Doctor Who: Looking Back At DELTA AND THE BANNERMEN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At DELTA AND THE BANNERMEN

Tony’s gasping for breath.
There are people in the world who will tell you, usually with something of a sneer, that 21st Doctor Who belts along at such a pace that there’s no time to deliver proper storytelling or characterisation.

These are some people who need to be strapped down and made to watch Delta and the Bannermen, the third story from Season 24 of Classic Doctor Who.

As Sylvester McCoy’s first season in the Tardis, there was something of a shift in the wind behind the scenes during Season 24. Season 24 was the only set of stories Sylvester McCoy would have as the relatively comedic Doctor who mangled proverbs and promised to grow on you. For Season 25, there would be a shift toward a darker, more brooding Doctor who made plans on multiple levels to outsmart the galaxy’s endless parade of evildoers.

Season 24 was also set to be Bonnie Langford’s first and only full season in the Tardis as Mel Bush, the red-headed computer programmer from Pease Pottage, who had introduced herself halfway through Season 23 as being “about as honest, and as boring, as they come.”

Way to sell the character, there.

So, between the introduction of a relatively comic McCoy Doctor and a full season with the “boring as they come” Mel Bush, Season 24 was a period in which sillier stories could live and breathe.

If we allow every Doctor a pass on their regeneration story (and McCoy needs one to get beyond Time And The Rani), then Delta and the Bannermen is Peak Silly during the McCoy era.

As such, you’ll find lots of fans who embrace their Inner 8-year-old when it comes to this story, while less outrageously silly stories get a lot more scrutiny.

Essentially, Delta and the Bannerman is a three-part story with two episodes’ worth of plot and a hell of a lot of wildly running around and demented plot elements smashing together.

What’s weird about that is that it was originally meant to be a six-parter to end the season. What’s even weirder is that if it had BEEN a six-parter, it would have been a much better story.

Delta and the Bannermen (originally titled Flight of the Chimeron, among other options) has a central theme. The theme is bees. We’ll get to that in more detail in a moment. Beyond that though, there’s barely a word of it that doesn’t make you go “Hmm? What happened now?”
The story opens on the unnamed planet of the Chimerons, where the Chimerons (green men with covered-over mouths that look like nothing so much as toy soldiers) are being invaded by the Bannermen. The Bannermen wear all black uniforms, and… erm… occasionally have banners stuffed down their back. That’s literally what the Bannermen are. Men. With Banners. It’s not the most subtle of creations, but let’s go with it.

Let’s especially go with it because veteran actor Don Henderson is on board as Gavrok, the Bannerman leader, taking the whole thing seriously enough to anchor the Bannermen on just the right side of silly with a performance that outshines a lot else that happens in the story.

Apart from the green-skinned Chimerons, there’s Delta, their queen. She’s distinctly non-green, but white and blonde, with a functioning mouth and a pure sci-fi white outfit that shows up beautifully in the gravel pit of the planet. Fortunately, not one of the Bannerman can shoot for toffee, so she makes it to one of their ships and escapes, with a Chimeron egg in a bag. Gavrok, crazed by her escape, determines to hunt her down as the last of the Chimerons takes flight. (Flight of the Chimerons, Flight of the Bumblebee, it’s a whole thing).

The point is, there’s no time to get a handle on particularly why the Bannermen have such a rage on for the Chimerons. We literally learn nothing about Chimeron society, Chimeron-Bannerman politics or diplomacy. It’s entirely as complicated as “Dudes in Green, good. Dudes in black, baaad. Woman in white – running.”

It’s not especially rewarding in character terms, but at least as far as it goes, it makes some sense.

When the Doctor and Mel arrive in the story, sense kind of takes the weekend off.
The Tardis, a vehicle that travels through the space-time vortex, ends up at an interstellar toolbooth, where comedian Ken Dodd in a sparkly purple suit and hat tells the Doctor and Mel that they’ve won a prize for being the tollport’s 10 billionth visitor. The prize is a trip back to 1950s Disneyland. But not just a special trip to themselves – oh no, they get to tag along on a scheduled trip with some purple squidgy rock and roll-loving aliens called the Navarinos. The Navarinos get transformed so they look like humans, but the idea that they’ve just been hanging around the tollbooth waiting for the prize winners to join them is bizarre.

Mel joins what is essentially a space bus, while the Doctor decides to follow on in the Tardis. That’s just as well, because out of nowhere, Delta the Chimeron queen arrives at the tollbooth, abandons her Bannerman spaceship and takes the Doctor’s place on the Navarino bus. Nobody appears to question this frantic behaviour in the slightest.

Gavrok arrives hot on her heels, interrogates the tollmaster, annnnd then shoots him in the back.

As ya do.

So far, so batty.

Meanwhile, in 1950s South Wales, a couple of comedy Americans are getting instructions from the US Government to track a newly-launched communications satellite. Because… sure. Wales in the 50s was all about tracking satellites.

Hawk and Weismuller, the Americans, barely have any function in the story beyond comedy cutaways. Their satellite though has an important role to play – no sooner is it launched that it gets lodged in the engine of the Navarinos’ rock and roll bus. The Doctor does some energetic Tardis-work and saves their lives, bringing them down safe and sound on Earth – but not in Disneyland.

In a naff 1959 South Wales holiday camp, in fact.

