It might be cold outside, but Christopher Morley is heading off to the Shangri-La Holiday Camp...
You might remember Frank Skinner popping up in the series 8 story Mummy On
The Orient Express. Well that was not the first time a
well-known comedian had appeared in Doctor Who alongside a Scottish
Doctor of a darker hue than his immediate predecessors! That honour goes
to Ken Dodd who got himself the part of the Tollmaster in Delta and the Bannermen.
Broadcast from November 2nd 1987, this was Melanie Bush's
penultimate TARDIS trip alongside the Seventh Doctor- she'd say
farewell in Dragonfire as she elected to remain behind on Iceworld with Sabalom Glitz,
swapping places with Ace. She's got Nitro-9 & knows how to use it,
& will later be hailed as the only companion brave enough to whack a
Dalek with a baseball bat! The mystery of how she got probably as far
from Perivale as is humanly possible would come to a head in The Curse Of Fenric.
But for now we'll head to the Shangri-La holiday camp in Wales. The year is 1959, and the Doctor & Mel have won themselves a free trip thanks to a spot of luck in being the ten billionth customers to arrive at Toll Port G715 in the far future.
The Chimeron aren't having such a good time of it, though. They're being killed off by the Bannermen (named after Echo & The Bunnymen). So who's this Delta, & what makes her better than a drum machine ('Echo' being the name Ian McCulloch, Les Pattinson & Will Sergeant are popularly supposed to have given the handy bit of kit they used before getting a real sticksman in the shape of Pete De Freitas)? She's the Chimeron queen, & the last survivor of the Bannermen's genocide.
If that weren't enough there are two CIA agents, Jerome & Hawk, on the trail of a satellite which just happens to have crashed exactly where the now pullover-less Seven & Mel are heading, alongside a bus-load of humanoid starfish creatures known as Navarinos. They'll appear human to their fellow guests after going through a transformation arch, though. Among their fellow passengers is Delta...& Gavrok, leader of the Bannermen, knows exactly where she is! The Navarino bus manages to crash into the satellite, forcing an emergency stop at Shangri-La. They'd been aiming for Disneyland- not too far off then eh? Burton, the camp leader, welcomes them just as he would any other group of paying holidaymakers. Luckily for them Billy, a mechanic working at the camp, isn't far away either. He'll need to pull that crashed satellite from a rather large dent in the front of the bus......& the Doctor has something that can help fix that.
Its a Quarb crystal, an important component in the Hellstorm Fireball engine which powers the bus. Once its working again they'll be able to get on their way! Which provides an opportunity to learn more about a previously unknown function of 'Sexy'- the trusted old police box has a thermo-booster, which proves useful in growing a new crystal from the remains of the old after its broken. In the meantime, there's a dance to attend!
And this being the Fifties, composer Keff McCulloch gets a chance to really show off with a little rock & roll. He was asked to prepare arrangements of several hits of the time, all of which we hear performed by the Lorells ( with Billy the mechanic as lead singer). McCulloch also has a cameo as a member of the band, whose set-list includes Rock Around The Clock, Singing The Blues, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, When The Red, Red Robin, The Honeysuckle & The Bee, Mr Sandman, Goodnight Sweetheart, That'll Be The Day, Only You, Lollipop, Who's Sorry Now & Happy Days Are Here Again. We also get to see Seven have a bit of a play with a guitar himself, trading in his spoons for an instrument which is a hell of a lot cooler! Long live rrock & rroll, as he'd no doubt agree!
Perhaps inevitably the dance is where it all really kicks off. Billy's friend 'Ray'- actually a girl, Rachel- tells the Doctor she's always had a bit of a thing for the singing bus-fixer beyond mere friendship. Her dreams are dashed when he dedicates the aforementioned Why Do Fools Fall In Love, a hit for Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, to no less than Delta! He's taken a shine to her, though he doesn't yet know she's not even of the same species. In an admirable display of pluck Ray dances on regardless, taking the Doctor as a partner- which seems to stump the Time Lord no end.
Both he & Delta soon leave, though. He follows her into a storeroom & its not long before a mercenary, Keillor, who had posed as a tourist, comes in on the hunt. He's been promised a big reward by the Bannermen- & the Doctor's sneeze gives away the whereabouts of his intended target. Oops! He doesn't get his reward, though. Instead he's killed by Gavrok after outliving his usefulness. Not quite the holiday anyone had in mind really! Mind you we doubt Billy expected to become an alien & escape to another planet as part of a bid to impress a girl either. Oh, & they've got a child in tow, too. Its Wales, but not as we know it...
28 years and a fistful of Doctors later, Delta and the Bannermen is not really remembered as a classic, but it's notable for a few reasons. It was the first three-part story since 1964's Planet of Giants (not counting the 3 x 45 minute episodes of The Two Doctors which had been broadcast two years previously), and the first intended to be this length rather than cut to fit - Planet of the Giants having been edited down from 4 to 3 episodes.
On screen, eagle-eyed viewers would spot the Doctor carrying his
question mark umbrella for the first time, having shed his similar
pullover, and you may be surprised to learn that the character of Ray was originally intended to be a new companion for the Doctor...
Bonnie Langford had already announced she would be leaving Doctor Who, and this story, when it was still under the working title of The Flight Of The Chimeron, was originally scheduled to end season 24. However, as the serial neared production, Langford had not yet decided whether she would leave at the end of season 24 or during season 25. That, plus the rescheduling of Delta and the Bannermen to earlier in the season and the decision by script editor Andrew Cartmel to create another replacement companion named Alf (later renamed 'Ace'), led to the idea of Ray as a new companion being abandoned!
Just think, the possibility of a Seventh Doctor without Ace! Well it's hardly worth contemplating, is it?