“Time and the Rani” is the first adventure of the twentyfourth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1987. It follows “The Ultimate Foe” and it’s a fourt parts adventure written by Pip and Jane Baker and directed by Andrew Morgan.
The Tardis is attacked by the Rani (Kate O’Mara) and falls to the planet Lakertya. Right after regenerating, the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is brought to the Rani’s lab while she pretends she’s Melanie Bush (Bonnie Langford) to take advantage of his post-regeneration confusion. The Doctor’s amnesia is increased by drugs and he doesn’t realize that his enemy is convincing him to help her in one of her criminal plans.
When Mel wakes up in the Tardis and can’t find the Doctor, she goes looking for him but faces a number of dangers. The area is full of traps placed by the Rani and there are the Tetraps, monsters that serve the rogue Time Lady. Mel discovers that Lakertya’s natives have been enslaved by the Rani but some are trying to organize the resistance to take back the control of their planet.
This DVD contains a good amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Billings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track by its protagonists Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford and writers Pip and Jane Baker.
The Last Chance Saloon. A nearly 30-minute documentary on the production of this adventure.
7D FX. A mini-documentary 11 minutes long on the special effects used in this adventure.
Helter-Skelter. A mini-documentary almost 10 minutes long on the creation of the new “Doctor Who” titles graphics.
Lakertya. The original concept of the planet Lakertya compared to the one created by the director Andrew Morgan’s will. It’s a very short extra but it helps to understand the differences between the ideas originally developed by Pip and Jane Baker and the final product.
Hot Gossip. Actress Kate O’Mara speaks of the gossip that she and her colleagues told each other during the shooting.
On Location. A clip from the time of the shooting from one of its locations.
Blue Peter. Sylvester McCoy participates in “Blue Peter” after being cast to play the Doctor.
There are 3 “Easter eggs”: one shows an alternative version of the regeneration scene, one is Kate O’Mara’s tale of her having a problem to an eye during the shooting and one shows a connection between Sylvester McCoy and 007.
The BBC’s first attempt to cancel “Doctor Who” failed due to fandom protests but several changes took place, starting with the protagonist. Colin Baker was uncerimoniously dumped and Sylvester McCoy was cast to play the new Doctor. That was just the most obvious element of a kind of perfect storm that hit the production, creating a series of problems in particular for this adventure.
Pip and Jane Baker had already written a number of scripts for “Doctor Who” but wrote the new one having in mind the Sixth Doctor. Modifications, even important, to the scripts, were normal but in normal situations the authors worked together with the producer and the script editor while in this case communications were one of the problems.
Andrew Cartmel had just been hired as the show’s script editor, the Bakers’ script seemed old-fashioned and asked for various changes. As if that wasn’t enough, director Andrew Morgan added some further changes, a situation that made the story a hybrid of authors, script editor and director’s ideas.
Normally, if there are conflicts among the people who are developing a story, the producer is the one who has to make the final decisions on its development but John Nathan-Turner was also involved in the chaos of that period. The deal with the BBC executives was that he’d be moved to another project but in that situation no one was available to replace him so he was forced to remain in his role. At that time he didn’t feel like resigning from the BBC to work as a freelance therefore he found himself working in a role he didn’t want in a really bad situation with negative consequences.
With all these problems, Colin Baker’s understandable refusal to take part in the regeneration scene was the least. Sylvester McCoy wore a blonde wig and was the only actor in the regeneration scene that was shot using proper angles and some special effects to simulate the transformation from the Sixth to the Seventh Dottor. That’s how his debut took place, moved in the schedule on Monday, where his adventures were broadcast against the successful soap opera “Coronation Street”.
“Time And The Rani” was supposed to be an adventure developed on a series of ideas such as the decadent civilization of the planet Lakertya whose inhabitants have become weak and get easily enslaved by Rani. Only a few hints of these concepts remained in the final version, in which the plot was stripped of various elements making it dull.
In the end, “Time And The Rani” became essentially a comedy but only for because many other elements were taken away. In Doctor Who’s adventures there has always been plenty of room for humor but in this case the changes made it almost a parody of the show.
It’s a shame because Sylvester McCoy is a good comedian, also in the physicality he puts in his performance. In general, the cast of “Time And The Rani” is good but working on mediocre foundations and characters with little depth doesn’t help their performances. The consequence is a story that after a start with the bang quickly becomes uninteresting. When the details of the Rani’s plan were revealed in the last two parts, they left me cold because at that point I didn’t care anymore.
Paradoxically for an adventure of the classic “Doctor Who” series, special effects were a positive element, thanks to the advances in the use of computers for their creation. The new title graphics were also created using computers including Sylvester McCoy’s face processing.
One of the shortcomings of “Time And The Rani” concerns the explanation of the Doctor’s regeneration. In subsequent years, some novels described possible reasons and the latest came at the end of the audio boxset “Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure” published by Big Finish in 2015.
It’s no coincidence that “Time And The Rani” is always considered one of the worst “Doctor Who” adventures. On the other hand, the DVD is a good product with interesting extras that help to understand that stormy period of the classic series production. I can recommend it to those who want to have the complete DVD collection and to those who are interested in getting to know the last chaotic years of the classic series.