Sylvester McCoy was very much MY Doctor, it has to be said. For years I fond memories of this particular episode, as when I got older I found a lot of fans my age had. It was those giant cleaning robots, I tell you the captured the imaginations of a fair few seven year olds in the 80's! Nostalgia these days, is however, not what it used to be, this is a story that doesn't age well in so many respects.
Season 24 was beset with problems; no clear direction from the top as to what they wanted from the show apart from less violence (the fact that the very time cannibal element of the script caused uproar shows what they had to work against here), and a scrabble to get things into order after the chaos caused by Eric Sward's walk out as script editor after Trial Of A Time Lord. Several scripts had been comissioned and writen, but this, as with Time and the Rani, had to be hastily re-written as they had been planned for Colin Baker. This leaves Sylvester McCoy with something of a problem. His second story in, he is still finding his feet with what he wants to do with the character, and the script was ordered to be written loosely for the Doctor to help him. In fact it hinders, as there is nothing much for McCoy to hang his performance on. This is McCoy, but it's not quite his Doctor, even the umberalla hasn't been finalised yet!
That said about writing, this is essentially a good script with lots of great ideas. Steven Wyatt does write well, a fact he shows us with his follow up The Greatest Show In The Galaxy. The idea of a tower block society going wrong has a lot of echoes to 1980's issues, with some throwbacks to Hammer Horror. You have the groups of Kangs, The Caretakers (the ultimate jobsworths of the universe) and the very grim Ressies. Everything on paper works well. Unfortunately, things don't translate too well onto the screen.
A lot of 1980's Doctor Who suffers from the problem of being over lit, and this is a problem here. The whole thing is bright and garish and has the look of a Colin Baker 'budget' episode such as Timelash. Keff McCulloch's score, although last minute, is not great, in fact it detracts from the action, rather than serves it. Other last minute re-writes of a score have shown that this doesn't have to be a problem (Mark of the Rani for one!).
As for the performances, it's very much a mixed bag. The atmosphere on set seems to give the atmosphere more of a stage production than TV, especially from the Kangs. Bonnie Langford's Mel is refreshingly go getting, but again her performance here is more playing to the gods than the camera. The same can be said of Howard Cooke as Pex, who to be honest, could also use a little more build.
Other performances are better; the ever reliable Clive Merrison as the Deputy Chief Caretaker puts in a very well rounded performance, and in fact shares the best scene with Sylvester McCoy where the Doctor outwits the Caretakers using the rule book. Elizabeth Spriggs and Brenda Bruce play their Rezzie parts well, but the laurels got to Judy Cornwell as Maddy, who again creates a believable character, while at the same time clearly having a lot of fun.
Sad to say, I have to agree, Richard Briers as the metaphorical 'little Hitler' the Chief Caretaker, who can act so well, really misjudges it here. This is a performance designed for 'children's hour', particularly in the 'posessed' phase which is not what a Doctor Who performance should have.
This is not a classic, but the fact that the ideas were getting so much more current and adult points the way to where the show woudl finally be allowed to grow up properly in seasons 25 and 26. A very 80's curio!