Timestamp #149: Paradise Towers

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers
(4 episodes, s24e05-e08, 1987)

 

“Nothing’s just rubbish if you have an inquiring mind.”

On one hand, we have the typical ’80s grunge-apocalypse sci-fi with a woman on the run. On the other hand, Mel and a swimming pool paradise. The TARDIS arrives at the former, though Mel and the Doctor would rather have the latter after jettisoning the time capsule’s swimming pool to solve a small leaking problem.

Caretaker 345/12 (subsection 3) – I’m going to call him “Dave” because his business pseudonym is far too complicated – reports that he’s investigating possible “wallscrawlers” on Potassium Street. He finds blood and a scrap of fabric similar to the clothes the woman was wearing. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mel are accosted by a group called the Red Kangs. They are different than the Blue Kangs and the Yellow Kangs – the latter of which there exists only one, presumably the girl from the opening – and they love the Doctor but dislike Mel. The two lead Reds introduce themselves as Fire Escape and Bin Liner.

A Blue Kang follows Dave and reports via telephone that the Yellow Kangs are dead. To reinforce it, a cleaning robot drives by with a yellow-clad foot sticking out of the top. Moving back to the Red Kangs, the Doctor explains that he and Mel are visitors who have just arrived. Fire Escape tells him that there are no visitors by law and that the tower’s inhabitants consist of the Kangs, the old ones, the Caretakers, and another faction that Bin Liner doesn’t want her talking about. The concept of “boys” is completely foreign to the group. Mention of the pool in the sky earns the travelers a one-way ticket to captivity.

Elsewhere, Dave is killed by cleaning robots and the Chief Caretaker orders that all red wallscrawlers in Fountain of Happiness Square are apprehended. The Doctor is apprehended by the Caretakers and Mel ends up in the apartment of Tilda and Tabby, two women living in an ’80s sitcom. They identify as Rezzies and offer Mel tea and cakes.

The Doctor and his escorts, including the Deputy Chief Caretaker, rest for a moment. The Doctor examines the graffiti and interprets a Kang being attacked by an automaton. The Deputy Chief dismisses the idea, but they soon find themselves on the run from a cleaning robot matching the art on the walls.

Tilda and Tabby tell Mel of a great war in which the youth and elderly were sent to the Towers and those who could fight were never seen again, but their story is interrupted by Pex, a refugee from The Terminator, who apparently breaks down the apartment door on the regular in order to “put the world of Paradise Towers to rights.” Mel departs to continue her quest for the pool and Pex (“pecs”) joins her as a protector and guide.

The Doctor is brought before the Chief Caretaker, is mistaken as the original architect of Paradise Towers – someone who will restore the Towers to their utopian glory – and is ordered to be executed.

Seriously now… tell me straight… what in the world am I watching right now?

The Doctor’s execution is delayed as the Chief Caretaker investigates Dave’s death. Meanwhile, Pex shows off for Mel and the Red Kangs discover that No Exit, one of their own, has been “taken to the cleaners.” The Doctor muses over the cleaners as he awaits his fate, eventually securing a copy of the Caretaker rulebook and using it to work his way out of captivity.

What an excellent way to use the authoritarian blind obedience to his advantage.

Mel and the Doctor wander the Towers in search of one another. Mel learns that Pex’s memory of his past is faulty and the Doctor learns something from a particular piece of wall art. Back in the ’80s sitcom nightmare, Tilda and Tabby (who are dining on rats) are visited by Maddie with news of Dave’s death.

The Doctor breaks a telephone and gathers the money within before being chased by cleaning robots (whom he tricks into fighting each other) and falls into the Red Kang headquarters. Mel and Pex are similarly taken by the Blue Kangs. The Doctor uses his money to buy a soda from a vending machine, a move that startles the Reds before amazing them.

The Chief Caretaker (“Daddy”) visits a machine (“my pet”) and chastises it for consuming a Red Kang without his permission. The machine replies that it is hungry. Meanwhile, the Blues tell Mel that Pex is a coward – a deserter? – and Mel is allowed to leave him with the Blues.

That was a bit heartless, Mel.

