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Sylvester McCoy's first season as The Doctor got to what was generally regarded as a bit of a shaky start with Time and the Rani, a muddled pantomime of a story that pushed the "Bad First Doctor Story" theory to its very limit. Though script editor Andrew Cartmel was already in place and was keen - along with McCoy - to steer the show in a different direction to where it was currently heading, stories and scripts were in place that would ensure that nothing much could be done about the lighter touch that was in place during season 24, with only Paradise Towers being a relatively minor blip on the flatlining life support machine.

The caretaker asks The Doctor if he wants to see HIS sonic screwdriver...
The TARDIS materialises in the 22nd century, where The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) find themselves in Paradise Towers, a luxurious high-rise apartment building that has fallen victim to urban decay. Gangs of feral young girls roam the corridors, graffiti scrawled on the walls, homicidal robotic cleaners and a staff of fascist "caretakers" who try to keep the building from crumbling even further into disrepair, headed by the officious and borderline evil Chief Caretaker (Richard Briers). Between them are the “Rezzies”, the occupants of the flats, the remnants of those who didn’t pass the physical to go off the all-out war.  Will the gangs be “taken to the cleaners” before killing each other? Is Mel wise in trusting two little old ladies who seem to think Paradise Towers is made from gingerbread? Will the overcompensating Pex ever stop posing and be a real hero? What is the secret of the penthouse pool everyone aspires to? Will someone kill Bonnie Langford??? Please!!! All these and more will be revealed when you step into the future of communal living.

Richard Briers is a good actor and had a proven track record when it came to doing comedy (even though when it comes to The Good Life, Vyvian's rant in The Young Ones sums up our feelings on the show perfectly), but having Briers appear in Doctor Who reeked of John Nathan-Turner's habit of stunt-casting, bringing in actors who specialise in comedy roles to add a bit of humour to a Doctor Who story, and the early McCoy era was arguably the worst period for this. That being said, he injects a bit of life into the character, bringing a nasally officious drone that is reminiscent of a midge flying by your ear and Briers also brings a certain perverseness to the story when the Chief Caretaker confronts the monstrous force in the lower levels of Paradise Towers. The very idea of Briers as character based on Hitler goes far beyond “oddball”, to the point where it seems as though it comes as a result of a misread letter to Jim’ll Fix it, where what an imaginative pervert actually wanted was to see Felicity Kendall dressed in a Nazi outfit, presumably doing some form of Night Porter homage. Briers as der Fuhrer isn’t quite the same…

Sylvester McCoy seems determined from the outset that what viewers saw of his Doctor in his debut story was not how the character was going to be; the mixing of proverbs and metaphors have been swept away and there is considerably less clowning around than in Time and the Rani, but sadly for many, the damage was already done and no amount of change in the show or Sylv's performance would get them to change their minds - it was similar to what happened with Colin Baker in his first story, The Twin Dilemma, in which the trauma of his regeneration caused him to act irrationally and was highly unpleasant, not to mention almost murderous and the audience had about six months to wait until his next story, meaning that there was half a year to brood over it and nurture hatred for poor old Colin. McCoy really shines in one or two scenes in this story, especially when he develops a commanding presence in getting the Kangs to join forces in order to defeat the evil in Paradise Towers, displaying leadership qualities without resorting to the kind of yelling that would cause many fans to groan during Sylv's later story, Battlefield. The fact that this story was written before Sylv was cast only helped to let McCoy take the generic Doctor in the script and stamp his own personality upon it, making him a stronger and less buffoonish one than seen in Time and the Rani.

Bonnie Langford's Mel is almost certainly the most hated companion in Doctor Who's long history; the initial concept of having her just appear with The Doctor - during the Trial of a Time Lord season - in a story set in the future was a pretty neat idea and the pairing of the arrogant and pompous Sixth Doctor with the sickly sweet Melanie Bush worked well, with the contrast making for a nice dynamic. When Baker departed the show under less than amicable circumstances, the character of Mel was retained Sylvester McCoy's initially jokey Seventh Doctor didn't gel with her and made poor old Melanie almost insufferable. It's not Langford's fault - she was hired and did what was asked of her and she does it reasonably well (even if at times it looks as though she is about to slap her thigh), but things had changed and her character wasn't really written to adapt to the changes.

