THIS STORY TAKES
AFTER THE NOVEL
AND PRIOR TO THE
BIG FINISH AUDIO
PIP BAKER &
'TIME AND THE RANI'
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
OUT OF TIME, THE TARDIS
IS BROUGHT CRASHING
DOWN ONTO THE PLANET
LAKERTYA BY THE RANI.
IMPRISONING THE NEWLY
IN HER FORTRESS, THE
RANI SEIZES UPON HIS
BY IMPERSONATING HIS
FRIEND MEL, THE RANI
DECEIVES THE DOCTOR
INTO HELPING HER WITH
HER AUDACIOUS PLAN.
JUST WHAT IS THE RANI
UP TO? AND WHY HAS
SHE ENSLAVED ALBERT
EINSTEIN AND A HOST
OF GENII? AND AS AN
OF STRANGE MATTER
APPROACHES, CAN THE
NEW DOCTOR SAVE THE
UNIVERSE WHEN HE HAS
LITTLE IDEA OF WHO HE
Time and the Rani
7TH SEPTEMBER 1987 - 28TH SEPTEMBER 1987
Back in my Uni days, one Snakebite & Black fuelled eve, I got chatting to one of my
mates about Doctor Who. He’s just a year older than me, and so he had also grown up with Sylvester McCoy playing the Doctor for much of his youth. I asked him if he could remember classics such as Remembrance of the Daleks and The Happiness Patrol, and he said that he could, adding that he’d love to watch them again. He then asked me if he could borrow all my seventh Doctor videos so that he could watch them though in order. Somewhat foolishly, I agreed. Ten minutes into watching Time and the Rani, he telephoned me hurling profanities down the phone. Now he won’t even watch the new series.
Fortunately the Time and the Rani DVD release is infinitely more impressive than the old VHS, although, of course, the serial itself still has the capacity to poison a mind against the series. The disc is abounding with special features covering every aspect of its production and reception, even taking in contemporaneous clips from programmes such as the BBC’s Breakfast Time show and Blue Peter. What’s more, for the first time in a while, the release contains three exclusive ‘Easter Eggs’, one of which may well be the greatest DVD Easter Egg since that man in the brown suit told everyone not to blink. I only wish that the treat in question could have been incorporated into the main feature, if only as an alternative option.
Above: Colin Baker drinking at The Last Chance Saloon
Nev Fountain’s documentary The Last Chance Saloon is, expectedly, the disc’s highlight. With a running time just shy of half an hour, this luxuriant programme covers every aspect of Time and the Rani’s evolution, fusing interviews with the cast and crew with witty Fountain-penned links and even fascinating footage of a number of actors auditioning for the part of the new Doctor opposite Janet Fielding. Dermot Crowley’s demo showed a little promise, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the auditionees, save for Sylvester McCoy himself, of course, who was the clear standout. I also found the perspectives offered by incoming script editor Andrew Cartmel and writers Pip and Jane Baker particularly illuminating – it seems that the script that went before the cameras pleased neither party. Time and the Rani is the proverbial horse designed by committee, humps and all.
The remainder of the custom-
made special features are far
less substantial, ranging from
just a couple of minutes long
to a little over ten. Generally I
can’t abide DVDs that carve
their bonus material up into such minuscule chunks, but
as most aspects of the pro-
duction are covered in The
Last Chance Saloon in any event, the many miniature featurettes simply offer the viewer the chance to explore specific areas in greater detail, should the mood take them.
Above: Special features covering every aspect of the story’s production and reception
7D FX is a particularly absorbing little feature, especially to those who may have an interest in special effects. For all its flaws, Time and the Rani did at least drag Doctor Who kicking and screaming into the digital age, with Mike Tucker’s team providing some polished CG effects on a shoestring budget. Indeed, this serial’s bubble traps and rocket launches are
the only elements that I feel work at all satisfactorily.
Helter Skelter is similarly engrossing. Keff McCulloch’s infamous interpretation of the theme tune and CAL Video’s “rollercoaster” title sequence may be Doctor Who’s least popular, but I have a real fondness for both. As such I found it fascinating to hear the designers who put the sequence together discussing its conception and creation.
Above: No front covers but the occasional little spread... The seventh Doctor in the Radio Times
Of course, the Time and the Rani DVD is let down by, well... Time and the Rani. The four episodes of the serial play out like a bad children’s pantomime, its few moments of horror - such as the Lakertyan skeletons - being completely drowned out by the gaudy colours and the frivolous tone. It’s little wonder that the BBC consigned the season that it launched to a “graveyard slot” against Coronation Street. On DVD, the viewer can at least suppress the sound in favour of a commentary featuring Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford, and Pip and Jane Baker, though the latter are as prickly as ever about criticism of their work and take full use of this opportunity to reallocate the blame for the production’s many shortcomings.
