During its peak era, Doctor Who stories—despite their outlandish settings and cheap special effects—managed to carry remarkable political and literary overtones, providing cheap popcorn entertainment while also making viewers think about corruption in political establishments, the true meaning of life, personal responsibility, and so much more. The groups of writers who worked on these teleplays frequently dipped into classic literature in order to find inspiration for their stories, taking novels like The Manchurian Candidate and making them work within the Doctor’s universe. They were, like any good writer, able to transcend their budgetary constrictions to become something much more meaningful.
This, however, cannot be said for Delta and the Bannermen.
The problem with the Sylvester McCoy-era episodes was simply that the writing staff was never able to find a consistent tone or message to get behind, and the scripts suffered mightily in light of this. Here, Delta (Belinda Mayne)—queen of the Chimerons—narrowly escapes slaughter by Gavrok (Don Henderson) and his team of merciless, motivation-less Bannermen. She takes an alien egg with her to an intergalactic tollbooth, where the Doctor and Mel (Bonnie Langford) have landed, only to be declared the 10 billionth visitor, and thus winning a prize: a trip to Earth’s famed amusement park Disneyland circa 1959. Delta sneaks on board the intergalactic tour bus along with Mel, but a freak accident of crashing into an American satellite forces them to crash land in 1959 Wales instead, setting up at a holiday camp just as the Bannermen catch wind and descend upon the unsuspecting village.
Even as all the camp members are grooving along to the sock hop sounds of the era, secret agents lurk in the midst, secretly guiding the Bannermen in just as Delta’s mysterious alien egg hatches and speed-matures into the last survivor of the Chimeron race. When you boil it all down, though, the Bannermen are just bad villains who want to exterminate the Chimerons, and ... well, that’s about it. All the characters here are frightfully one-dimensional, wearing their motivations on their sleeves without leaving any sort of room for interpretation whatsoever. People simply are who they are, and any time the show nudges its way towards actual poignancy, the ridiculously dated ‘80s score winds up ripping any sort of sentimentality out of the moment, leaving us wanting oh so much more.
Yet when you look past ridiculous moments like the Doctor’s motorcycle excursion and how he’s able to retrieve prisoners from a camp stairway simply by holding up a surrender flag, we find that the DVD release of Delta and the Bannermen is actually relatively solid, featuring interviews with the cast members (both the kind that made it on air with the But First This program as well as the unedited, raw versions), a short news report of the making of the program, and—best of all—a relatively amusing sketch from Noel Edmonds Saturday Roadshow featuring numerous outtakes from the episode in question (as well as a remarkable mis-cue during Peter Davidson’s reign in the TARDIS).
The “first edit” of this story’s first episode isn’t all that essential, but the ongoing “Stripped for Action” documentary about the Doctor’s presence in the comic world is a wonder to behold, as former fan magazine editors note how—just like the show itself at the time—there wasn’t a consistent writing staff for the Seventh Doctor comics, leading to some relatively uninteresting stories and one particularly interesting scenario: after the show got pulled from the air, Marvel wound up reaching out to quite a few of the show’s script writers to develop stories for the comics themselves, featuring the only time that the comic was the only source for new Who adventures.
Ultimately, Delta and the Bannerman isn’t as much of a chore to wade through as, say, Battlefield, but it certainly showed that the series was definitely running out of creative steam, both in front of and behind the camera. It’s not that this particular story was bad—we’ve just been lead to expect much, much better.