Monday, 30 July 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Time and the Rani

Through some astounding mathemathics, this is my 500th Post! When I began this blog I never thought that I'd reach 50 posts, not least ten times that amount. I'd like to thank any readers (if you're out there) for sticking with me and I invite more people to read Audenshaw Reviews in the future. To celebrate this milestone, I'm looking at a season that is often considered worse than all of the Saward Era combined, beginning with Pip and Jane Baker's Time and the Rani....
The Rani (Kate O'Mara) tries some rather odd things in order
the get the Doctor to help her...
Doctor Who - Season 24, Story One - Time and the Rani
Written 8/6/12

I liked Season 22, and I liked the vast majority of Season 23. But I knew that that was because of Colin, and because I'd been raised on that era. Now Saward was gone, and the show was desperate to move in a new direction. Not fully understanding the definition of irony, they hired Pip and Jane Baker for one last story that went on to become known as one of the worst in the show's history, Time and the Rani - a tale so ridiculous that it's driven many to tears. However, readers of this blog over the past year should know exactly where this review is going. For the very reasons that so many despise Time and the Rani, I loved it. It was silly, ridiculous and actually, bloody hilarious.
      One thing I don't like, however, is the regeneration sequence. The Beeb had fired Colin Baker after perceiving him to be the problem (and not the writing staff) and so when they asked him back for a regeneration sequence to turn him into Sylvester McCoy, he rightfully told them where to stick it. The result is a bit silly, really - a horribly raw 3D graphic of the Rani shooting the TARDIS and then seeing Sylvester play Colin in a wig, the implication being that the Sixth Doctor met his end by hitting his head on the TARDIS console. As much as the team may have been iffed at Baker's decision, you can hardly blame him and they really could have done better than this episode presents. I did however like the trying-on sequence, in which Seven dressed up as Napoleon, Four, Three, Five and then Two while making several awful puns. It was a nice nod to the past and grounded the story for a short time.
    Sylvester himself? I bloody love him here. The Seventh Doctor is rather unfortunate in that the leftover material from Six and the desire to make the show family-friendly again left him with a bit of a personality disorder - in Season 24 he's a vibrant scots clown and in the final two seasons he's a scheming machiavellian chessmaster. Regardless, I like them both and when the script is being odd Sylvester more than manages to make up for it. The Doctor here is somewhat classic model - a buffoon on the outside hiding a cunning streak underneath. And despite a few moments of bad comedy, Pip and Jane get the characterisation just right. Well, for my tastes at least.
Science doesn't work that way, Rani.
     And, to my quite horrible surprise, this story actually made me like Mel. I don't what it is - she just came off as a much more rounded and much less extroverted character than she did while fumbling about with Colin. There was a lot in the story that I thought I wouldn't like, and the biggest of these is the writing, but to be frank I actually think that Time and the Rani is better written than Mark of the Rani two seasons earlier. Now before you load your shotguns, let me explain: Mark of the Rani had a lot of good ideas, but it floats about like no-one's business and there isn't really a cohesive plot. It just seems to come to an end, without the Rani's true plan ever being uncovered. Time and the Rani is cleverer than that - it presents the information about the Rani's (admittedly convoluted) plan just as the Doctor finds out. It's got better pacing, and I empathise more with the poor Lakertyans than any of the dull 16th Century types that Pip and Jane used in both Mark and The Ultimate Foe.
     However, as a scientist the Rani's evil plot does trouble me with just how far from reality it strays. Basically, the Rani has brought together the minds of several Human geniuses to help her solve a problem. That bit I have no trouble with. Her problem, however, is stupid, and if you'll bear with me I'll explain why.
<science> The Rani wants to detonate a "strange matter" asteroid above Lakertya, which will "cause an explosion the size of a supernova." She's doing this to form "Helium-2" which will form "chronons" when they fall onto Lakertya's atmsophere, enveloping the planet and turning it into a super-powered time-machine. Firstly, their definition of strange matter as being incredibly dense is somewhat correct, as it is believed to be formed in the centre of neutron stars and as such would "weigh as much as a planet" in small amounts(1). However, the key there is that an asteroid of such matter at such a small size could not exist on its own in the vacuum of space. Secondly, you cannot "detonate" strange matter, nor would an explosion the size of a supernova result from doing so. Thirdly, the substance the Rani is so desperately trying to create, Helium-2, is incredibly unstable and would fall apart into Hydrogen less than microseconds after being produced(2) - not least creating "chronons" and other such substances confined to the realms of Sci-Fi-Science. And to top it off, despite having used human scientists to build her big brain machine, she intends to use the planet to alter evolution and prevent Humanity from ever existing, which is Paradox 101. </science>
      The Rani is a lot more actively villainous here than she was in the previous story, but the efforts to impress for the regenaration story meant that she lost some of the personality that made her unique. The Rani was meant as someone who was fundamentally amoral and interested soley in the pursuit of science, ethics be damned. Here she has an evil scheme that would confuse even The Ainley Master, and thus she comes out looking a lot like his distaff counterpart. The highlight of the story is in the first two parts, where to persuade the confused, newly-regenerated Doctor to help rebuild her brain-machine, she decides to dress up as Mel and give him amnesia. It's absolutely ridiculous (that's a word I'm using a lot, I realise) and provides many of the story's more sitcom moments.
The alleged regeneration, aka swirly face thing over wigged actor.
      So what if it's unbelievable? That's certainly never stopped Doctor Who before. At the end of the day it's a question of whether I enjoyed Time and the Rani, and I most certainly did so on every level. Where it was good, it managed to change my negative attitudes towards a number of things, and it even made me admit to liking Mel even after I spoke of how much I despised her back in the Saward era. Where it was bad, it was so much that it went through the other side and became utterly hilarious. Time and the Rani is a great story and I'd reccomend it to anyone - seriously or otherwise.


NEXT WEEK: We book a room at Paradise Towers.

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