The TARDIS is attacked and crashes on Lakertya, causing a regeneration and a fresh body and persona for the Doctor (actor Sylvester McCoy). It is all a plot by the Time Lady Rani (actress Kate O’Mara) to capture the Doctor and posing as his assistant, Mel, gives him an amnesia drug before convincing him to repair a machine she has. Unknown to him, she has also been collecting geniuses who are left comatose in stasis chambers under the watchful eye of Begus (actor Donald Pickering), the leader of the Lakertyans whose obedience saves attacks on his people by the Tetraps.
Meanwhile, Mel (actress Bonnie Langford) herself is carried away by the Lakertyan Ikona (actor Mark Greenstreet) who is convinced she is part of the Rani’s team. It’s only when she saves him from a landmine that he is convinced she isn’t and then they plan to find out what happened to the Doctor.
The newly regenerated Doctor is having problems with the repairs and the Rani has no choice but to take him back to his TARDIS and be patient as he finds clothes to match his new persona and size before getting the radiation wave meter he needs. Back at the Rani’s lab, the Doctor finds out she’s been using the wrong material and she goes off to her own TARDIS to get a new one.
With Ikona giving a distraction to the bat-like Tetrap guard to the fortress, Mel gets in and has to convince the Doctor she isn’t the Rani, even if she isn’t sure who he is and he gets his memory back and with information from Begus and Faroon (actress Wanda Ventham) starts putting things together on the Rani’s plan to manipulate time at the planet Lakertya’s solstice to collide it with a meteor of super-dense strange matter and create a supernova. For the rest, you’ll have to buy for yourself as I’ve only sketched over a lot of the details.
I haven’t seen this story for a long while. Even back in 1987, I think every Who fan knew what was going on behind the scenes when Colin Baker refused to come back for a regeneration scene which resulted in Sylvester McCoy essentially doing everything in what was essentially not his script but carries it off. Even back then, I thought the bat-like Tetraps looked, shall we say, a bit too rubbery masked which is a shame when you consider one of their eyes actually moved convincingly. I think they would have been more menacing had they stayed more in the dark, as they did in their cave, but above and outside under normal lighting looked far too cuddly. No doubt if they returned today, they would probably be allowed to fly as well.
Kate O’Mara as the Rani is superb and it’s a shame that a regenerated version has yet to reappear. What is odd, considering her form with scientific callousness, is why was the Rani exiled from Gallifrey and not imprisoned. I mean, this goes against the fact she is as much as renegade as the Doctor but allowed to menace the universe unchecked. One could rationalise retrospectively now that in the Doctor’s time-line he was supposed to encounter her twice and her fate more or less sealed.
The audio commentary is shared out with actors Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford with writers Pip and Jane Baker, sorting out who did what and why with a dose of humour. The weird spoonerisms were going to be something coming over from the Colin Baker era but slowly faded over McCoy’s episodes. It was hardly surprising that this was the first time Bonnie Langford has seen her own stories because, even back then, she was in the theatre performing at night. I didn’t realise the Baker writers had such a long career as working elsewhere during the Hartnell era. Langford points out she was the 27th companion and McCoy that his first story here was the first with CGI. The Bakers said they had to use their novelisations of both their Rani stories to explain how she escaped her fate in the previous story. They also understood the SF ethnic in not cheating. They also say it was Marketing that demanded the Doctor regenerates every three years than actor or production choices. I’m less sure of that purely based off Tom Baker’s 7 year tenure.
Now, what of the other extras. The 28 minute ‘The Last Chance Saloon’ showed the BBC, under Michael Grade, was reducing their Science Fiction output as Sylvester McCoy got the part. Interesting seeing parts of a letter from its originator Sydney Newman suggesting having a woman in the part. As if that would ever happen. From my perspective, the worse damage came from putting it on at the same time opposite ‘Coronation Street’ in the middle of the week. Not every household had two televisions, let alone a video recorder.
The 11 minute ‘7DFX’ has Colin Mapson, Dave Chapman and Mike Tucker discussing using live and CGI effects combined in this story and using film against videotape was the asset.
‘Helter-Skelter’ is the way the new title sequence was described in this 9 minute piece with Oliver Elmes commissioning Gareth Edwards’ company to create it. Back then, CGI was still nascent and barely a step ahead of computer development and a frame rendering too nearly a day to happen.
‘Lakertya’, running at 2 minutes, shows the Baker writers original idea for the alien planet being green rather than a gravel pit which was used.
‘Hot Gossip’ is more a brief 2½ minute yap with Sylvester McCoy and Kat O-Mara and them missing the quite background noise of Wanda Ventham and Donald Pickering nattering in the background.
‘On Location’ was actually recorded back when they were filming and running at 4 minutes talks to the crew and some explosions. Oh, the Doctor is also 953 years at this time.
Sylvester McCoy was briefly for 83 seconds on ‘Blue Peter’ before he started filming his tenure and hadn’t even got his new costume yet but had control of the TARDIS.
The ‘Photo Gallery’ runs at 8 minutes and special attention should be given to the sequence where he wears the clothes of all of his predecessors. Something that has yet to be done again since.
Considering the problems of getting the new regeneration started, ‘Time And The Rani’ holds up pretty well, Teptraps excepting, even today. If there are any lessons for the current ‘Doctor Who’ then it’s about time the Rani re-appeared and who’s to say she couldn’t be a man next time.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC. 1 DVD 98 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: £ 6.99 (UK) if you know where to look. ASIN: BBCDVD2808)
cast: Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford, Kate O’Mara, Mark Greenstreet, Donald Pickering, Richard Gauntlet, Wanda Ventham, John Segal, Karen Clegg, Peter Tuddenham and Jackie Webb