DragonfireBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 December 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Dragonfire is the best episode of season 24, on the grounds that something had to be. By that I mean that were this episode part of almost any other season then it would never achieve the title of that year’s best story; but even so, while it’s hardly up against stiff competition, it’s actually pretty good in its own right and while its success is to an extent default, it’s unfair to focus on this entirely. John Nathan-Turner’s production lays on the glitter, but scratch the surface and there’s an intelligent writer struggling to make his voice heard, and Dragonfire is in many ways an extremely dark story.

>From the opening shot it’s clear that this story is efficiently budgeted and reasonably well directed by Chris Clough, with expansive, mist-shrouded sets. Acting is one of the story’s weaker features, and watching a crewmember stick his hand in liquid nitrogen only to recover instantly and ask for an explanation is not an inspiring start to the story. The action scenes are similarly stagy but benefit from some well designed pyrotechnics and lead on to the mysterious and eerie scene where Kane recovers the ruined gun from the frozen liquid, only to kill it’s owner; it’s a good scene in itself, and in the context of the season (coming immediately after Doctor Who’s all-time low point, Delta And The Bannermen) it must have been absolutely magnificent. While the story retains a certain degree of campness it is in the aesthetic sense, arguably a natural product of looking back at the late 1980s – for the first time of the season the show is taking itself seriously without being too up itself, concentrating on telling a decent story. Surprisingly given the track record of the last few years, it’s mostly successful.

Even Mel is almost bearable this story, given a more proactive role (although her scream is still painful to listen to – seriously, if she’d been a Troughton companion Fury From The Deep would have been two episodes long). For the most part she’s better than Sophie Aldred, who makes a poor first impression here and who wouldn’t really come into her own until the writers allowed her to grow up a bit in season 26. She’s just a horribly misconceived character, a foul-mouthed teenage delinquent on a show that isn’t allowed any swearing (leading to some crazy alternatives, such as the truly bizarre line of “I know what unimpeachable means, bird bath”). It doesn’t help that’s she’s played by an actress nine years older than the character who delivers her cockney dialogue in her natural RP accent, although her creator Ian Briggs does write her better than most of the other writers who got lumbered with her.

The deliberately excessive names of the various locations on Glitz’s map give the episode’s premise an artificial feel, which is appropriate in context; it is later emphasised that everything down there was built for a purpose. It just raises the question of how Glitz fell for Kane’s scheme in the first place; although Tony Selby is fun to watch Briggs has an uphill struggle in characterising consistently a character who was invented by the late Robert Holmes, the undisputed king of loopy, poetic dialogue. Glitz in this episode works much better in company, and his most effective scenes come with Belazs, who despite not being the best acted character in the story is certainly the best written. His opening scenes in the café are enjoyable though, and the Doctor ordering a milkshake is a nice quirky touch. All in all, Dragonfire gets off to a promising start.

Edward Peel is mostly superb as Kane, although his rather lyrical dialogue borders on the parodic. It’s carried off with enough aplomb not to undermine the credibility of the character though, and is therefore actually quite impressive. He and Patricia Quinn are both quite haughty in their opening scenes which can make it hard for the viewer to engage with what they actually say, but it is paid off by their development later in the story. He taunts her, asking if she has memories of a home – as well as adding another layer to his relationship with her (cruelty to subordinates is rare in Doctor Who, where most junior villains only ever say “yes sir”; it’s one reason I think The Dominators is so underrated, but that’s another story), it becomes ironic on repeated viewings.

Things get taken down a peg with Ace pouring milkshakes over people’s heads – the scene gathers the episode’s worst actors together, and makes it feel like an early rehearsal. Ace’s squalid room highlights the bleakness of her situation and of the episode itself – it is set in a gleaming, utilitarian way station where nobody really matters particularly (Kane has no hesitation about killing his most senior lieutenants), and everyone is stuck in a rut. The episode, and this scene, emphasise a sense of pointlessness, making Ace’s explosives a form of pressure-valve; if only they were left in the hands of a more competent actress, as Aldred never seems so old as when she’s trying to emphasise her character’s youth. The scene where she blows up the ice jam is sweet, but I think Briggs’s dialogue places too much faith in the BBC’s effects department.