Slyv confronts the Ice Hot Warriors...
Paradise Towers is a frustrating story to watch, as there are some clever ideas floating around - the story is a pointed parody at urban decay and isolation within a high-rise accommodation. The intense bombing that occurred during the Second World War brought desolation to areas of London, with many poor communities being almost completely destroyed. One of the solutions to the problem of where to put the displaced communities and also limit the amount of land that housed them was to build high-rise flats; those concrete monstrosities that were erected in London during the sixties without proper thought for the long-term consequences of the poor sods who had to live in the things. With the tangible whiff of society starting the long, slow decline toward destitution, at the opening of the story, you almost expect to see the same caption that appears at the start of Mad Max "A few years from now..."

Speaking of which, as much as the Kangs are a distaff version of Lord of the Flies, we suspect more is owed to the (then) recent Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.  Like the George Miller movie, their names are a based upon various objects that would be found around them, in this case being those in most tower-blocks.  This gives us a roll-call of names like Fire Escape, Bin Liner (which sounds like a term of abuse from Slyv's next companion), and affords another little glimpse into how society in Paradise Towers has broken down, where established history and tradition have eroded to such a degree that even fundamental things like names have been taken from that which is immediately visible - or they may just be gang names and the gang members aren't particularly imaginative when thinking them up. We were waiting for the heroic Pool of Vomit, the brave Human Excrement and the courageous Betterware Catalogue to leap into the fray.

The concept of two warring gangs fruitlessly despising each other purely on the basis of colour was used again in an episode of Babylon 5. It’s the kind of situation where you want to go down the pure science-fiction route of having a dog/human hybrid come along and point out the folly of their ways. These girls make up for they lack of originality by being so damned fu… erm… loveable. They look as though they have just stepped out of an 80s nightclub and are on the lookout for the first man they’ve seen in ages. Given that the muscle-bound Pex is probably unable to get an erection though the combination of steroids and being a wimp, these girls are out for all they can get! Sure, a few of the background Kangs often look bored during scenes, but we‘ll forgive them, as they generally work nicely within the story and play well against Sylv. Oh, and on a personal level - Red Kangs are best!

Injecting some pop-culture satire comes Pex, the muscle-bound idiot left behind through being a chicken, running around Paradise Towers whilst vainly posing in an effort to convince everyone he’s some great warrior.  This was intended as a spoof of Rambo and other action icons, but because it was hard to find either an actor as ripped as their intended target or a bodybuilder able to act enough on the BBC books, they ended up with Howard Cooke, who has some biceps on him, but far from the target they had in mind. In some ways, it makes the character of Pex more amusing, as there is no way he can physically match his boast, but it’s like ending up with Frank Stallone when you want Sylvester, or Arron Norris when you need Chuck.

Now, it goes against everything we both stand for and have come to believe, but there is an instance where Mel not only seems as though she’s earned her place on the show, but *ulp* looks quite hot. That’s a grouping of words we never expected to fall together. Anyway, it’s just after she has shot the robot attacking her in the pool, standing there all wet whilst brandishing a gun, sporting a look of purpose and exotic danger over the smoking remains of her aim. It probably helps that the water makes her hair look black, taking off the “Ginger” curse.

We have to say that the Paradise Towers Visual Prospectus was a real winner with us, with the cheesy bait on display fondly brought to mind the same thing which appeared at the start of David Cronenberg’s Shivers, where a seemingly happy, hermetically-sealed existence in a residential tower complex becomes a hotbed of evil. Whilst the Starliner Hotel held the threat of sexual inhibitions being shed across the whole of Montreal, the evil lurking inside is more than a little reminiscent of the pilot of Battlestar Galactica, where the hapless found themselves in a lift which took them to the lower levels. Both prospectuses’ feature a strange fusion of western consumerism and communal housing, trapping those within and keeping the outside world firmly at bay, no matter how cosy the existence seems. Oh, and it really is a sign of when Paradise Towers was made that the highest aspiration of luxury was a swimming pool, something which is affordable for many in the years since.

