The Rani takes advantage of a post-regenerative Doctor, the Rani hopes to take control of an asteroid composed of Strange Matter.
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
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)
Writers: Pip and Jane Baker
Director: Andrew Morgan
Behind the Scenes
- Pip and Jane Baker’s final contribution to televised Doctor Who. Jane Baker passed away in 2014, whilst Pip died in 2020.
- This story was effected by uncertainty about whether or not Colin Baker would be returning to the show and had to be changed at the eleventh hour when it became clear that this would introduce a new incarnation of the Doctor. The show also had no script editor following the departure of Eric Saward during the production of Trial of a Time Lord. Andrew Cartmel would be hired during production of this episode but too late to be able to influence this story. He would go on to state his disappointment that this story didn’t really mean anything.
- Despite Sylvester McCoy being John Nathan-Turner’s first choice for the role of the Seventh Doctor, the BBC forced the production team to undertake a casting process and McCoy screen-tested, along with two other actors. Nathan-Turner was concerned that this would mean that the BBC would interfere more in production, however, these fears proved to be unfounded
- As part of the casting process, Sylvester McCoy performed some of audition scenes opposite Janet Fielding, a former companion.
- The BBC insisted that Colin Baker was fired as a condition for the show continuing to be aired. Baker refused to film a regeneration scene after his request for a final season or even a final episode was refused. Sylvester McCoy, therefore, is the only actor to portray two incarnations of the Doctor on screen.
- Wanda Ventham previously appeared in The Faceless Ones and Image of the Fendahl.
- Donald Pickering also appeared in The Faceless Ones and The Keys of Marinus.
Just visually, the bubble traps look beautiful and I love the idea of them.
The more I get to know me, the less I like meThe Seventh Doctor
Next time: The TV Movie!