We see Kane freeze his blood but it’s a long time before we’re told why he needs to do this, or what he is – he becomes an enigmatic figure, who seems very human on one level but is disconcertingly different on others. His “twelve galaxies” speech owes a debt to Rutger Haur’s famous death soliloquy in Blade Runner, but it would be churlish for me to call season 13 my favourite of all time and then criticise this for being derivative, especially as this story’s references are all reasonably well integrated and find their own identity.

There is the infamous cliffhanger to come of course, which loses the episode some points. No one to my knowledge has adequately explained why the Doctor spontaneously decides to lower himself over a vast precipice with his umbrella and then just hang there – the excuse that it is a deliberate parody seems weak to me, as it’s executed so poorly that it becomes what it attempts to mock: a bad cliffhanger. It’s never explained how Glitz gets him down, and we also have to put up with the contrivance of Ace pulling a ladder out of her bag (it might as well have been from her sleeve).

Kane’s reference to his “former feelings” for Belazs are less effective and seem a bit tokenistic – the best characterisation is in the moment, and Belazs’s reaction is more illuminating to the viewer than the line itself is. This is the first episode that features the time-filling, sweeping shot of the planet; I mention it not because of the visuals (more on them later) but because of the score. Dominic Glynn provided possibly the worst ever theme arrangement for season 23 but his scores for the McCoy era are without exception excellent (he also did The Happiness Patrol and Survival), and his grand-yet-melancholic work here is no exception. Bear in mind that viewers at the time had just been sentenced to eleven weeks of Keff McCulloch, without possibility of parole.

The very jokey scene with the guard (you know the one) is believable for season 24 but jars a bit with this specific episode; while much of the comedy in this story works quite well this is so obviously an artificial and constructed gag that it undermines the entire illusion somewhat. It is followed by a superb scene in the cockpit of Glitz’s ship, where the Doctor sees right through the tormented Belazs and is sad that he cannot offer her any comfort; her death is sad, as it reveals her hopelessness. Kracauer is a less rounded character though, and his willingness to kill his boss is harder to believe.

Pudovkin’s reappearance as a zombie is potentially effective, but McCoy (the seventh Doctor is a good idea on paper but McCoy’s range is too limited for it) fails to lend it the right gravitas and the mercenary is a bit too articulate to be believable as someone who’s just had their neural pathways shut down. The friendly dragon is a mixture of the kind of silliness and creepiness that I suspect the entire season was attempting to pull off, but never quite managed it.

The hologram scene is notably high on the exposition, making up for the lack of it earlier in the story. Having a holographic archive read out Superman II style is an unusual way of revealing a plot and works quite well. Exposition also provides the cliffhanger and would have worked better without the pantomime moment of Kane talking directly to camera, which is the kind of directorial touch that only Graeme Harper ever managed successfully. To an extent the revelation of the Dragonfire undermines the story as it really isn’t plausible – while the idea of a criminal being exiled and trapped rather an executed is nothing new, giving him a means of escape within reach is harder to swallow. Did it really take him three millennia to find people to track down the dragon, find out its secret and kill it? The guards’ ANT-hunt exchange doesn’t help as it’s the only scene of the story that’s truly embarrassing to watch, which isn’t something I say often in stories featuring Langford.

The out-of-date star chart comes at the perfect moment, maintaining an enigmatic sense of mystery even at this late stage of the proceedings. The tracker picking up the little girl (a gimmicky character, but quite creepy to watch wandering around on her own and freezing her teddy bear) seems like a parody of Aliens but is indirect enough not to seem too smug.

The explosion of the Nosferatu showcases the story’s brilliant special effects – possibly the season’s strongest feature – and Iceworld turning out to be a spaceship itself is a surprising twist. Kane’s ultimate failure caps the story’s overarching theme of pointless endeavour, and his melting (more great effects) is one of Doctor Who’s top three scary moments, severely spooking me as a child.

Mel’s leaving scene seems tacked on, a very self-conscious passing on of the baton, although McCoy does get some good lines. From what this episode shows us the prospect of Aldred signing on is not an attractive one (although it seems a bit rich to be complaining about the person whom Bonnie Langford is leaving to make room for), but in fairness she did put in a good performance in Survival.

Dragonfire is, for the period at least, extremely good and it’s a shame that its reputation is contaminated by blanket statements regarding season 24. It has its share of annoying moments, but then so did The Impossible Planet, which I awarded top marks. Dragonfire isn’t at that level by any stretch, but it is still an unusually interesting episode that has a lot to say and manages to win out over the gaudy production in its effort to say it.





