Doctor Who: Time and The Rani (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros check out this story to see if it's as bad as they remember...
Doctor Who was in crisis—viewing figures were down during the Trial of a Time Lord season. Michael Grade wanted to pull the plug on the show after Colin Baker's first season, but the death sentence was quickly reduced to eighteen months following an outcry from fans and several national newspapers.
Considering that viewers had been falling away from the show, it was surprising that Doctor Who wasn't down-Graded at that moment, but the show was given one more chance. The only problem was that it was to have a fresh start, and that meant that Colin Baker was going to be given some awfully bad news. Baker's plans to slowly reveal layers of the Doctor's personality were scattered to the four winds when he got the boot (but the character was eventually fleshed-out as part of the so-called ‘Cartmel Masterplan’), and in stepped a Shakespearean actor to give Doctor Who one final attempt to win back audiences.
Time and the Rani opens with the TARDIS under attack and sees the Doctor unconscious on the floor—in walks a certain redheaded adversary and orders her minion to pick up the Time Lord; when he does so, the Doctor has been injured and regenerates.
Colin Baker's exit was the most undignified write-out since Ed Wood said the words: ’I’ve had a great idea about how to go on without Lugosi…’ The regeneration was something of a cheat—McCoy was dressed in Baker's outfit (which was far too big for him) and wore a curly blonde wig, so when he was turned over, optical effects could be added to obscure McCoys face, and the wig was whipped off in a dissolve and hey presto! One reasonably successful attempt at a regeneration without the participation of the outgoing actor.
We admit that we're big fans of Colin Baker and weren't surprised that the Big Man told the Beeb what they could go and do with themselves when asked to participate with the handover. Baker was originally offered a handful of episodes into this season as a way of making the transition to the new actor go more smoothly, but it's understandable why he turned the offer down.
More so than any other actor to play the Doctor, McCoy had the hardest time trying to make the character his own and also battled the hardest to change the character into something that he wanted it to be. The press gave Mr. Kent-Smith a hard time—we still have an old newspaper cutting from the Daily Mirror somewhere that has the headline ’Doc's too diddy to duff-up Daleks’ and the article went on to call him a ’pint-sized pratt’, which didn't exactly do much to endear him to the public. Oh, and we also have the clipping featuring the scathing comments from a certain TV critic, who plumbed new depths of homophobia when he wrote that McCoy probably spends his time ’munching on muesli and wondering which shade of pink to paint the TARDIS’. Charming.
Sylvester McCoy was brought on-board to give the show a lighter touch and that was precisely what he did initially, with McCoy throwing in various little tricks and pratfalls that he had learnt during his days as part of the Ken Campbell Roadshow along with having his Doctor constantly mixing his metaphors. McCoy was merely following orders and it would take more than a year before the Seventh Doctor become a darker and more mysterious being, the sort of character that McCoy had envisioned in the first place.
There are those who would argue that Time and the Rani suffers from that most exclusive of problems, the New Doctor Syndrome; fans generally agree that most of the stories that feature a newly-regenerated Doctor aren't very good, because the incoming actor spends much of his first story incapacitated or manic in some way (this was nearly fatal for Colin Baker's stint on the show, which saw him trying to strangle his companion and got him off on the wrong foot with the viewing public). Writers Pip and Jane Baker have taken much flak over the years for their contribution to Doctor Who; whilst none of their scripts have been toe-curlingly awful, their stuff seems to be workman-like and mediocre, with it being poorly-realised during the production stage.
’This is idiotic’—a fitting choice of words from the Rani, finding herself not only shoehorned into another story in spite of never really being that popular, but when confronted by a full-pelt Sylvester McCoy, the context of it all seems perfect. The Rani’s plan to kidnap the greatest minds in the galaxy is an interesting one, but surely not an idea perceived as ‘dangerous’ by JNT, as there was little chance he would find the form of Kate O’Mara adding him to her collection.
The Rani’s plan to get the Doctor to repair her machine isn’t all that scientific, only a marginal step up from getting someone so drunk on absinthe that they think they are having sex with someone else. Well, either that or getting a poor sap to write cheques whilst smashed out of their minds.
Kate O'Mara's performance is campy to say the least—she struts around and gives the sort of over-the-top performance usually reserved for panto season, but she gives an admirable sense of conviction to the role that helps a little to sell the concept of a vengeful female Time Lord. We sheepishly admit that seeing O'Mara dressed up in Mel's clothing and acting like her in order to fool the freshly-regenerated Doctor stirs something in the trouser area.
