TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 July 2015
Paradise 5 is an ultra-exclusive orbiting holiday resort so perfect that none of its guests ever want to leave - and none ever do... 4* (4 episodes, 2 CDs, 100 min)
The Doctor and Peri arrive there undercover, in search of the Doctor's friend Prof. Albrecht Thompson, last seen heading to Paradise 5 for a three day break - three months ago. Peri is working in the immaculate, white, gold and marble `front of house' as a hostess (thanks to some faked references) while the Doctor spends the first half of the story `backstage' in a drab, grimy environment of staff rooms, corridors and service ducts.
That contrast is a deliberate metaphor for the story; this `paradise' that offers beautiful and even ecstatic experiences to its guests has (of course) a grimy secret behind the façade. Unfortunately, I thought it was also an unintentionally good metaphor for the Lost Story `Paradise 5'; an attractive, authentic mid-1980s story written with great characters, dialogue and wit and brilliantly acted. But behind this attractive façade, I found the plot ultimately uninspiring - although this only became apparent after the `reveal' in episode 4.
So first, the `heavenly' aspects, which I thought were five-star quality. P.J. Hammond's script has been completed by Andy Lane so well I couldn't tell which part was by which writer until after listening to the documentary tracks. The characters and their dialogue are excellent and very witty and the beautifully depicted, `no expense spared' resort of Paradise 5 is, like most such resorts, slightly tacky in spite of (or because of) all the gold and marble trimmings.
The first three episodes promise a great deal and deliver on both the comedy and an atmosphere of lurking menace, of `something' out there in the darkness of space and something else in the shadows of the space station and within the spirit-enhancing "paradise machine". There's a wealth of clever touches in the writing, which is full of angel and devil references and uses three tunes that are connected with fairies in some way.
The Doctor is very well written and Colin Baker is superb as usual if rather underused for the first half of the story which he spends `backstage', making contact with the curious little `cherubs' who do the unskilled work and receiving a cryptic warning to `Beware the Elohim', with a great cliff-hanger for episode 3 that I certainly didn't see coming.
In many ways this is Peri's story as she leads the investigation as the undercover `hostess'. Nicola Bryant has an excellent story in a role which includes tight white thigh boots and swimming, bikini-clad, in a `heavenly aquarium'... sometimes audio is not enough... (!) It's very funny and allows Peri to get close to the guests - who seem a mostly obnoxious lot, all sent to `paradise' at very short notice by their family or colleagues and all travelling alone...
There are a handful of other hostesses, but the real powers on Paradise 5 are manager Gabriel and his reclusive technical wizard Michael. Alex Macqueen steals the show as the slightly camp, word-spinning Gabriel, matching even the Sixth Doctor's flamboyant phonations and with James D'Arcy providing the perfect foil as the introverted and definitely unpleasant Michael; two brilliant guest performances of evil characters with a certain flair, even to the very end...
However, for me the end of the story is the problem which meant I couldn't give more than four stars overall, despite the splendid adornments of performance and wit. Gabriel and Michael have, for evil ends, set up a fraudulent `paradise' which is an obvious parody of parts of Judeo-Christian iconography. Such behaviour results in their fall and that's all good, but the finale seemed sadly lacking in some ways.
I can't explain the rest without SPOILERS, so if you want to stop reading now, I'm sure you'll enjoy a visit to `Paradise 5' - perhaps even more so if you aren't tempted to expect too much depth from the plot, which finally seemed quite shallow for all its glittering surface. 4*
(There are documentary tracks at the end of each disk and the CD booklet has interesting writer's notes and cast photos.)
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Gabriel and Michael are revealed as very mundane human villains, simply a couple in it for the money, removing unwanted people from Targos Delta at the request of their `unloving ones', presumably for cash, and selling them to the Elohim, presumably for more cash. Abduction and slavery are certainly extremely evil, but not a very interesting outcome for a `Doctor Who' mystery, though that was the original ending of the `lost story'. Here, another layer has been added, with the shadowy Elohim (obviously set up as `dark angels') recruiting unwilling human minds to act as cannon-fodder in a mental war being fought in their higher dimension - the `cherubs' are the sad remnants of their victims.
That's much better, but for me it was still disappointing because although "the other side" in that war do turn up just in time (as the Doctor says, "the cavalry have arrived"), they do so `off-camera' with very little sound and fury and the spiritual metaphor of the story is abandoned. The Doctor, despite referring to `them' as "the cavalry", says that neither side is actually better than the other; it's not a battle of "light and dark" but just a "sordid war".
For me this was a dull anti-climax and went against the grain of the `good versus evil' morality that is the essence of `Doctor Who', without it there's something missing. The Doctor does save the lives of the latest batch of victims, but otherwise it seemed a downbeat and low-key ending to a story that promised much.
Gabriel and Michael's final scene gives the ending panache. However, to have two evil characters both `coincidentally' named after Archangels is a bit of a stretch - it would have been better if they had revealed their names to be deliberately misleading aliases - and better still if they had been revealed as more than just two human criminals who "put [their] faith in the wrong side".