotypes while at the same time pandering to them. It doesn’t have the imagination to be truly satirical, and therefore falls short of its targets and ends up being that which it mocks. And for those cameo fans out there, Keff McCulloch can be seen in the band. Funny, if I was him I wouldn’t be so keen to show my face.

At the cliffhanger to part one, the Doctor gives himself away by a feeble sneeze, snapping the needle on my cliché counter. I’d only just mended it in time to lose it again at the sight of Keillor’s smoking shoes: they only just got away with that in the Meltdown episode of Red Dwarf, and that was a comedy programme. This isn’t. It tries to be, but you wouldn’t have heard me laughing. I’m not against comedy in Doctor Who, but a fairly important requirement of comedy is that it should be funny. The model baby is good, but with Mel in the room screaming it’s the sound effects I object to.

Goronwy, at last, is a nice piece of characterisation. His ambiguity is nice, and I like the theory that he may be an old retired Time Lord. It’s only a shame he’s played so camply by Hugh Lloyd.

Oh, and that DJ is entirely unnecessary. Bad review are certainly therapeutic, but I never enjoy slating my favourite show and I’d much rather watch a good episode than a bad one – but I must confess it was only the thought of tearing into it here that kept me going. The idea of an omnipresent threat rapidly approaching is a good one, by boring direction from Chris Clough and its unremittingly saccharine tone suck dry any sense of tension.

Belinda Mayle’s acting when Delta learns the Bannermen are on their way? Lame. David Kinder’s acting when he learns the Bannermen are on their way? Lame. Delta And The Bannermen? Lame. Ray’s catchprase of “He’s been ihyoniiiiiiiiiised!” is really getting on my nerves now and, although it’s not a new observation, those Bannermen really do look like a load of yuppies on an adventure weekend. The deaths of all the Navarinos leave an unpleasant taste, another example of the kind of action adventure this sometimes tries to be. It wants to have it both ways, and consequently succeeds in neither.

As far as part three is concerned, I was getting too sick of it to take notes. My interest was going the same way as my will to live. Gavrok and his Bannermen get stung by bees, and do you know what? I don’t care. The escaped Bannerman is a bit of a wuss really, and is it me or does he look a bit like Andrew Cartmel? The sonic cone on top of the TARDIS makes the end very very obvious, but at least it means the end is in sight. It could be worse: the story could be average length. For those who like this sort of thing, Sylvester McCoy cops a feel of Sara Griffiths when he’s marking out the boundary around the TARDIS. Hey, I need a bit of a laugh, I just watched Delta And The Bannermen. The ending is abrupt and rubbish, poor Ray gets left high and dry, and TURN THAT MUSIC OFF!

Season 24 is to be commended for attempting something new after the suicidal regime of old under Eric Saward, but it seems to be merely an instinctive panic rather than a measured response and nowhere is this better illustrated than Delta And The Bannermen. Much as it pains me to admit it, now that I’ve reviewed it I could comfortably never see it again.

Filters: Series 24 Seventh Doctor Television