and the Bannermen
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he 24th season of “Doctor Who” is pretty much agreed upon by most fans as the worst in the show’s history. Even those who defend the remainder of Sylvester McCoy’s era will be hard-pressed to come up with an argument that rationalizes otherwise. This was his freshman season, and not only did the production team seem to lack a grasp of what they wanted to do with the central character, but they weren’t doing much better in the story department. Further, the series was producing only four stories a season at this point, so a weak entry stood out far more than ever before, and Season 24 had more than one such offering. (It is, in fact, debatable that any of its stories even fall under the banner of “good.”) “Delta and the Bannermen” might be one of the season’s better entries, but only in an “it’s not quite as dreadful as some of the others” sort of way. I tried, I really tried –
having not seen it in probably 20 years – to find the beauty in it this time around, but alas, it largely escaped me once again.
The story begins on some distant planet, where the rather ridiculously-named alien female Delta (Belinda Mayne) is trying to survive amidst the massacre of her people, the Chimerons. Behind the genocidal charge are some thugs called the Bannermen, who are led by Gavrok (Don Henderson, whom you might recognize as one of Grand Moff Tarkin’s lackeys from “Star Wars”). Delta steals a Bannermen ship and escapes, along with the egg of the last Chimeron child. She makes her way to a space port, which happens to be a departure point for aliens wanting to vacation on other worlds, and hops onboard a space bus headed for Earth in 1959. The Doctor and Melanie (Bonnie Langford) are there as well, having won a trip on the bus, but after the bus takes flight, it’s hit by an Earth satellite, and it ends up stranded in a Welsh holiday camp (rather than Disneyland, which was the intended destination). The Bannermen are hot on the trail of Delta, however, and they, too, end up at the camp in 1959. It is, of course, up to the Doctor to help repair the space bus, stop the Bannermen, and ensure the safety of Delta as well as the future of the Chimeron species.
On the surface, there isn’t anything wrong with the core of any of this, but the execution of the script fails to bring together all the elements into much of anything cohesively entertaining. Delta herself is quite the little hottie, while the Chimerons seen at the beginning are these rather faceless, green-skinned figures. When the Chimeron baby hatches, it too is an ugly little thing, until it starts to grow and it looks like a pretty little blond girl. Again, no explanation is given for this. And unless I missed something, it’s also never really explained why Gavrok is so intent on slaughtering the Chimerons. Much of the script coasts on the notion that since it’s “Who” it can be weird and vague and nobody will ask questions. Truth be told, some “Who” stories can get away with that attitude, but in order to do so, there’d better be something stimulating surrounding all the nebulous goings-on to keep the viewer from pondering such issues. Instead, “Delta and the Bannerman” surrounds its core sci-fi story with loads of silly acting from most of the supporting cast, a typically terrible Keff McCulloch synth score, and several mouthfuls of unattractive teeth (yeah, I know what a lame dig that was). On the plus side, however, McCoy isn’t nearly as bad as is the norm; he turns in an unusually subdued performance, and for once is actually something of a minor highlight in one of his stories. But the award for Best Actor here must go to Don Henderson, who appears to be acting in a different story than everyone else. Gavrok is ugly, mean and evil, and Henderson seems to be the only actor who really knows he’s on “Doctor Who” rather than a half-hour sitcom. Finally, while Keff’s score is as bad as usual, he actually does a pretty good job with all the fifties cover tunes that litter the tale, and that’s probably the nicest thing I’ll ever have to say about his skills in regard to “Who.”
Some say the story is an homage to fifties sci-fi films, but it bears little resemblance to any such film that I’ve ever encountered. Apologists also claim that it’s meant to be light and charming, and I suppose on a certain level it is, but not enough so that it justifies being produced under the “Who” banner. If “Delta and the Bannermen” were an episode of the variety show “The Brady Bunch Hour,” it would be the best installment that series ever produced. But it is not – it’s an entry in the greatest science fiction series ever made, and it’s hard to reconcile that it’s part of the same show that produced fare like “The Deadly Assassin” and “Image of the Fendahl” ten years before. It’s at best a minor misstep, and at worst utterly forgettable.
Special Features: There’s a commentary track with McCoy, director Chris Clough, script editor Andrew Cartmel, and Sara Griffiths, who plays Ray. Unusual for a “Who” DVD, there is no making-of this time around, so instead the disc offers up all sorts of archival stuff, including several on-set interviews with McCoy, Langford, etc, recorded during the “Delta” production that are taken from a series called “But First This,” alongside a “Wales Today” set report. There’s also an alternate cut of Episode One (sans effects and music) that’s bound to interest the hardcore fan. “Hugh and Us” is an interview with Hugh Lloyd, who plays the beekeeper Garonwy. Probably the best extra is another installment of the ongoing series “Stripped for Action,” which examines each Doctor’s era as it’s represented in the comics (this time around it focuses on the 7th Doctor). There’s a coming soon trailer for “The War Games,” which is getting a DVD release in November. There are also the usual production notes subtitles, photo gallery, trails and continuities, and DVD-ROM accessible Radio Times listings. The most amusing extra - on a purely ironic level - is a bit from Noel Edmonds in which McCoy, in full costume, is put on trial for impersonating a Time Lord. Yep, that’s the highlight – yes it is.