Back before the Internet was for porn, cat memes, and social media, it was for trading bootleg copies of out of circulation pop culture items. In my case, this consisted of trying to track down a watchable copy of the orphaned Doctor Who episodes or other little goodies related to Who fandom.
One item that was fairly easy to trade was a bootleg copy of the 1993’s radio play, “The Paradise of Death.” Since audio didn’t require any conversion process to be useful on both sides of the pond, all you had to do was track down someone who had the time and inclination to dub the episodes off onto cassette and send them to you.
With Doctor Who being pulled off the air, any bit of new Doctor Who was like an oasis in the desert that was the “wilderness years.”
And while “The Paradise of Death” isn’t necessarily a great story, I still eagerly devoured it back in the day. Written by long-time producer Barry Letts and featuring Jon Pertwee, Elizabeth Sladen, and Nicholas Courtney, the serial is one that starts off with great promise and then overstays its welcome by at least an episode. If anything, the script underlines the necessity of good script editor and further enforces that the work Terrance Dicks did as script editor in the seventies was nothing short of marvelous. (There are times when this story screams for Dicks to reign in some of Letts’ excesses).
Letts certainly tries to make use of the unlimited special effects budget of the mind’s eyes with varying degrees of success. And there was certainly a wonderful cast on on hand to bring the story deliciously to life.
And yet, it somehow ends up being a bit more like a greatest hits compilation of the Pertwee era.
Letts would eventually adapt the script to the printed page for the slowly-winding-down Target range of novels. I wish I could say the story is greatly helped by its adaptation to the page. Alas, this adaptation is hit or miss. When things worked well on the radio, it hums along well. When things get bogged down a bit on the radio, they get bogged down here.
Part of that is the character of Jeremy Fitzoliver, who makes Adric appear cool, confident, and suave. Jeremey is intended as comic relief but quickly overstays his welcome. I found myself cringing multiple times when Jeremy would appear.
The plot is a fairly standard one with a group of aliens setting their eyes upon conquering the Earth. But unlike many of the alien invasions of the 70’s, this one is a bit more overt. It ends up feeling like Letts is taking elements from other stories of that era and combining them together. And while there isn’t a massive alien fleet ready to descend upon Earth, there is still a threat propelled by the aliens’ lies and humanity’s own greed (a common theme in the Letts era was humanity as its own worst enemy).
I recall picking this novelization up upon its initial publication and being a bit underwhelmed by it — to the point I’m fairly certain I never finished reading it. Twenty-plus years later, I still found it underwhelming and a struggle to finish. I made it this time, more out of sheer will power and determination than much interest in the story. But it was just barely.
Letts crafted some fine Doctor Who in his day. This isn’t the best example of an era.