Delta and the BannermenBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 October 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Hope you’re in the mood for some good eatin’, ‘cos I’m gonna roast a turkey! Season 24 is condemned almost universally as being one of Doctor Who’s weakest: excessive, poorly made and with a ridiculous tone that drives the series into a different but equally poor direction to the one it recently held. However, it always seems to me that Delta And The Bannermen gets of scot free, with many praising it for its intelligent teasing of science fiction values. I say intelligent, but I simply want to get into the swing of the sarcasm that’s going to characterise this review. This is because Delta And The Bannermen is my candidate for Worst Story Ever, one of the only moments to make me ashamed to be a fan. And I don’t like saying that.

Oddly though, it actually begins fairly well with a decently staged battle scene, with some good special effects and some decent pyrotechnics. What lets it down though? The same thing that let a lot of other stories down. Keff. McCulloch. There are so many opportunities to slate him here that in the interests of avoiding repetition I’m going to get it all out of the way now: he is actually Satan himself. His attempts at parodying 1950s rock and roll are revolting (appropriate, though) and this is the third story in a row where a sickening synthy version of the theme music has been jammed into the incidental music. And that’s saying nothing about the sickening synthy version of the theme music that is, in fact, the actual theme music.

Ken Dodd’s manic overacting is painful to watch and, as usual, every time Mel opens her mouth I get the overwhelming desire to plug it with my shoe. While I’m listing through the rubbish characters, then you have to love those comedy Americans! Just picture the forced rictus smile on my face as I wrote that. Stubby Kaye’s line of “Wales, in England” is just about bearable, but a cheap shot. Other than that, it’s dire; the acting is stagy and the dialogue – “it’s exposition, but it’s funny!” – is too crummy for words.

The Navarinos and their bus become part of a completely comedic, parodic universe for the episode that puts it at complete odds with the programme it’s supposed to be. Could you ever imagine the bus being hit by a meteorite and crashing on Sutekh’s rocket, or next to the Chula ambulance? No. Reason? Those two examples are intelligent, well thought-through ideas, and this one belongs on the scrap heap. That’s a big problem with this story: the complete lack of thought. We never get told why Gavrok wants to kill the Chimerons, we never get told why the baby grows like it does; the villains have no real motivation, and many of the other characters act bizarrely as well: see the cliffhanger to part two (the Doctor’s thinking just makes no sense). At least Don Henderson and Belinda Mayne play it straight, although Mayne is so poor that she must have blackmailed the productions staff into casting her. When she shoots the communication screen, Gavrok’s explanation that she “somehow” switched it off demolishes what little credibility he ever had.

The dancing passengers on the bus is another cringe-inducer, and Hawk and Weismuller continue to bury the episode. The special effects of the bus crash are straight out of Button Moon (a shame, as the effects are generally one of the few real good points about season 24), although it’s nice to see the TARDIS actually being used for one. It was always a simple tool for establishing setting but this was taken to an extreme in the McCoy years and to see the Doctor doing something other than piloting it to Earth is a relief.

I’d have to agree with Mel’s assessment: they picked a sucky location, a cheap, run-down package-holiday nest of putrefaction only redeemed slightly by the pleasant countryside around it. Give me a good old reliable quarry, any day. And I’ve nothing against the Welsh, I’ve lived with several in my time, but Burton is seriously annoying. Ray is slightly better (especially in those leathers, nudge nudge), but her exaggerated cute-little-girly characterisation grates. She could be OK, if only she didn’t open her mouth so much.

The Doctor gives the mechanic Billy free reign with a load of alien technology. Timeline? Aw, who cares, let’s rock!

Ken Dodd’s death, after all these jokey shenanigans, seems unnecessary and inappropriately nasty and mean-spirited (a lot like the death of Clive in Rose). If Malcolm Kohll had to pick such a nauseating tone as he largely does, he should at least be consistent.

At the party, Billy is dressed up in a cheap James Dean / Marlon Brando parody. This may seem minor, but in a sense it epitomises what’s wrong with the story: it proclaims to tease 1950s stereotypes while at the same time pandering to them. It doesn’t have the imagination to be truly satirical, and therefore falls short of its targets and ends up being that which it mocks. And for those cameo fans out there, Keff McCulloch can be seen in the band. Funny, if I was him I wouldn’t be so keen to show my face.

