Doctor Who
Delta and the Bannermen

Starring: Sylvester McCoy
BBC Video
BBCV 7131
Certificate: PG
Available now

The Doctor and Mel win a place on an alien holiday tour bound for Earth in 1959. Little do they realise that one of their fellow travellers is being pursued by the genocidal Bannermen...

Hailing from one of Doctor Who's weakest seasons - the 24th - this is fortunately one of the better entries. Its successor, Dragonfire, with its more serious approach, is usually singled out as being the best (or least worst) story of the season, but Delta offers many great moments as well as a general sense of fun. A genuine holiday atmosphere is conveyed, not only by the Welsh holiday camp setting (recorded almost entirely on location), but also by a jaunty yet moving soundtrack by Keff McCulloch. The musician evokes the period with the strategic use of cover versions to 1950s pop tunes and other musical elements, such as the exciting theme to the Dick Barton adventure serials.

An unusually large cast boasts many intriguing characters, including the enigmatic Goronwy, a bee-keeper who shares an apparently telepathic connection with his bees, which gives him insights into the natural world of this and other planets. Goronwy is completely unfazed by the sight of a green alien girl, and, as played by Hugh Lloyd, is every bit as eccentric as the Doctor. The much maligned cameo appearance by Ken Dodd is actually rather enjoyable; Dodd is only comical when the script requires him to be, and he does a decent death scene. The American characters Weismuller and Hawk (Stubby Kaye and Morgan Deare) are practically superfluous to the plot, but do provide a classic line when Weismuller reports that he is calling from "Wales, England"!

Of the regular cast, Bonnie Langford gives one of her most restrained performances as Mel, second only to her return to the role in Big Finish's The Fires of Vulcan audio drama last year. McCoy is evidently still settling into the role of the Doctor, portraying a more bumbling character than the dark manipulator that he would later become. However, he does play some wonderful scenes, particularly when displaying his unease at attempting to comfort the distraught Ray (Sara Griffiths), a task that he seems to find more difficult than the toppling of interplanetary dictators. Scripted by Malcolm Kohll as a potential new companion (before the production team settled for Sophie Aldred's Ace in Dragonfire), and due also to Griffiths' performance, Ray is a very likeable character. Like Ace, but to less of an extreme, she adopts a tough tomboy attitude to conceal her true feelings.

On the down side, the alien baby who grows rapidly to maturity is an obvious rip-off of the character of Elizabeth and her short-lived reptilian sibling from the then recent US series, V. Also, the potential menace of the Bannermen is undermined by the lack of any discernible motive for their extermination of the Chimeron race, although Don Henderson does manage to inject some threat into his bland dialogue as the Bannermen's leader, Gavrok.

This is by no means a classic, but jolly good fun.

Richard McGinlay