Time of Your Life
Time and the Rani
|Dates||Sept. 7, 1987 -
Sept. 28, 1987
With Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford.
Written by Pip and Jane Baker. Script-edited by Andrew Cartmel.
Directed by Andrew Morgan. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: In the first adventure of the seventh Doctor, the Rani plans to create a powerful weapon with the help of kidnapped geniuses.|
An Utter Mess by Joe Hambidge 13/2/97
The seventh's Doctor's era begins with quite possibly the worst story in the Doctor Who canon, and it's no surprise that it is written by Pip and Jane Baker. The Rani shoots down the TARDIS like "any passing spaceship" which causes the Doctor's sixth regeneration as he bumps his head on the console. And so begins the Doctor and Mel's struggle to defeat the Rani on the planet Lakertya.
This story has one of the worst plots of any Doctor Who, which goes beyond the realm of any scientific plausibility. By draining the minds of assorted genie, the Rani plans to build a giant time manipulator. To complete this she also needs the Doctor's mind, and so builds up the intelligence of her giant brain. And you thought the moving tree in Mark of the Rani was bad! The Lakertyans are presented as a totally weak-willed race, allowing us to feel no pity for them as we should do. It doesn't help that they are given such awful dialogue. And so to the introduction of Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor.
Quite frankly, no Doctor has had such an awful debut, either in story or acting terms. His first scene almost drove me to despair as he fell about the Rani's laboratory. Kate O'Mara isn't much better as the Rani, playing her as if the character had been lifted from a pantomime. In the story's favour, the effects are reasonably well done, especially the bubble traps, and the Tetraps are a well-designed race of monsters. Bonnie Langford also continues to shine as Mel, a much under-rated companion.
So there you have it. It doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence for the rest of Sylvester McCoy's time as the Doctor. Fortunately, both he and the stories got a lot better.
A Review by Carl Malmstrom 1/3/97
I'm going to take an unpopular stance with this story, but it's one of my favorites. I found it to be a charming story. Yes, it has it's weaknesses, but honestly, few Doctor Who stories don't. I thought Sylvester McCoy was quite funny in his debut as the Doctor. His mixed aphorisms give a lightness that I hadn't seen in Doctor Who since the Tom Baker era. Who wouldn't like quotes like 'Every dogma has it's day!' and 'Time and tide melts the snowman!'? I also found the Doctor's wardrobe very funny. It was nice seeing a bit of every other Doctor, save William Hartnell, in that scene. It reminds us from where the show has come. I also thought that the Laykertians were, yes, a believable race. Not everyone is purely good or purely evil. Some people just want to survive. Even The Rani wasn't that bad. Yes, her Mel impersonation was dreadful, but it shows us just how far she's willing to go to complete her plan. I mean, really, she must be desperate if she's willing to dress up like Mel and kow-tow to the Doctor! Sure the kidnapping of human geniuses was odd at best and we could have lived without the Tetraps or the oversized brain, but other Doctors have had worse starts. Certainly The Twin Dilemma did not hold together nearly as well as Time and The Rani? I'm sorry, but I just can't find it in myself to despise this story. In spite of everything, it works.
An Utter Mess? by Kevin Bevel 27/6/97
I must begin by saying that Sylvester is one of my favorite Doctors and that I am going to review all of his tales. I will start by saying this was an average start to what seemed (at first) to be a degenerate Who era. After the pseudo-profundity of Trial of a Timelord, I was refreshed by this departure into lunacy. I admit, the outright idiocy with which Colin was dispatched (whom I liked, thank you) had me yelling in pain, I thought this worked looking at it from the point of view as self-parody.
Mel continues to annoy in her troglodytic gibbering, and I thought Rani worked well, as did the Laykertians. I could have lived without the over-large brain (you'd need an extra heart just for that thing), and Rani's impersonation of Mel, but I enjoyed it. The somewhat outlandish nature of her scheme also made this amusing. However, I do agree that this was indicative of the producers backing down in face of claims that C. Baker's era was too violent. I liked Sylvester's dress mode, and the aphorisms were fun. I digress that I was happy to see him change into a chessmaster figure in the much superior suceeding two seasons. It just made things a bit more complex, and ultimately, that is what we need. But a departure like this works here and there. It just didn't work incredibly well here.
Time & the Regeneration? by Jacob Cash 9/8/98
Starting with snazzy new opening titles, including a re-vamped musical theme gets you excited about a new doctor. For some reason, we see a departure from traditional Who practice in this "regeneration story". Usually we start with the face of the departing doctor in the titles at least! This gave the game away totally!
Anyway, to the story... This story I find somewhat below par, as there are too many loose ends. What does the Rani want to do with the time manipulator? Why did the doctor regenerate from a blow on the head? How is the TARDIS shot down? Why are the Laykertians involved at all? During every turn of the story I came up with more questions than answers. I also feel that too much detail was trying to be compressed into a four part story. We could have done without the Laykertians completely... they added nothing the overall story and were a poor distraction.
The standard of production was good, with convincing sets and costumes. Some people have complained about the brain... I thought it was good! Perhaps not the best concept, but as far as props go I thought that was very well done. The special effects also came forward a step, and the Rani's traps are very convincing indeed.
As with any premiere story for a new actor as the Doctor, it seems a bit awkward. I often found myself cringing at some of Sylvester McCoy's slapstick, but overall a decent performance. Mel, unfortunately has a poorly written piece, with amazing amounts of screaming.
I get the feeling that the writers wanted to get away from the, Doctor regenerates, doctor is vague, doctor needs help from companions scenario. If anything the whole regeneration is under played, which is disappointing as it happens so rarely! It should be something that can be used in much more imaginative ways than displayed in this story. The Rani also seems to become a "female master" figure, instead of a brilliant biological scientist as portrayed in other stories.
If this story is to be compared to other regeneration stories, even The Twin Dilemma I feel it makes a poor show. It never really comes together and has holes all over it, from plot to acting. There were times where I was genuinely interested, but then it fell apart with some futile chase scene or some glaringly stupid error from the Rani.
Of the Sylvester McCoy era (which is good!), I would not be keen to display this as a typical example.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/9/98
As a debut adventure for the Seventh Doctor, Time and the Rani can be judged as only partly successful. A lot of this was due to Colin Baker`s sacking from the show and the seemingly rushed, rewritten scripts. To cast a virtually unknown actor as the Doctor doesn`t necessarily mean failure (Tom Baker was unknown to the majority of television viewers, but still managed to make the role his own.)
But Sylvester McCoy`s debut is best described as patchy. With the rushed casting and scripting, he seemed to have inherited some of the Sixth Doctor`s characteristics (e.g. the sayings, which McCoy got wrong, whereas Baker would`ve got them right.)
Bonnie Langford has little to do with Melanie`s character, as she isn`t given any real depth; strange as this was written by Pip & Jane Baker, who wrote her debut tale. Although to be fair they had enough to do trying to create the Doctor`s Seventh persona.
On the plus side is the returning enemy,the Rani -- but again her characterisation lets her down. Instead of being a dedicated scientist, she is now more concerned with a giant, talking brain and impersonating Melanie, something that Kate O`Mara manages to do convincingly. The "faked" regeneration, the Tetraps and the Rani`s bubble-traps deserve special praise as well. But there are some very obvious plot-holes.
If the TARDIS crashed,causing the Doctor`s regeneration, why wasn`t Melanie affected more? And why do the Tetraps turn their heads, when they can see via the eyes in each side? If only there had been more time, this could have been a more applauded debut, instead of getting the reputation it doesn`t really deserve.
Time is Rani-ing Out... by Guy Thompson 30/11/98
As Kryten once said to Lister, "Sir, that is complete and utter shash." There are few more apposite epithets to describe this horrendous offering that failed miserably to kick-start the Sylvester McCoy era of the program.
I have heard people say that this story represents both the best and worst of Doctor Who. So the special effects are good. So what? This story represents the absolute nadir of the program the poorest story of the show's worst ever season by a long, long way. Sylvester McCoy must be applauded for creating such a good vision of the Doctor in Season 26, having got off to such a poor start here, and Kate O'Mara overacts quite horribly, and indeed looks quite horrible when impersonating Mel.
Lines are delivered with about as much conviction as O.J. Simpson ("That asteroid is composed of strange matter!") and the "story" simply loses its grip on reality with the introduction of the giant brain in Part 4. I was so bored by Part 3, however, that I barely noticed.
