Being a Doctor Who fan in the eighties must have been awkward: the lonely Timelord wasn’t cool, wasn’t sexy and – crucially – wasn’t David Tennant.
The golden age had long gone, BBC’s longest running sci-fi series was coughing up blood in the gutter, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to care. Along comes ‘Delta And The Bannermen’, already losing points for sounding like a late entry for Eurovision, and in three episodes you have everything that was considered wrong with eighties Who – pedestrian pacing, a musical score sounding like a tortured Casio and overblown, unrealistic dialogue.
And yet, twenty years on, unshackled from the weight of being the new episodes that would prove or kill off any claims you had to this being a series worth watching, there’s great charm to this little oddity about aliens in Wales. Essentially, this is ‘Dr Hu(lot)Takes A Holiday’, both in style and content, as crucially, the main events of the narrative (murder, explosions, spaceships) are pushed to the background, and the so-called subplots (love, flirting, and the joys of beekeeping) fill up the mainstay of the story’s airtime – and it’s much to everyone’s benefit.
It takes a while to get going while all the main characters are set in place, and nobody seems to have told Bonnie Langford and Ken Dodd that this ain’t pantomime season. But once we come down to Earth and encounter the wonderful Hugh Lloyd and Richard Davies (who both manage to wrestle their dialogue into something that sounds human), then the story finds its mojo.
What is refreshing about this trio of episodes is how delightfully innocent and carefree it all is – quite a feat when it’s actually all about sex and genocide (now, that would be a busy weekend). McCoy, still in his first season and unsure about how to pitch his Doctor, is great, holding hands with his current companion, flirting and dancing with his potential next (the delightful Sara Griffiths as Ray, a cute and curious brunette, certainly one of the best companions we never had), and there’s a lovely moment when the Doctor, in typical McCoy fashion, uses only words and outrage to go up against an angry mob, only to have them stick their guns in his face anyway: ‘Actually, I might have gone a little too far…’
This will never be your favourite Doctor Who story, and it certainly won’t be the one you use to introduce your friends to the original series, but it is playful, charming and loveable. You even get a hint of the Lonely God in a brooding, possibly unrequited McCoy: ‘Love has never been known for it’s rationality…’ With that in mind, you may even become somewhat fond of this.
Released on DVD on Monday 22nd June 2009 by 2Entertain.