Back in 1987, the rock’n’roll stylings of Delta and the Bannermen seemed to be a quaint reminder of a far-ago age. Yet more time now separates us from the original transmission (a shade under thirty years) than the gap between the first broadcast and its 1959 setting. Funny thing time …..
Maybe it’s the retro setting, but time seems to have been pretty kind to Delta. True, the story remains rather dreamlike and insubstantial, but it’s hard not to warm to it. On the negative side, it’s a shame that Gavrok remains hopelessly undeveloped – he wants to exterminate the Chimeron race because he wants to – meaning that Don Henderson has to make bricks out of straw (Henderson has a nice line in simmering anger but little else, alas). Delta herself, as portrayed by Belinda Mayne, is presented with a little more in the script to work with, but this is torpedoed by Mayne’s passionless performance.
I’ve also never been able to decide whether the fact that Weismuller can get straight through to the White House from a humble police box is supposed to be deliberately stupid or whether Malcolm Kholl just hoped nobody would notice. But given that Weismuller and Hawk are given the job of tracking a satellite with the aid of a very basic telescope, I think it’s probably the former …..
But if the story is somewhat flimsy fare, then the performances more than make up for it. Stubby Kaye is delightfully amiable as the bumbling Weismuller whilst Richard Davies brings to bear all his sitcom experience when delivering these sort of lines. “Now, are you telling me that you are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?”
And there’s the rub. If you believe that Doctor Who should be grim and gun-happy (like, say, Eric Saward) then Delta isn’t gong to appeal. Otherwise, there should be plenty to enjoy here – although even I, unreconstructed Delta fan as I am, can’t sit through the honey/bees scene without squirming. There should have been another way.
Had Sarah Griffiths toned down her “Welsh” accent then she might have made a very decent companion. She certainly works well with Sylvester – the moment when a distraught Ray (miffed that the love of her life, Billy, is making eyes at the newly arrived alien lady) grabs the Doctor for an energetic dance is just one delight amongst many.
Delta and the Bannermen is another good story from Doctor Who’s most unfashionable season. It may be pretty light fare but there’s something infectious about the production that induces a feel-good factor. Well, for some people anyway. Others can’t get beyond the Ken Dodd factor.
Doddy is something of an infamous guest star, but he’s only on screen for a couple of minutes so he’s not really much of a problem. His appearance does indicate that this isn’t going to be the most serious of stories, but while there may be plenty of comic moments everybody tends to play it pretty straight, well most of them anyway.
Richard Davies, as Burton, was a familiar face from British sitcoms (a regular on Please Sir and a guest at Fawlty Towers, for example) and his performance is pitched at that level. After all, it’s difficult to deliver lines such as “now, are you telling me that you are not the Happy Hearts Holiday Club from Bolton, but instead are spacemen in fear of an attack from some other spacemen?” without having a certain comedy knack. Davies has the knack and his bewildered but enthusiastic presence is one of Delta’s many strengths.
Hawk (Morgan Deare) and Weismuller (Stubby Kaye) are also good value, although they don’t have a great deal to do with the main plot and their subplot (looking out for an American satellite) is rather odd, to say the least. But it’s Stubby Kaye! In Doctor Who! He may be dressed as the oldest teenager in town but he gives a charming turn.
The main plot (Gavrok hunting down the Chimerons) remains somewhat vague. We never know why Gavrok hates the Chimerons, so he’s ultimately a rather sketchy villain. This lack of motivation meant that it required a good actor to make something out of a fairly nothing role and Don Henderson certainly delivers. Henderson was a popular television face (The XYY Man, Strangers and Bulman) and he’s able to generate a suitable level of boo-hiss villainy.
Sadly, the object of his pursuit (the Chimeron Queen, Delta) is something of a weak link. Belinda Mayne gives a rather colourless, passionless performance and it’s hard to really connect with her or sympathise with the plight of her people. The other main female lead (Sara Griffiths as Ray) was much better. It’s easy to see why Ray was originally planned as companion material, although if she had joined she would needed to have brushed up on her end of episode acting. At the end of episode one she’s threatened with death, but there’s a singular lack of anxiety on her face – just a look of mild inconvenience!
Given the comic-strip nature of the story, Gavrok’s destruction of the Nostalgia Tours bus at the end of the second episode is very jarring. The murder of thirty or forty people should be shocking (particularly those we know, like Murray) but it never really registers. Partly because the effect doesn’t convince but also because it seems out of place in the story to date.
The likes of The Myth Makers had three episodes of comedy followed by a dark, violent fourth episode. If things had taken a similar turn in Delta then this scene may have worked better, but events carry on as normal in episode three (with, for example, the bees attacking the Bannermen – a rather silly scene).
With two female guest roles and only three episodes, Bonnie Langford is a little sidelined in this story (she doesn’t do much at all in the last episode). Sylvester McCoy is on fine form though. I love his scenes with Ray in episode one, where he does his best to console her after she’s discovered that Billy (David Kinder) only has eyes for the lady from another planet. His hesitant comforting of the sobbing girl shows a tender side to the Doctor that we don’t see very often.
And his confrontation with Gavrok at the end of episode two is very good, especially the last line.
GAVROK: Give me Delta and I will give you your life.
DOCTOR: 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.
GAVROK: You have said enough. I have traversed time and space to find the Chimeron queen. I will not be defeated.
DOCTOR: 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.
(A Bannerman moves to obey.)
DOCTOR: Gavrok, it’s over. You’re finished, and we’re leaving.
(But as the Doctor, Mel and Burton walk to the motorbike and sidecar, they hear the sound of cocking weapons behind them.)
DOCTOR: Actually, I think I may have gone a little too far.
All this, plus a guest appearance by the legendary Hugh Lloyd (Hugh and I, Hancock’s Half Hour) and a stack of great 1950’s music makes me genuinely puzzled as to why this remains amongst the also-rans in every Doctor Who poll. You wouldn’t want every story to be like it, but once in a while it’s good to let your hair down and have a bit of a party – and Delta and the Bannermen certainly delivers that.