...with a look at DOCTOR WHO's "Time and the Rani," aka Story # 148, which aired September 7-28, 1987.
A QUICK NOTE ABOUT FRIDAY DOCBACKS…
Last weekend I posted a Talkback soliciting opinions on what our weekly DOCTOR WHO articles should be called. I felt attaching a name to this weekly DW piece was important - as doing so would ensure a clearly delineated, identifiable, and focused destination on AICN for WHOvians every Friday morning.
After receiving numerous responses via Talkback and e-mail, and seeing our weekly (Friday) DOCTOR WHO posts referred to as "Docbacks" on other sites, I'm thinking these regular, Friday-launched READER REACTION/DOCTOR WHO article titles should, simply, incorporate the word "Docback" in some way. The term is already being used widely both here and elsewhere - it's succinct and it's memorable. This is in no way meant to discourage your participation in any other DOCTOR WHO Talkback opportunities that will appear on AICN. Instead, it's simply an effort to illustrate that…once a week and come what may…there will always be at least one WHO-based Talkback opportunity and destination on a weekly basis.
As far as I'm concerned, these Docbacks will continue forever - or as long as there is genuine interest and full participation from our readers. Docbacks will shift between consideration of "old" and "new" eps as Series/Seasons air, go on hiatus, etc. and will also extend beyond the televised WHO verse (more on this below) Docbacks will have a weekly "theme" - but no Docback should ever remain limited to just one theme. In the end, Docbacks should be about an exploration of all things WHO.
SO INTO "THE VOID" WE GO...
As alluded above, I thought we'd spend some time exploring the general WHOverse in greater depth while impatiently awaiting the arrival of shiny new DOCTOR WHO Season/Series Six episodes a few months from now.
We'll certainly be re-assessing the Season/Series Six installments we've seen so far when the DVD/Blu-Ray set carrying them arrives next month (U.K. preorder HERE, U.S. preorder HERE), but we'll also be digging into "classic" episodes from throughout the history of the show. To be clear, and this is a very important distinction, I'm not using the term "classic" as a brand of inherent quality or general relevance - more as a denotation of any DW that predates Russell T. Davies' 2005 relaunch of the title.
We'll explore a number of audio adventures, various WHO merchandising, debate "Bests" and "Worsts" of episodes and characters, and so on. If all goes properly, I may even show-up in U.K. at some point in the not-too-distant future. There's a margin for error here - really hoping everything works out.
As we go, please keep in mind that…while I've seen each and every DOCTOR WHO made during and since 2005 (many of them multiple times)…I am just now diving into the history of the show in greater depth, even to the point of seeing some Doctors for the very first time. As such, these Docbacks will also serve as a chronicle of my ongoing exposure and reaction to whatever awaits me in the show's vast and apparently varied history. There may be moments of context that I either miss completely or don't fully appreciate yet, and details about which I may request your opinions, guidance, or further illumination. In the end, I can only hope that, if nothing else, my humble and admittedly inadequate musings will "get the ball rolling" on a weekly basis - and help to instigate the lively, articulate, friendly, and knowledgeable discussions for which these Docbacks have become known.
And as we move forward, you will find me to be unerringly genuine in both my positive and negative perceptions of DOCTOR WHO. But know that even "the bad" is tempered with a very deep adoration for the show as a whole. How this love developed, how I was dragged kicking and screaming into The WHOverse, the episodes which immediately convinced me to watch more DOCTOR WHO (all were written by Steven Moffat, which I am only now realizing as I write this), and how glad I am that I am now in love with the show will all be covered in next week's Docback.
With that, let's move towards...
"Time and the Rani" (U.S. DVD COMING JUNE 14)
This marks Sylvester McCoy's first appearance as The Doctor, succeeding a shoddily dismissed Colin Baker. Baker couldn't be enticed back to film his regeneration (transition) into McCoy's Doctor - you know someone's unhappy when you can't even pay 'em to just lie there for a few minutes.
The episode finds our newly regenerated Doctor and his companion Melanie (Bonnie Langford) on planet Lakertya, where they square off against Gallifreyan exile and world class shouter The Rani (Kate O'Mara) - who is scurrying about collecting geniuses from across time (Einstein, Hypatia, and Pasteur) for nefarious purposes. The Rani pumps The Doctor full of amnesia serum, enticing him to repair a machine needed to execute here dastardly scheme. Seems his expertise in thermodynamics is needed, which she says was his "special subject" at university. Will The Doctor shake-off the serum in time to save the day? What is The Rani collecting geniuses for? What is her master plan?
Along the way, The Doctor and Melanie ("Mel") grapple with Tetraps, the Rani's army of bat-like enforcers. They have long, useful tongues.
Seems the Lakertyan have a "Centre of Leisure," about which much ado is made. But when it's finally revealed, the moment is decidedly anti-climactic and is tantamount to revealing a bunch of teenagers loitering in a mall on a very slow afternoon. To be fair, this is...to a large degree...the point of the place, and this "point" could have been significant within the broader framework of the episode. But in the bigger picture, and despite its set-up, The Centre of Leisure - and much of what happens here - emerges as little more than a dispensable and easily substituted plot point that distracts from (rather than supports) the story's primary thrusts.
