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27 January 2015 @ 07:33 pm
The Randomizer: Time and the Rani  
The best that can be said for Time and the Rani is that it probably could have been worse. There are a few nice touches and it is mostly pointless and repetitive rather than embarrassingly bad. But in places it is embarrassingly bad, mostly it is, at best, pointless and repetitive and the science stinks to high heaven.

When I say the science stinks to high heaven, I don't just mean that its word salad level wrong (which it is), but that the science is being used to drive the plot from point A, to point B to point C, but because the science is all technobabble word salad this means the plot amounts to Technobabble A is happening in order to achieve Technobabble B which is wanted to achieve Technobabble C which will cause Technobabble D which, as a side effect will wipe out the planet - but don't worry we can fix it all by blowing it up. Most of the plot revolves around first uncovering Technobabble A and from there deducing this means Technobabble B which means everyone has to find out that this is for Technobabble C - you get the point. Technobabble C, incidentally, is a substance called loyhargil which is an anagram of Holy Grail because Pip and Jane Baker think that kind of thing is clever. But the problem is that the plot basically therefore reduces to solving made-up problem A by using made-up solution B only to discover that now you have made-up problem C. Since the technobabble barely rises to word salad level its not even the case that there is anything particularly linking A to B to C, each just comes out of nowhere and all basically look like excuses to keep the characters running around.

On the plus sides the Lakertyians look surprisingly good (given their predilection for pale pink, orange and yellow) and someone has put some thought into how they should move given they are related to birds/reptiles. The idea of the tetraps having 360 degree vision is interesting although the story's attempts to render this visually are a failure (tame layman only noted the fourth eye in the final episode and had entirely missed the fact that the weird vision effects associated with the tetraps were an attempt to convey a 360 degree view). The Rani impersonating Mel is, at least initially, amusing. The bubble booby traps look good.

I run out of good points around there. Mel is better here than she was in The Ultimate Foe but I'm not sure that's a recommendation. You get the impression that the script writers are still trying to write their perception of Bonnie Langford's public persona, and that they don't like that public persona very much.

I think you could make a plausible argument that this is the nadir of 1980s Who. While there is lots to criticise in Eric Saward's approach to the show it produced a few really excellent episodes and its failures were at least interesting. In Time and the Rani the show seems to be rudderless, incoming script editor Andrew Cartmel's distinctive style is nowhere in evidence (although you can begin to see it in crude form in the next story) and one has to assume that most of the work on this story was done in the gap between Saward abruptly resigning and Cartmel being appointed to replace him. The lack of anyone with editorial oversight is painfully apparent.

It's such a bad story that it hard to draw many conclusions about the Rani from it, but I am inclined to think that she is less successful as the main villain than as the amoral commenter upon the Doctor and the Master's rivalry. The moment she takes central stage, she is just another sociopathic megalomaniac scientist in a long line of the same. Kate O'Mara is working hard to breath life into her but it's a thankless task. Similarly Eric Pickering and Wanda Ventham are working hard to convey dignity in despair but are stuck with the lacklustre script and pedestrian direction that bleeds any sense of urgency or emotion from the story.

It is interesting that both Sylvester McCoy and Jon Pertwee came into the show with a broadly comic background upon which the production teams intended to capitalise. In both cases, of course, their portrayal rapidly took a different direction, Pertwee into the action hero and McCoy into the arch-manipulator. Time and the Rani gives us a glimpse of what the comic seventh Doctor might have been like, with his malapropisms and stagey prat falls. It is notable, perhaps, that all the fight scenes in this episode look very staged and many rely on the actors performing falls and rolls without the finesse of timing needing to make these look convincing.

At the end of the day, it has some interesting features but the bottom line is that it's really not very good.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/139174.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 27th, 2015 09:01 pm (UTC)
This is the story where the Doctor says "I broke the second law of thermodynamics" as if the laws of science are legal laws, not physical ones. Although a lot of Doctor Who makes more sense if you assume that it takes place in a universe where the laws of physics are optional guidelines (e.g. Kill the Moon). Then there is the regeneration, where Sylvester McCoy in a Harpo Marx wig turns into Sylverster McCoy without a Harpo Marx wig. Nor is it obvious why the Doctor is hurt badly enough to regenerate while Mel is unscathed.

