Friday, March 11, 2011

7D1 - Time and the Rani 1

John Nathan-Turner took a well deserved vacation in late 1986, having just endured a horrific few months as producer of Doctor Who that culminated in him being ordered to fire Colin Baker from the role of The Doctor. He assumed that his bosses had finally confirmed their oft-repeated promise of removing him the responsibility of producing Doctor Who and were about to put him in charge of another serial. Imagine his face when, upon his return, he was told that, no, he was to remain producer, that he had to find a new Doctor, a new script editor, and, most importantly of all, actual stories to tell. And production was due to begin in three months!

Quick! Call in Pip and Jane Baker!

I referred to the Bakers' herculean efforts in the last post, and I'm forced to defend them again here. They once again pull off the impossible by creating a script out of nothing, with no real hint about who they're writing for, and all in a tiny amount of time. The Mark of the Rani is my favourite Colin Baker story, and it's also the only time that Pip and Jane were ever to write a story that wasn't a last minute replacement. Am I mad to think that they haven't been given a fare shake from fans over the years? So it is just me? I'm ok with that.

Less than six weeks before this story was to go before the cameras, JNT didn't even have a lead actor in place. That Sylvester McCoy's name kept coming up in conversations was just about the best thing that could have happened to Nathan-Turner at that time. That he scheduled screen tests with McCoy alongside two other woefully unimpressive auditions in order to appease his bosses that he was going through the correct casting procedure? Genius.

McCoy is a revelation. He is full of positive energy from his very first scene, giving the series a much needed breath of fresh air. Without any real direction in terms of the character of this new Doctor, the script is forced to resort to the old standby of post-regenerative amnesia and erraticism, and McCoy falls back on his immense comic skills to portray this. Yes, it's goofy, but McCoy is so unpredictable and interesting that you can't take your eyes off of him. It's nice to see The Doctor have a half decent costume again, too.

The Rani's plan to dress up as Mel might stretch things a bit too far. Was this her plan all along? Had The Doctor not regenerated and thus wouldn't have been suffering through trauma, would this plan really have worked? With all the carrot juice that the Sixth Doctor was drinking, his eyesight wouldn't have deserted him. (And why, when seen through The Doctor's hallucinating eyes, does Mel suddenly look like Bernadette Peters?)

This also just happens to be the most impressive looking episode in the programme's history. Ignore the 80s trappings of the revamped logo and Keff McCulloch's new version of the theme tune because nothing (repeat: nothing) that came out of the 1980s is considered tasteful today. The new opening titles are all done on computer! So is that neat SFX sequence in the cold open! It may look slightly dated now, but remember this: three years before Season 24, the best computer graphics that the BBC could come up with was done on the BBC Micro for Warriors of the Deep. The Tetrap land mine effects are simply stunning, too - a triumph in the marriage of practical and visual effects.

A refreshing and fun opening 25 minutes to a completely brand new era for Doctor Who.


Anonymous said...

I was about nine when this story screened: for me, Doctor Who was a show shown on high repeat around Australia, a show that was endlessly available on my Mum's dodgy VHS collection. Thanks to a pirate copy (posted from the UK by POST) of this first episode, we saw Time & the Rani Part One ages before it screened properly in Australia, and it was really the first time that I *felt* a cliffhanger, largely because there was no episode 2 available for immediate followup.

And, however glary and cringey this story is in retrospect, Episode 1 has one hell of a cliffhanger! Those death-bubbles are a fantastic idea, and it's an effect you can't imagine any earlier era of the show managing to pull off.

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