This moustache falls squrely into the "you'd never get away with that these days" category...
There are several pleasing elements to the story, a fair degree of wit being one of them; the playful misuse of phrases like “taken to the cleaners” when a Kang is killed is a prefect example, twisting language to create a new world through context. The greeting of “Build high for happiness” is a hopeful, aspirational, almost mantra-like way of clinging to the belief that tower-blocks are a decent way for people to live, in spite of most ending up as crime-ridden ghettos, and used wonderfully to drive home the almost delusional hope of “something better” among the Kangs. Being The Doctor, Sylv was always going to come complete with humorous dialogue, and one of the best turns Paradise Towers‘ motto on its‘ head, where the Kangs‘ foolhardy plan has The Doctor countering with “Dig deep for disaster,” echoing both the future and the past, with the old World War II poster firmly in mind.

Also good is the cavernous nature of Paradise Towers, allowing for the tradition of splitting up The Doctor from his companion to be done in an unusually credible way, with the uniform corridors and stairwells almost inviting the unwary to become lost amongst them. It makes for a much better option than the tiresome standby of somebody getting captured. As we praise the best element, we have to say that whilst human flesh has been on the menu a few times during the run of Doctor Who, Paradise Towers gives it one of the best angles seen on the show. We’ve always been freaked out at the actions of the WI, and seeing such types ensnaring unwary travellers just bolsters our suspicions, and we’ll bet we aren’t the only ones! You might think what would push these old dears over the edge like that, but the application of logic will tell you that cannibalistic pensioners living in flats must have heard that human flesh tastes like cat-food, putting them on the scent for o constant, free supply of meat to which they have already become accustomed. Cynical? Us?!?

Though there is still much of the kind of lighting that one would tend to see during an evening match at a football stadium, director Nicholas Mallett tries to inject a little gloominess into some of the scenes, providing a slightly more moody atmosphere than would have been achieved if he had followed the standard eighties Doctor Who lighting directive. Mallett also attempts to break up the static feel of the show by using that appear to be lightweight handheld cameras and using them for unusual angles, for voyeuristically following characters and for close-ups that give an cinema verity-style intimacy that can't really be achieved with the age-old cameras that Doctor Who was still being filmed on at the time. Mallett would later re-materialise during season 26 to helm one of McCoy's finest hours, The Curse of Fenric.

Despite the cleaner robots not exactly looking that threatening (when Sylv is grabbed by one, he tries his best to inject a bit of menace into the almost-inert adversary, much like Bela Lugosi wrestling with the flaccid octopus during the climax of Bride of the Monster), one of the most serious issues with Paradise Towers is the monster lurking in the basement; whilst having an inspirational place at the top and a fiery, monster-inhabited environment below is an interesting metaphor for heaven and hell, the monster is not needed in the story, as the satire on urban decay and social alienation was strong enough already; the fact that the monster itself was so badly executed only compounds the issue further. For the love of God, the neon eyes look like the entrance to an 80s disco, being more Paradise Club than Paradise Towers.

However, the good elements seen to outweigh the bad, and aside from some rather dodgy-looking baddies, there is much to enjoy. How, does this towering titan look on DVD? Let’s take a gander…

Just when you thought the Macra Terror had subsided...

Video


Paradise Towers was shot at a time when Doctor Who was being filmed on half-inch videotape, a noticeable step-down from the old one-inch tape that had served the show so well for years; The Doctor Who Restoration Team have once again cleaned up the image, making it look as good as it possibly can. Bearing in mind the limitations of the format on which it was shot, Paradise Towers looks pretty good on DVD, with a very clean transfer that will please fans. The lighting was still very harsh at that point, so there is little in the way of video noise or grain and the colours are fairly faithfully reproduced.

Audio


Everything's fine in this department, the mono 2.0 track has perfectly clear dialogue and Keff McCulloch's score sounding as good as it ever has.

Extras


Audio Commentary: We have always said that to have a commentary track without any of the main (read: regular) cast makes for a very different experience, and Paradise Towers helps cement such musings. Moderated by the leavening presence of Mark Ayres, he brings together writer Stephen Wyatt, actress Judy Cornwell and soundman Dick Mills, and manages to make a fun, informative experience from three very diverse departments.

We have to say that given how Cornwell isn’t in the story from the very start, we thought that having her present during the majority of the commentary track would have been somewhat of a drag, only speaking of things in which she was directly involved, but this really isn’t the case. At one point, she postulates that the show had become more about the fans and mythology, losing sight of being able to give the show a contemporary edge by addressing current social matters, such as urban living in crumbling tower blocks.

