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"Time and the Rani" actually works better than a lot of McCoy's other adventures as a solid story/plot idea that can be done true justice on television. However, its development and execution fall prey to a few too many bad judgment calls and choices of poor taste. Half of the scenes work really well to deliver the right stuff at the right moments for a good Doctor Who adventure, while the other half, we wish we could just leave out...
First ImpressionsThe opening sequences are confusing and disorienting to say the least. Computer graphics were new at the time, and not all that adept yet at fooling anyone into thinking they were looking at anything real. Without warning, a CG TARDIS is suddenly being battered about in space on our screens, which gave me the impression on first viewing that my favourite show had somehow started without me, and I suddenly needed to try to catch up with what was going on. Good luck, as a collection of seemingly unrelated things is chucked at the viewer in rapid succession. Suddenly we're now inside the TARDIS with Mel and what looks like the sixth Doctor. Then we're on a planet looking at a weird alien. Then we see a rainbow.... with the TARDIS in it. Then the police box is plopped in a very empty quarry - with no one approaching it. But inside, the Rani is just walking in talking to some unseen who-knows-what. Then the Doctor regenerates. Then we're back in space watching more pyrotechnics and asteroids and galaxies, and the TARDIS is in flight again, this time inexplicably inside some kind of energy bubble. What the hell was supposed to be going on here?
Keff McCulloch's new version of the theme tune was past the first verse and halfway through the bridge section before I recognized it and began to wonder if I was looking at some kind of title sequence. Ah yes: the Doctor's face, a new logo, some episode titles and writer credits. That was much more like it. Finally I could settle down and start to figure this story out. It wasn't until a second episode came along with a more normal opening, however, before I knew for sure which CG shots were meant to be title sequence and which were meant to be story.
As for McCulloch's theme, I certainly don't think it helped to leave out the introductory bars, but with a much longer title sequence, something had to change, and it is nice to get the bridge section in the opening as well as in the credits. As for the rendition itself.... not bad. The bassline is as catchy and satisfying as ever, even if technically something's missing. The main instrument carrying the melody is a bit too buzzy and has too much constant tremolo slightly wavering the pitch for my tastes, producing what I call a "cheesy" sound. However, I love the way it fades into distant echoes after the first two phrases - very nice. Although this version may never be my favourite, and I was sad to be losing Dominic Glynn's version of the theme from the previous year, which seemed it hadn't got as much screen time as it deserved, we were getting nice variety again with this version, and ultimately I do like this one as well.
The seventh Doctor almost looks as though he'll get away without any major problematic regeneration trauma symptoms in this debut here, as he bounces up and almost manages to take charge of his first scene. But the Rani gives him a dose of amnesia which the script doesn't really use to best effect, and with a few ill-conceived gags on top, yet another Doctor doesn't get around to demonstrate his archetypal sci-fi protagonist credentials soon enough during his debut.
The Rani really has to carry this story for most of the first episode, as did the Brigadier during the third Doctor's opener, as did Ben and Polly during the second Doctor's debut, as did 7-year-old Amelia during the eleventh Doctor's debut. The Rani isn't really up to the task here. She's unbelievably irritable, looking for arguments with everything that crosses her path, and it slows the story down the wrong way and grates on the viewer. Many of the other characters in this tale have the same affliction to a degree, but the Rani is definitely the queen of it.
"Leave the quotes to the expert, Mel."In amongst the cheeseball dialogue are a lot of really good gems though. One particular line that has stuck with me for the many years since I first heard it was the Rani's "Are you prepared to abandon walking, in case you squash an insect underfoot?" Even if the Rani's gone too far to justify herself with this, it's a great balancing thought for those who take environmentalism and fearful non-involvement with nature to too far an extreme.
I also like the Doctor's new habit of muddling up old proverbs and sayings, if done in moderation, as in some cases it results in choice material. "Every dogma has its day" is one of my favourites, nicely placed as a response to some of the theories spouted by the geniuses. Good one. Another favourite is: "A bad workman always blames his fools." A lot of these gems are thrown too rapidly at the viewer though, and it's hard to get the humour out of them. The Rani should really give them more space to be heard before attempting to correct them.
At least we get a bit of a fun contrast as the Rani tries hard to suppress the irritable part of her nature while impersonating Melanie. Though this results in some enjoyable bits here and there, it isn't ultimately a plot device that justifies the amount of screen time that it occupies. The Master's various disguises in previous adventures all seemed to work better dramatically for the audience, even if the motivation for it wasn't always as clear as what we have here. Perhaps it would have been better to hold something back from the audience, and let us discover the deception as the Doctor does.
