Saturday, February 15, 2014

Time and the Rani - "The more I know me, the less I like me."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Time and the Rani - Details

Season 24, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #148)

Time and the Rani
Actual f/x. Not kidding.
GIF via Doctor Who Gifs tumblr
Phrases like "death spiral", "circling the drain", and "another nail in the coffin" float around this story like the beveled chrome letters of the then-new logo in the (dreadful) title sequence. Generally rated as one of the worst in the long history of the series, everything critics point to as bad in "Time and the Rani" is as bad as they say it is. For all that's wrong with it, and there's so much wrong, there are a few things that make it far from the worst we've seen, or will see ...

It all goes wrong even before the titles as we start with a pre-title sequence that is such awfully lame CGI it's not unreasonable to wonder if something's gone wrong and a pirate transmission is pranking us because, this can't be Doctor Who, can it? Nothing makes you yearn for the days of models on string more than cheesy graphics even less convincing than the cheapest physical effects. Worse still, this is meant to show us how the TARDIS is being shot out space to crash land and trigger the Doctor's regeneration. It's such shit. When we see in the inside of the TARDIS, we are shown someone that is clearly not Colin Baker in the Sixth Doctor's clothes KO'd on the floor, the implication is clearly that he's been knocked off his exercise bike. Mel has also been KO'd, but there's no blood or broken bones, this wasn't much of a shake-up but we are supposed to accept that it was enough to trigger the Doctor's last ditch biological survival mechanism. Apparently, not only can the TARDIS be shot out of space, but it can also be entered at will by the Rani and her bat-man henchman. So much for locks.

Sadly, we could go on like this, talking about what's wrong with every damned scene and the Rani's scheme but it's just too depressing. Instead, let's look for those few things to like about it and justify the hour and a half or so we spent watching it.

Bonnie Langford hazing the new guy.
via Doctor Who Gifs

For one, Sylvester McCoy is at least personable and willing to put his body into the physical comedy. This clowning around will get toned down in time but it was much needed at the time. Kate O'Mara playing the Rani disguised as Mel is actually quite fun to watch. (Lucky thing she had copies of Mel's ridiculous clothes in her wardrobe.) The sequence where the Doctor revisits some past outfits is a few minutes of nostalgia that worked for me. Unfortunately, it ends with him tucking that question mark festooned sweater into his pants and wearing a pair of suspenders over it. Absent the sweater, his outfit would be the best we've seen since before Tom Baker got saddled with that maroon abomination, which reappeared from the wardrobe briefly here.

There are a few special effects that actually work ... the (Prisoner inspired?) bubble traps aren't bad, if completely stupid -- why bounce around instead of just blowing up once they've got their prey?  The Rani's base with the rocket launch on top looks decent enough. Some nice model work there. But don't get me started on the Rani's deadly insects.

If this weren't a regeneration story, it would be hard to recommend anyone watch it. But even a botched regeneration is still a regeneration, so it's a significant point in the show's history. If only it didn't signify how much contempt the show's producer had for it. The extras on the DVD give some background from interviews with JN-T and others about how Turner had been hoping to move on to a more prestigious job after doing the dirty work of firing Colin Baker. I don't blame Baker for not coming back to do the regeneration sequence, by the way. He wasn't the one who needed be fired.

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