Simply put, Cornwell is a joy to listen to, with her sharp recall of events and detailed knowledge of things going on behind the scenes, along with some thespian antics in the dressing rooms. You have love a woman of her years whom is quick to dismiss the effects of “violent” programming on youngsters by saying that kids love bloodthirsty things! You know that things were going to go well with Cornwell in the booth as she starts out by saying that she used to watch the show with her son, and we challenge anyone not to find her a real tonic among Doctor Who actors. One of the oddest statements is that she points out that since The French Connection, foley and other sound has been scored too high, drowning out the dialogue in everything in its wake.

Stephen Wyatt points out that the once defunct political satire on the colours of the Kangs has changed, as the LibDems are now in power. He chuckles at the mention of a memo in which Sylv requested that he be able to perform a stunt in the story - a four-foot backward fall with his hands tied behind his back! Given that this is the man who would pout ferrets down his trousers during his stage act, surely the danger level would have been about the same?  Our favourite is his description of the predicament he found himself in when writing, that of: “…a Doctor who hadn’t been cast and a companion [Mel] who had no personality”. Truer words have rarely been spoken.

For the final two episodes, along comes “Special Sound” man Dick Mills, who has a great rapport with fellow audio-man Ayres, both of whom empathise with David Snell, who had his score for the show dumped and replaced before transmission. Funniest from Mr Mills is when we mentions cliffhanger-music, which accompanies the same form of acting, “...as opposed to furniture acting, where they open and shut the door and the traffic outside goes loud/soft.”

It’s all good fun, and a great way to get new enjoyment out of a story seen to many times by the faithful. Did you honestly expect anything less?

Horror on the High Rise: Doctor Who composer Mark Ayres presents a look at the making of Paradise Towers. With actors Richard Briers, Howard Cooke and Catherine Cusack, writer Stephen Wyatt, script editor Andrew Cartmel, original score composer David Snell and replacement score composer Keff McCulloch.

Briers’ performance is the subject of much discussion, with some who feel that he was refusing to just “do sitcom” on the show, but most are agreed that he goes rather OTT once zombified, to the point where Briers was handed a dreaded “note” about how he was playing.  Knowing full well that he was a highly-prized guest on the show, he blithely ignored it and carried with it. Briers falls back on the old actors’ cliché of explaining away any broad performance as taking a “Shakespearian” approach to the material, which is an irritating catch-all to justify mediocre work.

Don't ever take the piss out of The War Machines again...
Deleted and Extended Scenes: Presented in damn-near broadcast quality, we have a mixture of both the pertinent and necessary trims for pacing from the first edit of the story. Possibly the best of the bunch shows Mel wising up to the hollow, gutless nature of Pex’s heroics, making her not as gullible as usual. At least one deletion allows for a greater understanding of the geometry of Paradise Towers, with the two lead characters missing themselves whilst still in close proximity, making the complex more labyrinthine in design. The fate of No Exit is debated, arriving at the conclusion that she’s dead, leading to a chant of “Red Kangs are best” in her memory. There are a number of scenes which help set up the final push through the Towers, with both sides planning or taking action, which would have bolstered the climax if restored, including a rather curious extension to the Rezzies asking for help, with McCoy and Cornwell making googly-eyes at each other!

On an amusing note, he footage from to broadcast is displayed in black and while so as to clearly delineate old from new, but it rather ironic that a monochromatic shot of mixed Kangs shows them to look identical. It’s rather like the Star Trek episode with Frank Gorshin. *Sigh*. Google it.

Continuity: Aww, come on, everyone loves looking at these things - continuity announcements from the past always have a certain degree of fascination, whether it's from people who remember them at the time and they get a nostalgic kick from them, or it's from younger viewers who are just aghast at the way shows used to be advertised. You also get the recaps before the episodes start, which consist of a still from the story, accompanied by a mildly-embarrassed received-pronunciation voiceover - we honestly can't remember seeing these when Paradise Towers was transmitted, but they were obviously shown. There are moments when the continuity announcer fluffs and even gets the name of one of the BBC Video titles wrong - oh, the horror! When you watch these continuity trails, you will notice that back in the late eighties, the Beeb seemed to lean heavily on cosy middle-class sitcoms during the week...