I'm actually quite amused by the claims by Bonnie Langford and many of the production team that Melanie is a strong character in this. It's been a long, long time since any of the Doctor's traveling companions have responded so consistently with screams to this many situations in one adventure. It seems that at the barest hint of anything beginning to happen here, Melanie takes a deep breath and sets her feet firmly on the ground in preparation to belt out as solid, loud, and long a screech as possible. To be fair, if one examines the final episode closely, Melanie gets a good number of actions helping to resolve the plot, but these are easy to miss and certainly don't make a strong enough impression on the viewer to balance her earlier screaming tendencies.
The costume designer also gets a minus mark for giving Melanie pants of pure bright white in which to run and roll around a dirty quarry in April.... or had the script been followed more closely for that matter, a wet forest/jungle in April. It becomes completely unbelievable that her pants stay gleaming white all the way through the adventure as they do. Of course, compounding the problem here is the fact that the Rani copies this costume and inherits its unbelievability as well.
Ikona seems to be a decent local lead action character, realized with a good level of gravitas by actor Mark Greenstreet. But I'm at a bit of a loss to tell what this character's own specific aims are most of the time.... he seems to be just wandering around waiting to assist our heroes whenever they need it.
Ultimately, though the Rani's lab is probably the best designed set seen in this story and works very well, I think the story spends too much time stuck in it. Holding it back, teasing the viewer with glimpses, and revealing it later on probably would have made it much more satisfying than the unceremonious jump into it right after the titles. More substantial scenes in both Time Lords' TARDISes, as well as exploring and fleshing out Lakertyan society, would have been good improvements. While the opening sequence is not ideal for introducing the TARDIS (chief improvement here would be leaving Ikona out of the pre-titles, and instead showing the Rani interacting with it, first by firing her gun, second by walking into the police box on location) the TARDIS does get better coverage during episodes one and four, managing to establish the interior/exterior relationship. It is a bit bizarre how all materialization effects were left out, but at least we still get some action from the Rani's TARDIS in this one. Nice.
Donald Pickering and Wanda Ventham also give star performances in an adventure that doesn't quite seem to know what to do with them. Although I'm glad to have both of them in this tale, I admit to enjoying them more in "The Faceless Ones" (story no. 35), not to mention preferring Pickering's appearance in "The Keys of Marinus" (story no. 5).
The Tetraps are a good idea for an antagonistic alien force on Doctor Who, combining 360-degree four-eyed vision with some of the look and habits of bats, but the execution is demanding and ends up being confusing. Firstly it is a bit of a feat to record four separate images for each of the Tetraps' point-of-view shots, no doubt eating up valuable studio time. But simply superimposing them on top of each other doesn't help make clear what's going on - surely such inputs are being put together more sensibly in the creatures' heads so that they can understand what's going on. We should get the forward view prominently in the upper center of the screen, the side views on the left and right, and the back view a bit squashed on the lower part of the frame. It was many viewings of this story before I realised what those messy, dizzy POV shots were trying to portray, and it may have been the novelization that finally made sense of them for me.
Additionally, it seems to be a completely arbitrary choice, unsupported by the story line, to hold back our first view of the four-eyed Tetrap for an episode. Including views of that head along with the introduction of the four-camera POV shots would have made much more sense.
Ultimately, the physical design of the Tetrap doesn't really suspend disbelief, or trigger any fear of the unknown. It looks like a big, hairy, friendly Muppet creature, coming to help the kids walk down Sesame Street and learn their ABC's. The tongue effect turns out to be the worst part of it.
953One of my favourite things that this story added to the Doctor Who canon, which seems to escape New Millennium Doctor Who writers as they ignore their least favourite episodes, is the declaration of the Doctor's age as 953 in this tale. This follows the steady increase from 450 in Patrick Troughton's time, to the 749 / 750 threshold during Tom Baker's era, to the rough 900 year old estimate during Colin Baker's time. I have to toss out pretty much every mention of the Doctor's age during New Millennium Doctor Who, as they acknowledge McCoy's Doctor but give him no time to live out his portion of the Time Lord's life. Besides, who'd want to believe that David Tennant's incarnation only saw four of those 900 odd years? Better to give some explanation of why the Doctor may have forgotten his true age, which should be up around 1300 or so for Matt Smith now if it follows the established classic pattern.
Special effects offer some good eye-candy, being generally more advanced than in previous eras of this show. Most noticeable are the very unique bubble traps that the area has been mined with, in addition to a lot of excellent model work concerning the Rani's lair. There are some nice CG space shots of asteroid and planet that deserved full focus as well. But some of the rocket shots in space reveal a lame old shortcoming creeping back into this era, as the rocket's trajectory across the screen is devoid of stars indicating a split screen mix instead of CSO compositing. Not so great. The story is also missing decent lasers, but at least has a unique alternate effect that works well.
This story is available on DVD and VHS video.
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