Ah, now this is more like it. Three-parters are not something that the show’s really done before, and the two-parters from earlier in the decade yielded mixed results. Mind you, so have most of the recent four-parters, and it turns out that, on this evidence at least, three is a happy medium. Enough room to tell a meaty story, but a necessity to keep things moving and not waste any time getting to the exciting stuff.
Doctor Who meets Hi-De-Hi is clearly an excellent idea, and it’s strange to think that a time just four years before the series started is now classified as an historical setting. Having a serial shot almost entirely on location is also a rare thing, and it looks great – lovely scenery and some smashing practical effects. The Bannermen looked good too, as did the toy-soldier-esque Chimerons and the little model hatchling, although the later iterations of the princess weren’t so convincing. The little green-faced baby in her alien babygrow was a bit daft.
Which is an adjective that brings me on to subject of Ken Dodd. I can see why his little cameo would piss po-faced fans off, but I can’t imagine a situation where I’m not happy to see Ken Dodd turn up on my television. And he was only around for a little while, until he died. Did he? No, Doddy. Quite a brutally violent death, but not as shocking as the bus being blown up in Part Two. That’s a hell of a lot of on-screen deaths in one go, and it really takes you aback.
It helps set the Bannermen up as a really effective threat, spearheaded brilliantly by Don Henderson, who follows in the timey-wimey footsteps of John Abineri, Noel Coleman and Denis Lill, if you have a similar mindset to me. There’s a dark undercurrent throughout – we open with scenes of a genocide in progress, after all – but also plenty of fun, thanks to the huge ensemble of quirky guest characters.
Ray is clearly a much better companion than Mel, who was thankfully barely involved here. It seemed to be heading towards being a companion introduction story, but of course I know that we’ll be getting a similarly useful teenager popping along soon. The old camp leader and the beekeeper were fun too, and we even got him off of the Flying Pickets as an inept bounty hunter. I wasn’t so keen on the two Americans, but that was mostly because I was disappointed that neither of them were Mac McDonald – you need a portly, comedic American in a British TV show in the late 80s and you don’t get Mac McDonald?
Best of all though, the script demonstrated that the show still has a heart. OK, the romance between Billy and Delta was corny, and all very sudden to go from furtive glances across a crowded holiday camp to changing species in order to repopulate a dying planet, but it was done with sincerity and warmth. I like where the series is going, for the first time in a long time.