Killing Ground
Millenial Rites
Time of Your Life
Time and the Rani

Episodes 4 A fresh start
Story No# 148
Production Code 7D
Season 24
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.

Back to page one (the first twenty reviews)


A Review by Michael Knight 20/1/16

The first story of the Sylvester McCoy era might just be the worst one in his three year tenure. After the TARDIS suffers from a space collision, the sixth Doctor regenerates into the seventh. Unfortunately, due to Colin Baker's falling out with the BBC, all we see of the sixth Doctor in said regeneration sequence is McCoy in a wig. Off to a great start then.

The collision was caused by the Rani (Kate O'Mara) back for her second appearance in Classic Who, who in many ways is one of the story's saving graces (she's easily the best supporting actor in this story). Her plan, simply put, is to fool the absent-minded Doctor into believing she's his companion Mel and get him to help her complete her latest nefarious project. Kate O'Mara is brilliantly OTT and her comic timing is spot on when dealing with the slightly delusional Doctor.

The story is at its best when the two characters interact. If you want to see what I'm on about without having to sit through the whole story you can watch the Doctor initially waking up and confronting the Rani in her lab in a clip on YouTube, which shows Sylvester McCoy's potential. It's a pity this is the Rani's only headline appearance, as she deserves much better material. (In her first story she gets overshadowed by the Master; in this, the script and production values are truly terrible; and her third appearance is the 1993 children in need special Dimensions in Time which some of us are still trying to forget. Don't watch it. Just don't.)

If only Kate O'Mara was the Doctor's companion. Instead we have Mel (Bonnie Langford). What they were thinking when they cast Langford is beyond me, but with the Doctor trapped in the Rani's lab for most of the first three episodes, the story relies on Mel more than usual. Pity then that Mel has to be one of the worst companions in the show's history. Her screams will leave you rushing to turn the volume down, she's constantly hysterical at the merest hint of danger, and she has a very limited acting range. In short, she's irritating, which for a companion is a nail in their coffin, as no amount of good scripting can fix that (and in this story there's little enough good scripting in the first place!). The first cliffhanger has about a minute of Mel screaming and by the end you'd be relieved if they did kill her!

The guest cast isn't much better. I certainly can't remember any of them, which is never a good sign. The acting is either by-the-numbers or exceedingly wooden throughout. The story is also terribly padded, it could be told in two episodes but somehow they've stretched it out into four. This means that, while the first episode actually holds up rather well, the story crumbles early in part two and doesn't really recover at all. It doesn't help that the Rani's scheme is extremely nonsensical; all the technobabble in the world can't hide that the science in this story is, well, rubbish.

The production standard isn't great either. The two alien races featured, the Lakertyans and the bat-like Tetraps, look totally bizarre rather than realistic, and, while the interior design is okay, it's the same old boring quarry being used to represent an alien planet on the outside. The soundtrack by Keff McCulloch is at best experimental and at worst extremely distracting (and not the good Murray Gold style of distracting) because Keff has no concept of softly, softly but ramps the soundtrack up to 11 at every minor development, and the music itself is just jarring.

Unless you're a true Classic Who fan who wants to watch every story, avoid this. Watch some clips online of the regeneration and McCoy facing off with the Rani if you want, but there's very little to recommend here apart from McCoy and Kate O'Mara's performances. Just stop after episode 1.

Rating: 2 out of 10 (abysmal)

A Review by James Neiro 1/2/18

Oh dear - oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What went wrong? Let me start off by stating thus far I have reviewed stories I thoroughly enjoyed, some I perhaps just liked, and some I absolutely loved. Time and the Rani fit into none of those categories.

The briefest part of my review will be what's passable about TATR, so let's start there. The visual effects are good (but let's forget the horrible CGI forming the cold opener) and at times impressive, and so are the creature costumes (i.e., the Tetraps and the Lakertyans) and that's about all this story has going for it.

So what's bad about it? Literally everything but my first two points. The acting is the worst Doctor Who has ever conjured up - in fact some of the worst television that has ever aired - and that's including early childhood programmes and Spanish telenovas. The music is unusually loud and disorienting and that includes the awful new title sequence music. The script is confusing and the writing is sloppy oversaturated with pointless padding.

So let's analyse what I've mentioned in order and in detail. This is the Seventh Doctor's origin story, and he is portrayed as a clumsy, childish buffoon whose embarrassing antics are beyond cringeworthy. Perhaps the writers believed they could get away with his idiocy by sweeping it under the post regeneration 'rug' or perhaps they genuinely believed this is how a Time Lord should act following the death of his former self. No - absolutely not.

