Time and the Rani
Your poem must eternal be,
Eternal! It can't fail,
For 'tis incomprehensible,
And without head or tail!
- S.T. Coleridge.
Last issue, the editor of this esteemed organ stated that FHE would be an essentially
appreciative zine: people would write about what they liked in Doctor Who, hopefully
resulting in a less depressing read than that constituted by torrents of apocalyptic doom
and gloom. With this in mind, it's difficult for me to comment on Time and the Rani as, to
be blunt, I regard this story as one of the very worst ever produced under the Doctor Who
banner. Still, having since seen Delta and the Bannermen, a story of truly monumental
lousiness (to paraphrase the inimitable Richard Wagner, Bannermen had a certain warmth to
it - the warmth of the dungheap), I can now appreciate that Rani has sufficient merit (in
comparison with Delta) to be worth criticising constructively. So here goes...
The plot. The evil Rani draws our hero's TARDIS off-course, a fact communicated to the
audience through exquisitely subtle scripting: "A Navigation Guidance System
Distorter! This would force any passing spaceship into landing here!" The Doctor's
awesome genius is to be added to the collective brilliance of various other kidnapped
eggheads, notable among whom is a confused-looking extra in joke wig and baggy cardy who's
apparently meant to be Albert Einstein (small intellectual beer by Gallifreyan standards,
I should have though). The Rani's diabolical scheme is to lob a warhead at a lump of
circling "Strange Matter", an action which, we are confidently told, will turn
the planet Lakertya into a sort of giant time machine, thus enabling her to fiddle about
with various evolutionary processes. Quite why the Rani should want to do this is unclear,
as is the exact nature of the contribution made by the aforementioned abductees. So far,
so crap - but wait! There's more - to be precise, a big plastic Brain. It's virtually
axiomatic that all hack television sci-fi will have a big plastic Brain floating about
somewhere. Exactly what this particular specimen adds to the plot, or where it came from
in the first place, is shrouded in mystery. A reviewer's lot is not a happy one...
Anyway, the Doctor does something (don't ask me what) and the missile misses. All that
now has to be dealt with is a nest of green computer-generated blobs ("killer
insects") left by the Rani. Cue groan-inducing scene in which the young rebellious
Lakertyan rejects the Doctor's offer of an antidote on the grounds that the Lakertyans
Must Develop At Their Own Pace, Work To Find Their Own Solutions, etc.
So much for the plot. What did JN-T say in that recent DWM interview? "There's
also the wit of dialogue..." Wit of dialogue, eh? "I've drawn the short plank...
absence makes the nose grow longer... two wrongs don't make a left turn..." Oscar
Wilde it ain't, but I suppose it's marginally less eye-glazing than
"Rail/boat/stack/brick/knacker's/etc.-yard". I suppose. Actually, dialogue
throughout this story was quite astonishing. Permit me to quote at some length :
RANI: So now you know!
DOCTOR: Not the complete story. The last chapter is missing... It (the big plastic
Brain) could be wondering why you want Helium 2! That's why you want to explode
Strange Matter, isn't it? To reproduce Helium 2!
RANI: The last chapter, Doctor? The denoument? In the aftermath of the explosion Helium 2
will fuse with the upper zones of the Lakertyan atmosphere to form a shell of Chronons! I
don't have to tell you what Chronons are, do I, Doctor?
DOCTOR: Indeed you don't! Discrete Particles of Time!
RANI: In the same millisecond that the Chronon Shell is being formed, the Hot-House Effect
of the Gamma Rays will cause the Primate Cortex of the Brain to go into Chain Reaction,
multiplying until the gap between Shell and Planet is filled!
DOCTOR: A Time Manipulator! You're going to change this planet into a Time Manipulator!
RANI: A Cerebral Mass! Capable of dominating and controlling Time anywhere in the Cosmos!
DOCTOR: I don't believe it! (And he's not the only one) A Time Manip... this
monstrosity will give you the ability to Change the Order of Creation!... Before I thought
you were a psychopath without murderous intent! I withdraw the qualification!
BRAIN: 87k to the power of 19e, correlated with 52 to the power of 6.4, equals 29...
BRAIN: Correction is noted. 39v, plus duck (well, that's what it sounds like to me!)
. Eureka! Objective Achieved!! LOYHARGIL!!!
RANI: I knew it! I knew they could do it! Ha ha! (A screen flashes up the word
"Loyhargil") I have the Loyhargil!! NOTHING CAN STOP ME NOW!!!
Look, joking apart, it needs to be said in no uncertain terms that any writer or
writers capable of producing such utter faeces ought to be chased out of the immediate
vicinity of Doctor Who with a hail of rotten eggs. Never should Jane "Styggron"
Baker and the cadaverous Pip have been entrusted with such a crucial story as this.
What's that? Ah yes, "the magazine of Doctor Who appreciation". Well,
considering that the characters they has to cope with were as cardboard and
two-dimensional as Hindle's citizens, the actors were reasonable. Mark Greenstreet (the
Impetuous Rebellious Youth) was never worse than wooden, while Donald Pickering (the Noble
Doomed Leader), Wanda Ventham (the Noble Doomed Leader's Wife) and Kate O'Mara are three
very talented individuals who deserve far, far better than this. Ms Ventham's case was
particularly poignant as she had previously appeared in Doctor Who in a story which, if
not outstanding, was very, very good. What have we come to? O tempora, o mores!