At the cliffhanger to part one, the Doctor gives himself away by a feeble sneeze, snapping the needle on my cliché counter. I’d only just mended it in time to lose it again at the sight of Keillor’s smoking shoes: they only just got away with that in the Meltdown episode of Red Dwarf, and that was a comedy programme. This isn’t. It tries to be, but you wouldn’t have heard me laughing. I’m not against comedy in Doctor Who, but a fairly important requirement of comedy is that it should be funny. The model baby is good, but with Mel in the room screaming it’s the sound effects I object to.

Goronwy, at last, is a nice piece of characterisation. His ambiguity is nice, and I like the theory that he may be an old retired Time Lord. It’s only a shame he’s played so camply by Hugh Lloyd.

Oh, and that DJ is entirely unnecessary. Bad review are certainly therapeutic, but I never enjoy slating my favourite show and I’d much rather watch a good episode than a bad one – but I must confess it was only the thought of tearing into it here that kept me going. The idea of an omnipresent threat rapidly approaching is a good one, by boring direction from Chris Clough and its unremittingly saccharine tone suck dry any sense of tension.

Belinda Mayle’s acting when Delta learns the Bannermen are on their way? Lame. David Kinder’s acting when he learns the Bannermen are on their way? Lame. Delta And The Bannermen? Lame. Ray’s catchprase of “He’s been ihyoniiiiiiiiiised!” is really getting on my nerves now and, although it’s not a new observation, those Bannermen really do look like a load of yuppies on an adventure weekend. The deaths of all the Navarinos leave an unpleasant taste, another example of the kind of action adventure this sometimes tries to be. It wants to have it both ways, and consequently succeeds in neither.

As far as part three is concerned, I was getting too sick of it to take notes. My interest was going the same way as my will to live. Gavrok and his Bannermen get stung by bees, and do you know what? I don’t care. The escaped Bannerman is a bit of a wuss really, and is it me or does he look a bit like Andrew Cartmel? The sonic cone on top of the TARDIS makes the end very very obvious, but at least it means the end is in sight. It could be worse: the story could be average length. For those who like this sort of thing, Sylvester McCoy cops a feel of Sara Griffiths when he’s marking out the boundary around the TARDIS. Hey, I need a bit of a laugh, I just watched Delta And The Bannermen. The ending is abrupt and rubbish, poor Ray gets left high and dry, and TURN THAT MUSIC OFF!

Season 24 is to be commended for attempting something new after the suicidal regime of old under Eric Saward, but it seems to be merely an instinctive panic rather than a measured response and nowhere is this better illustrated than Delta And The Bannermen. Much as it pains me to admit it, now that I’ve reviewed it I could comfortably never see it again.





Delta and the BannermenBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Steve Oliver

Like its season twenty-four stable mates, ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ divides fan opinion straight down the middle. There are those who believe this story to display the worst excess’s of the McCoy era; garish visuals, badly cast guest stars and with a silly pantomime like theme running through. In many respects, these people are right. ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ has these qualities in copious amounts. However, I am of the opinion that watched on its own terms this serial is a lot of fun.

Malcolm Kohl has scripted the most wonderfully silly story here. The basic outline of the plot is thus; Delta, the last of the Chimerons, is fleeing persecution from the evil Bannermen, led by Gavrok. She manages to escape their clutches and tags along with a bunch of Navarino holiday makers, whose destination is 1959 Disneyland. Following a collision between the Navarino bus and an American satellite, the Navarion’s crash land not in Disneyland, but at the Shangi-La holiday camp in South Wales. Needless to say, the Bannermen aren’t far behind…

The cast for this story are a mixed bunch. Most famously Ken Dodd shows up as the toll master, complete with garish costume and, erm, ‘party hooter’? Actually, given the tone of the piece, Dodd isn’t as bad as you’d imagine. Besides, he’s barely in the thing. Don Henderson as Gavrok is wonderful. He plays the part totally straight and is a very menacing threat that the Doctor must defeat. Belinda Mayne, playing Delta and David Kinder playing Billy are the weak links here. This is a real problem for this serial, as the love story between Billy and Delta is one of the most important elements running throughout. As a consequence of their lack of chemistry and wooden acting I never really bought this element of the plot. Now, mention must go to Sara Griffiths, who plays Ray. Originally scripted as a possible replacement for Mel, Ray gets a lot to do in this story and fills in as a companion for the Doctor whilst Mel is busy doing whatever it is she does. Griffiths, despite some shaky moments, does well. She also has the benefit of being incredibly cute, which is never a bad thing in my book! Those who watch QVC in the UK will be familiar with Griffiths, and they can also attest that she still looks as good today as back in ’87.

