The Paradise of Death (BBC Radio Collection)
Audio review by Paul Scoones
It was Barry Letts' intention that the Earth-bound UNIT stories under his producership were set some five years into the future, but this figure would appear to have been radically extended with his recent radio play. Supposedly set directly following The Time Warrior, this would therefore place it in 1978 or thereabouts, but the use of virtual reality as public entertainment places it closer to the late 1990's. The enlightened and blasé attitude displayed toward alien races on Earth is also rather hard to accept given UNIT's - and particularly the Brigadier's - xenophobic stance of the time.
The Paradise of Death might have worked a lot better if it were set around the same time as Battlefield with the 'been there, done that' older Brigadier, and the greater acceptance of alien technology on Earth, but entrenched as it is in the Pertwee era, it just doesn't work. This point might seem rather picky, but it rather marred my enjoyment of the story.
Jon Pertwee's characterisation of the Doctor is even more full of himself and displays a disconcerting habit of sometimes slipping into other 'voices' perhaps even without realising it. Nicholas Courtney's age also shows through his voice - something which wouldn't have mattered if he'd been playing the older Brig. Only Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane seems completely in character, even if she was given some rather awful lines to say at times!
At two hours and twenty-five minutes the story is too long for its plot, and could have benefited greatly from some careful pruning at the script stage, especially in the later episodes where there is much evidence of running around and achieving little.
Over all, the story just isn't that interesting (I listened to the whole thing in one sitting, but it wasn't enthralling enough to prevent me from working on TSV at the same time). The sound effects are superb - ensure you listen to this on a good stereo system, perhaps even with headphones, for the full effect. There's a real motion-picture quality about some of Peter Howell's incidental score.
The advantage of radio over television is brought home with the scenes on the alien planet - especially the giant flying bats which could never be realised effectively on a BBC TV budget. The disadvantage of radio is the need to describe things to the listener, and this is painfully apparent in places. Since there was no narrator, it is up to the characters - usually Sarah - to fulfil this role, often in a very contrived and obvious manner.
This two-tape set will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Jon Pertwee, and as the first serious Doctor Who radio serial it is a promising indicator of what is possible in this medium. However I do feel quite strongly that it is a mistake to locate stories in the Third Doctor's era when it is apparent that neither the writer nor the regular actors are capable of recreating that period convincingly.
This item appeared in TSV 36 (November 1993).