Doctor Who – Time and the Rani

Doctor Who Story 148 – Time and the Rani

Written by

Pip and Jane Baker

What’s It About?

The TARDIS is attacked by the Rani, and the Doctor regenerates due to physical damages sustained in the assault. As he tries to remember who he is, the Rani manipulates the Doctor in to helping her with an experiment which would give the Rani control over time itself.

The more I know me, the less I like me.

Promo picture with the Rani, the Doctor, and MelBefore I started this project I had only seen clips from “Time and the Rani.” I was horrified. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor behaved like a buffoon. It lacked the darker, nuanced performance I had seen in “Remembrance of the Daleks” and “The Curse of Fenric.” As a result, I have been dreading “Time and the Rani” for quite some time. But . . . I enjoyed it.

This doesn’t mean I think “Time and the Rani” is a mal-treated classic. But I think the loathing heaped on this story is disproportionate to what it is. Throughout the story I felt like I was watching a story by Terry Nation, only with a quicker pace and less leg injuries. Watched in context, “Time and the Rani” is a decent story and one that is almost a refreshing tone after the previous two seasons. There is no hint of Eric Saward in this story, and I think that is one of “Time’s” greatest strengths.

That said, “Time and the Rani” falls into the same trap that many introduce-the-new-Doctor stories from the classic era fall in to—no one quite knows what to do with the new paradigm. In fact, the new paradigm hasn’t even been established yet. This story sees a new Doctor, a new script editor, and a new mandate for the show from the BBC (make it lighter in tone). There doesn’t seem to be a strong direction of vision here. They are still trying to forge a path.

But, as the new story after an era that I wasn’t completely enthusiastic for, this story satisfies as a palette-cleanser. It is a decent starting point but not an overly impressive one.

My Rating

3/5

Doctor Who – Trial of a Time Lord

Doctor Who Story 144, 145, 146, 147 – Trial of a Time Lord

Written by

Robert Holmes, Philip Martin, Pip and Jane Baker

What’s It About?

The Doctor is pulled out of time and space by a jury of Time Lords. A Time Lord called The Valeyard is acting as prosecutor trying the Doctor for transgressing the First Law of Time: non-interference. At stake: the Doctor’s life. Citing evidence from the Doctor’s past, present, and future, the Doctor must prove his innocence, all the while determining who the Valeyard is and why he has targeted the Doctor.

Great Cosmic Protector of Grifters and Dissemblers, save me!

The courtroom as the Doctor faces the ValyardAs a story, I do not enjoy Trial of a Time Lord. As a historical document, I am fascinated by Trial of a Time Lord. During their time on the show, Jonathan Nathan Turner and Eric Saward shifted the primary focus of Doctor Who away from telling interesting, fun stories and toward telling self-referential stories about Doctor Who as a phenomenon. Or, put another way, Doctor Who became about Doctor Who. The show was about itself, about referencing the past, about exploring the question of what made Doctor Who great. But it was rarely about telling good stories. Good stories did get told during the Colin Baker era, but I think, on the whole, this era was too focused on itself as a part of Doctor Who rather than focusing on finding its own voice, its own drive, its own storytelling agenda. By focusing on itself, it did eventually find all these things, but more by accident rather than intentionally.

Oddly, one of the recurring motifs in the Colin Baker era is the image of people watching TV: Vengeance on Varos, Revelation of the Daleks, and now Trial of a Time Lord. Each of these stories features characters watching other characters in stories, watching the Doctor. Trial goes to the unfettered end of this meta-imagery by giving us a Doctor watching episodes of Doctor Who.

Now, in many ways, Trial is a brilliant piece of post-modern conceptualization. It works as a metaphor for the behind-the-scenes turmoil going on at the time. The ultimate question in this case is whether or not Doctor Who deserves to continue being made. This commentary is not so subtle. And through this commentary, the show is able to evaluate and criticize itself. The only problem is that it is handled so sloppily, almost making the critique on its own. “The Mysterious Planet” segment is so effectively by-the-numbers old-school Doctor Who that it is incredibly dull. The banter between Glitz and Dibbler are yet another example of the Robert Holmes double-act, but the story is unbearably dull at times. Thankfully, it is punctuated by Glitz and trial scenes.

