The transition from the Sixth to Seventh Doctor feels more jarring when watching the series in sequence than it ever did on television; with no year long gap, the sudden and ignominious departure of Colin Baker means that for the first time a Doctor leaves without a proper regeneration story. Despite the circumstances surrounding Bakers departure however, the fact remains that his replacement provided the opportunity to usher in a bold new era with a new actor in the title role. Whilst John Nathan-Turner remains as producer, Eric Sawards replacement with new script-editor Andrew Cartmel also provided the opportunity for a fresh new start, as a new talent arises to make its mark on the series. New Doctor, new script-editor; and a right load of old wank is the result in the shape of Time and the Rani.
Time and the Rani does not start well. Since Colin Baker refused to return for a regeneration scene following his sacking, Nathan-Turner unwisely decides to take the ludicrous measure of having Sylvester McCoy lying on the TARDIS floor at the start in Bakers costume and a wig that makes the Taran Beast from The Androids of Tara look convincing. In a staggering display of directorial incompetence, when McCoy rolls over a garish special effect is used to bathe his face in golden light and thus try and disguise the fact that he is wearing a stupid wig. The result is a man with a golden face wearing a stupid wig. To add insult to injury, the best explanation that we get for the regeneration is that the Doctor, who has previously been forced to regenerate due to radiation poisoning, a fall from a great height and spectrox toxaemia is suddenly susceptible to slight blows to the head. Makes you realize how lucky he is not to have regenerated before, given the number of times hes been knocked out by blows to the head, although I suppose that at least would have made the series end many years earlier and perhaps spared us this drivel. A wiser director would have simply had McCoy lying on the floor in Bakers costume having already regenerated off camera, but instead we are graced with a sequence that is about as welcome as a turd in a water tank.
I should lay my cards on the table and this point and say that I think Sylverster McCoy is the weakest actor to have played the Doctor in the television series to date; notoriously for example, he has trouble conveying certain emotions convincingly (more on that in future reviews). He does however, have an energy and charisma that I find works tremendously well, and as his era progresses and he settles into the role, he becomes, for the most part, a highly effective Doctor. Unfortunately, however, he is faced with several problems here, the main one being that Pip and Jane Baker were told sod all about how the character was going to be played, and therefore improvised. Improvisation by the Bakers seemingly takes the form of mixed metaphors, one of the few distinguishing features of the Seventh Doctor that is displayed here, and one that only lasts for this story on television. In all fairness, some of them are quite funny; I especially like A bad workman always blames his fools, and Where theres a will
theres a beneficiary!, but the endless string of such uninspired examples as Absence makes the nose grow longer, Heres a turn-up for the cook, Theres none so deaf as those who clutch at straws, A bull in a barber-shop and Fit as a trombone quickly become profoundly irritating. Nor does it inspire confidence that McCoys first lines when he wakes up in the Ranis laboratory are delivered in an incredibly over the top manner, and are immediately followed by an unconvincing pratfall.
McCoy however can hardly be blamed for some of his shortcomings here. Were I to assemble the finest actors in the history of theatre, film and television, I doubt very much that even they would be able to cope with the script provided here. Had fate been kinder, the production would, on receiving the Bakers scripts, not only have burnt them, they would have sent someone round to the Bakers house to impound their typewriter and subsequently taken out a court injunction to prevent them from ever working on the series again (which, mercifully, they never did). As Ive noted in the past, both The Mark of the Rani and Terror of the Vervoids pleasantly surprised me this time around, but by Time and the Rani Pip and Jane seem to have decided to take the piss and given free reign to their worst excesses. Some of the most awful lines in the series history abound, with many of them falling to Kate OMara to deliver; All you need understand is that these specimens are geniuses, Have you managed to procure the means to repair your laboratory equipment?, What monstrous experiment are you dabbling in now?, Killer insects! Come on Doctor!, and most painfully of all I have the loyhargil! Nothing can stop me now! are just some of the lines that nobody in real life would ever say and that nobody in fiction can get away with.
Then theres the plot. I say plot, but I really mean cack. The Rani worked in The Mark of the Rani because she existed to lampoon the relationship between the Doctor and the Master; here, she is relegated to the status of a female Master, with a ludicrous and unnecessarily complex plan, which she kindly explains in Episode Four so that the Doctor can work out how to defeat her. Stupidity abounds; how does the Rani casually patch the scanner into Uraks view? Why dont the Lakertyans piss off out of the Centre of Leisure since its got a big ball of killer insects in it and move away? The Ranis operation does, after all, seem to be confined to one small quarry (and a round of applause for that hoary old cliché, the planet of about a dozen people). Mention of the Lakertyans brings me to the production itself, in terms of acting, sets and direction. There are times when director Andrew Morgan seems to be polishing a turd; despite obviously being filmed in a quarry of some kind, the location filming works well, as does the model work and some of the sets. The realization of the bubble traps is quite good, and provides an effective cliffhanger to Episode One, and although they have their detractors, I rather like the Tetrap costumes even if the forked tongues are a mistake. Then at other times, Morgan proves that you cant make a silk purse out of a sows ear; the interior of the Ranis TARDIS looks like an afterthought and makes one wish for the impressive set used in The Mark of the Rani. It also regresses Doctor Whos effects back to the Letts era, with CSO woefully evident. And when the Ranis giant rubber brain comes up with the formula for loyhargil, the word LOYHARGIL flashes on a BBC micro just to add a bit of subtlety.
