Doctor Who – South of Watford – tape 412

Sigh.

I love Doctor Who. It is the best thing ever. But when something has lasted 50 years (give or take a blip in the 90s) you can’t love all of it. There will always be the occasional story that is less than superb.

This happened more than once in the late 1980s.

Hence, we have Delta and the Bannermen. From Sylvester McCoy’s first season, which is possibly the weakest single season ever, Delta and the Bannermen is, for me, the weakest story there (although since it’s sompeting with Time and the Rani that’s a hard call to make).

It all starts quite promisingly. Don Henderson and his soldiers, oddly adorned with flag or standards of some kind – possibly banners? – are after a young woman. They’re all in black, she’s in a white jumpsuit.

Her companions are green, with some frankly pathetic makeup.

A green deltan

But the pursuit is explosive enough, and opens the show with a lot of energy.

Things start to go awry in the next scene, with the second big guest star of the show, Ken Dodd. To be fair, all he’s asked to do is basically be Ken Dodd, but he does over-egg the death scene.

Ken Dodd on Doctor Who

We don’t have to wait long until the next celebrity cameo. In the next scene, Stubby Kaye and Morgan Deare (well, they’re famous somewhere) playing two American agents (I think) who drive up to an actual blue police box placed ridiculously in the middle of nowhere in order to get a message about a new American space probe. Why NASA would communicate via the network of police boxes is anyone’s guess.

To be fair, Kaye does have a funny line when he reports his location as “Wales, England”.

The plot basically revolves around a space-bus full of aliens disguised as humans, going on a nostalgia holiday to Disneyland in the 1950s, but which is rerouted to a ramshackle holiday camp in Wales when it hits Stubby Kaye’s satellite.

Hitching a ride on the bus is the Doctor’s companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) and the alien queen who was pursued by Don Henderson, while the Doctor follows along in the Tardis.

Brian Hibbard off of The Flying Pickets is one of the passengers, whilst also being an evil mercenary, doing a South African accent, presumably to underline his evilness.

Brian Hibberd

There’s yet another celebrity cameo later, when Hugh Lloyd turns up as a beekeeper.

Hugh Lloyd

This is a leaden metaphor for the Alien queen, because their lifecycle supposedly parallels the bee lifecycle.

With all these rather older performers, it does lend the production a slight Last of the Summer Wine tinge. To try to balance this out, there are a few younger characters – Billy, the dashing young mechanic and part-time crooner, Ray, the young girl who’s in love with Billy (but he doesn’t know) and Delta, the escaping alien, who has gone to the holiday camp to hatch her egg.

Come to think of it, isn’t this almost the same scenario as Dirty Dancing?

This story is badly shot, poorly acted, badly written, badly designed, and Keff McCulloch’s music is his usual drum machine in overdrive. There really isn’t anything in it that I can point to as being good enough to balance out all of the bad aspects of this story.

Just dire.

In contrast, following Doctor Who, there’s an episode of the LWT youth arts programme South of Watford. John Lloyd, producer of Blackadder, Not the Nine O’Clock News, QI, Spitting Image et al, turns presenter as he looks, with faux quizzicality, at the mid-80s phenomenon of the growing adult market for comic books.

It’s quite a fun programme, with some nice graphics, as he troops around the parts of London that I used to spend a lot of time.

There’s the original Forbidden Planet in Denmark Street.

Old Forbidden Planet

Amongst the interviewees are Dave Gibbons (but no Alan Moore), Alexei Sayle, and a very young looking Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Small press artist Myra Hancock is interviewed, and shown selling her comics on the corner of Neal Street.

Myra Hancock

Even Lenny Henry turns up at the end in the Groucho Club to regale Lloyd with all his favourite comics (even Cerebus gets a mention).

It’s a very entertaining romp though the London comics scene at one particular time. And fairly unusual to see John Lloyd as a performer.

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