The barista looked a little bemused, but her colleague got the joke. “You’re showing your age, there,” said a friend of mine.
“Not at all,” I said. “Just my sense of natural taste.” Emily was going to be Romana, which is a better fit, given that Romana is smarter, prettier and a better driver. I just didn’t trust them to spell it properly.
We were en route to Minehead, where we spent the week at Butlins – a holiday camp, if you’re across the pond and have no frame of reference. Butlins has long surpassed its fifties reputation of knobbly knees competitions and compulsory ‘fun’ activities in dingy chalets, even though the dingy chalets remain. These days it’s all soft play and go-karting and indoor splash pools. In previous years we’ve seen live productions of LazyTown and Sesame Street, both of which filled me with some horror, not least at the colossal size of Elmo (six-foot Muppets dancing around a stage to disco music? It seems grotesque). It’s not the notion of a puppet having a bottom half. It’s when they look like they’ve had their faces glued on to fully-sized humans in some freakish lobotomy, which is exactly what happened to the likes of Ziggy and Stingy. You half expect Matt Smith to emerge from the pyrotechnics, bellowing “I’VE STILL GOT LEGS!”.
This year it was Mister Maker and the Scooby Doo gang – although the funniest thing we saw all week was Cirque du Hilarious, a team of magicians, acrobats and leggy dancers, interspersed with a cacophony of toilet humour, courtesy of the father and son team that is Clive Webb and Danny Adams. There were enough fat / bald jokes to make me a little uncomfortable, but also some lovely moments, particularly the scene where one of the cast emerged to sing ‘Save Your Love‘, dressed both as Renee and Renato. Most of the time, however, I couldn’t really get away from the fact that Danny was dressed rather like the Sixth Doctor.
(I couldn’t get a decent photo of Danny from where we were sitting, so I shamelessly pinched this one from tiredmummyoftwo. I do hope she doesn’t mind.)
The Doctor’s visited Butlins before, of course, except that it was 1959, and it was called Shangri-La. The Doctor and Mel win a holiday to Disneyland, only they have a collision with a satellite and end up in Wales. Things get worse when the sinister Gavrok turns up with his army of thugs, with the intention of wiping out the last of the Chimerons, the eponymous Delta, who is hiding out among a group of (non-terrestrial) holidaymakers.
This particular story was called ‘Delta and the Bannermen’, and to anyone with a basic knowledge of 1980s music and the NATO phonetic alphabet, it’s easy to join the dots.
I’ll confess that I originally did this as a joke, until Gareth pointed out that it was absolutely intentional. It’s hardly a surprise – just the sort of pop culture reference you’d expect from 1980s Who – but also the sort of thing that might easily be missed. I asked him if the Chimerons (pronounced Shimmerons, if you were wondering) were supposed to resemble those green army men that we all had as kids. “If so, it wasn’t mentioned,” he said, although “it might explain why they fell over so easily.”
Even as a nine-year-old I remember ‘Delta and the Bannerman’ being thoroughly mediocre, and in order to test the theory we re-watched it at the weekend. I was right. It’s got very little actually going for it. There are stupid soldiers (“Ooh, they’re obviously still in the farm; the radio’s on. Shoot it to smithereens”). There are tedious Americans. There’s a lot of waffle about bees, some of which is at least relevant to the plot. There is one frankly shocking (and almost incongruous) act of terrorism. There is Don Henderson, playing a nasty villain in charge of a bunch of idiots, and who eventually falls on his own sword. There is also Ken Dodd, who acquits himself well, although I will admit that with a certain reluctance (stunt casting in Who goes back to the sixties, but I always get cross when the likes of JNT sacrifice artistic value in the name of press space, even when it works).
Ken’s brief appearance works (just about), but any sense of plausibility is undermined by the incredibly accommodating attitude displayed by some of the characters – particularly Billy, the dashing mechanic / singer of Shangri-La. Completely unfazed by the sight of a wrinkly green baby that ages at tremendous speeds, he abandons life in Wales without a second thought, dashing off with Delta in a stolen spacecraft in order to repopulate new planets. He’s shallow and dull, and if ‘Delta’ has very little going for it, then Billy has absolutely nothing going for him – and the story’s denouement (“Let’s make this baby fly!”) is, given a surface reading, the worst kind of neatly resolved slush.
“Billy is the most annoying character, and is completely implausible,” says Gareth. “However, there are theories (according to About Time) which suggest a more sinister thing. Delta is the only female of her race that we see, and the others all die trying to protect her to get her off the planet. The suggestion is that essentially she entraps Billy with pheromones and her squelchy green goo, so that she can take him away, mate with him, then eat him.”
Billy leaves behind the far more interesting Ray, played by Sara Griffiths, a bike-riding, doe-eyed young woman with an unrequited crush on a man who abandons her in order to dye his skin green. Ray was a candidate for the next companion following Bonnie Langford’s departure, until scheduling adjustments meant that the role went to Sophie Aldred instead. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s been said that Ace set something of a precedent for future companions, particularly Rose (even though Ace is clearly middle class trying to do working class, in the same way that Ali G is a pastiche of middle class white people trying to be black). The genesis of Rose arguably owes far more to Charley Pollard, but it would be very interesting to see the direction the show would have taken if Sara, instead of Sophie, had joined the TARDIS crew.
Save one brief appearance in a non-canonical short story, that’s about all we’ve heard about Ray, which is something of a pity. I daresay she’s still out there somewhere, probably in a typing pool in a 1960s accountancy firm, before getting a job at UNIT and managing to eventually encounter the Doctor, only to not recognise him at all, and be similarly bewildered when he doesn’t recognise her. Wibbly wobbly.
Anyway, by sheer coincidence I was thinking about all this – and the post-Doctor lives of companions and not-quite companions – on our way out, as I passed the checking sheet near the funfair toilets.
So now you know.