Mel ends up back with Tilda and Tabby as the Chief Caretaker orders his army to teach the Kangs a lesson for their defiance. The ladies take Mel captive – Mel screams… goodness, does she scream – as the Caretakers begin their assault on the Red stronghold. The Doctor buys the Reds time as they escape the Caretakers, and Mel’s predicament gets more interesting as the ladies are eaten by the robot and Pex rescues our carrot-juice aficionado.

The Doctor is captured by the Caretakers and taken back to the Chief. The Chief interrogates the Doctor, but the Time Lord quickly turns the tables and uncovers the Chief’s involvement in the murders. The Q&A is interrupted by the Deputy who bears news of more deaths, prompting the Chief to leave. Soon enough, the Reds break in and rescue the Doctor, leaving the Caretakers bundled neatly on the floor. They end up back in the Red stronghold, sipping sodas and watching an infomercial on Paradise Towers. He draws the conclusion that the architect, Kroagnon, built Miracle City. The place would be the architect’s oasis, but he was forced out and those who moved in were killed. There was no evidence to link the architect to the murders, so he went free.

Mel and Pex decide to continue to the pool, noting that the basement is restricted to tenants on penalty of death, but they end up trapped in a wayward elevator and dumped into the lair of evil. They escape and end up on the pool deck. The Doctor follows similar logic end convinces both Blue and Red Kangs to accompany him to the basement. Once there, they witness the mastermind robot declare itself to be Kroagnon and encase the Chief in a container before attacking the Doctor. The Doctor and the Kangs escape, but after they leave the Chief is freed, but his mind is now that of Kroagnon. The hybrid goes on a killing spree.

Oh my, the Chief-Kroagnon’s performance is cringe-worthy.

On the pool deck, Pex and Mel rest for a moment, unaware of the cleaning robot hiding underwater. Mel goes in the water, gets attacked, and screams. (We all know how well she can scream!) Pex calls for help to an empty room, and Mel grabs his gun and disables the robot. Shortly afterward, the Doctor appears with his team, and the whole lot are met by the remaining Rezzies who petition for help.

The team hears the story of the hybrid’s crusade and they agree to help. They are surprised when the Deputy Chief arrives and asks to help them, bringing his knowledge of a secret stash of explosives. The Doctor formulates a plan to trap Kroagnon, including a lure to draw the hybrid out. Pex volunteers to help as the Rezzies and Kangs start destroying the cleaners.

Why the Kangs couldn’t aim well enough before now to kill the cleaners with a single shot is an exercise left to the viewer.

The Kangs give Pex gifts in appreciation, and Pex gives Mel his pistol before beginning his task. Pex brings the architect too soon, but he musters enough bravery to execute the plan and destroy Kroagnon by sacrificing himself. Fast-forwarding to the wrap-up, the Kangs memorialize Pex for his sacrifice and induct the Doctor in the newly united Kang faction. The travelers say their farewells and depart, revealing one last wallscrawl as the TARDIS vanishes from sight: Pex Lives.

 

This story seemed like a parody of Doctor Who. The idea is sound, with a utopia that has fallen into anarchy embodied through factions. They each have basic rules for survival, and all of them must unite under a single banner to defeat a common foe. The problem is in the execution, which was dreadful, laughable, and (dare I say it?) boring.

One thing that brings the serial up is the deep immersion into this microcosm. The Kang gang member names, the factions, and the entirety of the world is never fully explained, and we are expected to accompany the Doctor and Mel as they figure it out and defeat the enemy. The big downside is that it’s so immersive that trying to interpret the vernacular overwhelms the story.

The larger highlight is the Doctor. I love his zaniness and sense of exploration, and the rising undercurrent of darkness is a complex dimension that is both endearing and intriguing. He is the bright spot in this pile of rubbish.

 

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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3 thoughts on “Timestamp #149: Paradise Towers

  1. I first saw this when I was 9 or 10. I had your reaction. It’s one I think that benefits from reading what others have said about it, because I think it’s a very 80’s U.K. story. There’s a lot of social commentary here, and I think the slang was a lot easier to comprehend for those who grew up in that environment. It’s typically regarded as a great one by the U.K. viewers, and while I wouldn’t go that far I do think it benefits a bit from some context. I’ve only seen it two times, but the second time was five or so years back, and I definitely liked it better than I did the first time.

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