Andrew Cartmel did indeed come to this after commission. He hated it and has largely disowned it ever since.

I agree with this review, but feel obliged to add that my (much) younger self adored the novelisation and I always award extra points for that. I still have a toy Tetrap somewhere.
parrot_knight: Sylvesterparrot_knight on January 28th, 2015 04:05 am (UTC)
Isn't it this novelization which adds the conceit that the Doctor actually names his adventures, in a reference to The Mark of the Rani?
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 28th, 2015 11:39 am (UTC)
I don't remember that, but it is probably fifteen years or more since I read the book! I quite like the idea, similar to Watson 'novelizing' Sherlock Holmes' adventures.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 28th, 2015 08:36 pm (UTC)
It must be said I seem to recall thinking the novelisation was rubbish too. I also had a toy Tetrap for a while but eventually sent all my Dapol figures to America for the daughter of someone on rec.arts.drwho .
parrot_knight: ArgueMainlyparrot_knight on January 28th, 2015 04:10 am (UTC)
I wonder how this would have fared as originally conceived, the heroic goodbye to the sixth Doctor rather than the debut of the seventh (whom I could imagine getting to know himself better in the corridors of Paradise Towers. As it is, the science is a cautionary tale about not understanding your research (the Bakers were so proud of it, too) and mounting a story which seems to be beyond the capabilities of those concerned to visualise.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 28th, 2015 08:47 pm (UTC)
They may have known lots of facts about Strange Matter, but they completely fail to convey anything interesting about it to the viewer (beyond that it is heavy) - just as they bring in all these historical geniuses and then don't even give any of them a chance to speak, let alone do anything interesting with them - and the giant brain, loyhargil etc., are all pure technobabble nonsense. I'm not sure the story is really beyond the production team's capabilities (maybe the tetrap vision), it feels more like the production team just mostly couldn't be bothered.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 28th, 2015 09:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, the misuse of all the historical characters is odd, isn't it - and I hated the silly headset Sylvester wore at the.end of part three. I suspect I was being too polite about the production team.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on January 28th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
There's a vague sense that the Bakers are just cramming random stuff in which sounds cool without any attempt to get any sort of meaning or theme from the stuff - or even pause to think about why the stuff is cool.

The direction here reminds me a little of the lacklustre direction in The Mysterious Planet. The 1980s production teams occasionally managed great things and a lot of the time they were competent in an over-lit and gaudy sort of a way, but sometimes they just seem to have given up rather.
parrot_knight: ArgueMainlyparrot_knight on January 28th, 2015 10:11 pm (UTC)
Yes. The Mark of the Rani had an argument of sorts relating to the industrial revolution and the need of great personalities to force the material progress of society along (which fits, I suspect, a certain kind of left-wing history which appealed to those veteran Labour Party and trade union activists), but any intention to extract a theme here gets lost.

I sometimes feel that season eighteen is the last one where the majority of those involved go into the series thinking that this is a good job and they are making a successful programme. Afterwards there seems to be more and more doubt on screen, and by 1987 a lack of joined-up thinking is the order of the day; John Nathan-Turner at least did his best to paper over the cracks.
Greg McElhattongregmce on January 28th, 2015 03:00 pm (UTC)
"one has to assume that most of the work on this story was done in the gap between Saward abruptly resigning and Cartmel being appointed to replace him"

Yep. Cartmel's talked about having taken the position of script editor with "Time and the Rani" not only commissioned, but already written and nearing the start of production. Given his druthers, it sounds like he would have killed the entire story given the chance, but it had moved too far along (and with not enough time remaining to develop a suitable replacement) to get spiked.

There are times when I'm genuinely amazed that any of the stories in Season 24 were made, considering the chaos going on behind the scenes. The remaining three stories all have issues with their scripts that some additional time could have resolved, but under the circumstances shooting for basic competence was about all one could hope for for everything else after TatR.
louisedennislouisedennis on January 28th, 2015 08:51 pm (UTC)
To be brutally honest all of the scripts under Cartmel have issues but there is, nevertheless, a noticeable leap in quality between Time and the Rani and the rest of Season 24 and then another leap in quality going into Season 25. I think it's a shame that Cartmel obviously didn't have access to equivalent talent/money on the production side as Hinchcliffe and Holmes did during their tenure. Because with better production values seasons 25 and 26 could have been so much better.