FOWC: Building High for Happiness, Looking back on Paradise Towers

This is a draft of an ultimately rejected article on the Doctor Who story “Paradise Towers” I pitched for Celestial Toyroom, the DWAS official newsletter

Paradise Towers is something of a nostalgic guilty pleasure for me, principally because it is the first story I had strong memories of and probably was what started me on my course to Who fandom. My first proper exposure to the story was with the novelisation and with the limitations and errors in the production removed, it showed how good a story it should have been. But for all its faults there is much to be found in the story and here I hope to look at some of the more interesting aspects of the story.

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The Kangs

    We don’t get a lot of information on the background of the Kangs other then they were shifted to Paradise Towers because of a war in which the healthy young men (and boys it seems) were called to fight in a war, which immediately brings up parallels with the second world war with evacuation of the children and the conscription call up of the healthy young men. Another thing which is apparent, although not mentioned is that this mysterious war also recruited healthy young women for the cause in some capacity as well. Whether or not it was for military service or, as with the world wars, they are employed in a labour capacity in the societies equivalent of munitions factories remains unanswered but what it does mean is that we have a group of children growing up on their own with no sign of any parental figures.

 

While allusions to JG Ballard’s High Rise are always rife when talking about Paradise Towers my immediate thoughts go to a different dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange. As with Clockwork Orange we have groups of young people running around terrorising the older population and the authorities failing to control them thanks to inefficiency in administration and a lack of capability, and like Alex’s droogs, the Kangs have taken and formed their own slang. While in a Clockwork Orange the pseudo-Anglo-Russian slang perhaps was a reflection of cold war paranoia, the broken down English of the Kang’s slang is a clear sign of a breakdown of society in itself. The lack of any form of anything beyond a very basic education is very apparent, clearly at least some of the Kangs can read which is made apparent by their names, which have presumably picked up from reading Signs that were sported around the towers and labels on various bits of rubbish strewn about the place, but it seems that a lot of their own language is based on half learned words either read or learnt by ear. This sets up some interesting questions about the unseen war and implies that the conflict, like the two world wars, went on a lot longer then originally anticipated as there doesn’t seem to have been any effort put into setting any form of infrastructure for the young girls in terms of education or living arrangements. Were the Kangs originally set to be looked after by the Rezzies? It seems most likely that was the intent but there seems little evidence that this ever happened considering the Kangs seem more scared by the thought of the Rezzies then they are of the cleaners.

The Kang slang is very interesting to examine with some phrases being combinations of words which have similar meaning, Mayhaps for example, which suggests that the English language itself has changed by the time the story takes place in as this doesn’t feel like the corruption of phrases that the Kangs usually use. Indeed, words have been inverted by the population of the Towers in general,  terms like ‘Oldster’ are used by Kangs, Caretakers and Rezzies alike which show that there is a distinct form of dialect in the Towers. Now if this is an example or critique of how slang  terms are rapidly becoming part of the general lexicon or just a way of showing a different time period is out to debate but it is certainly effective either way. Other terms such as “Ice Hot” in place of Cool and Brain Quarters in place of Head Quarters are clearly just a bit of fun on the writer’s part but reflect that the Kangs have no real education and have picked up words and made vague attempts at correctly attributing them. “Leave them for the Cleaners” is their farewell taunt and is an interesting play the phrase as “take them to the cleaners”, for the Kangs it is a much more serious taunt then it appears but it is played off lightly by both sides. Is this a sign of them ignoring the problem with the Cleaners or is it a sign that the Cleaners have only recently started removing the Kangs?  This would make a lot of sense story wise when you consider how Bin Liner and Fire Escape seem far more worried about the Rezzies and can’t bring themselves to mention them by name and get cut off by other members when they begin to…

 

The concept of the abandoned children running amok draws on Lord of the Flies, but unlike Lord of the Flies, the rivallery between the Kangs is revealed to be little more than a children’s game and suggests that they continue to play because it takes their minds off the hopelessness of the situation they are in, that they join together quite easily in Part Four reflects that at the end of the day they are just playing a game. They are all resourceful; they make effective basic weapons out of the abandoned junk and clearly have got access to some form of food as they don’t appear to be starving (or perhaps they are considering what we later learn about *some* of the Rezzies) and manage to gain access to the Caretakers office and overpower them when rescuing the Doctor. They have a sense of nobility within their own game as illustrated by them holding a funeral service of sorts for the fallen Yellow Kang and later for Pex. Since we only really see one speaking Blue Kang, it makes me wonder if the Blue (and indeed Yellow) Kangs also share a similar set up with names and indeed if they are merely names within the various groups  or if these are in fact their actual names.

 

When the Doctor arrives they are clearly suspicious of him but seem to approve of him rather quickly even if it initially is based on his clothing, one can’t help but think what they would say had it been the Sixth Doctor who arrived in Paradise Towers, however I think it is his willingness to join in and not talk down to them which wins them over. As the story progresses it becomes obvious that he is the much needed and wanted father-figure they are all after, he guides and chastises them but not in an authoritarian way that the Caretakers do.

