Thursday, 9 January 2014

Time and the Rani written by Pip and Jane Baker and directed by Andrew Morgan


What’s it about: An idiotic Doctor, a screaming companion that sets women's rights back several decades, humanoid bats and lizards, Kate O'Mara doing a Bonnie Langford impression, Eienstein and a giant brain. You couldn't make this shit up...or at least nobody but Pip'n'Jane could!

The Real McCoy: I guess the quality of a production should always start from the top and Sylvester McCoy makes such an interesting impression in his first story you have to wonder how the show was given the green light beyond this adventure. When he wakes up in a state of drug induced delirium the Doctor makes his mark by gabbling nineteen to the dozen and falling over on his ass several times over. It is about as far from the commanding Time Lord as you can imagine. And you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Sixie strangling Peri. His first chance to show us what he is made of and stand up to a villain is screaming ‘What monstrous experiment are you dabbling in now!’, pratfalling and being sprinkled with panto fairy dust. It is such inept, childish characterisation that you have to wonder how both the series and McCoy managed to salvage anything from it. ‘Mop my brow!’ demands the Doctor of who he believes is Mel. Having the Doctor so easily hoodwinked by the Rani’s ridiculous (in every sense of the word) scheme might not be the best way to endear him to his new audience and suggest he is worth investing time in. Comical music accompanies the Doctor and Mel as they bounce amiably across a quarry in ridiculous clothes towards the TARDIS – everybody’s worst fears that the show has become a farce have been confirmed. Fortunately the seventh Doctor's era hits its nadir in its very first story - the wardobe scene that features in Time and the Rani could be one of the most painfully unfunny (and therefore absolutely hilarious) sequences in the shows long and chequered history. It’s the show trying to capture on past glories and failing dismally (Robot has far superior and much funnier sequence of this nature). Playing the spoons distractedly is one of his more endearing qualities although why he gets the urge to demonstrate them on the Rani's chest at one point is yet to be explained. Perhaps it is his interest in the fairer sex that is going to blossom with his next incarnation emerging early. ‘Me! You washerwoman!’ – his line in insults has not improved since his ham-fisted bun vendor days. The sweet look on his face as he holds Mel’s wrists when he realises who she is and the way she tenderly strokes his hair is the first time I thought this could actually work with McCoy in the role with Langford as his companion. Ditch the hysterics and simply let them exists as warm characters that enjoy each others company. It just goes to show how the Doctor has gotten a bit foggy in his old age – it takes him three episodes to figure out what is on the other side of a door. He runs like a goon, his little legs beneath him spinning around like a cartoon character and clamping his hat on his head as he makes his way across a quarry like a bullet out of a gun. Proof that he still has a little way to go before he settles in comes when her gives away the final equation and upon realising what he has done bites his fist – do people actually do that outside of a sitcom? As the song goes…things can only get better! If you were fishing for something nice to say amongst this train wreck of a debut then you could certainly point at McCoy's general amiability, his sweetness in the role and how the Doctor seems to have found the fun again. I prefer Colin Baker's acidic bite, but that is just me. Judging his inconsistent performance here, I probably would have taken the unprecedented step of recasting the role again and certainly throughout his tenure McCoy would continue to be the weakest actor to play the role, not just inconsistent from story to story but within the same stories (he goes from the sublime to the ridiculous in tales like The Happiness Patrol and The Curse of Fenric).

The Wretched Rani: I love the Rani. I can’t help it. She’s everything a villain shouldn’t be and she acts like a pantomime nasty for the most part but Kate O’Mara is simply delectable in the role, clearly having an absolute blast and playing up the part and injecting in as much campness for every laugh she can get. Given the critical reaction against the Trial season the show needed to reassure the audience that it was back to business for Doctor Who and what do they have the nerve to dish up? Kate O’Mara hamming it up in insane shoulder pads pulling off a Bonnie Langford impression. I know JNT liked a bit of variety but this is insanity. It’s so overwhelmingly the last thing they should have been attempting that JNT should have taken one look at the script and postponed the season until he could have gotten it in order. Do you honestly believe this is the sort of mateial he would have let slip under the radar during his debut season as producer? This is exactly the sort of camp frippery he was trying to move the show on from. When the show was crying out for a harder edge and something contemporary (Remembrance of the Daleks would have fitted the bill perfectly) what they get is the Rani delivering asides directly to the audience as she endures the Doctor clowning about, walking into mirrors and getting a clout around the face. In retrospect Kate O'Mara's performance is right on the money given what her character is being asked to put up with but at the time you can see why the shows reputation was in the gutter. ‘I’m sure you must have the same sweet nature’ – the overdone mock-Bonnie lines are played to the hilt (the bubbling giggle she gives at one point made me scream with laughter). In the TARDIS she goes from squeaky voiced faux Mel to super butch Rani in a second. I almost had to go to the loo when she slapped the Doctor into the mirror – when I finished laughing I cheered at her good sense in trying to beat some sense into him. It's one exquisitely dry put down after another... ‘I’m overwhelmed’ she tells the audience, eyebrow arched. ‘Why was the Rani dressed like you Mel?’ ‘Perhaps she’s fashion conscious’ O'Mara turns every appalling line of dialogue into a gem by not taking any of it seriously. I know you are going to think I’m mad but imagine a universe where the the Rani joined the Doctor on his adventures and commented dryly on his prattish actions all the time. The show would have become something unrecognisable and I would be needing incontinence pads for each subsequent story. Watch the climax to episode two where she pulls of her wig like a bad drag queen at the end of a long night of cabaret and then gets accosted and tied up like a panto villain, every move exaggerated to let the kiddies know that she isn't really in any danger. ‘Let go of me you interfering maniac!’ she screams as they shove her ass into a cubicle. Later she can be found banging against a flimsy plastic partition and even Kate O'Mara seems to have given up trying to bring any life to this story. Her plan to go back in time and rewrite history is grandiose but hardly original. After three episodes of build up and comic exaggerations the Rani's ultimate scheme turns out to be what most villains are up to on this show. ‘You imbecile!’ she cries waving her fist at the Doctor, a defeated cartoon villain. The less said about the final scene where she can be seen ensconced in Tetrap bondage, the better! You know those after party antics that you hear about in eighties? Guest actors in drag, variety acts and everybody have a terrific laugh because what they are producing is supposed to provide a great time? It feels like Time and the Rani was constructed out of filmed extracts of those evenings. Or at least JNT that was trying to inject a great deal of that kind of slapstick and variety into the show. The Rani is the ultimate example, almost indistinguishable from her impressive debut and O'Mara playing the role entirely for laughs. Proof of how not to do it.