However, no-one could blame the Bakers’ for the notorious ‘fake’ regeneration. Originally planned to culminate in the Doctor’s sixth regeneration, rather than kick-off with it, the poor Bakers were forced to open their script with a scene showing Sylvester McCoy in a blonde wig doing his level best to look like he’s just tumbled from an exercise bike and received a nasty knock on the head! And then to compound the indignity, the regenerative energies don’t even cover the Doctor’s face completely, betraying the fact that it’s McCoy all along.
I honestly don’t know why a regeneration was insisted upon - the production team would’ve been better off leaving the sixth Doctor’s fate ambiguous, or starting with the new Doctor
just tumbling out of the TARDIS, Jon Pertwee-style. This pre-title sequence – only Who’s third cold start – feels very much like a reprise in any event, only serving to emphasise the fact that we’ve missed out on Colin Baker’s swansong, which of course we have.
“Leave the girl. It’s the man I want.”
After this incomparably pitiable preamble, the Bakers’ story never stood a chance, and I’m sorry to say that it only gets worse from there. The Tetraps look like they’re made of plastic (and not in an inspiring Auton way), and the Lakertyans aren’t much better; just a handful of actors painted green and orange sporting Mohican hairdos. The viewer then has to suffer Bonnie Langford running around calling the Doctor a “miserable fraud”, her blasé reaction sucking the last remnant of fun out of the regeneration.
And for the Doctor himself, Time and the Rani is a complete debacle. As much loyalty as I feel towards ‘my Doctor’, the man born Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith’s performance is beyond the pall. Without a strong script or any guidance as to how he should play it, McCoy spends great swathes of the narrative dwarfed by Colin Baker’s colossal costume, playing the spoons and mixing his metaphors, reduced to little more than a Charlie Chaplain-esque fool. Still, I suppose you’ve got to admire the logic vested in “where there’s a will, there’s a beneficiary!”
“Every dogma has its day.”
In the whole serial, the only scene that I can really enjoy is the
one inside the TARDIS, where the Doctor dresses up in the
costumes of his predecessors, and that’s only because I’m
an unashamed aficionado of the show. If that was the only
noteworthy scene in Time and the Rani, then things didn’t
bode well for the Doctor’s seventh persona. Had a casual
viewer been watching (instead of Coro!), then they would
no doubt have been cringing at the protracted indulgence.
Even Kate O’Mara’s Rani is wasted here. She spends half
the story imitating Mel – can you think of anything worse? –
and the other half stroking a very unconvincing giant brain.
Here the Bakers took a convincing character and played her
for laughs, and it just isn’t funny. The only real humour to be found in Time and the Rani are a few lines that aren’t really meant to be hilarious, such as Ikona’s immortal line to Mel describing the Tetraps: “they’re not like you, but almost as hideous.”
“I’ll grow on you, Mel. I’ll grow on you” Seven promises, and hats off to McCoy, he certainly does just that. But be warned – if like my friend Mark 2 you ever feel a pang of nostalgia for the Sylvester McCoy era then please, for your own sake, exclude the first half of Season 24 from your viewing marathon. I won’t say that Time and the Rani is the worst Who serial ever because it isn’t; however, it’s definitely down there, caught up in the relegation dogfight. Its DVD release, conversely, is a reluctant must, boasting an array of eloquent and entertaining special features that finally get to the bottom of what went so badly wrong...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Pip and Jane Baker’s 1987 novelisation of Time and the Rani suggests that it is the TARDIS’ “tumultuous buffeting” whilst caught in the Rani’s tractor beams that triggers the Doctor’s sixth regeneration, leading to
a number of jokes in later stories about the sixth Doctor having perished as a result of a mere “bang on the head”.
However, a number of 1990s novels speculated that the Doctor’s nascent seventh incarnation forced the sixth Doctor to deliberately pilot the TARDIS into the Rani’s tractor beams in order to become “Time’s Champion” and prevent himself becoming the Valeyard. It should be noted though that the novels which championed this theory explored the seventh Doctor’s neuroses, and so - particularly given later developments (see below) – it seems more likely that the angst-ridden seventh Doctor’s conscience corrupts his inevitably hazy memories of the renewal.
Gary Russell’s 2005 novel Spiral Scratch would eventually clarify the cause of the regeneration, detailing the Doctor’s encounter with a pan-dimensional being which leads to him receiving a potentially lethal dose of chronon energy. The “bang on the head” in the subsequent “tumultuous buffeting” is simply the final straw.
In 2008, Chris McKeon finished the late Craig Hinton’s novel Time’s Champion which claims to be the sixth’s Doctor “true” regeneration story. However, at the end of Time’s Champion, the Doctor uses his new powers as “Time’s Champion” to over-write Mel’s timeline with the events of Spiral Scratch, preserving the continuity of both.
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