Which pretty much characterizes the whole of this installment - "TATR" is filled with compelling and promising ideas that rarely end up as fully, or interestingly, realized as we want them to be. We've seen stories like this before in Fantasy and Science Fiction: a comparatively simple species (Lakertyans in this case) is overrun by a technologically and intellectually superior oppressor (The Rani in this instance) and it's up to outsiders (The Doctor and Mel this time around) to right the resulting injustices. We've watched this many times prior to "Time and the Rani," and we'll undoubtedly see it again. Hopefully, whoever spins the tale the next will bring fresher and atypical ingredients to the table - which certainly didn't happen here.
Kate O'Mara, who originated The Rani role in the Colin Baker-era "Mark of the Rani" attacks her part with a loud, over-the-top fervor which effectively diminishes any menace or threat her character might have conveyed. She's not a villainess or antagonist as much as a gaudy annoyance, and Pip and Jane Baker's story never draws her as a genuinely daunting thwart for The Doctor. It's difficult to imagine The Rani making through an average day without having a nervous breakdown - much less challenging Time Lords and piloting a TARDIS.
Which brings me to a question (one of those instances where I am asking for input and guidance): The Rani's TARDIS figures into this episode:
Everything I've read about this TARDIS suggests that its "chameleon circuit" was fully operational for this story. So, is a TARDIS supposed to completely blend with its surroundings? If so, in what way is a red frame and a mirrored surface matching the rocky terrain around it? Also, Rani's TARDIS makes the signature screeching/grinding sound when operational - the same sound The Doctor's makes. Does this mean The Rani is riding the brakes as well? Do all Gallifreyans have trouble driving? Was River Song merely fucking with The Doctor when she told him he was operating the TARDIS improperly, or are these the kind of details we're not supposed to not think about too much? I suspect the answer is the later.
Companion "Mel" (Langford) screams a lot - and sounds like a stepped-on cat when she does. This wouldn't be particularly problematic if O'Mara hadn't been so loud as well. As a character, "Mel" (in this story, at least) lacks the grit and pro-active tendencies of, say, Elizabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith or Louise Jameson's Leela - and her purpose in "Time and the Rani" seems uncertain at best. This is unfortunate, as a reasonable amount of time is devoted to her in this tale.
Although shortcomings and awkwardness abound here, "Time and the Rani" is not without merit and is an episode of significant firsts. As mentioned above, this story reveals Sylvester McCoy's Doctor - a characterization I quite appreciated once I found my way into it (early in the episode, The Rani slips The Doctor an amnesia serum, so it takes a while for the audience to access the character in an undiluted form). "You don't understand Regeneration," admonishes The Doctor in a particularly dissatisfied moment. "It's a lottery. And I've drawn the short plank." Later, he petulantly and succinctly sums up his feelings towards The Rani: "Before, I thought you were a psychopath without murderous intent. I withdraw the qualification." That's pretty funny.
"TATR" also introduces CGI into the series. While sometimes primitive by today's standards, the intermixing of CGI with practical/physical effects here was quite surprising, remarkably effective, roundly ingenious, and would portend a new era and style of VFX for both film and television. On the whole, effects work in this episode was surprisingly strong: at one point, a Lakertyan girl gets fried by an ankle bracelet (control device). She falls, her arm touches a nearby pond of water - which bubbles as she concurrently disintegrates into skeleton before a crowd. This is all conveyed in (what appears to be) one shot. It's a helluva illusion, which I backtracked to watch several times over. Another notable effect finds hapless enemies being dispatched via tripwired swirling energy bubbles. Victims trigger the trap, which immediately encases them in a ball of energy that lifts them into the air, bounces them off of area geography (rocks, mountainsides, etc.), then smashes them down to an explosive doom. When the CGI "bubble" hits the cliffs and rocks around it, debris is powerfully dislodged as if the bubble is really smacking into them ( an effect filmed on-set). Well-considered and nicely sold images.
Ron Grainer's iconic theme music was re-worked by Keff McCulloch for the series' new CGI title sequence. Interestingly, the theme pointedly incorporates the heroic, soaring, and under-appreciated "middle eight" measures. Check out 0:20…
Correct me if I'm wrong (and I may well be), but I believe this may be the only time that the "middle eight" was used in the opening titles of any DOCTOR WHO - except for the beginning of "An Unearthly Child," in which it can be heard as the camera moves past a policeman, into a junk shop, and finds the TARDIS…
…and in John Debney's theme arrangement for the 1996 TV movie…
While it's probably safe to deem "Time and the Rani" as one of the…shall we say…lesser DOCTOR WHO episodes to come our way, the "extras" populating its DVD are extremely informative, and provides a healthy amount of comprehensive (and remarkably honest) insight into behind the scenes happenings of not only this episode, but the show in general.