The interplay between the ‘Mel’ Rani and McCoy has much more chemistry between them than Slyv and Langford, and is a pity they couldn’t have found some way for O’Mara to stay stuck in that persona for the rest of series.
There is something rather endearing about the shots of McCoy looking befuddled, trying to make sense of all going on around him in light of the regeneration, and something which was absent from the bullish arrogance of Colin Baker. Obviously this is sharply contrasted by the great deal of clowning involved, but there were hints of the depth to come later.
It brought a smile to our lips when the very Scottish McCoy asked ’where are we, by the way?’, and a little more of his original accent slipped out with the last part of the line. McCoy has always been proud of his Scottish heritage, but one has to wonder if the general negative perception of Sylv and Doctor Who at that period forced Russell T Davies to have David Tennant speak with a Mockney accent.
Sylv brings his music-hall comedy training to the fore at every opportunity, and none is more prominent than a tight turning along a corridor, where he skids round on one foot before haring off, but he overdoes it, making it more obviously slapstick than it needed to be. For an example of how to do it right, watch Gunnar Hansen pull off the same move when chasing Marilyn Burns by the gas station in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Here it’s too broad, and he looks like something from Baggy Pants and the Nit-Wits. Google it, kids. And adults. Or just any of the majority who have no idea what the Hell it is.
We—like most fans—had a real problem with the deadly traps on the surface of Lakertya, which prove to be deadly to day-players, but grant those with their names at the top of the credits with a stroke of luck which doesn’t see them blown to smithereens. The principle of it is just about credible, where the bubble needs to smash into rock to trigger to the explosive, but you just can’t buy that something so lethal can be tamed so easily. We remember cringing with embarrassment at the time when the shots of pink balls of energy continuing what looked like people spinning round-and-round on office chairs appeared—however, from a more mature perspective, you can appreciate what they wanted to achieve and were quite successful at it.
It’s no secret that the Baker’s original script called for the planet Lakertya to be a lush, beautiful environment, which propelled its inhabitants into a state of lethargy. When transferring it to a quarry instead, not only did it make the complacency of the indigenous race patently ridiculous, but it left a number of lines and concepts in the script utterly redundant. Why else would the Doctor be concerned with using biodegradable products when fixing the Rani’s machine if he were not trying to preserve the beauty of the planet?
There is a consistently pleasing production design to the whole thing, from little touches like the flat-table computer screens (with alien language readouts) to the more obvious things like the Rani’s fortress embedded into rock face.
The design of the Tetraps was always a contentious one, particularly when it comes to the faces. OK, there are creatures in nature which have the amazing ability of wraparound vision, but it isn’t achieved by sticking extra eyes all around the head! Combine this with the cartoonish ‘animatronic’ head stuck on it, possessing all the flexibility and lip-synching properties of wrought-iron and it can only induce sniggers. There is at least one shot of a Tetrap prowling a dimly-lit environment all seen in long-shot, and because the head is plunged in darkness, the costume looks pretty effective. It’s just a shame that almost every other instance of it in front of a camera looks so damned silly. Oh, and the voices sound rather similar to the humorous ones given to the Silurians in Warriors of the Deep.
The usual magic has been performed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team and the results are as great as you would imagine from a Doctor Who story of this particular vintage; colours are pretty strong and the image is clean. There are issues that arise from the limitations of the technology of the time (the fact that by this point, the production had switched over to the vastly inferior ½” videotape), but this is arguably the best Time and the Rani has looked and will ever look. Another job well done! Fans should note that episode four still contains the alternate version of the title sequence where Sylv's face doesn't properly materialise and his head looks vague like a skull.
Time and the Rani was originally presented in mono and that is faithfully reproduced here, but with the customary clean-up job (presumably performed by the inimitable Mark Ayers) and the end result probably has more clarity and definition than most people heard when it was originally broadcast.
Whatever you may think of this particular story, there is no denying that 2Entertain has included some pretty impressive extras to accompany it.
Audio Commentary: Actors Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford, along with husband and wife writing team Pip and Jane Baker are on hand to provide some background information on the production of this story. It's quite surprising to hear Langford on this commentary, as this marks the first time that she has directly participated in any Doctor Who DVD release—this commentary is fairly breezy, with a fair amount of honesty; Langford is engaging enough (despite admitting that she had never seen any of her Who work) and the chemistry between her and Sylv still seems to be there after all these years. McCoy also gets to mention (once again) that he looked like Harpo Marx with the curly wig on trying to look like Colin Baker.
