Monday, 26 June 2017

Big Gay Longcat reviews Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermannys Part Three

"Give me Delta and I will give you... your life."

"Life? What do you know about life, Gavrok? You deal in death! Lies, treachery and murder are your currency. You promise life, but in the end it will be life which defeats you."

"You have said enough. I have traversed time and space to find the Chimeron queen. I will not be defeated."

"As you will. I came here under a white flag and I will leave under that same white flag, and woe betide any man who breaches its integrity. Now step aside, release those prisoners!"

Part three of Delta and the Bannermannys picks up from this exchange, which apart from being well acted (so well worth seeing twice) does a very good job of recapitulating the central conflict of the story - this could be useful for any cats who missed part two due to having sleeps. It is again two minutes before we get back to the cliffhanger point, which is another indication of how short this story is.

Seeing this for the second time, I noticed that the Bannermannys go to obey the Doctor's order without seeing what Gavrok has to say first. This is a subtle way of showing that the Doctor's bluff is working, and that is in fact the case - Gavrok does not shoot them, just menaces them with his pewpewpew gun a bit and then puts a homing beacon on the motorbike because this story evidently hasn't copied Star Wars enough yet.

Ray rescues the Americans when they get left unattended by the Bannermannys, so they can join in on the goodys side for the last part. Time for some chase music:

The Doctor knows there is a homing beacon on his motorbike so gives it to a goat for Gavrok to chase later on.

Billy is getting another lesson in metaphors from the mysterious Welsh manny Goronwy, this time it is bees standing (flying?) for Delta instead of butterflies. Billy steals some of Delta's little manny's noms for himself. It changes him into an alien like Delta, which is a bit convenient but never mind - it would seem churlish to hold such a plot point against Delta and the Bannermannys when it is otherwise such a well put together script.

Gavrok sets a bomb trap at the TARDIS and then goes back to his spaceship to follow the goat. In a clever bit of mirroring, the Doctor sets a trap of his own for Gavrok at Goronwy's house.

The Doctor notices Gavrok's booby trap in time to stop the Americans from falling for it. Meanwhile, Gavrok runs right into the Doctor's trap and him and his Bannermannys end up covered in honey (lol, the Doctor's trap is less lethal but much funnier than Gavrok's) and chased by special effect bees.

Sorry, that isn't a very good picture for illustrating this scene. Here's a better one:

The Doctor is still trying to disarm the trap on the TARDIS when Gavrok's spaceship arrives, so he has to run away and leave the TARDIS still trapped. The Doctor didn't get any sayings wrong in part two, but he manages to fit a couple in this episode.

The Doctor and Billy get shot at by Bannermannys but manage to rig up the holiday camp's speaker to broadcast Delta's little manny's singing, and it defeats the Bannermannys. I didn't think it was that bad.

Gavrok walks into his own trap and gets exploded. Who would have thought that the day would be saved not by the power of love but by the power of bad singing? Delta and the Bannermannys certainly gets points for originality on that score.

Delta and Billy steal the Bannermannys' spaceship and fly away in it, while Goronwy makes the point clear by giving more bee metaphors to the Americans. The plot is finally all wrapped up when the Americans get their satellite back, and then they make confused faces when the TARDIS disappears in front of them. Goronwy also sees the TARDIS leave, and makes a mysterious Welsh face...

Delta and the Bannermannys is an ambitious attempt at telling a new kind of Doctor Who story. Instead of showing or telling us what is happening, a lot of the time the programme gives us an impression of what is going on and leaves our imaginations to fill in the blank spaces.

Here there is a certain resemblance to the technique used in the original Star Wars films, in which the backstory of the clone wars and the destruction of the Jedi is left purposefully vague, conveyed only through a few lines of dialogue from Ben Kenobi, Governor Tarkin and, later, Yoda. This serves to make it much more dramatically powerful than if those events actually appeared in the films themselves, as well as allowing room for surprise twists and revelations about who is related to who.

Delta and the Bannermannys also seems to directly lift several plot points from Star Wars, but it does not copy the storyline* so much as it takes some of the familiar tropes from Star Wars (already 10 years old at the time Delta and the Bannermannys was made) and uses them like a shortpaw way of letting us know who some of these characters are and what they stand for.

(As and aside, some of these tropes were not even original to Star Wars - the heroic princess on the run from the baddys cannot have been a wholly new concept, else how would we have known Princess Leia was a goody when we first saw her even though one of her first actions is to gun down a soldier who has explicitly just set his weapon to stun?)

Perhaps the impressionistic style of Delta and the Bannermannys was arrived at by accident, as the makers experimented with a way of telling a four-part story in only three parts? To me this seems unlikely, since there are so many characters who do not get a traditional introduction: Ken Dodd, the bounty hunter, Billy, Ray, Mr Burton, the Americans and Goronwy - all except Goronwy first appearing in part one, and the last two having no proper reason for being involved in the story that is ever given on screen.

Billy and Delta's romance takes place almost entirely between scenes we see, and it is a vital plot element, yet we spend more time on the aliens making references to the 1950s setting than we do that - I conclude it has to be deliberate. Although I didn't like this after watching part one, now I think it works within the context of the stylised nature of this story - perhaps I was just culture shocked at the time?

In terms of SFX, Delta and the Bannermannys comes between Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers in the amount used, featuring some spaceships (economically, including the one disguised as a bus), plus the bees that seem to be an early attempt at CGI. While obviously not up to the standards of Hollywood movies of the time, and unable to compete with the likes of Back to the Future, The Terminator, or Caravan of Courage, they do the job they were designed for quite satisfactorily.

If Delta and the Bannermannys has any significant flaw, it is the uneven tone that flip flops between comedic and serious moments when maybe it would have been better to pick one and stick with it. Except somehow it makes that work. As a completely serious story, this would not have been good at all - the competing elements and characters (alien princesses and baddys fighting in 1950s Wales, not to mention the inappropriate Americans) would not have meshed together and been impossible to take seriously. On the other paw, an outright comedy could not have successfully featured the dramatic peril presented by Gavrok as an instrument of potential genocide.

Sylvester McCoy does his best work as the Doctor to date, although there are so many minor characters in this story that Mel is sidelined for a lot of it to allow Ray, Billy, Mr Burton, Goronwy and even the Americans each a chance to do stuff. As much as I like Bonnie Langford as Mel, it is a shame that they missed the opportunity of having Mr Burton join as a new Companion here, I think that would have been great.

Delta and the Bannermannys has a long legacy, being one of the most influential TV stories on the 2005 revived series of Doctor Who. Russell T Davies's version would often feature Wales and Welsh characters, as well as borrowing from contemporary sci-fi films and TV shows to create shortcuts to help fit stories into too short timeslots. And, of course, repeatedly misjudging the balance between comedy and drama.

In conclusion, Delta and the Bannermannys somehow works far better holistically than it should have any right to if we were to examine the individual elements of it separately. But does this just mean it is a remarkable one-off, or can this new formula be repeated successfully?

Doctor getting sayings wrong count: 2
(Season running total: 21)

"There's more to this than we can fry."
"All haste and no speed makes Jill a dull girl."

* Luke does not steal Chewbacca's noms to turn himself into a Wookie as far as I remember, though there may be some internets fanfiction in which that does happen. Nor are there two random Americans on Yavin IV looking for their missing moon space station satellite. Princess Leia's singing does save the day at one point, but only in the comics.

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