What follows is an incomplete enumeration of features/subjects explored on the extras:
The Last Chance Saloon
— Examines BBC' s relationship to Sci Fi and DW in particular.
— Discuses continuance of WHO despite sagging ratings.
— Looks at Sydney Newman's pitch for revamped DOCTOR WHO - his references Doctor becoming a woman. Clearly an older notion - wonder if we'll ever see it happen?
— Talks about the firing of reigning Doctor Colin Baker and the search for a replacement (David Warner was mentioned as being of interest to Producers - also looks at and Sylvester McCoy came about).
— Screen-tests. A particularly interesting one by Dermot Crowley shows edgy promise.
— Insight from Producer John Nathan -Turner…
— Insight from Script Edtor Andrew Cartmel...
— Insight from Sylvester McCoy...
— Insight from writers Pip and Jane Baker…
— Talks about Colin Baker not coming back to film Regeneration sequence - ultimately a Baker wig and costume was thrown onto McCoy, whose face was partially obscured by animation to lessen the tackiness of the affair...
— Discusses decision to have McCoy cite proverbs incorrectly...
— Interviews Kate O'Mara (The Rani)...
—Touches on the introduction of CGI into series (there was some model work in the episode as well)...
— Insight from Oliver Elmes, Graphic Designer…
— Insight from writers writers Pip and Jane Baker…
— Insight from Jonathan Powell (BBC Head of Series/Serials 1984-87)
— Insight from "Time and the Rani" director Andrew Morgan
— Mike Tucker - Visual Effects Assistant
— Colin Mapson - Visual Effects Designer
— Dave Chapman - Visual Effects Designer
— Discussion of then marrying of CGI with model work and practical effects (bubble traps) - as well as foreground miniature/forced perspective effects.
— Oliver Elmes (Graphic Designer) talks about the creation of the CG title sequence by Cal Video Graphics Limited..
— Insight from CGI animator Gareth Edwards...
— Test animation of the McCoy era title sequence...
— References taking several hours to 1/2 day to do one frame - approximately 25 frames per second.
Co-writer Pip Baker discusses his original conception of Lakertya (paradisiacal - feeding the Lakertyan "indolence"...
Andrew Morgan (director) discusses his "aversion" to alien planets that look just like England, so he skewed towards quarries (desolation).
Kate O'Mara and Sylvester McCoy discuss a duo of in incorrigible gossips who were on set.
Comprised entirely of on-the-set video and interviews
Sylvester McCoy's visit to the BLUE PETER children's show.
Radio Times listings and production notes.
The "Time and the Rani" DVD is an excellent release for a roundly inadequate episode. It will be issued on June 14 in the U.S. (HERE), alongside "Frontios" (find the "Rani" DVD HERE in the U.K.)
I very much enjoyed Sylvester McCoy's "take" on The Doctor - this is the first time I've seen him in this role. When I was growing up, our local PBS (public television) station aired many of the Tom Baker and Peter Davison episodes, but I'm not sure they made it as far as Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy. Or, perhaps those were available to me and I simply stopped watching. I didn't appreciate the WHO that was in front of me then, and certainly couldn't find the truth in it.
But I'm viewing the show through very different lenses now - I'm much more forgiving of DW's shortcomings and find myself in far greater awe of its strengths. I've recently viewed "Genesis of the Daleks" (really liked it, but wonder if its story was as thought out as it might've been - you can help me decide next week), "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (loved it - all hail The Peking Homunculus!), and am now beginning "An Unearthly Child" (liking much of it so far, although I'm finding the fireless, Shakespearean cavemen a bit confounding). We'll discuss all of these, and more, in the weeks ahead. I'd intended to get to them today, but the site disappearing and swallowing entire articles tends to impeded one's progress a bit.
"Genesis of the Daleks," "The Talons of Weng-Chiang," "An Unearthly Child," "Frontios" (which, unlike @Markgatiss, isn't one of my favorites), and the episodes which got me hooled on the show
DOCBACK CODE OF CONDUCT
AICN's Friday DOCTOR WHO Talkbacks - aka "Docbacks" - operate on a different set of standards than other AICN Talkbacks. These standards developed quickly and naturally, and we intend to preserve them. Accordingly, please take a moment to note a few guidelines which should help proceedings move along smoothly and pleasantly:
1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO (with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)...
2) Matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity. Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Rory" is OK, for example. "** SPOILER ** Battle of Zarathustra" is fine as well. "**SPOILER** Why did everyone die?" Is NOT good.
And, above all...
3) converse, agree, disagree, and question as much as you want - but the freedom to do so is NOT a license to be rude, crass, disrespectful, or uncivilized in any way. Not remaining courteous and civil, as well as TROLLING or undertaking sensational efforts to ignite controversy, will result in banning. Lack of courtesy will receive one (1) warning before a ban is instigated. Obvious Trolling or Spamming will result in summary banning with no warning.
In short, it's easy. Be excellent to each other. Now party on...