Writers: Pip and Jane Baker
Director: Andrew Morgan
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Kate O’Mara (The Rani), Mark Greenstreet (Ikona), Wanda Ventham (Faroon), Donald Pickering (Beyus), Karen Clegg (Sarn), Richard Gauntlett (Urak), John Segal (Lanisha)
The Rani takes advantage of a post-regenerative Doctor, the Rani hopes to take control of an asteroid composed of Strange Matter.
Behind the Scenes
Time and the Rani was the first story of the McCoy era, and the final Doctor to be appointed by producer John Nathan-Turner. Following the show’s cancellation then return in the Trial of a Time Lord series, Doctor Who was in trouble. The high ups at the BBC insisted that a new Doctor was appointed, making Colin Baker the only Doctor in the history of the show to so far be fired. There was talk of Baker coming back for a regeneration but he wanted to have a final series, in which he would regenerate at the end. The BBC refused, and so Sylvester McCoy played the Sixth Doctor in the episode’s opening scene. Baker would finally get his regeneration story courtesy of Big Finish, almost 29 years after he played the role for the last time on television.
John Nathan-Turner’s appointment of the new Doctor would be more difficult as for the first time, the BBC demanded alternatives to the actor he was proposing. McCoy passed the screen test against two other actors, and would go on to be cast, but Nathan-Turner was fearful that this act by the BBC would see more interference in the new series, however, his fears proved to be unfounded. The production of Time and the Rani in particular was affected by the lack of a script editor – Eric Saward had left acrimoniously during the production of Trial of a Time Lord. Andrew Cartmel would eventually be brought in, but unfortunately too late to affect real change to the script. Cartmel went on to express disappointment that it was a story that didn’t really mean anything. The script was affected by the uncertainty regarding whether or not Colin Baker would return, and had eleventh-hour changes made to it when it was clear that it would be an introduction for the Seventh Doctor. This would be Pip and Jane Baker’s last contribution to Doctor Who on television.
The cast was relatively small for this story. Bonnie Langford would return as Mel, who had been introduced in Terror of the Vervoids, part-way through the previous series. Amongst the guest cast were Wanda Ventham, who had previously appeared in The Faceless Ones and Image of the Fendahl, while Donald Pickering had also appeared in The Faceless Ones and The Keys of Marinus.
I will start with the positives. Firstly, this is a strong directorial debut by Andrew Morgan, who would go on to direct Remembrance of the Daleks, which makes the episode look really great. My favourite aspect of the direction was the bubble traps, which look fantastic. Secondly, I also like Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor, despite his more comedic side that we see here. His propensity to misquote proverbs is really nice and we do see glimpses of his darker, more Machiavellian side here. Thirdly, Kate O’Mara really gives a great performance here as the Rani, especially when impersonating Bonnie Langford, which can’t have been easy for her. I’m not onboard with the story decision behind her doing it, but she at least gives it her all.
I feel the main problem with this episode is the tone. The BBC were not keen on the violence that had been prevalent during the Davison and Baker eras, but similarly to the transition between Davison and Baker, I feel the production team made the decision to go too far the other way. As I said above, I like McCoy’s performance as the Doctor, but there are moments when he is just too clownish. Some of this is down to the scripting, and part of it must be down to McCoy’s background as a light entertainer, but it makes part really lose any dramatic impact and undermine an already weak story.
Speaking of the story, there are parts that seem to be completely dropped, like the ideas of the Rani kidnapping great minds from the past, such as Einstein, Hypatia and Pasteur, which I almost forgotten had happened until the Doctor was also captured to help the Rani’s plot. As for Mel, I’m not entirely sure what she does in this story except scream – and her scream is really irritating. The Lakertyans and the Tetraps are also really just forgettable. I’m also confused as to why the Rani needs to dress up as Mel when she’s injecting the Doctor with amnesia anyway. Surely all she needs to do is tell the Doctor that they’re both working on the same side, without having to dress up like her, which just leads to confusion with her own allies, the Tetraps.
On a side note, it is nice to get rid of the Sixth Doctor’s outfit quite quickly, however, I do feel that the question mark pullover is a bit over the top.
Verdict: A poor episode saved by some strong direction and largely decent performances from McCoy and O’Mara. It is let down by a pretty forgettable story though. 3/10
The more I get to know me, the less I like me
Best Moment: Just visually, the bubble traps look beautiful and I love the idea of them.
Next time: The TV Movie!