Time and the Rani is an unmitigated disaster on virtually all fronts: writing, direction, acting. It simply doesn't have any of the features like a storyline and humour that made Doctor Who such a good program in its day.
God spoke and Mcoy it was by Mike Jenkins 5/11/01
Although not one of the strongest Sly stories, it is nevertheless the opener to the greatest era of Doctor Who in existence. The only thing that might make the later part of the Graham Williams era or the Troughton better is the Doug Adams influence (as he created the greatest sci fi phenomenon of all time) or the humorous influence but other then that, the McCoy era is the best of the best, even if this story is not.
It is the strongest opener for any Doctor to date (don't shoot me!!). The Rani is played much better in this story then in her previous one. The incidentals are poorly characterized but good acting makes up for it and McCoy's humour ranks up there with the best of Baker's or Troughton's (Tom Baker, obviously). The idea of creating a super brain by melting the brains of many genuises together is wonderfully funny idea, even if poorly realized, juvenile and poorly written. Although Mel is one of the five weakest companions she creates good humorous fodder, recreating a quality of old lost in many of the compainions throughout Davison's tenure and Colin Baker's. If the plot even gets your head scratching just remember what Sly said at the end to Einstein. It's all relative.
A Review by Daniel Spelner 13/12/01
The McCoy era begins with the most jeered at Who story ever! When this was transmitted not only did the "fans" trounce it but the general press tore it to shreds too. My reasoning for this has been that viewers were so accustomed to the show being played largely straight (remember the antics of Tom Baker were some nine years past), plus the show was becoming increasingly routine that the energy, zest and freshness of this production hit 'em for six!
Time and the Rani is sprightly entertainment, Morgan keeps the pace up and reminds everyone Doctor Who can be fun, but rather than celebrate the diversity of the programme, the "fans" slam it! Sylvester McCoy's energetic Buster Keaton-ish performance is gloriously magnetic. However he is given stiff competition in the shapely form of Kate O'Mara whose cool, indifferent Rani is convincingly unscrupulous. Only the usual ridiculous dialogue from the Bakers marr this grossly underrated story.
Mixed Metaphors by David Massingham 2/4/02
One might say that Time and the Rani is not an easy story to defend. One might say that the combination of Pip and Jane, a production crew apparently with no clear plan as to what to do with the show, and atrocious acting should make it beyond redemption. One might say that Sylvester McCoy's debut outing is an unmitigated disaster which should never have been contemplated, let alone made.
But it is kind of fun, isn't it?
"No, it isn't", most of you moan, shaking your heads and pushing Genesis of the Daleks into the VCR for comfort. Well, I'm afraid to report that Time and the Rani is not only fun, but it is also exciting, compelling, funny(!), and well-acted.
It's also crap. And embarrassing.
Huh?! No, I'm not wasting your time. By my reckoning, Time and the Rani is the least consistent Doctor Who story ever told. It's great, and then it's awful. It's pretty, and then it's ugly. It's light and fluffy, yet you can't say the finished product is good - yet it's also camp and kitch, but it certainly isn't bad (um, well, at least not to a small minority).
Bear with me, I'm going to try to explain these ridiculous statements. Time and the Rani, you see, is an episode with a bland story. A rocky, windswept planet - the TARDIS crash-lands and the Rani nicks off with a new, more unconscious Doctor. From the word go, the fans hate the way that Colin Baker is treated. He has regenerated because he fell off a bike! The story doesn't get much better... Mel runs around a quarry, and the Rani dresses up as Bonnie. It's horrible, I'll make no exceptions. Part one is, to quote Mel, "Drivel". Yet it somehow remains fun... the bright colours, the Rani's squeaky voice, the bombastic music, the fantasticly realised traps. It's camp - but you can't look away. It's morbid fascination.
What helps make it at least interesting to start with is McCoy 's performance. He feels so fresh as the Doctor. His acting style has that wonderful feel of improvisation. By that, I don't mean rough. It's good, but it feels like it hasn't been done before. He hasn't said each line the exact same way each run through in the rehearsal room. It's bubbly and fresh.
Despite McCoy's efforts, part one is still patchy at best. As is part two. In fact, I think the major failings of the first half of Time and the Rani are the seemingly directionless running of Ikona and Mel, and more heinously, the Mel impression by Kate O'Mara. Sure, it's nice for one minute, but it gets old and too camp much too quickly. It drags out the story - surely we could have had some more insidious Rani-like activity? What about not giving the Doctor amnesia and instead having the Rani making him work under duress, taking advantage of his weakened state? The only highlight of part two is the scene where Mel and the Doctor realise each others' true identities.
However, part three really picks up the pace and the story suddenly gets more interesting. Admittedly, there are no original ideas - a holographic Mel, a poor spineless race opressed, monsters that can paralyse. Big deal. What is great is the little things. Urak suddenly becomes interesting; a wonderful snivelling presence that you know is more than it appears. Beyus is great - in fact, Donald Pickering stands out as the best guest actor in the adventure. The Lakertyans become a much more detailed and believable (thats right! Believable!) race, thanks to the introduction of the Centre of Leisure and the little details like the rock- kissing thing. And mercifully, part three also benefits from the Rani being less Melesque and more Raniesque.
Looking at part three also brings me to my next point, and I find it hard to believe that no one else has mentioned this before (at least not on this site). The cliffhanger for this episode is fab!! Definately the best for the season, and for some people (like me) one of the greats of the whole series. Come on! It's all picks up such pace as events snowball - the Doctor has been captured! He's in the brain-slave thingy! Urak is being evil! The Rani is smiling in an extremely villainous way! There's a giant brain! A GIANT BRAIN!!! Even Mel's screaming (which is usually oh-so-irritating) helps to make everything feel so tense. Keff McCulloch's score suddenly goes from "good" to "great" - and somehow manages to stay that way in part four. This cliffhanger is simply one of best constructed and uniquely thrilling of the entire run of Who.
The story goes from "patchy" when it starts to "almost great" in part four. There are some brilliant scenes - the Doctor sending the brain into multiple schizophrenia, and then later correcting it's calculations; disconnecting the bracelets in the Centre of Leisure; those great shots of everyone running out of the Rani's HQ; even the last scene. "Time and tide melts the snowman", the Doctor muses, before Mel corrects him "Waits for no man!" To which the Doc snaps "Who's waiting?! I'm ready". Ahhh... wonderful (no, really!). Who cares if the science is a bit wonky? Time and the Rani ends on a high - the problem is that by part four nobody cares, because one and two were pretty rubbish and three was barely "okay".
Still not convinced? Try this on for size... McCoy makes a thoroughly successful first stab at the Doctor. Apart from some falling over best forgotten, he's funny, brooding, loving, meloncholy. We can already see the scowls and mischivious grins we'll come to know and love in seasons 25 and 26. Just look at the scene in part four when he discovers the Rani's plan to create a time manipulator. He's horrified, contemptful, worried, shocked, sickened... great acting.
Bonnie Langford is actually quite good in this one too. Personally, I think Mel is the worst companion the show ever had, but it is clear here that she works much better with Sly than Colin. In fact, I'd probably say this story has her best performance on the show (although I havn't seen Delta and the Bannermen). Yes, she does scream a bit much in parts one and two, but as previously mentioned, her lungs are put to good use in part three, and she actually gets to utilise her knowledge of computers in part four.
It's also worth noting that Pip and Jane Baker's dialogue is at its most restrained here. No lines like the "catharsis of spurious morality" or "webs of mayhem and intrigue". The story is the weakest of their four offerings, but it's no shocker considering the time they had to write it.
I can't defend it forever. As I said, overall it isn't good or bad - just patchy. Next to every great scene is a mediocre one or worse - a downright embarrassing one. Yes, JNT and Cartmel should have got Chris Bidmead or Philip Martin, or even Glen McCoy (underneath Timelash was a good writer... somewhere). However, we can't bemoan what could have been. We have to deal with what is , and what we got, while no classic, is certainly not half as bad as it's made out to be. It's no City of Death or Inferno; it's not even a Hand of Fear. But thank God its not Warriors of the Deep II.
A disappointing beginning by Michael Hickerson 14/7/02
After the muddled mess that took place behind the scenes to end season 23, perhaps it should come as no surprise that season 24 would get off on such an uninspired note. However, with a long lead time, a new script editor, a new actor in the role of Doctor, it seems as if they might have come up with something better fro the seventh Doctor's first adventure than Time and the Rani.
