Time and the Rani

Written by:
Pip and Jane Baker
Directed by: Andrew Morgan
Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Year: 1987
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EPISODE ONE:
Would only John Nathan-Turner make something like Time and the Rani? Even the special effects (decent for Doctor Who) are rainbow coloured. And it's weird to think that Colin Baker would have starred in this very silly story if he hadn't been sacked.

But is it just me or do you really love Time and the Rani? Sure, it's daft, tacky and smashes Who's credibility into the ground, but it's also a massive two fingers to the strangling old hat regime that made The Trial of the Trial of a Time Lord. I like it more with hindsight, but even at the time I remembered peeing myself when I saw Bonnie in that bubbletrap. Okay, Sylvester playing spoons on Kate O'Mara's jugs is the most light entertainment the series ever got, but just enjoy it for what it is. I'm not claiming this is my idea of perfect Who, but it's a laugh, innit?

Slyvester gives a much better performance than he got credit for, and the bit where he picks up the Rani's gun and remarks how it could bring down any passing spaceship without realising what he's saying is hilarious. In fact, it reminded me a bit of Monsieur Verdoux at times with their cross purposes chats... I suspect I'm in a minority there. The Tetcraps are rank, but Andrew Morgan also proves to be one of the era's better directors.

Keff McCulloch - big up, big up! This is a genius at work. When the Doctor tries on costumes, only a God would play a french organ theme on a bontempi organ when he dresses up as Napoleon. To follow this up with a school bell for his teacher, and the electronic sound of breaking glass for his cricket garb is the sort of thing that makes me wish I was a woman so I could have Keff McCulloch's babies.
(Note to American readers: The previous paragraph was supposed to be ironic.)

Yeah, an enjoyable episode when all said and done. Stupid but fun.
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EPISODE TWO:
Rather a cop-out (and a shame) that Bonnie's bubble lands safely in the river. We do get nearly a whole minute worth of screams from Bonnie if that's your bag. How does the Rani know what Bonnie talks like btw? A cue for an unreadable missing adventure, perhaps? Speaking of the Rani her Tardis is now made up of ropey CSO, but it's still infinitely better than some effects the series has produced in the past.

The sets aren't actually that bad, and if shot darkly (as the underground Tetcrap lair is) they might have been better. Mind you, when the Lakertians are lime green with orange/yellow outfits and Limahl haircuts under a bright pink sky then you know it's not aiming for subtlety. Of the script, then Pip and Jane are letting the side down a little by not giving us anything as monumental as "whoever's been placed in there has been pulverised into fragments and sent floating in space - and in my book, that's murder" - or if they are, it's being edited out by Andrew Cartmel. That said, "I know about regeneration, of course" is Godawful exposition, and "If you're the Rani then I'm dicing with destruction" tries to recapture former glories. But this is more of a Lovesexy to their Sign "O" The Times and Purple Rain... never again would they produce anything as classic as "The tree won't harm you." A genuinely decent line, delivered well by Slyvester is "I'm suffering from post-regenerative amnesia... as far as I can remember." Actually, it's terrible, isn't it? The oldest gag in the book. Must be his delivery. He brings a lot of verve and enthusiasm to this one.

The actual plot is a little weird - surely the Rani would have too much pride to seek the Doctor's help, no matter how covertly? - but is quite entertaining. There's an entire scene in this one which consists of nothing more than Sylvester playing the spoons. You can see why people hated him - the story just confirms everyone's negative preconceptions about him.

This one lacks the pace and energy of the first instalment, causing you to reflect on its shortcomings, but is still quite a laugh. Where this one fails is in making the Lakertians so po-faced... they're the only ones not in on the joke.
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EPISODE THREE:
This is all getting a bit too silly now. Sylvester runs around like a loon, while his enforced malapropisms start to grate. The primary colours make it look like a comic book, and the scene where Beyus is "tripped" is pathetically staged.

Bonnie goes into a screaming fit again when attacked by a Tetcrap. Strange, you'd think she'd be pleased by a tongue that size. Here's a thought: how rubbish would a Bonnie/Daleks story be? ("My hearing is impaired") Oh well, at least she redeemed herself in Dimensions In Time/The Big Finish plays.

There's a funny line in this one: "I've met your companion Mel" "Well don't hold that against me." But a darker side to the Doctor is already presaged by him pushing a Tetrap onto a, er... trap, effectively murdering it. And even though I (quite rightly) slated Keff McCulloch, I do really like the funky Centre of Leisure theme. This seems to be making a comment about hedonism or the unemployed, but whatever it is is unclear and it does little, if anything, to further the plot. Maybe this would have been better as a three-parter, but with the ludicrous Tetcraps (worst monsters of the 80s?) this is just a kid's pantomime of a once-great series. The first episode was funny and self-aware, but this one pretends to be serious Doctor Who and so fails.

In 1987 U2 released The Joshua Tree. Prince released Sign "O" The Times. And Doctor Who? It had the Rani trying to take over the universe with a giant brain...
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EPISODE FOUR:
Sylvester starts the episode gurning, while the popular myth that schizophrenia is a multiple personality disorder is again propagated in the series. (See also: The Face of Evil) I did chuckle at "two wrongs don't make a left turn" and I liked "every dogma has its day", but the constant low-quality malapropisms - "waste net, want net"/"Time and tide melts the snowman" - are really overdone by now.

The Doctor mentions Elvis in this episode, a sign of his (albeit dated) pop culture referencing, the sort of thing Paul Cornell would stain his pants over.

This started out as quite fun in a naff sort of way, but it's got pretentions of plot at this stage and its overstayed its welcome. One plot hole (just the one?) I've never noticed before is that if the Rani did use the brain to ensure the human race never existed then she would never have been able to kidnap the Earth scientists to program it in the first place.

The "touching parting" scene at the climax is poor, cheesy and generic of SF. I've had a few laughs with this story, but at the end I feel strangely hollow.
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OVERALL VERDICT:
Sufficiently entertaining and bold, it's nevertheless undeniable that Pip and Jane Baker don't have the wit to write a satisfying comedy story. Time and the Rani can't truly be "so bad it's good" because it's intentionally bad. A pile of cobblers, really. Entertaining cobblers, but cobblers all the same.
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