Girls! Girls! Girls! – The Eighties: Peter Purves is on-hand to introduce another edition in this occasional series, but the format is different to the previous one about the 1960s, in that it consists of three actresses having a free-flowing conversation about how being in Doctor Who affected them and their opinions of their characters and the attitudes that were prevalent in the era they all appeared in the show. The three actresses are Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan) and Sophie Aldred (Ace) - the three of them make for an interesting dynamic, as Sutton and Fielding are more pally and conversational because they worked together, but Sutton and Aldred seem to have more in common and aren't as rampantly feminist as Fielding.

Their backgrounds are discussed, with all three of them coming from different areas - Sutton already being in television, Fielding coming from conventional theatre and Aldred being involved with more avant-garde theatre - and their attitudes towards the show, stardom and how they moved on are all explored; though they were all in Doctor Who, their feelings and how their careers went after leaving couldn't be more different, but the contrasts make for a fascinating and at times amusing and almost poignant documentary.

The dreaded F-word unsurprisingly rears its ugly head pretty early on, with Fielding being the rampant feminist and listening with intense interest when Aldred reveals that she was asked by someone high up in the production to shave her armpits; almost paradoxically, Fielding laments not having a good pair of legs - which isn't true, as the black leather miniskirt she sported in her last couple of stories showed her impressive pins rather nicely.

With Sutton and Fielding being in Doctor Who at the start of the decade and Aldred stepping aboard toward the end, the three of them note the change in attitudes both on-screen and off in regard to female characters and actresses - the only real pity about this documentary is that the bridge between the two sides is missing; it's a real pity that Nicola Bryant couldn't have taken part, as she truly was the transitional stepping-stone for eighties Doctor Who companions. Regardless of this wish, this is wonderful stuff (even if Fielding bleats on about a certain subject at every opportunity) and it's a real credit to everyone involved.

"When shall we three meet again...?"
Casting Sylvester: When this short subject opened with the theme tune to 80's kid's show, Jigsaw, it immediately had us by the short and curlies. Jigsaw producer Clive Doig is interview and he explains his long-standing relationship with Sylvester McCoy and how he was instrumental in the actor’s casting as the Seventh Doctor. This thing is very short, but awfully sweet, giving a tantalising reminder of an era of children's television that has long since vanished into the great beyond. Doig comes across as an affable chap as he tells of how McCoy appeared on his radar and he cast him in Vision On and later, Jigsaw. Doig also gives his opinion of Sylv as The Doctor and how he thought the show was faring at the time, along with his thoughts on how he personally envisioned the direction Doctor Who should have been taking - this opinion is vague at best and at worst nonsensical. It's a pity that no clips from Jigsaw were used in this featurette - it would have been great to see McCoy and the late David Rappaport in action as the O-Men - but at least it spared us having suppressed memories dragged up by that weird, creepy fucker, Noseybonk...

Alternate Music Score: As mentioned on both the commentary and in the documentary, we get the chance to listen to the original composition for Paradise Towers, before David Snell was shafted and had his work replaced by Keff McCulloch. The two efforts are markedly different, with Snell’s work registering as a little overbearing, using more familiar patterns and sounds to create atmosphere, almost pushing into the realms of “cliché”. It hammers home points of emotion in the story with all the subtlety of Thor taking out a bad-guy.  That it exists at all is quite amazing, but to have it available for the delectation of fans is the mark of a company who know how to treat their customers.

For shots of the robots roaming around, he uses pulsing synthesisers as though echoing blooding pulsing around a body gripped with fear - whilst this is pretty cool, it sounds like something from the early 80s as opposed to the later part of the decade. It’s the sort of effect you’d find in a few of the Video Nasties (we hate that name!), both during the movie and on the video-company logo which precedes it. We love that kind of synth score as much as anyone, but it just didn’t seem to find its’ place on Doctor Who. Taken from a surviving tape, it’s a little tinnier than the final edit, although still in pretty good shape. It’s great that fans will have the chance to decide for themselves with this invaluable extra.