It would be easy to chalk up the failings of this story to the behind the scenes sacking of Colin Baker, leading to a hasty re-write of the material here. But behind the scenes drama or not, the story is still weak overall and poorly executed. It's hard to believe that script-editor Andrew C. Cartmel, who will later mastermind the brilliant seasons 25 and 26, could be the one who allowed this travesty of a story to see the light of day. It's poorly done -- even to the point that the cliffhangers fall at the wrong intervals. Just watch the story again (if you dare) and you'll see at least three to four more natural cliffhangers to each episode than the ones we get. (Episode two comes closest to the "best" cliffhanger, falling back on the cliche of the Doctor being surrounded by the evil monsters)
It's a shame really that one of the best eras in all of Who gets off on such a bad note. The good news is that the McCoy years only get better from here.
I remember distinctly when Time and the Rani made its way to my local PBS station. I'd met Sylvester McCoy at a convention and was, honestly, looking forward to his era beginning. I had enthusiasm for the adventures of the seventh Doctor and remember not being able to wait to see Time and the Rani. And as it started, with the new, spectacular opening credits, I was ready for a real adventure. About fifteen minutes into the story, my father turned to me and said, "Well, maybe the next Doctor will be better because so far this one isn't doing so well" and left the room.
Unlike Twin Dilemma there's very little to recommend about Time and the Rani. As an introductory story to a Doctor, it's impossibly frustrating. Part of the reason for this may be that we simply can't work up much compassion for any of the characters. The new Doctor is an unknown quantity (made even worse by the script demanding that McCoy roll around on the floor like a fool), the Rani is not a classic or inspring villain, the main plotline never really becomes apparent until mid-way through the third episode and the companion, usually the fan's way of getting to know the new Doctor, is so annoying that I honestly wish she'd been killed at the end of episode one.
Time and the Rani simply doesn't work on a lot of levels.
One is that it suffers from being one Doctor Who cliche too many.
The Doctor has re-generated and has amensia, which becomes an essential part of the plot for the first two episodes.
There is an old villain returned. Kate O'Mara tries hard with the Rani's material that she's given, but it all comes off as spectacularily bad and over the top.
There is a new monster that is kept in the shadows until the end of part one when it's spectacularily revealed. This may be the most annoying part of the entire first quarter of the story -- the sheer effort the script goes to keep the Tetraps in the dark. Indeed, it almost becomes spectacularily silly the ways they try to do it and leads to a bit of viewer disappointment once we actually see the monstrosities on screen. (On a side note, I will give the story points for actually have the Tetraps look better than we could have hoped for on the Doctor Who budget).
Another cliche is the oppressed population -- in this case the Lakertyans. In seeing Lakertya, a lot of questions pop up in my mind -- namely just what in the name of heaven did they do for food before the Rani came? I may have missed some dialogue here that states that Lakerty was a lush, vibrant planet before the Rani got hold of it and turned it into a rock quarry. But you have to wonder if Lakertya was always like this, how did the people there get to be so indulgent. It seems as though it'd be a struggle to survive -- the Rani's tight fist of terror or not. Of course, by the end of the story, you have the people breaking out of their slumber to fight the evil tyranny that has conquered their planet -- but it happens so late into episode four that it feels almost tacked on and silly.
Finally, we have the Doctor as being the only thing that stands between the universe and utter destruction. This time around, the Rani wants to create a time manipulator so that she can interfere with the proper passage of time -- which once you really think about it, doesn't make too much sense. She's got a TARDIS and coudl concievably do this anyway. (The Master has certainly shown he's not above doing it in the past). So why go to all the trouble of kidnapping all these brilliant minds and bringing them here to create a device that technically she already has. It's not like she doesn't already have access to the ability to travel through time.
Time and the Rani is a story that if you even begin to examine the parts, it falls apart under its own weight. It's ironic that it's probably the most straight-forward of all the McCoy stories and ends up being the weakest. The Rani's plan is badly thought-out, the new Doctor is embarassing at times and his companion should be killed at the first possible moment. Not a good combination to start off an era.
But in all of the negatives, there are some small things that work.
Visually, the story is a treat for the eyes. The pre-title sequence of the TARDIS being shot down looks dated today, but fifteen years ago looked rather good. The make-up is, for the most part, rather good. Both the Lakertyans and the Tetraps are well-realized.
Finally, while a lot of the script requires McCoy to act like a fool -- his first few scenes with him falling on the floor and then later as he ties the Rani up with his scarf are just embarassingly bad -- there are some quiet moments of potential. Seeing the Doctor's reaction to the Lakertyans and their lack of any drive or ambition works well, as does his dismay at being duped by the Rani. It's not enough to make you instantly like this Doctor, but it does make him grow on you a bit and see that there is potential for better stories to come. (And, thankfully, they do!).
All in all, Time and the Rani is just plain bad Doctor Who. Thankfully, it brings the Pip and Jane Baker era as writers of Who to an end. It will be a few more stories before their legacy is completely over and Mel leaves (the Bakers try way too hard to make us like the character), but it's good to see them go. Having not seen any of their other work, I often wonder if their Who offerings are just three bad scripts from an overall good body of work or if they are characteristic of their body of work as a whole.
As an era, the McCoy years start slowly, but some momentum is coming... you just have to wait for it.
Keep On Rani-ing by Andrew Wixon 20/7/02
In my watching of Doctor Who over the last year there have been moments of pure joy. Moments of pride. Moments of mild embarrassment. And moments of shame. But there has only ever been one moment of actual physical pain and that came while watching Time and the Rani.
Which is a bit weird because this certainly isn't the worst story ever made. While it contains all the usual Bakerisms - the writers have learnt a lot from their research and they're going to make damn sure you do, too - and a surprisingly dumbed-down Rani (perhaps the character can't work as a lone villain after all), there's also a lot to enjoy. The Tetraps are the first of many excellent monsters seen during the Cartmel years, the production values are good, if a bit garish, and Bonnie Langford gives a nice performance.
In fact the whole story zips along with a cheerful energy and freshness that had been solely lacking form the show for some years. This genuinely does feel like a programme starting over - that may be due to the new look credits, music, and change of lead actor - and it's all the better for it. Sylvester McCoy is a bit too manic and OTT near the start of the story but he's really starting to make the part his own by its conclusion.
Which is why the Rani's impersonation of Mel for half the story is such a shame. Yes, this was the painful bit; it's the stupidest excuse for a plot device in the whole 26 years, it doesn't convince for a second and it's very poorly executed. It drags the whole story down. Time and the Rani is a fresh new start for the series laid low by one appalling lapse in judgement. It wouldn't have been a great story even without the impersonation, but it would have been fun, back to basics stuff. Shame.
A forgotten classic by Joe Ford 15/3/03
Time and the Rani is utter crap, I would never deny that. The script is ludicrous, full of scientific mumbo-jumbo that would have Einstein (who makes a brief appearance) baffled. It is poorly structured and has some seriously poor cliffhangers and the 'wow' moments are kept to an absolute minimum. The acting is as far from Oscar worthy as you could possibly get and the lines some of these well known actors are force fed make you want to die of embarassment.
I find this story immensely pleasurable from the word go. Every time I re-watch I find myself enjoying its barmy atmosphere. It's almost as if everybody knew they were onto a stinker so decided to make it as bad as possible in every way. On these terms the story is a forgotten classic, a comedy that rivals anything from the Williams era for laughs (and is even better than The Chase for post pub watching!!!).
Funny? Oh yes it is! Scarily enough the Rani's Bonnie impressions are actually very good (and wet your pants hysterical!) ...her little asides ("Pretentious is the word") never fail to get me going. Kate O'Mara gives a performance so camp that it knocks Benik, the Security Chief and Lady Adastra out of the pool! Its a daft script so it deserves a daft performance and O'Mara's treatment of the character doesn't diminish my love the character one jot. Just watch her delayed reactions as the Doctor ties her up at the end of episode ("Arraaagh!") or her grandiose villany dialogue ("I have the Loyhargil! Nothing can stop me now!"). Get stuffed Zaroff... the Rani is now the best OTT baddie!
D'you what the funniest thing about this story is that Pip'n'Jane (bless them) actually thought this effort was a serious and dramatic way to start the season. It's more like The Nutty Professor on speed with a dose of LSD for good measure!
