Delta and the Bannermannys is the third story of season 24 of Doctor Who. It stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel. It has the unusual distinction of being only the third ever three-part Doctor Who TV story, and that is counting The Two Doctors from season 22 which had episodes twice as long as normal. So in a way it is the first three-parter since Planet of Giants all the way back in 1964!
The consequence of being three parts long instead of the more usual four is that it has to tell its story much more quickly. This is immediately apparent when the very first scene begins with action! We are straight into a battle, with mannys firing pewpewpew guns at each other and falling off things like they did back in the glory days of HAVOC.
One side is all in black - they are the obvious baddys led by Gavrok - while the other side is green except for Delta who is in white. Because having her in green would have given her one less point of comparison with Princess Leia from Star Wars. All the green mannys get killed - we know this because Gavrok tells us so - and Delta escapes by stealing a spaceship.
The TARDIS arrives but in a completely different scene. The Doctor and Mel are for once expecting trouble when they venture out, so clearly this is just to set up an immediate reversal whereby they instead get good news from Ken Dodd. They have won a holiday.
The Doctor does not look as thrilled as Mel to have won this prize, perhaps because the holiday is on Earth, and they will be going along with a load of aliens disguised as mannys in a spaceship disguised as an old bus. This is quite a clever idea for a spaceship and saves on the special effects budget - it parallels the TARDIS itself both in and out of the narrative.
This is made especially clear in the adjoining scene where we see the TARDIS on Earth in a country scene - except that it is actually a real police box in the 1950s, which is when the main part of the story is set. It is used by two comedy American CIA agents to 'phone the President.
The Doctor decides to travel in the TARDIS so it does not get left behind in space, and as he goes he sees Delta, still trying to escape Gavrok's spaceship, arrive in time to get on the spacebus as well. This means he knows something is going on, although he does not yet know that he is her only hope.
One of the mannys on the bus is suspicious of Delta, but we rapidly move on from this blatant bit of foreshadowing when the bus crashes into an Earth satellite (the one from the Americans' plotline) and they both go out of control.
The Doctor does something technobabbly
"Well, I simply applied the TARDIS vortex drive to generate an antigravity spiral to halt your descent."in the TARDIS to allow the bus to land safely. Bus, satellite and TARDIS all land in Wales at the Shangri La holiday camp. It is run by Burton (played by Richard Davies who I know from Whoops Apocalypse where he was very funny). He has a doggy!
Billy, a local mechanic, tries to help repair the spacebus's engine, and much comedy is made of a manny from the 1950s being confronted with warp drive technology... lol, actually he just sort of gets on with it, because there isn't time for anything like that in this episode!
The Doctor meets Ray, who is very Welsh, and he gets a saying wrong for the first time since Time and the Rani part four. Although he did not get any sayings wrong at all in Paradise Towers, it seems we have not after all seen the last of that character trait.
Meanwhile Mel does her best to try to get involved in Delta's plotline, but Delta does not trust easily... at least not until the story requires her to.
Gavrok has met Ken Dodd and finds out from him where the spacebus went, and then he shoots Ken Dodd anyway to show us that he is a properly evil baddy. If you think it was a good thing that Ken Dodd got shot then you may also be a baddy - just because he was an outrageous piece of stunt casting, doesn't mean he didn't deserve to live!
Lots of 1950s things happen to hammer home that this story is set in the 1950s, with references to "rock and roll" and "hula hoops." Billy and Delta begin a romance so lightning quick that it surprised even us cats (definitely a lot less than three minutes), but then there isn't time to develop their characters when there is a dual cliffhanger to build towards.
In the first cliffhanger, Delta's egg hatches and a green alien head is inside. Mel sees it and screams, which is something of an overreaction considering how it is actually really cute and not scary at all. This would have made for a rubbish cliffhanger by itself but fortunately there is another one for the Doctor.
The suspicious manny from earlier uses a space telephone to call Gavrok. The Doctor and Ray overhear him but give away that they are there when the Doctor sneezes (he must have known he needed to get caught for the cliffhanger to work). The suspicious manny has a pewpewpew gun and says he is going to kill them, leading to not so much a crash zoom to their faces as a shot of mild concern to end the episode on...
This is a very fun first episode to the story, but it is lacking in some technical respects. A lot of action is crammed into the 25 minutes and it feels rushed. We meet a lot of characters but none of them are developed - not even Delta or Gavrok. We only know Delta is a goody and Gavrok a baddy because Gavrok is such an obvious baddy that Delta must be good by comparison.
This could be quite clever, in a way, by leaving us viewers to infer motivation and fill in the gaps for ourselves, but that is not how it comes across when the same episode is happy to spend precious minutes repeatedly drawing our attention to the 1950s setting. We get it already! Now move on please.
There are so many characters to be introduced that, when you think about it, none of them actually get to do all that much, not even the Doctor or Mel or Burton's doggy. The two Americans don't even get as far as meeting any of the other characters, and so the only reason they appear in this episode is to give us some exposition while telling each other things they should already know.
Sylvester McCoy seems to have taken a backwards step in his portrayal of the Doctor, making him more like he was in Time and the Rani than how he was in Paradise Towers. He is good in his scene with Ken Dodd, but he really needs to work on his cliffhanger face - he could take some lessons from Colin Baker on that.
Despite these criticisms, the episode never gets boring and it does a good job of establishing the dramatic conflict in time for the next part - the middle act of the story already.
Doctor getting sayings wrong count: 2
(Season running total: 19)
"A stitch in time fills up space."
"There's many a slap twixt cup and lap."