Bubbly Bonnie: Poor Bonnie Langford. Nobody really gave her a chance, did they? Forced into a vacuous role, condemned by fandom (one of the first publicly recorded Ian Levine rants concerns her), costumed by man who thinks that multi coloured vomit is he height of fashion and enduring some of the least convincing dialogue that Pip'n'Jane could concoct in their thesaurus obsessed brains...she was never exactly going to win any awards, was she? The funny thing is that Big Finish have proven who Melanie Bush could have been made to work with just a little more effort and a little less stereotyping. Bonnie Langford is forced into those GIANT shoulder pads that make her look like a walking action figure and astonishingly it isn’t her worst costume for the season. To give her some credit she manages to be fairly spunky in the first episode, back chatting Ikona and escaping from his clutches but it is all so overplayed and written that even when she gets to show some confidence it irritates. Tied up and dragged over a rocky landscape, some might say that is precisely what Mel deserves. Bonnie is made to scream and scream and scream and scream until she gets a sore throat and can barely talk. Why didn't the director tone some of this down even if it was in the script? Even Ikona tells her to stop squarking. Is this the first example of a companion being tongued by the monster? Even the Doctor is in on the Mel bashing: ‘I’ve met your companion Mel’ ‘Don’t hold that against me!’ I love it when Bonnie tries out camp O’Mara, squinting her eyes and delivering the line ‘he’s shrewder than you think, the Doctor has qualities you’ll never have!’ with great comic exaggeration. There are some mentions of Mel’s astounding technical knowledge, a gift of hers apparently but you would never be able to tell given all she does is run and scweam.

Dastardly Dialogue: Well I could hardly call this section ‘Sparkling Dialogue’ without you guys having me taken in for violating the trade’s description act but here are a few gems from this story that I will never forget…
‘What monstrous experiments are you dabbling in now?’
‘Why are you behaving so uppity? Could it be you think yourself superior to me?’
‘Are you as clueless as you appear Mel?’
‘Absence makes the nose grow longer…’
Rani! That’s the name! The evil name!’
‘I’ve had enough of this drivel!’
‘Look out! Killer insects! They kill!’
‘A hologram! As substantial as the Rani’s scruples!’
‘Blessed are the pie makers because they will make light pastry!’
‘The Last Chapter, Doctor? The denouement?’
Loyhargil!
‘Time and tide melts the snowman!’