Poor Bonnie, all she wants are good scripts so she can show the world what she's made of and she's made to trip over, fall unconscious, scream, get tongued by a Tetrap, scream, get suspended upside down, scream, put in a bubble and bounced around a quarry and of course... scream. The reprise to episode one is brilliantly funny where Mel is supposed to scream for like three minutes without stopping and you can hear that poor Bonnie's voice is going and yet she struggles on gamely. I love Bonnie to pieces and she proved her self admirably in Trial of a Time Lord and the Big Finish plays so I'm now convinced it was a case of wrong time/wrong place plus crapper than crap scripts. The scenes where Mel is underwitten (such as her desperate pleas to Ikona and her reaction to Faroon's reaction to Sarn's death) are genuinely well acted and poignant.
Let's face it... McCoy is awful in this but he plays the part so loosely (and with such comedy) it's impossible not to enjoy. In many ways it's good that Colin escaped this story as I cannot imagine how he would have fared here. With no real character to discern here McCoy just plays himself on overdrive and it's quite infectious in places... I love the first scene between Mel and the Doctor ("Theory exchanges no mockery!")... full of energy and quite sweet when they realise who they are. Unfortunately he plays up the awful proverbs (although the recent Bang-Bang-a-Boom! takes the piss out of that so I guess it was worth it) and the more cringe worthy aspects of the character. Alas who could ever forget "A hologram! As substantial as the Rani's scruples!"... shiver.
And let's not forget that this story has a fully competant production. Andrew Morgan is the only person who is determined to inject some talent into this story and his direction is excellent in places. He might be lumbered with another quarry but he tries to make things interesting by shooting at high angles and setting the camera's between the rocks for some inventive shots. The special FX for the story are as good as the show ever got and the bubble traps Mel has a habit of falling into look superb. The asteriod, rocket lift off and bulging brain look good too. It really is a case of dire script/excellent production. And let's not forget Keff McCulloch who I feel gives his best music in this story, it's a really freaky techno-inspired score sometimes totally at odds with the action but always very memorable. Love the piece where Ikona looks for the glitter weapon and the theme where the Tetraps jump down from the ceiling and emerge... very cool.
So there we have it, its hearts in the right place but its brain has been stuck on heroin too long, a story that looks fab but you cannot take seriously. At the time it was the worst thing that could have happened. Now, many years on it is a guilty indulgence and hugely enjoyable at that.
Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Doctor Who... the only show in existence that is brilliant when it sucks.
Searching for the feet by Tim Roll-Pickering 28/6/03
The Doctor's regeneration in Time and the Rani is noticeable for being the first regeneration since William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton to require no outside help from Time Lords (unlike Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee or Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker), no prolonged potential regeneration failure (Tom Baker to Peter Davison) or instability on the part of the new Doctor (Peter Davison to Colin Baker). Just a straightforward switch between one Doctor to the next, with only a minimal concussion that can be put down to the TARDIS' enforced landing. Whilst the regeneration can be criticised for being realised by McCoy wearing a wig in the preceding shot and the 'I hit my head on the TARDIS console' notion has been much mocked in both the New Adventures and Doctor Who Magazine, it is at the same time done quickly and so the new Doctor sets about finding his feet faster than his recent predecessors. It's also noticeable that the Doctor doesn't feel the urgency to change his clothes straightaway but instead only does so when he happens to be in the TARDIS.
Sylvester McCoy's debut performance shows competence but is hampered by an overt use of comedy in some scenes, such as his continually tripping up in his long trousers and attempting to talk his way out of situations, whilst the constant use of misquotations can get irritating when overdone and implies that the script was written with Colin Baker's Doctor in mind. Nevertheless the new Doctor's persona is shown as cunning, with a sense of childlike innocence about the universe and a determination to resist the amorality of the Rani's plans. Bonnie Langford gives a good performance as Mel but the character has increasingly become yet another generic 'screaming female' companion and there is little to make her stand out beyond this. The Rani is brought back to offer an old foe for the new Doctor and Kate O'Mara gives a strong performance though the scenes where the Rani is impersonating Mel are more comical than they're worth and raise the question of why the Rani needs to dress up and add a wig when later on in the story she demonstrates her hologram technology to be even more convincing.
The plot of the story is straightforward but conceptually quite weak since there is little sense of the direct threat and the story is set on an alien world, populated by clear aliens with an alien skyline. Consequently it is hard to relate to the plight of the Lakertyans or feel much for them though Keff McCulloch's music does create a sympathetic atmosphere at times. The Tetraps are an interesting new creation but are little more than servants and could have just as easily been Lakertyans or even humans. The idea of collecting together twelve geniuses is strong but we only see the geniuses briefly or in long shot and none of them even get any dialogue, wasting the opportunity for the Doctor and Einstein to converse. The result is a story that just fails to find its feet even though it is well structured and competently written.
The production shows another leap forward for the programme, with the electronic skyline, minefield bubbles and CSO all looking a lot more effective than in many earlier stories. The location work is done in a traditional quarry, but some of the studio sets look effective, especially the chamber housing the artificial brain with its low lighting. Andrew Morgan's direction is competent but ultimately the story is not a particularly effective debut and feels instead like a breakneck rush job that isn't quite certain where it wants to go. 5/10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 7/2/04
I had been dreading the time when I reached Time and the Rani in my reviewing schedule. For years I have faithfully voted it one of the worst stories in existence, such were my original memories of it and shortly after when I watched it again. But time has flown, and I am considerably older than I was, I would watch it with renewed optimism, and maybe find something in there I had missed all those years ago.
It's not very good is it! It really feels like a lot of things flung together in a haphazard way. The story and script are terrible, the Rani is a pale shadow of her Mark of the Rani personae, and Bonnie Langford has her worst story. Let's talk about the bad points first - this could take some time:-
Time and the Rani is a poor start to the 7th Doctor era. It left me wanting Colin Baker back even more. When I saw it first time round I believed it to be the death knell of Doctor Who on TV. Looking back this and the next story probably were. We had 2 more seasons after it, but this story seemed to indicate that DW could be terribly bad, and when a show starts to exhibit that, then it ain't gonna last too much further is it? Not as bad as I remember it, no longer my worst story, but still very firmly in the bottom 10. 4/10
A Review by John Anderson 1/9/04
Just when you think the Colin Baker era has been put out of its misery, up turns Time and the Rani. I can only imagine that these season 23 scripts got stuck in heavy traffic on their way to Wood Lane because for the life of me I can't think how else this brave new start got commissioned. Time and the Rani sits bestride seasons 23 and 24 much the same way Robot does in seasons 11 and 12; a tale that is a comfortable reminder of the old regime whilst also pointing to the future. But this is 1987 rather than 1975 and the last thing that the audience needs is to be reminded of the previous era. Nor is this a hint of things to come; Pip and Jane's scripts represent the final throw of the dice for a storytelling style that's binned before Cartmel even has a chance to utter the word 'Masterplan.'
Time and the Rani needs Colin Baker, not because he would have improved this serial any but because the Sylvester McCoy era does not deserve to begin here. Rightly or wrongly, the tabloid press is a good barometer of public opinion and this one serial gives the whole era a silly, lightweight label that is unfair on both the series and its lead actor in particular. I would contest that Sylv is not a bad actor during Time and the Rani, but he is saddled with some horrendous Pip and Jane inspired dialogue that he does his level best to wrestle with. Importantly, Sylv is trying to make his Doctor likeable and he succeeds. Freed from the constraints of alien-ness that had blighted the character for over two years the seventh Doctor is a much-needed breath of fresh air. The bad bits come from script rather than actor and as for the costume change bit at the end of part one - it wasn't big and it wasn't clever back in Robot and it's not bigger nor cleverer here.
The bad bits don't end here though, oh no. The Rani's disguise as Mel is a truly awful idea in concept and execution, while part four descends into a typical mix of silly science and technobabble that is the trademark of a Pip and Jane script. Bonnie Langford remains startlingly miscast and never seems comfortable playing against this alien backdrop. Tellingly, aside from JNT's continuing presence in the producer's chair, Bonnie and Pip and Jane are the only survivors from the previous season and are the three worst things about Time and the Rani.
Despite all this Time and the Rani remains watchable. It has an energy and sense of fun long since sacrificed at the altar of Saward, and breezes along at a fair old pace. The effects work is as good as it got for the series, and unlike the previous season you can see where the money was spent - up on the screen where it counts. The Tetraps look good, a high standard of monster design that would remain in place right till the end of the series' life, while the bubble traps surely represent a more effective, but less spectacular use of the series' effects budget.
Like a football manager whose team is on a bad run of form, Time and the Rani is indicative of the mythical corner being turned, of lessons being learned and results slowly improving. Doctor Who had got as bad as it was going to get the year before; the fight back started here.
