Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen (parts one and two)

Sometimes, kids offer the oddest observations. I was certain that the character of Jesse Colton, who we met in a couple of MacGyver episodes, was described as a bounty hunter, but our son, who turned eight yesterday, exclusively associates the term with Star Wars, just like he might with “Jedi Knight” or “Sith Lord.” Fantasy is that much bigger than reality. Real bounty hunters are nowhere as glamorous as IG-88 or Boba Fett.

There is, briefly, a bounty hunter in the first two parts of the absolutely wonderful “Delta and the Bannermen.” It’s a story that I originally considered the weakest of the four in season twenty-four but later came to love. It’s a huggingly wonderful and silly story full of great dialogue, broken hearts, and rock and roll. But in 1987-88, when Who fandom had so many loud voices demanding SRS BSNSS from this show, “silly” was not what the Hive Mind wanted. I never really noticed, then, the delightful moment in part one when the lovestruck Ray, realizing her fella only has eyes for a girl from space, hugs the Doctor and buries her tears in his shoulder, and the Doctor responds with an awkward “there, there,” utterly unsure what he’s supposed to do about this.

So much of this story is unsaid, but it moves at such a brisk pace that it never seems to matter. It appears that the Doctor and Mel arrive at the Tollbooth without travelling in time. They seem to have just met the evil and ruthless Bannermen; the unfortunate aliens who just wanted a time-travel tour of 1959 Disneyland also know who they are. So they’re all leaving a time when these villains are known to everybody around them, and the explanations that would slow down the narrative are unnecessary. The audience doesn’t need to know. They’re the guys with black hats; we get it.

Then there are the two aging American agents bumbling around the Welsh countryside looking for a satellite with a telescope in the middle of the afternoon. One of them’s played by Stubby Kaye, who gets to impotently protest “Hey, that’s the property of Uncle Sam…” after the villains blow up his radio. I love how these well-meaning clowns just happen to be in the right place at the right time. They must have done something right, once, but very little since, and so their bosses, who are probably much younger and much more competent, just send them as far away from the action as possible because for some reason they can’t fire them. Thus Wales, and a telescope.

I’m glad that our son has developed an understanding of the comedy of anticipation. He had some chuckles and some thrills as the story progressed, but his favorite moment was when the Bannermen’s spaceship lands behind the two agents as they look for their missing satellite. He knew these two fellows’ day was about to get a lot worse. He later protested that the Bannermen aren’t only doing the wrong thing, but doing it the wrong way. He knew that the villains should have searched the tour bus for the woman that they’re hunting before blowing it up. We’ll see whether these bad guys can do something right tomorrow.

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