“Mindwarp” gets more interesting with each episode, but I just can’t bring myself to get past Brian Blessed’s over-the-top portrayal of Yrcanos. The story never quite reaches the amount of self-parody needed to contextualize such a performance. The ideas are what save this story, but even then it is almost not enough.

Oddly, “Terror of the Vervoids” was the most watchable segment for me. I enjoyed the idea of killer plant life, and Pip and Jane Baker did a good job of subverting expectations (even when the dialogue was atrocious). And despite knowing that “The Ultimate Foe” was incomplete when Robert Holmes died, it seemed better paced than much of what we were given throughout the season.

But overall, even Trial was not spared from the inability of JNT and Saward to create good stories. All the potential in this season was wasted by not taking advantage of the 18-month hiatus to start from square one. There was no real attempt to rebuild the show; instead it seems they merely take a clever idea and did the same old thing. It is full of flaws and grossly illustrates the deficiencies of the current form of Doctor Who. Thankfully, change is coming, but it is disappointing that Colin Baker’s era would remain unredeemed until Big Finish began producing stories. And I also hate that Michael Jayston was so interesting and turned in a great performance as the Valeyard. This makes the conclusion even more unsatisfactory. I want to know more about the Valeyard. I just want other people writing it.

My Rating

2.5/5

 

Doctor Who – Mark of the Rani

Doctor Who Story 140 – Mark of the Rani

Written by

Pip and Jane Baker

What’s It About?

The TARDIS materializes near a coal mine in the 1800s as the Luddite rebellion is breaking out. But the Doctor and Peri soon discover that the Luddites bear an odd mark on their necks. And it is soon revealed that the Doctor isn’t the only Time Lord on the scene.

You’re unbalanced

The Rani is disgustedPip and Jane Baker are, as I understand it, a hated writing team among Doctor Who fans. This was the first story I have watched by them. While I don’t think “Mark of the Rani” is the worst Doctor Who story I’ve ever seen, I do see why some fans may not like it. I think the worst thing I can really say about the story is that the two 45 minute episode format is a huge stumbling block for this era of Doctor Who. “Mark of the Rani” would probably be fine if it was just 45 minutes and no more. There seems to be a lot of padding or at least a large amount of unevenness. But are those due to the script or the directing. I don’t really care, however. For some reason “Mark of the Rani” was fun. I really enjoyed it, and I think that was largely due to Kate O’Mara. The Rani is a fascinating concept. She is a Time Lord who rejected Time Lord society and set herself up as ruler of some other planet. But her people need chemicals to help them sleep, and humans have those chemicals, so she uses her scientific knowledge to extract what she needs from humanity. She doesn’t care about the consequences.

Since I am at the end of the semester (which is why this post is later than I have usually been scheduling them), I want to briefly reflect on actors who brought to life poorly written or otherwise uninteresting roles.

  • Kate O’Mara as the Rani. For some reason, this performance me. She is a Time Lord villain with a decently plausible motive for her nefarious deeds. O’Mara’s performance is wonderful and really stands out against Ainley’s Master and Colin Baker’s Doctor. She’s caught in the middle, but just wants to be left alone.
  • Roger Delgado as the Master. With as much reverence as Delgado is held in by fandom, I expected his Master to be amazing and brilliant. Unfortunately, he had incomprehensible plans, made all sorts of unusual decisions, and had no consistently discernable motive. But Delgado’s Master is still fascinating to watch because Roger Delgado brought class and villainy to this role. It could have been played camp (and by Ainley it was), but you would never know it because of Delgado.
  • Philip Madoc as anything, really. Madoc was brilliant because he managed to balance absurdity with believability. His masterwork in this regard is Dr. Solon in “The Brain of Morbius.” This character was extremely strange and morbid and could have failed miserably. Philip Madoc turned this role into something you couldn’t stop watching, and he threatened to upstage even Tom Baker.

I’m sure

I’m sure I could name many more. What are some of your favorite roles? What actors really made something memorable when they could have easily not bothered?

My Rating

3.5/5