Not A Complete Waste Of Time And The Rani by Peter Sneddon 11/3/05
With the world and his or her mother focussing all their attentions on the new Doctor Who series starting at the end of this month, I found my mind drifting back to the time of "My" Doctor - the Seventh Doctor. Oh, I had seen the show before 1987. In fact, my earliest Who memory is of watching some curly haired bloke changing into some blonde haired bloke under an electricity pylon. (Look, I was 4 at the time, so sue me if some of the details were a little... amiss.) I then saw bits and pieces of the 5th and 6th Doctors, but it was only the 7th era that I watched religiously. And I loved it. And I still do love it, the era that is. But, I wondered, did the actual individual stories still hold up to repeated viewing. So I decided to embark on a re-watching of them all. Which meant watching Time and the Rani.
Now Time and the Rani is not particularly well-loved in Whodom, but having just watched it again - in two batches of 2 episodes to get ready for the 45-min experience that is to come - I have to say that I rather enjoyed it. Sure some of the directing is a bit stagey - for example one scene has the Rani talking with two local aliens in a corridor, all lined up with each other so the camera doesn't have to move. And some of the action scenes could have been set up better - a classic example is Beyus, the local alien leader, knocking himself out on a particularly thick bit of thin air. But the story is fun - a simple tale of maniacal villain plots to take over the universe and only the Doctor can stop her. A good traditional romp.
So what about the characters. Well the locals, the Lakertyans, are pretty good. The make-up is quite simple, and doesn't fall off. The actors playing them, particularly Beyus, give very good performances. There is none of that "It's only Doctor Who, I don't need to bother" that is sometimes in evidence. The monsters of the piece, the Tetraps, were not the most animated, sadly. But they look quite threatening when lumbering about, and their POV shots scared me silly back in 1987. The Rani is perhaps a bit OTT, but this is Kate O'Mara we're talking about here. And I've always had a soft spot for OTT villains.
But what about the Doctor and Mel? Let's deal with Mel first, shall we? The general problem with Mel is that she has little in the way of actual characterisation and screams too much. Sadly, I can't argue with this. Every time she even steps on to the same set as a Tetrap she squeals - I really do worry about this girl's blood pressure. And it's a shame, because on the rare occasions when she isn't actually screaming, Bonnie Langford shows that she's perfectly capable of acting. She either just doesn't want to, or has been told not too.
And so to the Doctor. I think your view of the new Doctor, based on his first story, depends greatly on what you think of malapropisms. I like them, so don't find them too annoying here. (Though they are perhaps a tidge too numerous.) The Doctor's clowning in the Rani's lab when he first wakes up makes sense if you consider that he's wearing size 11 shoes on size 6 feet. (Or something similar.) And okay, he looks daft with his jumper tucked into his trousers, but even JNT realised that and fixed it for later stories. But costuming and clowning aside, Sylvester McCoy gives a very good performance. There are moments of gravitas which, in my opinion, foreshadow what was to come next season. It might not have been deliberate, but it's there if you look for it.
So in conclusion? I guess I can't claim it is a classic - the story is not exactly up there with The Talons Of Weng-Chiang - but it is still a good, fun adventure which presents us with a hero we can like and a series that was showing some of the best production values we'd ever seen. (Only the CGI TARDIS at the start looks a bit ropey, but that's only because we're viewing it 18 years on.)
A misunderstood gem? Probably not. An utter waste of time? Definitely not.
Another '80s Doctor Who Nightmare! by Andrew Feryok 4/11/05
Mel - You're certainly going to take a bit of getting used to.I must say that prior to rewatching this story recently, I had always had fond memories of Sylvester McCoy's first story. Of course, the last time I saw it, I must have been about ten years old, and through the eyes of a ten year old, this story is fascinating, engaging, and exciting. But now I am much, much older and looking at this story as both an experienced Doctor Who fan and a young adult, my views of this story have changed considerably. I must admit, however, that compared to the later atrocities of Delta and the Bannermen and Dragonfire, this is much more watchable. Especially compared to Delta and the Bannermen, but I'll review that story some other time.
Doctor - (mischevious grin) Oh, I'll grow on you, Mel. I'll grow on you.
- Time and the Rani (Episode 4)
What really brings this story down is the first episode, possibly one of the worst in the series' history. The opening graphic of the TARDIS being shot through space is totally unexplained and the graphics have not dated well. It looks as if the TARDIS has gotten stuck in a game of Galaga or Space Invaders! Normally, I would be able to forgive the show for such dated graphics, but unfortunately the story doesn't get any better from there. The regeneration is as bad as everyone makes it out to be. The death of the Doctor is totally inexplicable and it's obvious that whoever is posing as Colin Baker (we now know it was Sylvester McCoy), is wearing a wig. The Rani is extremely over-the-top in the first episode, and not in the lovable sense. I have not seen The Mark of the Rani, but even I can tell that this must have been a great character at one time, but has been transformed into a "female Ainley Master". In fact, you could probably replace the Rani with the Master and it wouldn't change very much (the Master dressed up like Mel. Now that would be funny... or disturbing).
The first confrontation between the Rani and the Doctor is utterly ridiculous. The direction is static and Sylvester McCoy manages to go even more over the top than the Rani! It reminded me more of In a Fix with the Sontarans than a Doctor Who episode. And who came up with the name "Strange Matter"? It sounds kind of neat on paper, but when delivered in a false-dramatic way by the performers it just makes the show feel less like a family science fiction show and more like a Saturday morning cartoon. And then, of course, we have the entire last half of the episode in which the Rani poses as Mel. This should be funny and even a little tense, but it just comes across as overly silly. It just might have worked if the Doctor had woken up to this illusion, and not met the Rani just moments before.
Meanwhile, the real Mel is having some trouble with a Lakertyan kidnapper. It is kind of neat to meet an alien race that doesn't really care about the safety of the time travelers and is willing to use them as bargaining chips without getting to know them. But this seems to get lost as the story tries very badly to set up a love-hate relationship between Mel and her kidnapper which is supposed to develop into a friendship by the end of the story. Although they succeed in getting there, it feels incredibly forced. Speaking of the Lakertyans as a whole, they are actually the most interesting alien race created during this season (which isn't saying much), but whatever potential they had is completely destroyed by the fact that their alliances constantly shift from scene to scene. We can never tell exactly who they are backing and who they are going to turn on. We are supposed to feel sorry for these people caught up in a conflict which they don't want on their world, and even shed a tear when their leader nobly sacrifices himself at the end. But since their alliances are constantly shifting and the audience is never quite led to believe what their true alliance is until the very last second of episode 4, it is difficult to empathize with them. In some ways, the audience is almost wishing that those bees would destroy them if only to get them out of the Doctor's way.
Oh yes, the new Doctor. McCoy didn't exactly get off to a good start during his first season, did he? Actually, I'm going to go against the grain of most fans here: I didn't mind his spoon playing at all. In fact, I thought it was the only sign of real character in his Doctor during this first story. The Doctor does get some good detective scenes in Episode 2, and his confrontation of the vampire monsters in their home cave is rather funny, but as with the rest of the season, he spends way too much time being silly. He doesn't stumble over himself nearly as much as he does in Dragonfire, but he does do some unnecessarily dramatic stumbling and bumbling around. You really get the sense in this story that things are out of the control of the Doctor. When you see him alongside the Rani, you don't think that two worthy adversaries are coming together. You're just hoping that the Rani will dispose of him gently! If it wasn't for his detective work in episode 2, you really wouldn't be able to tell if this was the Doctor.
I don't think I have the energy to review Mel since she makes such a little impact on me in this story (and indeed any story I've seen her in). She's of the screaming companion breed, although she does a lot less of it than I remember as a ten year old. Her relationship with the Lakertyans is forced, and her relationship with the Doctor is even worse. Their first confrontation is supposed to be funny, but it just seems silly. The Doctor wrestling with Mel!? Her relationship with the Doctor does grow as the story moves forward, but not enough to make them the most likable TARDIS team.