McCoy's acting is horrendous: he repeatedly trips over nothing, rolls around on the floor, attacks people with umbrellas and faints - a lot. His opening story portrays him as an Inspector Clouseau type - and I mean the bad Steve Martin kind of portrayal. Let me clear: if this were a movie in a cinema you'd walk out; there is no question of this. Remember, this is the first episode of a new season AND the first episode of a new Doctor. This is where you need to capture the audience; you need to reassure them this IS the Doctor; this is YOUR Doctor. What they achieve is the opposite. Further review on McCoy's acting in his premiere would be pure repetition - it's horrible - so let's move on.

Langford's Mel is cheesy and also cringeworthy. The music is loud - and I mean you need to turn the volume down every time the incidental score pipes up. It's on par with Langford's screaming, and both become grating and irritating over the course of the four episodes. Her performance would be acceptable if she were on stage delivering loud, halting speeches to a large audience. Langford has two settings: i. loud screaming ii. loud talking. She isn't a companion you can or did warm to, and this was evident in her swift departure from the series. Even O'Mara's Rani was overly campy, whether it be her cliche villainess or her Langford impersonation featuring a curly red wig and squeaky vocals.

Now we get to the writing the very heartbeat of a television show. The writing is outstandingly defective. What exactly is the plot here? The Rani wants to control the galaxy by collecting the greatest minds across the universe by putting them inside a great big fat brain that looks like a left over prop from a high school play. The plot would be better suited for an episode of Inspector Gadget or a dream sequence in some 80's made-for-television movie.

There are simply no redeeming qualities here - the effects and creature designs are not enough to carry the story nor be praised as remarkably good albeit a few seconds of impressive explosions and CGI wizardry. What's good is passable and what's bad is an understatement of the word. I can only imagine Colin Baker sitting back in his chair cackling about how he dodged a bullet by being let go from the programme and refusing to appear for a regeneration scene.

My single most reoccurring thought is - what went wrong with JNT's empire? What started back at the end of Tom Baker's tenure was impressive. The Davison era was injected with remarkable gems worthy of the 'classic' stamp of approval, and even the Colin Baker era, despite the obvious slow decline of quality, was enjoyable. But the first McCoy story and a handful of the ones that followed were drivel. What confuses me is JNT's comments when he took the reigns - that Doctor who had become too silly. He corrected what I admit to be accurate during the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Doctor's eras yet once McCoy's tenure commenced all that was thrown out the window and Doctor Who became a muddled pantomime complete with a spoon clacking, fumbling, whistling, umbrella-cliff-dangling Doctor who was a mere shadow of his elegant and strong counterparts. Yes, this was retconned in McCoy's later years under the mature forward thinking of Andrew Cartmel - but too little far too late, and, just as expected, the show was unceremoniously cancelled a year or so later.

One of two things (or perhaps both merged) happened. Either JNT gave up on what he believed to be a sinking ship or he pandered to a small circle of fans and/or the BBC to make the franchise lighter in tone like in early years when the ratings were still relatively strong and obliterate the violent, darker tones of the Colin Baker era to make it more accessible once again to the kids.

Yes this review was harsh - and if this were a midseason story I myself could be criticized for being a little too harsh - but remember this was the first story of a new Doctor, the shows last chance to survive and stay on the air, to keep the fan base and maybe even capture some new ones. Every effort possible should have gone into this story to make it fantastic - but sadly it became an utter convoluted mess.


On the Rocks by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 8/5/19

Time and the Rani is essentially a strange and rather contradictory combination of Doctor Who upping its game technically while continuing to hammer nails into its own coffin with a gusto which would make a woodpecker envious. First and last stories of a particular Doctor's era have a lot of pressure on them when one considers the expectations. On the one hand, they have to get on with the actual business of ending or beginning things, and, on the other hand, they are expected to be something special in terms of content/story/quality. Time and the Rani unfortunately falls rather flat on the second count. Even then, however, it really depends on how you look at things; you can either see this as the beginning of the end or you can see it as the beginning of a change in Doctor Who, the dawn of something great, something that we were given a glimpse of in Season 26 but which was unfortunately never given the chance to come to fruition. Admittedly, one would have to be feeling very magnanimous to arrive at that second conclusion...

Time and the Rani is inferior to The Mark of the Rani in just about every way except visual effects (the tree landmine is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons). Time and the Rani is also a stupid title, and I'm quite sure they could have come up with something better; even Giant Bats in a Quarry in Somerset would have been preferable. Or perhaps The Rani and Some Stuff. Or Boring Lizard People and Rocks... Pip & Jane Baker have become quite infamous for their overly ripe dialogue, loaded with unwieldy pronouncements, and this story only confirms that. Obviously, the regulars get the lion's share, but none of the characters are immune to it, with the Rani being particularly afflicted. The dialogue was no less overblown in The Mark of the Rani, but it seemed to work better on that occasion, no doubt due to the wonderfully biting chemistry between Colin Baker, Kate O'Mara and Anthony Ainley.