From here on out, Delta and the Bannermen is mostly a pitched battle between Delta and her new friends and the Bannermen who follow her.

In 1959.

In Wales.
That involves Mr Burton, who runs the holiday camp and is played with vigour by Richard Davies, a man who was reliably Welsh for a living, and who delivers at least a believable former army major in the role. It involves Goronwy, an inexplicably present local beekeeper played by the ever-valuable Hugh Lloyd.

But sadly, it mostly involves possibly the most sink-like-a-stone love triangle ever recorded in any medium anywhere.

At the camp, there is engineer and wannabe rock and roll crooner, Billy, played by David Kinder. He’s put to work getting a satellite out of the engine of a space bus, but more importantly, he’s mooned over hopelessly by Rachel (“Please call me Ray”), a local Welsh girl who dotes on the boy to the extent of learning about motorbikes, and carrying a full toolkit in her shoulder bag at all times in the hope that it will get him to notice her.

Sadly, Billy is cold and dismissive to Ray at every opportunity, despite their having grown up together (a slightly odd conceit as he has no hint of a Welsh accent, and hers is… something to hear. It’s like no-one at any point gave the thing a thought.). What’s more, give Billy one glance at the Chimeron queen and he’s panting like a poodle in a Peugeot. He’s also busily stealing Delta’s royal jelly and necking it himself.

Her what-now?

Remember the Chimeron egg she escaped with? Totally hatches in a 1959 Welsh holiday camp. And the resulting ‘Princess’ grows up miraculously fast, as a result of the special food Delta feeds her. The royal jelly that turns an ordinary green Chimeron grub into a blonde, white potential queen – as eventually explained about earthly bees by Goronwy in half a quiet second.
So as Billy steals and consumes some of the royal jelly as a way to be with Delta, it’s probably just as well that no-one explains to him the mathematics of saving a species from extinction, and that he’ll probably be required to make eggs with the new princess too.

Let’s not dwell on that. Let’s dwell on the fact that if you were to run a screen chemistry-meter over Billy and Delta, it would bury the needle to the left. They actually have negative chemistry. Not bad chemistry, not no chemistry. Negative chemistry. David Kinder and Belinda Mayne may well be fine actors in their own right, but put them together and every ounce of chemistry is immediately sucked out of any room.

Ray (played by Sara Griffiths) is a much more spirited young woman, and was initially scheduled to leave with the Doctor at the end of the six-part version of Delta, as the replacement for Bonnie Langford’s Mel. Sadly, she’s hampered in the script by her mooning devotion to a man who’s fairly unpleasant to her at every turn, and it ends up weakening the potential she had as a companion for the darker Doctor that was coming. In the event, an extra story, Dragonfire by Ian Briggs, ended the season, and a much more belligerent young companion, Ace, played by the always excellent Sophie Aldred, stepped aboard the Tardis.

Much of the third episode of Delta and the Bannermen (as well as some of the second) is spent riding around the Welsh countryside on motorbikes, trying to find Billy and Delta to warn them about the Bannermen. There are a couple of Bannermen scenes of minimal effectiveness, and one that really works, where McCoy’s Seventh Doctor really gets a chance to pull off a dramatic speech.

In a sign of what was to come from the staunchly moralistic Seventh Doctor, Delta and the Bannermen writer Malcolm Kohll writes him a belter of a one-to-one confrontation with Don Henderson’s Gavrok, and they spit insults at one another from different sides of the moral divide.

But while it’s the best thing in the story, it’s also the most crystal clear example of why the three-part Delta feels messy and breathless, and the six-part version would almost certainly have been better.

McCoy’s Seventh Doctor treats Gavrok and the Bannermen as though they’re some great and infamous threat, known to all and sundry as a scourge of the space lanes.

Nowhere in Delta and the Bannermen do they feel at all threatening – except in the person of Gavrok himself. He’s the one who kills the people who actually die throughout the story – he shoots the last of Delta’s guards stone dead on the planet of the Chimerons. He shoots the tollmaster. He sends the signal to atomize an optimistic rock and roll assassin (Don’t ask – it’s a part 1 distraction). He’s the one who ultimately vaporizes a busful of happy, escaping Navarinos. As it stands, the three-part Delta and the Bannermen should be called Delta, Gavrok, and These Useless Henchmen.

The six-part version would give the story time to stop, time to breathe, time for McCoy maybe to do some unobtrusive but useful exposition on the actual danger the Bannermen face, and Delta the chance to add in some colour on what the Bannermen’s beef is with her species in particular. It would give the opportunity for there to be some more significant character development, and in particular for Ray to grow beyond her obsession with Billy, and actually earn her right as a character to head off into the stars. The six-part Delta and the Bannermen could still have had its chases round the country on motorbikes, but might also have given Hawk and Weismuller something to do – after all, if you’re going to bring in a comic talent like Stubby Kaye as Weismuller, you should really feed him some action and some lines.

Above all, the six-part version of Delta and the Bannermen would have had that breathing space, that development space, that extension of the universe that it assumes exists in people’s heads, where the Bannermen are dangerous. The result would of course have robbed us of Sophie Aldred and Ace, and that’s not something to be wished. But it would have made Delta and the Bannermen itself something more in-depth, enjoyable, and meaningful, rather than the rapid-fire face-slap it sometimes feels like.

Watch Delta and the Bannermen today with a seven day free trial of BritBox.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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