The design work of this story is really rather good in this story. The Lakertyan quarry (I mean planet) is actually used very well and there are times you actually feel that this is an alien planet. With the exception of the opening graphic, the CGI used in this story is actually very good for this time period. The bubble traps, if ill-conceived as a concept (you have to trip over a tiny wire in an open field which gives you plenty of room to avoid it) are very well executed and probably one of the most stunning effects of this new period of the show. The Lakertyan village also is very well designed, as well as the giant brain, and the Rani's TARDIS. The only set which doesn't seem to work is the Rani's control room which 70% of the story is shot in. The reason is that the room is lit incredibly bright and it shows off the cheapness of the sets in the room (Warriors of the Deep syndrome). However, when the Rani succeeds in activating her secret device in Episode 2, the room grows dark and it is then that room finally gains some sinister character. If they had kept the lighting of the room dim with glowing panel lights, the first episode might have gained back some of it's credibility! The design of the vampire monsters is also very well done, and the director clearly enjoys them as well since he shoots them from many interesting angles that hide the fact that they are "men in rubber suits". The design of their underground cave homes is also very well achieved, serving to actually make these creatures feel even more threatening and dangerous.
I should mention Episode 2 in more detail. I must say, this is probably the single best episode of the entire Season 24 which actually works! Amazing! Astounding! Actually, its influence even leaks into Episode 3 as well. The incidental music actually works to support the story rather than being a Saturday morning-synthesizer that grates on the ears. It is dark and errie music that finally manages to draw the viewer into the proceedings. The characters are played straight rather than the ridiculous over-the-top of episode 1. The Doctor gets to finally be the Doctor as he ably does some detective work in trying to work out the Rani's plan, and everything just seems to fall into place. About the only downside is the Doctor and the real Mel's first meeting which is rather embarassing. But given that the rest of the episode is so strong, I am willing to go along with this obvious indulgance at silly antics.
Overall, this is a slightly better production than what I've seen in Season 24, but it's still pretty bad compared to Doctor Who as a whole. Episode 2 is about its only saving grace, but you have to get through episode 1 to view it, and you'll be lucky if you have any soul left intact by the time you do. I almost wish they would release this story on DVD so that I could listen to the commentary. I can just see it: Bonny and Syl laughing their heads off and director Andrew Morgan screaming "What have I done" in full Gene Wilder crazed mode. If you are going to watch a Season 24 story, this is probably one of the easier ones to take and you will at least get a small amount of enjoyment out of it. Fortunately, McCoy was right at the end of this story: he would grow on us after a while, but only after a serious change is direction occured with his Doctor in the next season. 4/10
PS: How do the Lakertyans survive on their planet? Other than the few scattered puddles/ponds there doesn't seem to be any evidence that there is anything for them to eat or live off of in their planet!
Look out, Killjoy was here by Thomas Cookson 7/9/07
Some fans say that had John Nathan-Turner's producership ended after Season 20 or 21, and could someone have replaced him, then his era would have been well remembered and the show would have been much improved by the changeover. Personally, I think the only way I would have seen it that way is if the show had been cancelled halfway through the making of Season 19; in other words, if they only got far enough to finish the first four stories of that season, and maybe instead of being transmitted, they would have gone straight to video.
Oddly enough, that would be the kind of parallel universe where the last years of the show would still have been regarded as the point where it all got silly, only for the last batch of stories such as Warriors' Gate, Logopolis and Kinda to be regarded as the kind of unprecedented creativity and intelligence for the show that demonstrates how unfairly the show got cut down too early. It would probably be only Peter Davison doing the Big Finish audios now, and the popular audience might share the fan perception on the avant garde last stories, and the "when it all got silly" bit would probably be reappraised as very endearing frivolity.
Something that will never happen to Time and the Rani.
I'm afraid I subscribe to the Tat Wood view of the John Nathan-Turner era being a major mis-step from far earlier than The Twin Dilemma.
Incompetence is, however, the benchmark of John Nathan-Turner era. Many of the worst stories of that era seem pretty farcical, but worse still they seem to take themselves so seriously and earnestly. Likewise the shock effects of much of the Colin Baker era feel oddly out of place and mismatched. They're not consistent with anything else except the show's neurosis, schizophrenia and desperation.
I must say, the Saward era and Season 24 are my main bugbear when it comes to Doctor Who. I'd say the New Series bugs me too, but in a different way that prevents me from necessarily seeing it as a stain on the program proper. The New Series is a separate series to me. For instance, whilst a lot of fans seemed to feel cheated when it was announced that Catherine Tate was going to be in the new show, I barely batted an eyelid, thinking the show had lost too much dignity already for me to even care anymore.
But when it comes to the worst of the John Nathan-Turner era, I do feel it tarnished the show terribly. Warriors of the Deep completely bastardised the Pertwee classics that it was homaging. The Twin Dilemma and Mindwarp were the most hideous, abominable betrayal of everything the show's protagonist stood for, and Time and the Rani went beyond a neurotic and embarrassing viewing experience into an out and out hostile one, and for a once popular "something for everybody" show like Doctor Who, that is very sad indeed.
It was enough to make me wish I couldn't care, and when I first heard Dalek Empire I thought that my wish had come true and that I had found a means to disown Doctor Who in favour of its better spin-off. That I could put my enthusiasm for the show down to the promise of a better side-story that for too long had only existed as vague mythology and an absent paradigm, and that Dalek Empire had finally given me the satisfaction I had always wanted and been denied from the show. I thought Dalek Empire would raise my standards bar to a ruthless level, causing me to disown most of the show for being comparatively below par, slow, safe, cozy or disposable. But it didn't. There was no way I could endure the hardcore bleakness of Dalek Empire without needing to turn to the safe, light-hearted frivolity of The Sunmakers or The Horns of Nimon for relief now and again. It's quite simple really. Batman fans may have been awed and enamoured by The Dark Knight Returns, but by and large they'll acknowledge it as just a change of beats that works on different terms to its predecessors and they'll really always be fond of the camp 60's series too.
So I was back to my rabid, angry helpless fanboy position of wishing to God that someone had killed off Doctor Who back in 1982 to preserve its dignity. Finding it too hard to grasp that nettle that an institution like Doctor Who can't just end on a high, it needs to be going downhill for a prolonged period before someone will put it out of its misery. Some things have to end badly, otherwise they just won't end.
So, just as I get angry and sad about the travesties of the JNT era, I view the last two McCoy seasons with a warm sense of refreshment and joy at seeing the show pull itself together at last. But before it could improve, the show would have to hit absolute rock bottom. Not be erratic, not have the odd diamond in the rough ala Snakedance, Caves or Revelation, not even have one good story in the season. It had to be a terrible year all round.
Time and the Rani is described as a pantomime of a story, but like many of the poor stories of the John Nathan-Turner years, it doesn't have the sense of fun needed to function as one. As I've often said time and time again, this production team can't even do farce properly.
It was embarrassing, childish, it was the show at its most lobotomised.
I managed to view Time and the Rani, thanks to the wonders of Youtube. I had always wanted to see it out of morbid curiosity and I had expected it to be a 'so bad it's funny' kind of story, and the clips I'd seen of the spinning bubble traps seemed very thrilling. But, instead, as I watched I was left just waiting impatiently for the damn thing to end as early as part one. The cliffhanger where Mel is trapped in a bubble and is sent hurtling to her death should have been the perfect hook for me to find out what happens next. I mean how the hell was she going to get out of that one? And yet, I found it quite difficult to even bother clicking on part two. It just wasn't engaging me.
I strangely thought that the early regeneration was the least of the story's problems. It must be said though that Time and the Rani saw the most arbitrary and pathetic regeneration of them all. I'm not referring to the fact that it's Sylvester McCoy in Colin's wig disguised by bad special effects, I'm referring to the fact that the regeneration just happens out of the blue in the first scene. Most Doctors regenerate as an act of self sacrifice or are unable to escape a fate that pursues them relentlessly. In the case of The Tenth Planet and Logopolis, the death and rebirth of the Doctor is reflected metaphorically by a decaying planet. Colin's regeneration just feels like washing our hands of him.
And you can tell no-one's really thought about how the regeneration is meant to define this Doctor. With the opening stories of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and Colin Baker, we got to learn about their defining ruthless methodology, Jon Pertwee's debut showed us his ability to win through gadgetry, and even Peter Davison's debut showed his strength of innocence at inspiring people's better nature. Sylvester's debut just portrays him as a prat who does a lot of running around, falling over and there's nothing inspiring about it.
Doctor Who has often had a capacity to rise above its long running 'cheap' or 'camp' aspects. Take, for example, the much-derided scene in The Seeds of Death where Patrick Troughton is being chased by Ice Warriors. That scene may be played for Benny Hill-style comical effect but it explores the labyrinth of this futuristic base under siege and does it efficiently whilst the Ice Warrior round every corner gives the environment a sense of claustrophobia. So whilst the scene is comical, its implications are still pretty frightening and play a part in the tension. Take also the scene where we see the bubble wrap on Noah's arm in The Ark in Space; yes, it's obviously bubble wrap but the makers have made an effort to have it look organic by glueing hairs onto it, and from where I'm standing it works and has a very subversive effect on me as a viewer. Despite myself, I actually find myself scratching my arm compulsively whenever I see that scene.
