The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) land in Paradise Towers, a 22nd-Century high-rise now fallen into disrepair. There are roving juvenile gangs of young girls called Kangs wandering the corridors. The Doctor and Mel fall in with the Red Kangs. The last Yellow Kang has died, and they are looking for the Blue Kangs. Also, one of the Caretakers is hunted down and killed by a robotic cleaner.
The sadistic Chief Caretaker (Richard Briers) sends a squad to arrest the Red Kangs. In the confusion, the Doctor is captured by the Caretakers and Mel enters the apartment of two elderly Rezzies (residents) named Tilda (Brenda Bruce) and Tabby (Elizabeth Spriggs), who explain that all the able-bodied men went off to war and never came back, except a would-be hero named Pex (Howard Cooke), who decides to guard Mel.
The Doctor meets the Nazi-like Chief Caretaker, who greets him as the Great Architect, designer of the high-rise, and then calls for him to be killed. Citing an imaginary rule from the Caretakers’ Manual, the Doctor escapes. Mel and Pex head for the top of the building, but are captured by Blue Kangs, who reveal that Pex survived the war because he is a deserter.
The Great Architect, the Doctor discovers, is named Kroagnon. The Red Kangs find the Doctor and explain that Kangs and Caretakers alike have been vanishing in large numbers. While he is being interrogated, the Caretakers try to break down the door. Mel is visiting Tilda and Tabby but finds out that they plan to eat her.
The Doctor holds off the Caretakers and the Kangs flee. A metal claw in the waste-disposal grabs Tabby and Tilda and sucks them down the chute. Pex arrives and saves Mel. They find a map and head for the luxury swimming pool on the roof, which Pollyannish Mel thinks must look like the lovely one in the brochure. The pool in the TARDIS had been ejected and she’d really like a swim.
The Doctor is back in Caretaker Headquarters when he realizes the Chief Caretaker is letting the Cleaners kill people and has now lost control. The Creature in the Basement wants more and more food. The Red Kangs free the Doctor from the Caretakers, and he returns with them, clutching the illustrated prospectus for the tower. It seems the Great Architect has designed Miracle City as well, which ate its inhabitants. He also designed Golden Dream Park and the Bridge of Perpetual Motion, but whether these designs ate people too is not known. The Blue Kangs attack, but all the Kangs have to work together if they want to live.
In the swimming pool. Mel is attacked by a giant crab. Apparently, this scene put a lot of people off swimming. The Red Kangs know about the Monstrosity in the Basement. The Mysterious Intelligence is the Great Architect himself (voice by Richard Briers). The Cleaners and the Robots are after the Doctor. The Kangs rescue the Doctor, Pex is unable to rescue Mel and she has to kill the giant crab herself. The Kangs taunt Pex for his cowardice.
The Doctor explains that the Architect thought human beings would ruin his building, so he placed deathtraps everywhere, one of which trapped him in the basement. A Rezzie named Maddy (Judy Cornwell) and others join the Kangs at the pool to defeat the menace. Pex will help too. Also, the surviving Caretakers. The Chief Caretaker’s body is animated by the Great Architect’s mind, turning him from a Hitler wannabe to a Hitler zombie. The Doctor and Pex lure him into a booby-trapped room and destroy him, Pex sacrificing himself with heroic courage. After Pex’s funeral, the Doctor and Mel leave. The new Kang graffiti is “Pex Lives!”
This whole story was obviously inspired by J.G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise, with perhaps a touch of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and A Clockwork Orange—Stanley Kubrick’s film of Anthony Burgess’ novel. Jeff McCullough again did the score. The over-the-top performance of Richard Brier’s Chief Caretaker came under particular attack by critics, though it’s hard to imagine a restrained Hitler zombie. The script by new writer Stephen Wyatt had no monsters, so the robotic cleaners were added. Julie Brennan, who plays Fire Escape, was married to Mark Strickson, who played the Fifth Doctor’s companion Turlough. The Blue Kang leader was not named, but in the novel, she was called Drinking Fountain. The Doctor describes an antique telephone as a splendid piece of auditoryarchitectonicalmetrasyncocity. The story was not particularly well-received and some of the acting is awful, but there is so much black humour in the totally dysfunctional and predatory building that the story is fascinating, and the Kangs’ songs and rituals are a hoot. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor is beginning to come into his own. We’re beginning to see a sly character, smarter than he seems, like Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor.