Whilst taking a supposedly relaxing break at a holiday camp in Wales; The Doctor and his assistant Mel, find themselves getting involved in an incident between an alien group known as the Bannermen, and a Chimeron Queen called Delta!
First broadcast in 1987; Delta and the Bannermen is the third serial/story in the 24th series of Doctor Who. The story was written by Malcolm Kohll, and starred Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, with Bonnie Langford playing his then assistant Mel. The serial also starred Don Henderson, Belinda Mayne, Richard Davies, David Kinder, and Sara Griffiths in supporting roles. The story’s original working title was The Flight of the Chimeron, with the eventual title being chosen as a possible reference to the band Echo & the Bunnymen.
For the past few years, I have enjoyed collecting old Doctor Who episodes on DVD. These classic episodes are in many respects (at least to me) far better than a lot of the newer stuff. I mean at least the Daleks back then were actually scary-ish back then; rather than massive failures! Moving on. Several of these old stories are ones I have indeed seen many times before and were old favourites of mine back when I first got into Doctor Who. But there are still a good number I haven’t seen before; with Delta and the Bannermen being one of them.
Although saying that; there is of course one scene of this serial that I have seen before. In fact, I bet everyone who considers themselves at least a casual fan of Doctor Who; will have seen this scene at least once. And by now many of you will probably know what I am talking about. That scene! The scene which is quite possibly Sylvester McCoy’s most memorable and iconic moment from the series. You know what it is by now; and when talking about this story, you do need to sort of acknowledge it. The scene with Ken Dodd!
Watching this story for the first time was quite a surreal experience; as it’s a rather madcap story, with quite a bit of ridiculous nonsense packed in to try and make it worthwhile. Yes, it was pretty bad; and in some regards, quite painful to watch as it felt like I was watching an old cowboy film from a 70+ years ago. It was all over the place and didn’t really go anywhere. There were three things though that particularly stood out to me.
Firstly, the egg hatching scene roughly at the end of the first episode; is one of the most haunting, and gruesomely terrifying things I have ever seen in a Doctor Who episode. It is sickening, and twisting, and just horrific to watch. Even visually trying to remember it right now is sending tremors down my spine. It’s just disgusting!
Secondly, the music is mad cap and ridiculous. Now I know that pre 2005 Doctor Who was never one for creating orchestral suites or profound music. Most of the time they created silly sounding pieces, and that was par for the course. But here; they didn’t do that. They took a classic piece of music in the form of The Devil’s Galop by Charles Williams, and just fit it over the top to try and create an adrenaline-fueled sound. But it’s not! It’s just something that makes you bury your head in your hands. And they play it over and over again.
Now whilst I do know that this piece of music is also the theme tune to the terrific Mitchell and Webb sketch series: The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar; at least they were able to use it to create something very funny. When used in this Doctor Who serial; it’s just painful to listen to; painful enough that you either reach for the mute button or turn off the TV entirely. So, I suppose it’s a good thing then that this story has one saving grace; and a really good one at that!
We know that this story is an adventure of sorts for The Doctor and Mel; they are the two lead characters…right? Well, if you haven’t seen any episodes preceding this one featuring Mel; you could be forgiven for thinking that she isn’t the companion in this serial. For quite a lot of the time Mel does seem to be out of the picture, with the Doctor being assisted, by someone else entirely.
Step forward Ray played by Sara Griffiths. From the moment she first appears; we are introduced to an incredibly cool character. She has a really strong Welsh accent, which just helps create and fuel her character. She is also a motorcycle enthusiast; and wears an incredibly cool leather jacket. And for this whole story; she is pretty much attached to the Doctor’s hip. This is the confusing thing about this whole story; as we have one companion out of shot; and this other one barely ever out of shot! The reasoning for this character’s existence though is rather simple; and sadly, rather tragic!
Bonnie Langford who played Mel; announced her intentions to leave the show at the end of the season; so, Ray was created to take her place. However, as it was not crystal clear as to when Langford would leave; it was decided to feature Ray in just one story; and instead create another new companion in the form of Ace played by Sophie Aldred. Now whilst Ace would go on to become an iconic companion in her own right; after watching Delta and the Bannermen, questions swirl around in your head, possibilities as to what could have been. Yes, we may never have gotten Ace; but sadly, at the same time, we never got to see Ray flourish. Instead, we just see this amazingly well created character shine in just three episodes. Why couldn’t we just have had both?
Delta and the Bannermen is a ridiculous story; filled with quite a lot of rubbish. The story is overly camp, most of the supporting cast are just painful to watch; there is one horribly horrific egg hatching scene, and the background music is so bad, that it nearly makes you stop watching it! But the real tragedy of this story though, is its shining light. Something so good, but never truly realized, or taken beyond this, and blossom into something potentially legendary. To this end, the character of Ray becomes one of the greatest what if creations in the history of the show. Something so cool and engrossing; that it was instantly abandoned. It does mean then that in order to forever access and enjoy this amazing character; you will have to sit down and watch this painfully ridiculous story! But I can guarantee that, for that alone; Delta and the Bannermen is so entirely worth watching!