 

Pex

Ah the maligned Pex, pretty much universally hated by everyone (even the info text writer on the DVD labels his first appearance with the caption This Is An Actor) for being a coward who ran away from being forced into the army. Again this draws parallels to the World Wars with those who did not fight being shunned by society given the White Feather as sign of cowardice. Stephen Wyatt frequently expresses his disappointment in the casting of Pex, wanting a Rambo-style action hero to play the part to illustrate the irony. Wyatt claims that nobody of that ilk wanted to send themselves up which I doubt is 100% true as hardman action heroes such as Arnie and wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan were already beginning to appear as comedy hardmen in usually terrible movies. I think Wyatt is wrong here, the fact that Howard Cooke looks more like a guy who goes to the gym a few times a month rather than a body builder works in the characters favour. Pex reminds me of those Army obsessed children we’ve probably all encountered when growing up and spin yarns about themselves and always want to play the tough man on the playground and skiddale at the first sign of trouble. He’s been shunned away by everyone so he’s created his own little fantasy to live to distract himself from the bleakness of the situation he’s in, the Kangs shun him for being a coward, the Rezzies shun him because he keeps committing acts of Vandalism on their doors and frankly is a bit useless. The truth about Pex is that he is incredibly lonely and this myth he puts about himself is that him trying to be part of something and of course he’s doing it badly. The arrival of Mel gives him a new opportunity to try and be with someone, he spends most of his time showing off to her and it is possible he has a bit of a crush on her. In Mel he meets someone who gives him time and she possibly feels a bit sorry for him from the outset and for brief moments he gets the chance to live the fantasy role he has been playing, each time they don’t end well for him. The Blue Kangs cruelly destroy him in front of Mel, who pretty much is the nearest person he has to a friend, for little more then their own personal jollies and it is only when he really does help Mel that he begins to regain a bit of confidence and develop it beyond a bit of bravado. Quite where Pex has done his physical workout is not very clear and considering the dilapidated state of the building, I think having a Stallone type muscleman wouldn’t ring true, Pex looks like a guy who hasn’t trained with proper training facilities or an instructor , he’s made the best of what is available to him.

When he first rescues Mel he is riding on the adrenaline of the moment as he arrives and in difference to later when at the pool he’s not expecting trouble or nervous about anything and thus he jumps in to help. In the pool scene he’s on edge, nervous and is paranoid something bad is going to happen, so when it does he panics as his fears are bought out. While Mel doesn’t chastise him for panicking (well she’d a hypocrite if she did considering her track record) and seems to let it go, but Pex doesn’t. He wants to make it up and prove himself to be the hero character he fantasises he is, so he volunteers to lead Kroagnon down to the trap and gets his wish to be part of the society of Towers even if he is accepted begrudgingly by the rest. Is he proving himself to Mel or himself? His sacrifice at the end seems like he is doing it for Mel, but I think she just brings up the courage in himself. Granted onscreen, his sacrifice seems pointless as Kroagnon stands around looking gormless with a stick of dynamite in his hand whereas in the novelisation the bomb is set to trip wire in the Kang’s Brain Quarters and he has to be physically pushed into the room. It is this act in defeating Kroagnon which gets him finally accepted by the people of Paradise Towers and it is sad irony that he never reaps the benefit of it.

 

The Rezzies

   The Rezzies presence is explained in that, like the Kangs, they were evacuated because of the War to be kept out of harm’s way and as I mused earlier I wonder if the intention was that they were to look after the infants who later became the Kangs, if this was the case did the Kangs rebel and walk out? Did the Rezzies boot them out at the onslaught of adolescence or given what we learn as the story progresses, did they run away in fear of their lives? We only see a snapshot of the Rezzies throughout the story and from what we see it is difficult to get a full picture of them.  Cannibalistic old ladies feature in High Rise but I think the inspiration for Tilda and Tabby comes from Hansel and Gretell. Tilda and Tabby are very muck akin to the Witch in the Gingerbread House, seemingly lovely and innocent and inviting in someone and feeding them up for sinister purposes.  It is unclear if this is typical behaviour from the Rezzies or just Tilda and Tabby. Certainly the Kangs seem scared of them in general and later Maddy admits that the worst of them have gone down the waste disposal unit, which implies that perhaps stories have got exaggerated However the Rezzies only really seem to exist to give exposition to Mel.

 

 

Overall

Paradise Towers story wise in some ways a bit of a throwback to an earlier era, gone are gratuitous continuity and we have a fairly simply story which tries beyond a simple them vs us narrative. The echoes of social and economic decay influence the story, however it is also a victim of a rushed and undefined formation. The elements of the story, while good and start in the right direction, don’t really gel. Paradise Towers however seems to lie the foundation for the themes of the Seventh Doctor era and Cartmel’s vision for the show. In many ways you could say this is the first Seventh Doctor story and like the era it begins, it is flawed, uneven but ultimately entertaining.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge:  Paradise,

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