Then there are the alien races, ill served both by script and direction (although, incredibly, none of the guest cast are noticeably bad here). The Tetraps have four eyes, granting them a three-hundred and sixty degree view, which is a nice idea but utterly wasted as they turn their heads when looking for things and people manage to sneak up on them. They are obviously based on vampire bats, which is another nice idea, and I do like the fact that the Ranis callousness proves her undoing, as Urak realises that he is dispensable and promptly orders his Tetraps into her TARDIS and takes her captive at the end. As for the Lakertyans, they come off less well. Mark Greenstreet is quite good as Ikona, as are Donald Pickering as Beaus and Wanda Ventham as Faroon, but sadly make-up artist Lesley Rawstorne unwisely chooses to make them look like rejects from a New Romantics group. Beaus and Faroons grief over Sarns death is a nice (if incredibly surprising) attempt to show the emotional impact of the Ranis callousness on others, but then at the end Ikona pours away the antidote to the insect venom, which is meant to be noble and courageous, but is instead so utterly stupid that had he done it earlier, the Doctor might have been forgiven for thinking Sod em, then and buggering off without bothering to stop the Rani. Oh and the Lakertyans strange way of running, with arms held stiffly behind them, is an admirable attempt to convey a sense of something alien, but which nonetheless makes them look like theyve had something forcibly inserted into them, or possibly just have haemorrhoids. I was also going to criticize the fact that Beaus is badly stunned by a very gentle fall, but as that sort of thing can even make Time Lords regenerate, I suppose its fair enough.
So far, so bad. But there is one last vomit stain to blight the bed sheets of entertainment, and that stain is Keff McCulloch. It is a truism that an opinion cannot, by definition, be wrong, and I should point out that some people like Keffs work. Keff himself for example. Possibly. And yet, in this case, I am prepared to go out on a limb and say to these people, NO! Youre QUITE, QUITE mistaken! For Keff McCulloch is not just the worst composer of incidental music to have worked on Doctor Who, hes also possibly the worst composer of incidental music to have worked. This man knows no restraint; from the start of Episode One, he perpetrates a brash and inappropriate score that is so intrusive it makes open heart surgery seem like a scratch. Sinister scores accompany scenes in which nothing sinister happens, and keyboards pound merrily away in the background like Emerson, Lake and Palmer on crack. The background music used in the Centre of Leisure is the epitome of bad, a plinkety-plonkety knob-rash of music subverting any tension that might otherwise exist. So diabolical is this mans music in fact that I cant bear to write about it any further. Until I get to Paradise Towers of course, at which point Ill continue to whinge about it.
So in the midst of all this effluence, is there anything at all good about Time and the Rani? Mercifully, there is. For one thing, whilst McCoys dodgy performance in Episode One seems like a very bad sign, he gradually starts to settle in to the role as the story progresses. There are scattered examples of this throughout; when the Rani, disguised as Mel, offers him a drugged glass of water, he despondently replies Oh I dont want it, you drink it, leave me alone and he really sounds like he means it, as though the line arose naturally during filming. Blighted though he is with a script that lacks characterisation for the Doctor and provides him with lines like I want all mirrors removed from the TARDIS henceforth!, he still manages to convey, at several points, both the charm and authority associated with the Doctor. The scene in which the Doctor tells Mel about Strange Matter is a sign of how good McCoy can be, as the Doctor enters lecturer mode and he makes it seem entirely natural, rather than a performance. It is the first time that the Doctor settles down after his regeneration and enforced amnesia, and it feels as though McCoy has settled down too. It helps too that for all that Ive criticized them, Pip and Jane Baker captures the Doctors ego perfectly, as tries on a new costume and announces, [it] lacks my natural humility. In fact, the wardrobe scene is one of my favourites of the story; its daft, but it stays just the right side silly and when the Doctor tries on the Fourth Doctors clothes he shakes his head an remarks Old hat, a rare example here of a genuinely amusing pun. I also find it rather amusing that in Episode Four, after the Rani has connected the Doctor to the brain, his constant stream of garbled metaphors and bad puns induces schizophrenia in the brain; suddenly, the verbal diarrhoea that the Bakers have scripted serves a purpose and almost makes it seems as though they knew what they were doing.
Bonnie Langford is also passable here; Ive never had any issues with her acting, and her success or lack thereof in her Doctor Who tends to wax and wane with Mels characterisation. Mel is OK here; her faith in the Doctor both old and new is unshakeable, and she works well with McCoy. The scenes in which she meets the new Doctor and they have to convince each other of their identities is tiresome, although I do like the bit when the Doctor criticizes her wig and pulls Mels hair. Mel also gets a nice character moment, as she seems genuinely upset by Sarns death and Ikonas accusations. My main criticism is that Langford is given far too much screaming to do; shes ear piercing to the point that Im tempted to mute the television.
And finally, there is the Rani. Some ham is cringe-worthy and some is entertaining, and for me at least, Kate OMaras is the latter. Apparently deciding that her only sensible course of action is to go over the top, OMara seems to enjoy herself enormously as the Rani, and she plays against McCoy rather well. Im loath to admit it, but although the Ranis impersonation of Mel in Episodes One and Two is incredibly silly, I do find it quite amusing. For all her supposed lack of emotion, she clearly cant resist winding the newly regenerated Doctor up, as he bemoans his new appearance and she innocently asks him, You mean youre going to look like this permanently? And she obviously enjoys slapping him in the TARDIS wardrobe in Episode One.
So its a start. It isnt a very good one, and for the most part, Time and the Rani is astonishingly bad. McCoy however shows promise and if nothing else, that bodes well for the rest of the season.