Photo Gallery: Varios production, design and publicity photos from Paradise Towers are presented here, all set to Keff McCulloch's score; there are the prerequisite shots of Sylvester McCoy clowning around for the cameras, along with numerous portrait shots of Bonnie Langford, including one of her perched cheekily on top of a wooden crate containing explosives - it's a pretty safe bet that many Doctor Who fans were trying to will an stray spark into existence about six inches below Ms Langford's arse.  Or in it…

PDF Materials: As always, the individual episode listings for all four episodes of Paradise Towers are presented here for your viewing pleasure.

Subtitle Production Notes: Well, here it comes once again, the definitive look at the production of a Doctor Who story, in more detail that ever could be presented in a documentary of equal or even greater length. As a perfect example of just how exhaustive the information is, the track points out that a couple of the plinths seen at the hallowed swimming pool at Paradise Towers were also used way back in The Keys of Marinus! Where the hell else would you even think of finding out such minutiae??

Possibly too grim for a family show, the fact-track postulates that the reason why the numerous bodies delivered to the malevolent entity are rejected in favour of the Chief Caretaker’s scrawny form is because the others are already dead when they arrive, being unsuitable for habitation.

The track is also keen to point out the similarities to and departures from the JG Ballard novel High Rise, which was Stephen Wyatt’s inspiration for Paradise Towers. Ballard’s book had the complex as a sociological experiment, where all the classes were placed in the block according to their place in life, with the high-rollers occupying the top floor - rather like the classic Frost Report sketch, with the end result being simmering hatred among those living there. Paradise Towers’ status quo comes as a form of evolution rather than being by design, with only those weak or feeble surviving through not going off to war.

There is the usual streak of VERY welcome humour to leaven the proceedings, making sure that you don’t succumb to the perils of information overload. Our personal favourite is when Pex smashes through the clearly fake door to rescue Mel from certain fricassee. “This is a balsa-wood door,” it drolly informs us. Pex postures in a very macho fashion, practically spitting out his lines with teeth-marks embedded in them. “This is an actor,” it firmly reminds us. Excellent!

There is a rather distressing/depressing link to actors connected to Paradise Towers, specifically those who left the business at around that time to find more stable work. Obviously, the only stable work as an actor is mucking out horses on location, but Howard Cooke (Pex) decided that he’d had enough two years later, quitting to set up his own theatrical agency. Annabel Yuresha (Bin Liner) quit after a short stint in acting and moved to Zurich. Julie Brannon (Fire Escape) was married to Mark Strickson (Turlough) for a number of years, and both emigrated to Australia in 1988 when Strickson wanted a change of career - Paradise Towers was the last thing on her acting CV, too.

The difference between “cuts” and “unfilmed cuts” is a refreshingly clear way of defining what got the chop both before and after filming, and is useful for navigating the (once again) numerous changes faithfully catalogued by this reliably complete track.  Naturally, most of the “filmed” cuts are included in the extras, but it’s great to know just how things evolved from the initial script from a virgin Doctor Who writer to what ended up on the screen.

Great pains are taken to explain the subtext of just why the three colours of Kang are what they are, and the answer will have you kicking yourself that you didn’t see it earlier: the political parties. Whilst the Red and Blue Kangs echo Labour and the Tories, both at each other’s throats in the face of a common enemy, the poor Yellow Kangs are quickly out of the running, not being much of a threat to the thriving groups. A critique of the SDP (LibDems) under the leadership of the two Davids at the time? Of course!

Another blissful time is yours to be had whilst sharpening your knowledge of Doctor Who, which has become the hallmark of the Info Tracks which come with them. As Virgin Radio used to say: “Tune in and rip the knob off…”

Coming Soon: The satirical Tom Baker romp, The Sun Makers is the next Doctor Who story to receive the red carpet treatment from The Doctor Who Restoration Team and 2Entertain. At a time when the population of the UK is getting screwed over taxes, it is something of a timely release for this Fourth Doctor story.

"You mean Pip & Jane Baker AREN'T writing this one?"

Overall


Paradise Towers, like so many well-intended Doctor Who failures, has a great concept that falls somewhat flat in execution; the stunt-casting of Richard Briers works up until his transformation, when he goes WAY overboard and almost derails the whole thing. The irrational desire from production to include a "monster" in the story interferes with what was a perfectly sound idea. Still, if you don't mind the clunky robots and some of the toe-curling dialogue from the Kangs, then you might just enjoy this first proper peek at the promise that Sylvester McCoy would later show...


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