This didn't rise above the cheap or the camp, it drowned in it, seemingly unable to swim or stay afloat even in its own waters.
All in all, it was terrible and tedious. For instance, what should have been the comedy highlight of the episode (and indeed the main reason I wanted to see the story), the scene where the Rani dresses up as Mel to fool the Doctor ends up somehow being the most drawn out and boring segment of the thing. It was played for a serious dramatic manipulation of allegiances, done with neither urgency or irony. But then again the 80's era always did have a problem with irony; just look at how seriously they took Adric.
It's actually quite amusing to me that John Nathan-Turner still rattled off his 'the memory cheats' catchphrase the same year that an abomination like this was shown on TV and < ahref=talo.htm>The Talons of Weng-Chiang got released on video.
Still, at least 'the memory cheats' is a lot less disparaging at fandom than Russell's 'emotionally insecure straight males on Outpost Gallifrey who wish it was still 1976'. That's one reason why, despite my opinion of John Nathan-Turner as a producer, I still respect him a lot as a person far more than I do Russell T. Davies. John Nathan-Turner was never disparaging or insulting about the fans, even when he took a lot of nasty shit from them, and Russell's unprofessional, sneering remarks about fandom would be immature enough, but the fact that so many of his fans can be just as obnoxious and unreasonably bitchy makes me really hate Russell, since I've certainly been on the recieving end of their nastiness on the internet.
So why was the show so clunky and bumpy? Well the 80's in general seemed stuck with a kind of modernist, black and white view of morality, not just in Doctor Who but in cinema in general. As such, much of that era just seemed very self-righteous, angry, small-minded and neurotic. The Doctor became a figure of extremes, starting as the innocent one, and then, when fans complained that he was bland, the production team didn't work by subtly darkening the character or drawing on his more cranky or manipulative old traits but by outright turning him into Mr. Hyde. As with the fan-pleasing nature of the show, the production team wanted the Doctor to be untrustworthy and ruthless, but didn't take matters such as motivation into consideration and the result was going all the way in the desperate hope of shocking everyone.
Am I actually talking about the show's morality here? Well yes, because there was a horrible melodramatic 80's trend in dinosaur masculinity in which men are shown to do brutal things out of nobility or committing vile acts or exhibit misogynistic behaviour to show that they're capable of feeling guilt for it, and it's the same way that in Warriors of the Deep, Twin Dilemma and Trial of a Time Lord, the Doctor commits vile acts or does nothing to prevent them simply as an excuse for him to show remorse later.
A horrible trend that kind of died in the McCoy era, but not until Time and the Rani had had the last word on that trend. The Doctor pushes a Tetrap onto that bubble death device for no other reason than so he can act sorry afterwards. And of course the awful story ends with a final nail in the coffin (and I mean final nail, I mean it's one of those just when you think it's nearly over and it can't get any worse) in that horribly repellent moment where the leader smashes the Doctor's antidote to the killer bees to make some heavy-handed point about progress, which to me is the most neurotic and hostile moment of the show, like an abusive husband smashing things in front of you to prove themselves right.
This 80's mentality didn't believe in civil disagreements. The hero was right and anyone who disagreed with him was to be despised and almost certainly killed off, or at least punched out. A bit like in Warriors of the Deep rather, though it should be noted that the Doctor's angle tended to be polar opposite to most 80's rogue cop cinema. The Doctor was the bleeding-heart liberal and the trigger-happy heroes were the ones to be despised.
This 80's cinematic mentality placed little value on life, as we see when one of the Lakertyans makes a noble sacrifice that clearly didn't need to be made at all. The story just required a death at that point.The story may look colourful and child-friendly but it's every bit as nasty as the previous era.
This 80's mentality was the worst in moral double standards, with as much violence splashed on screen as possible but a stern sexual morality that bordered on the lunacy of gender segregation and male/female mutual violent hostility and constant rape/stalker paranoia. And it's the kind of thing that influenced the 'no hanky panky in the Tardis' ethos. Something that the New Series seems to be aggressively overcompensating for. Normally, I wouldn't have a problem with that. I don't particularly like the chaste Doctor Who of the 80's and I quite liked the more flirtatious, slightly metrosexual Doctor of the Graham Williams era. What I mind about the new series is that all the flirtations and romantic tension and sexual innuendos all come off so desperately. Crying out to be seen as not being puritanical, same way it desperately cries out to not be seen as humourless or out of touch with popular tastes. And, of course, there is the way the romantic angle of the show turns the Doctor and companion into jealous, neurotic, anti-social pricks.
But the point is that this is what meant that the Sixth Doctor had to prove his chasteness whilst around a provocative companion like Peri by being constantly mean and violent towards her. And I'd say it is why Mel and the lead Lakertyan have such an adversarial relationship even though its clear that if this was a Pertwee story, there'd certainly be romantic interest. But instead, the lead Lakertyan has to be dismissive and brutal and intimidating to warn any interest off.
It just happens this way. Whenever things in society become more conservative, television and cinema have to stop being challenging and become more modernist and reactionary, and the 80's certainly was a reactionary decade. Indeed, in that regard, it is commendable that Doctor Who still managed to put out challenging stories like Warrior's Gate, Logopolis and Kinda. But, by and large, the approach was to make audiences stupid, complacently unquestioning and politically disinterested, and the lobotomising of Doctor Who in Seasons 22-24 plays a part. Y'know, there's nothing more humiliating and helpless, emancipating and dysfunctional than stupidity. And that's why much of Season 24 is so painful to watch. Especially for a show that once had its heart in the idea of knowledge as empowerment.
The New Series is stupid in a different, more TV savvy way. The endings of World War Three, New Earth and The Runaway Bride are inexpressably idiotic nonsense that completely ignores even the most basic laws of physics and yet Russell knows how to make them work televisually. The result is that I get suckered and then I get angry and insulted that I went with it and my infuriation with New Who grows. And yet Russell's fans say we're 'trying too hard' to see fault in it.
But this doesn't even do that. There's no damage control whatsoever. Just lots of embarrasingly desperate comedy pratfalls and the Doctor at his most brainless doing a lot of irony-free falling over (and, like Mr. Blobby, I kind of wished he wouldn't get back up). Some fans say it's so bad it's funny, but I still don't see it. It's not remotely cheerful. It's not amusing in the slightest. Oh, and when the Doctor has a melancholy moment of realising he was duped and telling Mel how useless he feels. My God, this show seriously thinks it's being profound and poignant, and it's just hopeless. It's like the show's gone completely senile and it's tragic to watch. You just want to put the show down like a dog that's on it's last days, and has lost all dignity.
There's no warmth to the dialogue, the sets are completely bland, the Rani is the model for a generic cackling Who villainess who shows up just what a low opinion of itself the show now has. I thought it'd be a fun slice of stupidity and campness, but there was nothing fun about it. Time-Flight is the 'jump the shark' story, but if I had been a fan back in the 80's, it'd be this story that would completely finish me off. The show would rediscover the frivolity and resourcefulness that makes the show work on the cheap, but this was simply cheap and uncheerful.
The vilified reputation of this story obviously will make it a curiosity to those fans who've never seen it. I implore you not to watch it all the same, even out of curiosity. Some things should just be forgotten, like a bad dream.
A Review by Lance Bayliss 7/1/08
What can be said about Time and the Rani?
It showcases all the signs of the Colin Baker era at its very worst of excess: Bright and colourful sets, a camp-as-christmas baddie and a plot so thin it would snap if you breathed near it. Yet, for all these misgivings, it actually (almost) works.
Why does it work?
Because it's fresh.
It works because, despite Pip and Jane's horrendous dialogue, it shows the signs of Andrew Cartmel and his Brand New Image For The Programme (TM). It has a central actor who, although often limited in his actual ability to display acting gravitas, manages to stamp his mark on the role in his very first scene and doesn't really let go of your attention.
The new regime's approach is typified by the pre-credit sequence. With a minimum of fuss, the Doctor is knocked cold and regenerates. It's simple, effective and, unlike the love-fests of continuity spooge that occumpanied JNT's other regeneration stories (oh look, it's a roll-call of companions!), it simply replaces one actor with another and gets on with it.