The Last Chance Saloon: This chronicles the recommissioning of Doctor Who and the title suggests that it was indeed the last chance that Michael Grade was going to give the show. This is an absolutely wonderful documentary, which mixes fascinating interviews with a sly sense of humour; it's nice to see interview footage of John Nathan-Turner used here, allowing him defend himself from beyond the grave—most serious Who fans have seen this footage before, but it's always nice to see him included in documentaries from stories produced during his tenure. What is fascinating is the inclusion of screen-tests of several actors who were in the frame to play the Doctor—considering that in our association with acting, we've tested for parts we didn't get, we're surprised that the actors concerned gave their permission for footage from their unsuccessful screen-tests to be included here.
7D FX: This eleven minute featurette looks at the special effects work that was deployed in Time and the Rani. Mike Tucker (who has worked on New-Who), along with his colleagues, explain the various methods employed to realise the specific shots in the story, and explain that this was the first genuine blending of CG effects and practical work on Doctor Who. There is some nice behind-the-scenes video-camera footage from the location shoot in Frome, Somerset, along with some fascinating clapperboard footage from the model film shots. This featurette succeeds in making you appreciate the special effects and just how much effort went into creating them.
Helter Skelter: This looks at the creation of the title sequence of the McCoy era, which was the first one to use computer-generated imagery. Kids today couldn't imagine just how sophisticated and time-consuming the graphics on the credits were, and this documentary might give those at CAL Video the pat on the back they deserve for their ground-breaking work. Those interviewed are passionate and literate about their contributions to the art of computer animation, recalling with fondness bringing Doctor Who into the digital world. There is some overlap as a result of using parts of this featurette in Last Chance Saloon, but no matter—it's engrossing stuff.
Blue Peter: This is a relatively short piece that has Sylvester McCoy dropping into the Blue Peter studio just after he got the role. Janet Ellis is your gorgeous host and Sylv looks as though he is existing purely on nervous energy. It's fleeting, but fun.
Hot Gossip: This is more like an Easter egg that isn't hidden—it's a little piece about two members of the cast (one of whom was Troughton and Tom Baker veteran Wanda Ventham) who talked so much between themselves that it was almost like a Les Dawson sketch.
On Location: From the bowels of the BBC's Breakfast Time comes this long-forgotten segment that has intrepid reporter Guy Michelmore in Frome, Somerset to interview the new Doctor. There are interviews with Sylv, Bonnie Langford, Kate O'Mara and JNT, along with a couple of comedic moments that could only appear in a filler news item. It's certainly of the period, but it's nice to see something of that particular vintage.
Photo Gallery: This eight minute collection of images set to the keyboard strains of Keff McCulloch contains numerous interesting pics, including the obligatory shot of Sylvester McCoy wearing a Colin Baker-like wig—not to mention shots of him in all of the outfits he dons whilst trying to find his signature look.
Coming Soon: The trailer for what is arguably going to be the release of the year is included on this set—the Revisitions box-set! 2Entertain and the Doctor Who Restoration Team go back to some of the earlier stories that were released on DVD and present them with all-new transfers and new extras. The stories to be featured are Tom Baker's The Talons of Weng Chiang, Peter Davison's finale The Caves of Androzani and Paul McGann's sole televisual adventure, The TV Movie. If we were younger, and American, we would be tempted to say ‘bring it on’ at this point...
[/i]PDF Materials[/i]: Stick this baby into your computer and you'll have access to the Radio Times listings for Time and the Rani.
Easter Eggs: Yes, you read that right—plural! We are being spoiled with not one, not two, but three Easter eggs on this release. We don't want to spoil the surprises, so we won't, but let's just say that one is a CGI enhancement of a sequence that really should have been incorporated into the story via seamless branching.
To say that Time and the Rani is not one of the best stories in the show's history is something of an understatement. To say that it's not one of Sylvester McCoy's stories is still underselling the point. To say that it's not the best story in season twenty-four is still being a bit vague. It's pretty poor stuff, combining a campy villain with a story quite clearly suffering from First Doctor Story syndrome.
If you take it with a pinch of salt and ensure that your brain is in neutral, then you might actually enjoy it. If anything, it provides a fascinating comparison as to how Sylv started and what he eventually managed to become with his ‘Dark Doctor’.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 13th September 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Last Chance Saloon, Helter Skelter, 7D FX, Blue Peter, Hot Gossip, Breakfast Time, Production Subtitles, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Andrew Morgan
Cast: Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford, Kate O'Mara, Wanda Ventham
Length: 100 minutes
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