Kate O'Mara gave a magnetic performance in her first outing as the Rani, and she is just as watchable here; indeed, she is one of the few good things about this story. She plays off against Sylvester McCoy quite well and dominates just about every scene in which she appears. Well, that is when she's being herself rather than impersonating Mel. Heaven knows why Pip & Jane thought that this was a good idea, any more than they thought a landmine turning somebody into a tree or a bunch of talking plants on a spaceship flying too close to a black hole or the catharsis of spurious morality were good ideas. Indeed, it's become one of this story's most derided aspects, and it's easy to see why. It was extremely ill-advised and becomes irredeemably tiresome within about thirty seconds. Perhaps it was some form of postmodern joke, the subtlety of which is very clearly lost on me? I certainly hope so, I can't think of any other half-decent explanation for it.

But of course all eyes are on Sylvester McCoy. One could put the clownishness down to post-regenerative confusion, if one was feeling generous. Unfortunately, it carries on for the rest of Season 24 and isn't absent from Season 25 either. It's such a stark contrast to his performance in Season 26, the shadowy manipulator that became the blueprint for the New Adventures. Sylvester McCoy is on record as saying that he wanted to turn the character around from the initial clownishness to something deeper but how that always took time with Doctor Who. By his final season, he had certainly succeeded. The fact that McCoy's performance ultimately became so dark and so powerful is testament to this. However, Time and the Rani is never going to be remembered as one of his better performances as the Doctor.

But what does Time and the Rani get right? Well, it's one of the most visually impressive stories of the classic era, and it almost looks quite expensive at times. There were signs of this in The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp, so it's good to see it continued here. The Tetraps are very well-realised monsters, and, whilst they are not particularly memorable in themselves, they are a great piece of design work. The Rani's fortress is effectively superimposed against the quarry, and the bubble traps generally work quite well. It's also probably Keff McCulloch's best score for Doctor Who, or should that be his least-offensive score? His obsession with synth orchestral hits is evident from the word go, and this is not to his credit, nor is his apparent aversion to subtlety. But there are some nice touches in the music, and it often sounds as though he wanted to be writing for an orchestra. To be fair, his scores would probably sound better if he had been given an orchestra to work with rather than those awful synths. The build of tension towards the climax of episode three is well-handled, and his music takes a lot of the credit for that.

Bonnie Langford has gotten a bit better since Terror of the Vervoids, but her performance is still nothing to write home about. It's not that she can't act, it's that she overacts, and at times it's painful to watch. To her credit, she has good chemistry with Sylvester McCoy, just as she did with Colin Baker, and she gives her every effort to the performance, but I think that's the problem. She just needs to reign it in a bit more. One thing that hasn't improved is her screaming, which is still horrendously shrill. Mark Greenstreet, Wanda Ventham and Donald Pickering all give serviceable performances but it's nothing that's going to stick in the memory.

One thing that Time and the Rani is overstocked on is rocks. Lakertya is just rocks, rocks and more rocks. There's nothing wrong with this per se - if quarries bother you then you're watching the wrong show - but the rather heavy use of location filming means that the landscape practically becomes a character in itself. Unfortunately, Lakertya is a non-existent culture as far as we the viewers are concerned, because we see nothing of it beyond the nondescript and equally nondescriptly named Centre of Leisure. All we know is that the Lakertyans like brightly coloured clothes and live on a planet full of rocks; consequently, it's hard to care about them whether they're being stung to death by killer insects or blown up in the Rani's traps.

The Twin Dilemma was an equally poor start to Colin Baker's era, but I find it to be more consistently enjoyable than Time and the Rani. A guilty pleasure is still a pleasure after all. The Seventh Doctor went on to become a very powerful character, but he had a very shaky start indeed. Unfortunately, from this point on, things get worse before they get better. Just watch Delta and the Bannermen if you don't believe me...

A Review by David Rosenthal 18/8/19

I quite like this story I am probably in the minority of people who like Time and the Rani. This is the debut of my favorite Doctor: the seventh, Sylvester McCoy. I do feel very bad about what happened with Colin Baker getting fired by the mean cold, heartless Michael Grade. Colin is in my top 5 Doctors.

This story begins with the TARDIS under fire and crash lands on the planet of Lakyrta. The Rani arrives and enters the TARDIS. We then see when the tetrap touches the Doctor a regeneration scene from the sixth into the seventh, although it was actually Sylvester as the sixth wearing a blonde wig. I think Sylvester pulls off the sixth Doctor outfit rather well in the early stages of the story.

Mel the companion played by Bonnie Langford screams a lot in this story. The Rani is played to evil perfection by Kate O'Mara. She is using these geniuses from across Earth for her wicked experiments with the time manipulater. I love Sylvester in his seventh Doctor outfit and playing the spoons for the first time.

The Rani drugs the Doctor into thinking she is Mel. Later we see a reunion with the Doctor and Mel, where they both think the other is a imposter, then they both realise they both are the real deal. I love Sylvester's line at the end "I will grow on you Mel." Overall, I really like this story. I give this one 8.8/10.