The Good and Bad Stuff: Like the Chase this is a story which gets practically everything wrong and for it find it immensely pleasurable every time I watch it but as such I cannot separate these sections. The Rani strolls into the TARDIS in the first scene dressed up like some camp Flash Gordon reject with red gloves and kinky boots and vamp make up. The FX of the TARDIS being brought down was as good as it got at the time, it’s only in retrospect that we cringe - I rather like it! The new title sequence is a big improvement, the music has more punch and I love it when the stars explode towards you before the logo appears. People might moan about Keff McCulloch's theme but it sure has more punch than the Dominic Glynn version. Tetrap point of view shots are deliriously trippy. The music is coarse, trippy faux techno junk but it is far more experimental and striking than the muzak from Paradise Towers – why wasn’t there more of it on that McCulloch CD they released instead if his less effective work in the next story? Tinsel in the pipe and blue painted rocks, are they seriously trying to convince that this is an alien world with cheap dressing like that? The bubble traps deserve respect and I especially like it when Mel lands and bobs along on the pool of water. That is particularly accomplished effects work for the time this was made. I'm especially fond of the wonderfully mad music as Ikona finds the glitter gun, it sounds like McCulloch is having a stroke at the keyboard. The Tetraps are the first of many McCoy era monsters that have the weird effect of being very convincing in some shots and amateurishly fake in others (the Chimmerons, Fifi, the Haemovores and the Cheetah People also have the same trouble) but I do appreciate that they were trying to do something a bit different, especially with the 360 degrees vision. Wanda Ventham turns up in episode two and gives a genuinely heartbreaking performance and reminds us all what proper drama looks like. She might be dressed up like a cross between a crocodile and Big Bird but that just makes the performance all the more impressive. Mel beating up the Doctor, him spinning her around above his head and then grabbing her thick ginger hair and trying to pull it off should be declared an act of extreme violence. I was falling about on the floor. Why is the Rani’s TARDIS so unimpressive, both inside and out? They couldn't have designed something (anything) more exciting than that? The CSO inside is especially awful. The Tetraps look pretty creepy hanging in their darkened cave – that should have been the first time we saw them, Mel creeping amongst them as they come to life in the dark… Where exactly do the Lakertyans live in that quarry? I think (and don't shoot me down in flames for this) that Pip and Jane may have had  good point about the planet being a forest glade, I could far more believe in this race as forest dwellers. The Centre of Leisure is a remarkably cheap set made up of a few hanging beds, fibre optics, a small pool and some peach lighting – low budget 80s opulence. Attack of the tiny green blobs, sorry, killer insects! It’s a huge pulsating purple brain – could this story be any more b movie? Apparently so, as the filthy end of episode three proves (I swear…go and watch it again) like the Tetrap is trying rape Mel whilst McCoy plays with himself very excitedly. It's quite obscene. I really like the Tetrap theme as they leave their cave at the beginning of part four, on reflection this has to be my favourite McCulloch score. I realise this is hardly the story’s greatest leap of logic but just how does the Rani’s bangle reduce the Lakertyan to a skeleton instantly, clothes and all? I knew McCulloch would get a camp version of the theme tune in there somewhere! Is this the only story in the history of TV that sees a giant brain blown up by a load of eighties bling? Another first for Doctor Who! Ikona proves what a fucking idiot he is by throwing away the antidote – they should stone him (there’s plenty of material lying around) for such stupid act.

Result: What can I possibly say about Time and the Rani to convince you to give it another go? The dialogue is horrendous, the characterisation is non-existent, the plot (what little that there is) is preposterous in the extreme and the performances are so pantomime the only thing that is missing is asking the audience to say ‘he’s behind you!’ Time and the Rani is ludicrously, hilariously, reputation-destroying bad in the extreme. And I love it. There are some things that are worth highlighting; some nice camerawork, effects and even a score by Keff McCulloch that manages to work but I really love this story because it is everything that Doctor Who shouldn’t be (and certainly shouldn’t have been at the time) in the extreme and the sheer ineptitude of the approach makes it deliriously enjoyable to watch. Whilst everybody else tries to take it seriously Kate O’Mara is having an absolute ball and I could watch her until the end of time refusing to take any of this nonsense remotely seriously and running rings around the new Doctor and Mel. Pure pleasure of the highest order – Time and the Rani for me is like the equivalent of a fantastic orgasm over something very naughty that lasts for an hour and a half: 9/10 for entertainment value or 2/10 for quality, it depends what mood you are in...

4 comments:

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

This one is definitely a 9/10 for me. The most pleasurable McCoy story of all.

carlr said...

I think you're being really harsh on Sylvester McCoy here! If there is an issue with his acting, it is entirely up to the production/direction team to either a) talk him through their expectations or b) change the focus/atmosphere of the scene to provide him with a bit more room. Both in Battlefied and in a couple of scenes in Survival, the Doctor's left impotent, flapping his arms around appealing for calm while 80s synth music belts out and the rest of the cast run around madly. Whilst McCoy doesn't distinguish himself in these sort of scenes, I can't really imagine who would? Was Hartnell's Doctor, for example, one who could divert events through force of will? It almost seems here as though you want McCoy to be more of a post-2005 Doctor, a spaceman of authority and dramatic fist-shaking at airborne aliens...

There were issues which you correctly identify elsewhere... did JNT choose his directors wisely, in the long run? Were the scripts always tidy enough to develop a narrative? Take the 'literal cliffhanger' as Dragonfire as an example of laxness. Not McCoy's fault, either. In the wider context of the beleaguered 1980s show, there is much we should forgive, I think.

Babs said...

Childish characterisation? IT'S A CHILDREN'S PROGRAMME

simon gardener said...

I'm watching it now. 2 out of 10 ! You are being generous, Sir

This has to be one of the low points in Dr Who's long history.

The theme is butchered. The incidental music is dreadful. Not only in itself but hideously inappropriate throughout. Anyone who has ever complained about intrusive music in the new series needs to watch this and thank their lucky stars that Keff McC's efforts aren't used any more

Its surprising that anyone was left watching after this story