Back to that JN-T interview. What, Gary Russell asked, did he think of Time and the
Rani ? "I think there are probably some of the best special effects in it that I have
ever seen on television," replied the Great One, diffidently. Actually, special
effects oscillated between the appalling (the opening computer graphics sequence of the
TARDIS being drawn off-course; as a fellow fan put it, you expected the words "Game
Over" flash up at the end of it), and the technically impressive but vulgarly flashy
(the balls, that horrible new title sequence). Credit where it's due, that model-shot of
the Rani's missile taking off was "stunning" in all the right ways, but JN-T's
reply is still disturbing for what it implies about the man's priorities. Pink bouncing
balls do not compensate for half-baked excuses for scripts or inadequate casting in the
Thought I'd never get to Sly, didn't you? This may sound like heresy at a time when
he's apparently Flavour of the Month, but here goes: SYLVESTER McCOY IS NO DOCTOR! This is
a sincere point of view, not half-witted slagging, and I'll try to defend it.
There are two main reasons, I think, why Sylvester has failed in the role, the first of
which is no fault of his. In my humble opinion, one of the most important factors in the
success of the first four (five?) characterisations was the ability of the actors to
impart to the role a sense of overwhelming alien power that was on occasions almost
alarming in its intensity. Even when this aspect was not especially to the fore it was
always present: you could believe that this Doctor was an alien from a distant
planet, possessed of powers scarcely imaginable. Partly this was due to the very striking
physical appearance of Docs 1-4, and partly due to inner charisma. This is where Sly falls
down - he just lacks any screen presence, any sense of stature (no pun intended). He's
just a rubber-faced, middle-aged bloke prancing about in clothes too bright and pale to
help convey any feeling of mystery - he almost blends into the background, whereas you
could hardly tear your gaze away from, say, Tom Baker. McCoy has been termed
"Troughton- esque", but the resemblance really ends with the baggy checked
trousers. Sylvester doesn't convery one tenth of the personal magnetism and fierce,
burning intelligence that Patrick Troughton could conjure up.
The second factor underlying Sylvester's failure as the Doctor is his actual
performance. Nothing can excuse the appalling hamming of his first speaking scene, and
although this was certainly toned down to a great extent after the purgatory of episode
one, and in later stories this season, it has always been present, usually in the form of
over-enunciated vowels, rolled "r"s and furiously windmilling limbs. McCoy, in a
word, overacts. Now I am not suggesting that this is necessarily because he is a bad,
unsubtle actor (as Colin Baker was). Rather, I fear it stems from the simple fact that he
treats the whole role as something of a joke. William Hartnell through to Peter Davison
all played the role straight, even at moments of superficial flippancy. As yet, I am not
convinced that Sylvester is, at heart, taking the role as seriously as he should. Let's be
honest for a moment : can you really imagine Sylvester McCoy's Doctor delivering a
"Some corners of the universe..." speech? Or a "Do I have the right?"
speech? Not that he's likely to get the chance, scripts being what they are nowadays...
Indeed, the whole tone of the show is now definitely that of a pantomime. At Panopticon
Colin Baker stoutly denied this, pointing out that Doctor Who did not feature, for
example, the spectacle of men dressing up as women. No - instead it features the spectacle
of women dressing up as other women! The Rani's "drag" scenes must surely rank
among the lowest moments to which Doctor Who has ever sunk. Ineffably crass.
All that remains to be said about the fourth story from the leathery duo of Pip'n'Jane
is that it looked poor, rivalling The Twin Dilemma for tacky gaudiness. Sets were largely
tinsel and tinfoil, for which designer Geoff Powell must take responsibility. It's frankly
worrying when Doctor Who's designers can get away with saying, as Powell did in the
Monthly, "I don't take too much notice of what's written in the scripts". That's
bad, even when it's a P&J script!
Admittedly, the Tetraps weren't too bad: they failed largely because (a) they were
supplied with no culture or background whatsoever, and because (b) they were seen too
often in bright daylight. With the Lakertyans, on the other hand, I would say that the
fact that they were non- starters visually was as important as their total lack of culture
or background. By and large, alien races tend to work best in Doctor Who if they are
either wholly human in appearance (in accordance with dramatic licence) or else largely
removed from the human physiognomy (eg. Friedlander's creations such as the Zygons, where
the actor's face is wholly submerged by latex). Half-measures, such as two or three
"Lakaertyan" scales on each cheek of an otherwise human face tend to fail,
badly. (Notable exceptions to this rule would have to include the Argolin.)
So overall, then, I thought Time and the Rani was pretty awful. I'm sorry if I've
sounded too critical: I don't get any pleasure from attacking my favourite show, but one
should be honest. I would be very surprised if the majority of fans feel differently, in
spite of the CT letters page, hovering, as usual, between comedy and tragedy. (Apart from
the perennial "If the rest of Season X is as good as the first episode... etc.",
we've recently been treated to such pearls as "[Sylvester McCoy's] very subtle (sic)
movements of the eyes, the hands, the whole bod y...") I surely can't have been the
only one slack-jawed at the sheer ex-cathedra effrontery of JN-T when he appeared on
"Open Air" in puce jacket, various bits of ironmongery twinkling on his pudgy
fingers (would you buy a used car from this man?), and proceed to drivel on about how the
rosy mists of time "cheat", clouding fans' memories of past classics. Memory,
clouded or otherwise, doesn't enter into it : the overwhelming majority of of the old
stories that survive are every bit as good seen in the cold light of the 1980s as they
were when they were originally screened, and nothing can ever alter that fact.
Time and the Rani was meretricious rubbish, and should be recognised as such.
Paradise Towers review
1001 things more enjoyable than watching Time and the
Issue two contents
Five Hundred Eyes index