That's not to absolve the scene from criticism completely. After all, the most glaring problem is that whatever hit the TARDIS was powerful enough to make the Doctor regenerate but only knocked Mel unconcious. Which is a bit lame. But there you go.
The location, although a quarry, is a particularly well-served quarry. And the Tetraps are actually pretty effective. But the Lakertians leave me cold; the script suggests we should all mourn them as the Rani ruthlessly picks them off one by one, but I just can't give a toss. They're all bland cardboard characters who talk like they've swallowed the Oxford English Dictionary. It must be true, because it was written by Pip and Jane.
As for the Rani herself... maybe it's because the Master isn't here to judge against this time, maybe it's because Kate O'Mara had been doing Dynasty for the previous year and had forgotten how to play her, but the character seen here is a world away from the cool scientist of Mark of the Rani.
Here, she's everything people usually claim she is: the Master in drag. Far from being just involved in her own little scientific experiments at the expense of any and all life (although to be fair to her this is also in evidence here), she is now a certified laughing maniac, with lines like "Nothing can stop me now!" She's terrible. And I say this as somebody who has spent more time online defending the Rani than most.
So there it is, Time and the Rani. I give it ** stars out of five. It's one of those stories that's on the verge of something new and magnificent, but which doesn't quite manage to get across that line.
A Review by Graham Pilato 12/10/08
To my mind, this is easily the most regularly underrated Doctor Who story by fandom. That's not to say that most folks call it crap and it's really a deceptively brilliant masterpiece. No, it's okay. It's good. It's just that almost everyone actually does call it crap and it's just not. It's disappointing.
To many, it's the ultimate disappointment of 1980s Doctor Who. It's where the rot that was setting in for a while truly ate right through the life of the show. Or something like that. Well, that's just wrong. There was no saving Doctor Who from BBC controller Michael Grade and the unhappy producer forced to stay with the show. But was the one-two punch of the seemingly lobotomized seasons 23 and 24 a secondary bringer of doom to our favorite show after the obvious problem of the cancellation of the original season 23? Was Sylvester McCoy or Pip and Jane Baker to blame? Or Colin Baker for that matter? No. No. No. And No. It was two unfortunate truths that still reign today: people lose interest in things that don't change, but they also have great difficulty handling new things that don't resemble what was expected.
What gets this thing such low ratings is the shock of comparison from what came before, along with the historical knowledge that this really is the beginning of the end for the original TV series of Doctor Who, as the first story of the McCoy Era. It's uniformly fun, good-looking, and goofy. Taken out of context from the rest of Doctor Who, ripped from history essentially, this is pretty much a different adventure altogether from the one that is said to have led to the end of the long-running favorite sci-fi series. If you want to pick one that does that, look no further than to the behind-the-scenes stories of season 23, The Trial of a Time Lord. At this point, we're really looking at a long downhill run of three years with some excellent script editing and heroes that slide from live-action cartoon heroes to nightmarish destroyers of worlds and savages.
This Time and the Rani adventure is just about making children afraid of bat people and making adults charmed by the return of a show that's full of some low-wit dialogue and a lot of stumbling about in cartoonish scraps. With spoons-playing. And that stuff was nowhere near enough for fans that want a return of Tom Baker worse than ever, and at least something dramatic about the regeneration. But what we got was a quickchange to the Rani impersonating an unpopular shouldn't-even-be-there companion. After Trial, this was nothing like enough to justify any long-term plots. But the holes there would be filled for fans, eventually, if they wanted it (in novels mostly, particularly Time of Your Life, Business Unusual, Love and War, Millennial Rites, Head Games, Spiral Scratch). In the meantime, we got a cartoon of sorts. A pretty enjoyable one, by many accounts.
While Mel and the Seventh Doctor are cartoon characters here, the Rani and her plots are definitively cartoonish. In fact, this is a pretty unified story on that account. Everything's pretty much of one whole, wacky-sci-fi-fun cartoon in appearances and spirit. This uniformity is in visuals, audios, plots, and characters. And it actually looks great, when all is considered. The effects are quite nice. Look at those bubble-traps! Awesome. And the location shooting in a particularly darkly colored quarry makes for a pretty convincing alien world by limited appearances.
Sure, it seems as though the whole population of the planet lives in two buildings, with nothing else around suggesting otherwise, but that IS classic Doctor Who. It's the whole planet they're talking about here, and the Lakertyans seem to talk about the whole of their society when they indicate the people in their two buildings... But that's still some frustrating classic Doctor Who on a budget. I guess they just didn't have the money for a matte painting a la Star Trek showing the greater inhabitations of the Lakertyan bird-people. 'Twould have been nice. But hey, I wasn't thinking that this society consisted of just a dozen or so bird people, and I don't think most people would.
Suspend your disbelief. We all know you can. You're almost certainly a Doctor Who fan if you're reading this. It's like breathing for us.
The music is drastically different from before. Still a lot synths, it's not the atmosphere of the show now as much as the second companion. It's present a lot of the time and very noticeable for it, but it's not out place so much as new and a jolt from what's familiar. And it fits the cartoonish, slaphappy aesthetic of the show in season 24 perfectly, even if it's pretty damn awful afterwards whenever Keff McCulloch comes back. Though, it bothers me in Delta and the Bannermen and that's 24. It's by one of the least enjoyable composers I can think of in the whole of Doctor Who, sure, but the score seems to fit pretty well here. That Keff McCulloch would offend far more greatly in Remembrance of the Daleks, and thankfully be dropped in favor of Dominic Glynn and Mark Ayres for the coming final stories with the really good scripts.
It's just so damn silly and far-fetched, this story. But, um, that's the norm for Doctor Who, isn't it? A lump of giant brain with a neat alloy and an asteroid combining at the right time in the orbit of a planet to make it into a Time Manipulator does fall off the deep end for silly Doctor Who dangers. But it's one of the funniest things I can think of. It's not crap, it's a desperate cry to bring the Rani back for more cartoons... or maybe a thirtieth anniversary romp on the Children in Need telethon?
However, there is a lot about this story that I find very disappointing. The presentation of a new Doctor without any satisfactory regeneration for the previous one, along with an extremely messy introduction for the seventh Doctor - complete with clowning about unmatched by any other actor in the part - makes for a hard sell in this first story. But this is also the introduction, again "whether we like it or not", of the Seventh, the most interesting persona we shall ever come to see for the Doctor. This is the depressed man that doesn't know what he's capable of quite yet, extremely powerful, yet small; sympathetic, but god-like. He comes much more into his own in each successive story, particularly by the time we get to season 25, but this is him, no doubt. That it's a hard sell here is due greatly to Pip and Jane Baker's punny script with no end of odd choices for the Rani and her scheme to smack all ridiculously about and keep folks grinning or grimacing. And we mostly get the mess here. But he grew on me.
I still like this a lot more than either Rose or the Telemovie, despite how successful they were at creating a good new Doctor. Compared to the Telemovie, where the 8th Doctor's emergence was glorious and shining while the rest of his story was intolerably painful to watch, we may be even talking exact opposites. Yeah, depth of characterization was the biggest problem here. But, quite like the 2nd, 4th, and 9th Doctor introductions, really, this is not where the real character of the new Doctor emerges so much. The second Doctor as we all know him doesn't really show up fully until The Moonbase. The fourth, fun as he is in his first story, really shows up in The Ark in Space. And, despite how much Rose set up the titular companion, the Ninth Doctor, the "Damaged Doctor", really shows up quite gradually, not fully formed quite until he confronts the Dalek.
The story as a whole is also both crippled and made rather amusing by the Rani's impersonation of Mel. It's an insane thing to see, especially as it means that the Rani must have seen Mel somewhere before this story. But, as amusing as it still is for all of its madness, it's still just odd. What a grating, awful voice Kate O'Mara has when she's Mel. And what character Mel, as Mel, never really gets out of her adventures here, after barely being introduced in her previous outings as a real, present person. In many ways, at this point, she's still the girl we don't know that already does seem to know the Doctor. She was the future companion, remember, in Trial? Well, it's better if you don't remember.
In the end, it's best that one goes into experiencing this story with a big helping of either selective amnesia or expanded knowledge about what fandom wrote in novels in the 90s to justify all of this. Suffice to say, the Seventh Doctor is born here, but comes of age a bit later. And you can always do worse for a first story for a Doctor. Since The Twin Dilemma set the bar so low, however, that's not saying much.