Sylvester McCoy is still finding his feet here. For the most part he makes little impression. A few lines scattered throughout make up for this however, and at least he’s better here than in ‘Time and the Rani’. Bonnie Langford really isn’t too bad here. She seems to be playing Mel in a less hyperactive fashion, and although the role of traditional companion is taken by Ray here through a lot of this serial, when she is on-screen she doesn’t sink to the depths she did in, say ‘Paradise Towers’.

‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is a real mixed bag. The basic plot and story idea is quite entertaining, and as someone else has mentioned could have been penned by Douglas Adams. I enjoyed the opening action scenes on the Chimerons’ home planet, and the way the Doctor defeats the Bannermen through the use of honey is silly, but is in keeping with the rest of the script.

Unfortunately, bland direction from Chris Clough and some more awful incidental music from our mate Keff McCulloch stops this one from being thought of more highly by fans.

I can’t help but love ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. It’s a far from flawless production, and indeed in places is laughably bad, but the overall atmosphere of the piece is so joyous, I always end up getting swept with it. This isn’t the turkey some would have you believe. Oh, and did I mention Ray is pretty hot?





DragonfireBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2005 - Reviewed by Nick Mellish

As Sylvester McCoy’s first season closes, we are presented with ‘Dragonfire’; this is the story which uses clichés quite freely, which gives stereotypical characters stereotypical lines and which has a serious lack of budget, which is a pity.

Ah yes, if there was ever a story that was crying out for more money, ‘Dragonfire’ is it: imagine if Iceworld really did look icy, or if the sets looked less studio bound and more realistic. Whilst ‘Doctor Who’ was never the most aesthetically pleasing show, at times its visual flair was imaginative and memorable, but here the studios look like studios, and no amount of comedy slipping from Sylvester McCoy can disguise the fact that the snow is polystyrene.

That’s not to say that all the designs look terrible, far from it. The dragon costume, whilst still obviously a costume, looks fairly impressive, as does the interior of the Nosferatu, though both these examples are in relation to the story they are within.

Thus far, this review has been rather negative, but that is simply because I wanted to get the bad things out of the way first: now, onto the plus points….

The dialogue here sparkles. “Ah, an existentialist!” responds the Doctor after learning that Belazs wants to shoot Glitz. In three short episodes, we are given more quotable dialogue than the rest of Season Twenty-Four put together; from the Doctor’s philosophical ramblings to a guard, to the vast majority of what Glitz says, this is a story unafraid of using dialogue for decoration, though never gratuitously. The final scene between Mel and the Doctor is, in particular, a great example of how the dialogue throughout ‘Dragonfire’ shines.

A clever little trick Ian Briggs has used, as mentioned above briefly, is to not be ashamed of using staple clichés of different genres associated with ‘Doctor Who’. For the fantasy element, we have an ancient map and a Dragon; for the Sci-fi element, we’ve got a baddie who freezes people by touch; for the horror element, we have hoards of human zombies; Mel fulfils the role of stereotypical ‘Who’ companion, screaming her way through the cliffhanger to part one and then tripping over and knocking herself out for no real reason later on; and then, of course, we have the famous dangling-off-a-cliff cliffhanger, just to do the ultimate cliché.

The characters are also well aware of their grounding in stereotypes- witness how Glitz, when dead set on revenge, stares into the camera, gnashes his teeth and simply says: “Kane”- we’re given more characterisation in that one moment alone, however cheesy, than many stories give throughout their running time. Also, Ace- the immature teenager with an attitude problem- is given dialogue that makes her look like an immature teenager with an attitude problem. She irritates the viewer, just as she irritates the supporting characters. She’s given clichéd lines to say, which work well in their context and are delivered perfectly by Sophie Aldred.

