Right in the middle of "Delta and the Bannermen" is a dotty old Welshman named Goronwy: beekeeper, collector of honey, student of human nature. Everything Goronwy says reflects directly on the story unfolding around him. It's he who tells us that, just as an ugly pupa becomes a beautiful butterfly, so will Delta's hideous green baby become the new Chimeron queen. It's he who tells us that a newborn bee can become queen just by the right diet. Those two sentences are the plot. On the other hand, we also get two bumbling CIA agents. Contrary to Goronwy, absolutely nothing they say advances the story at all. In fact, the story stops dead whenever they're on screen. And that's "Delta and the Bannermen" for you. Sublime and the ridiculous aggressively sewn up in the same package.
This most small-scale "Doctor Who" story -- twelve black-clad soldiers menace a Welsh holiday camp in 1959 -- is also the most hyper and frenetic the show ever got. Here we have more spaceships and motorcycles and buses and cars and other vehicles all in one place for the first time since "Planet of the Spiders". If you thought all those Season 11 chase scenes were too much to handle, try this caper on for size -- and it's half the length!
The guest cast is variable. CIA agent Weismuller is played by Stubby Kaye, the New York-born Broadway star (Guys and Dolls). Not only does he wear a Yankees jacket, but he wears the cap, too, just in case we missed the point. In 1959, the Yankees only finished in third place, and Kaye looks as tired and over the hill as Casey Stengel. But he's charming in the role and it's nice to add him to the "Who" legacy. His partner Hawk, on the other hand, has the worst American accents this side of "Dalek", and is played by someone named Morgan Deare who, if the Internet Movie Database is anything to go by, was most certainly not from New York.
The rest of "Delta" can be boiled down to vignettes that are interesting, and vignettes that are not. Ken Dodd's appearance has no impact for the American audience. Mel wears four different outfits, and that's just in the first thirty-five minutes. Much better is the rock-and-roll themed incidental music, and would-be companion Ray, who's such a cute breath of fresh air. I love how she keeps explaining to everyone that Keillor, an ill-fated bounty hunter in blue suede shoes, was "ionized".
Sylvester McCoy is also terrific. You can tell they still weren't sure where to go with his Doctor yet -- witness all those misquotes ("A stitch in time fills up space!" that were never again a staple of his character). And yet, he's gentle with Ray, and avuncular with Billy ("For a primitive piece of technology, it certainly delivers the decibels!"). His Part Two confrontation with the Bannermen leader Gavrok, staged on a rickety staircase, features great line after great line (a few minutes later, he's back to discussing honey with Goronwy).
The story wraps up about five minutes before the end of the final episode, leaving time for an extended denouement where all the (surviving) characters get something amusing to do. It ends with Goronwy telling us that, in the end, the new queen bee creates "a new hive, and a new life", and then he winks at the disappearing TARDIS.
The story's an episode shorter than most four-parters so there's more room on the DVD for vintage on-location footage; a nostalgic interview with British TV veteran Hugh Lloyd (Goronwy) taped shortly before the actor's death in 2008; and, from an ongoing 2-Entertain series, an overview of the 7th Doctor comic strip. An excellent commentary track joins the Doctor and Ray with director Chris Clough and script editor Andrew Cartmel; there are solid anecdotes from all. Also interesting is the original 30-minute edit of Part One, giving the story more room to breathe; this is untreated with visual or sound effects so a dinner gong is signified by a PA quietly saying: "Dong!". Come to think of it, they could have left the "Dong!" in the finished product and the story wouldn't have suffered one bit.