Revisiting The Paradise of Death: Cassette Tapes Can Be Loved Too

I’ve recently had my interest re-kindled in my hi-fi that I had years ago (when I lived on my own) and I’ve cobbled together my old stacked hi-fi in my loft.

In doing so, I’m having a glorious time re-visiting some of the old play-back formats that I’ve had tucked away; one of these is the 1993 cassette tape release of The Paradise of Death, written by Barry Letts and starring Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, and Nicholas Courtney.

Some may have noticed that a few of my previous articles have been driven by the media they’ve been delivered on. Well, when one has a theme…

Paradise of Death was transmitted in 1993 on BBC Radio 5 and later repeated on Radio 2. The Radio 2 broadcast is now infamous for transmitting episodes in the wrong order! Unlike the broadcast versions, there isn’t a scheduling time-slot to adhere to so the tapes feature longer episodes.

The cover photograph is a little odd: Nicholas Courtney, in prominence, is blocking Pertwee who was in full costume for the photoshoot, but this cannot be seen. The TARDIS, that the trio were peering round, has also been removed.

The cover also features the 30th anniversary logo and the sleeve notes make the claim that this is the only new Doctor Who that was made during the anniversary year. The sleeve-note writer clearly had no knowledge of Dimensions in Time that appeared a few months later. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a mercy or not.

Although Paradise of Death was re-released on CD in 2000, the cassette tapes were part of Doctor Who’s 30th celebrations and as such have that special feel about them.

As an aside, I was at the Panopticon convention in 1993 where Jon Pertwee was interviewed about The Paradise of Death. Jon would have been 72 at the time, but his enthusiasm for Doctor Who was still very much in evidence. It was quite a nice touch that the interviewer pointed out that due to Paradise, Pertwee was the then ‘current’ Doctor, which was warmly received by the audience. But I digress…

2019 is the 20th anniversary of Big Finish, but it is also would have been Jon Pertwee’s 100th birthday, therefore a double excuse to revisit this BBC Radio Collection Release. 

Before listening, I had to obtain a replacement tape deck as my old Awia had given up the ghost. It’s been a number of years since I’ve played any kind of audio tape, but I felt it was worth the effort as I hadn’t heard Paradise since its release in 1993. Armed with a refurbished Yamaha deck, a pile of cassettes, and an intention to digitise, nostalgia beckoned.

Before I listened, I had a glance at the cast list and there are a few cast members who warrant a mention: Peter Miles (Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks); Trevor Martin (the Doctor in the stage play Seven Keys to Doomsday); Maurice Denham (Azmael in The Twin Dilema); Harold Innocent (Gilbert M in The Happiness Patrol); and a young Jane Slavin (Big Finish regular and recent Fourth Doctor companion, WPC Ann Kelso).

It’s nice to report that the Paradise of Death tapes played perfectly after 25 years and the quality was as good as the first listen. That was a relief.

As for the content: pedantic old me got off on the wrong foot – it does jar a bit when a Third Doctor adventure is led in by the Peter Howell version of the theme tune. It’s a bit of an odd choice considering that in 1993 the ‘current’ or last version would have been the Marc Ayers’ one. But then, as Peter Howell was on incidental music duty, it doesn’t take long for the penny to drop. I also noticed a few bars re-used from Peter’s Meglos music, but I only noticed because it featured on Doctor Who: The Music which I played relentlessly back in the early 1980s.

But then I get off on another wrong foot as the narrative starts: the terrible depiction of a group of ‘cockney yobs’ along with their “here we go!” chanting. One of them is even called Nobby! Thankfully, they get dispatched from the story quite quickly and the proper drama can carry on.

Not to give too much of the plot away, but the story starts with the aforementioned ‘cockney yobs’, breaking into a soon-to-be-opened space-themed theme park, coming to a very grizzly end when lizard-dogs are set on them; the sound resplendent with unpleasant bone crunching and screams.

This draws UNIT’s attention – rather sloppily seeing as the theme park owner’s company, the Parakon Corporation, are in talks with the authorities – but UNIT HQ calls the Brigadier off.

The action soon moves to the planet Parakon – a rare off-Earth outing for the Brig – where Rapine, a miracle-plant that is to be traded with Earth, turns out to be less than promised…

Everyone fills their old Who boots seamlessly although Pertwee does sound considerably older than I’m used to; his voice is a little fragile but still very enthusiastic.

It is also heavily sign-posted that this is taking place right after The Time Warrior as Sarah Jane has only been on one adventure with the Doctor prior to this story.

I wanted to make a special mention to the cliffhanger at the end of episode one, where the Doctor falls off the top of a rocket, but I don’t want to get too spoilery. Suffice to say that something a little more substantial than a throwaway line to deal with it would have been less eye-rolling.

When I first heard Paradise, way back when, I thought that this was a little light-weight; probably due to the character of Jeremy – there for the light relief but coming off as a cross between Harry Sullivan and Jar-Jar Binks!

However, this is definitely a case of the memory cheating as there are some very dark moments, especially the reveal of what Rapine is and its cost.

There is also a teeny-tiny bit of swearing (think Lucie Miller) and some sexual references. Peter Miles’ character, Tragan, is particularly sadistic. It’s possible that Barry Letts was writing this with a sideways glance at an older than usual audience who may have been reading the Virgin New Adventures books.

Letts may have also recently seen the Dino De Laurentiis’ Flash Gordon of which I was reminded during one particular sequence.

I may sound as if I’m being a bit hard on Paradise – and we are used to much better from Big Finish – but it is an entertaining romp that kept me company at work. However, it does come to a very abrupt end.

I’ve also got the cassette version of Paradise’s radio sequel, The Ghosts of N-Space with its limited-edition glow-in-the-dark cover (yes, really). I’ve tested the cover and it still glows. But first, I have to get another copy as one of the cassette’s tapes is detached from the take-up spool. The cassette is sealed, not screwed together, so I can’t fix it myself (insert sad emoji face here).

I’ll console myself with the cassette of Barry Lett’s The Sevenfold Crown, his Blake’s 7 radio adventure from 1998, in which Avon steals the show, Vila plays the part of Jeremy, the light veneer disguises a darker layer underneath, and another abrupt ending.