Speaking of Sophie Aldred, she instantly makes an impression as good companion material; the contrasts between her and Mel are striking, and so she arouses the interest of the viewer, and you are genuinely left wondering how the relationship between the doctor and Ace is going to develop- and, of course, develop it did. From the very next story, ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’, you are aware that something very different is going on, and thankfully so as it would have otherwise been a waste of such a very different character.

Not everything in ‘Dragonfire’ works: Ace’s repeated cries of her name are irritating as best, down right annoying at worst. As mentioned before, ‘Dragonfire’ could really have done with some extra money, as bits of it look very cheap indeed.

However, there is much to recommend in ‘Dragonfire’; the cast all appear to be having fun, and Edward Peel turns in a terrific performance as Kane. Once more, Tony Selby as Glitz is great and highly watchable, and his interaction with all the various characters works well. Added to all this, Dominic Glynn’s incidental music is quite nice, and it compliments the look of the story very well. One particularly nice moment is when the synthesised thuds of the keyboard match the footsteps of one of Glitz’s ex-crewmembers as he stumbles down the metal stairs whilst searching for Ace and Mel.

‘Dragonfire’ is not the perfect story, but then again most ‘Doctor Who’ stories are not. It stands hand and tails above the other stories in Season Twenty-Four in my opinion, and boasts some terrific dialogue and set pieces to boot. It’s not the best of the best, but it rather proudly stands above average.





Time and the RaniBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 14 December 2004 - Reviewed by Steve Oliver

It’s difficult to find anything good to say about this season twenty four opener, but here goes. The Rani’s bubble traps look quite good, and… err… You see, ‘Time and the Rani’ is perhaps the worst Doctor Who story the McCoy era produced and probably the worst ever. I say probably only because I’ve yet to see other clangers such as ‘Timelash’ or ‘The Twin Dilemma’. In my growing Doctor Who video and DVD collection it is perhaps equal only to ‘The Chase’ in its extreme crappiness. Perhaps the worst thing that could be said about ‘Time and the Rani’ is that there is very little to say about it.

The plot, concerning the Rani gathering together the greatest minds in the universe (for a purpose so tedious I won’t even begin to explain), is un-involving, one-dimensional and just plain rubbish. The performances, particularly by the lead actors, are either completely over the top or wooden, the Tetrap monsters are about as scary as a pet hamster, the dialogue is ridiculous… I could go on. To be fair to the writers, Pip and Jane Baker, apparently they wrote this serial without knowing who would be playing the Doctor, so had to be as generic in his characterisation as possible. Less forgivable is the completely over blown dialogue they write. Why they feel the need to do this is unclear. Perhaps they are trying to cover up deficiencies in the plot.

Sylvester McCoy gets off to a bad start as the Doctor. His performance throughout this serial has a certain pantomime quality to it, complete with spoon playing and over the top physical movements, and you never get the sense that he (or any of the other performers for that matter) really believe in any of it. Probably due to the poor script. The Doctor McCoy plays in this adventure is completely different to the mysterious and dark traveller we get in later McCoy stories such as ‘Ghost Light’, with his performances improving greatly from him playing the role much straighter. It goes without saying that Bonnie Langford as Mel is awful, and in my opinion the reason many fans have a big problem with season twenty-four is because of this one character. Thankfully this would be her last season with the show. The Rani is played by Kate O’Mara, and although she appears to be having a great deal of fun, she comes across as not especially villainous. This is the only Rani adventure I have seen – I’m still yet to see ‘The Mark of the Rani’ – and, assuming this is the same Rani we get in her debut adventure, it is difficult to see how this character could ever earn a second outing. The idea of a female Master is a nice one, but Pip and Jane Baker have written this character like a pantomime villain.

‘Time and the Rani’ was the first Doctor Who adventure I watched as a small boy of four years old. Unbelievably, it was also the story that got me hooked on Doctor Who and as a result good film and TV science fiction in general. Looking back on it now, however, it is perhaps fortunate I was so young when I first saw it, for I fear that if I was only three or four years older ‘Time and the Rani’ would have turned me off Doctor Who for life.

In summary, whereas I can usually find things to enjoy even in bad McCoy adventures, such as ‘Silver Nemesis’, which is so bad its good, ‘Time and the Rani’ is so bad its bad. Doctor Who had reached its lowest point, and after this awful McCoy debut adventure, things could only get better.





Time and the RaniBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 October 2004 - Reviewed by John Anderson

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 who's 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.