What’s It About?
The Doctor and Mel arrive at Paradise Towers, a high rise building which has fallen into disrepair. They are captured by the Red Kangs, a group of youths fighting for their survival against the Caretakers. As the Doctor and Mel explore more fully, they discover a dystopian society enclosed within the high rise, the vision of a mysterious figure known as the Great Architect.
Well, you never can tell.
“Paradise Towers” was inspired, according to a cursory internet search, by J.G. Ballard’s novel Highrise. I admit that I want to read this book and do a comparison, analyzing the similarities and differences, but my desire to charge on toward the completion of this project is stronger. The basic premise of Ballard’s novel is a high rise as a battleground. Check.
In this second story of the Seventh Doctor/Andrew Cartmel era we begin to see interesting things take shape. We move in to new territory (no returning villain or monsters). We have the barest hint of social commentary. And it is here where “Paradise Towers” both succeeds and fails. Good sci-fi blends imaginative world-building with social commentary. “Towers” attempts this but doesn’t fully embrace it. The first two episodes are intriguing and engaging, but things start to fall apart in episode three as revelations come, performances break down, and the commentary loses its poignancy. It is as if the story realized, halfway through, that it had silly designs and monsters, so why take any of it too seriously. The 1984 meets Clockwork Orange subtext breaks down and we no longer know if we should be thoughtful or if we should laugh. It’s a shame, really, as the greatest crime against this story is not living up to its own potential.
But the success is that it does, on some level, try. Doctor Who is once more trying to say something about society, if ineffectually, not merely celebrate itself or pat itself on the back. You could make the argument that Cartmel is trying to rebuild the show but hasn’t quite figured out how yet. But the indications are there: social commentary, manipulation, the Doctor being mistaken for a god-like being. It is only a matter of time before he puts all the pieces together.
For my part, I enjoyed the story. It was engaging and fun, which I needed after the struggle I had with Saward’s vision of Doctor Who. To watch in sequence, “Paradise Towers” was satisfying enough. It wasn’t great, but it genuinely tried, which gave it no small amount of charm.