Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Story 144 - Time And The Rani

In which the TARDIS is bombarded by laser fire and forced to make a landing on the rocky planet of Lakertya. The culprit is the Rani. She and her Terap allies enter the ship and find the Doctor and Mel unconscious. The Doctor regenerates. He is removed and taken to the Rani's nearby base. She has need of his technical skills. When the shorter, dark haired Doctor revives, he is suffering from post-regeneration amnesia - which the Rani decides to exploit. She dresses up as Mel and pretends to be his companion. She claims that this is his laboratory, and he was knocked out when an experiment went wrong. The Doctor claims he needs some equipment from the TARDIS, so the Rani sends the Tetrap leader - Urak - ahead to remove the real Mel. Tetraps are large bat-like creatures, who have eyes on the sides and backs of their heads. Mel has already recovered, and has been captured by one the planet's natives - Ikona. The reptilian Lakertyans are an indolent species, and have been easily conquered by the Rani. Only Ikona is determined not to become a slave, like their leader Beyus. The planet's surface is covered in lethal traps set by the Rani, and Beyus' daughter is killed by one. Mel saves Ikona from stepping into another, and so he grudgingly decides to let her help him.

When Mel steps into a trap, the Rani convinces the Doctor that it is she who has been caught. Mel is rescued by Ikona. The Doctor changes out of the Sixth Doctor's costume, and returns to the Rani's lair. He is starting to wonder what the work he is doing here is about. Mel breaks in and meets the new Doctor. She does not recognise him, and he thinks she is the Rani. A quick check of each others' pulse reveals the truth. The Doctor feigns amnesia for a while longer - hoping to learn the Rani's scheme. He sees that she is monitoring an asteroid nearby, which is composed of Strange Matter. This substance is incredibly dense. He has noted that power lines feed into a sealed vault at the back of the laboratory, but fails to break in. The Rani realises he is feigning, and starts to reveal her plan. She has captured a number of brilliant scientists from across the universe and is harnessing their minds. The Doctor is to join them. He and Mel escape, and go with Ikona to the Lakertyan hall of pleasure. Here, the Rani subjugates the natives using killer insects, which she can release from a metal sphere in the ceiling. The Doctor is later captured by Tetraps, and taken back to the Rani's base.

Here he is forced to join the rest of the captured scientists. His brain power gives her the boost the Rani needs, though he also confuses the others. The Rani is forced to remove him. The Doctor discovers that behind the huge metal hatch is a massive brain - a Time Brain. The Doctor inadvertently gives it the final piece of the equation it is seeking to create a light-weight version of Strange Matter - loyahrgil. The Rani plans to tip a rocket with this substance and fire this at the asteroid. Lakertya will be destroyed and the Time Brain will expand to fill a shell of chronons - creating an organic computer that will enable the Rani to manipulate evolution throughout the entire universe. The Laketyans are finally convinced to fight back and the Doctor ensures that the rocket is delayed by a few moments so that it misses the asteroid. Beyus then sacrifices himself to blow up the Time Brain along with the rest of the Rani's base. She tries to flee, but ends up a captive of the Tetraps, who had learned that she was going to abandon them on the doomed planet. They leave with her in her TARDIS. The Doctor has an antidote to the killer insects, but Ikona pours it away. His people must solve their own problems...

This four part adventure was written by Pip & Jane Baker, and was broadcast between 7th and 28th September, 1987. It introduces Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, and opens Season 24. It also marks the return of Kate O'Mara as the Rani, and gives us a new title sequence and theme tune arrangement courtesy of Keff McCulloch. We also get the first ever use of computer generated effects - in the titles as well as part of the VFX. Andrew Cartmel takes over as Script Editor.
This is the last contribution to the show by the Bakers, who originally wrote it for their namesake, Colin.
On learning that he had been given the push, Colin Baker had been asked to come back to do one final story in which he regenerated. He told the BBC that to do so would mean having to give up other jobs, so proposed instead one final season with the regeneration at the conclusion. The BBC said no. Baker also rejected the chance to do a regeneration scene - so what we get is McCoy lying on the TARDIS floor in Baker's costume, wearing a Harpo Marx wig, and some VFX are laid over his face as Urak turns him over. The effect does not work as it is clearly McCoy in an ill-fitting wig just before the FX kick in.

Prior to this, Mc Coy was best known to the UK public for his childrens' TV work, though he was also an accomplished stage actor. He had also spent a considerable part of his career putting ferrets and explosives down his trousers.
The Bakers were unhappy on the production. They had planned that Lakertya should be a beautiful forest planet - only to see it realised as yet another quarry. They also clashed with Cartmel, who did not like their style and was keen to take the show into fresher areas. The Bakers also missed their namesake, who had become a close friend.
The Bakers were always keen to use real science in their scripts, but the Rani's plan is incredibly convoluted, and Kate O'Mara struggled with their dialogue.
The cast sees a reunion from a Troughton story. Donald Pickering (Beyus) and Wanda Ventham (playing his wife Faroon) had both appeared in The Faceless Ones. Both had appeared in other stories - he in Keys of Marinus and she in Image of the Fendahl. Of course, she now plays Sherlock's mum - both on and off the screen. Urak is Richard Gaunt, and Ikona is Mark Greenstreet. Best known at the time for taking his shirt off in a TV ad, he went on to star in a drama series based around the world of horse racing.
Episode endings are:
  1. Mel gets caught in one of the Rani's lethal bubble traps...
  2. The Doctor tries to find a hiding place - only to find himself in the middle of the awakening Tetraps...
  3. The Doctor is helpless as the Rani adds his mind to her collection of genii...
  4. The new Doctor assures Mel that he will grow on her, as the two head back to the TARDIS...

Overall, a pretty dreadful start to the new Doctor's tenure. McCoy is really struggling to find the part and his acting is quite atrocious in the first episode, with some clumsy clowning thrown in. The Rani's plan is plain stupid and almost incomprehensible. The Tetraps look good, however, and there is some great model work. The new titles / music have remained divisive to this day.
Things you might like to know:
  • Yes, loyhargil is an anagram of holy grail.
  • The story went by the name of Strange Matter for a long time. This would have been much more apt, what with the plot being incredibly dense.
  • The Tetrap leader Urak gets his name from the Dickens character Uriah Heep - as he is so obsequious.
  • McCoy's costume is mercifully more sedate than his predecessor's. The one big gripe everyone has is with the question mark pullover. At least the more recent Doctor's only had one pair of question marks on their shirt collars. McCoy has stated that had he got a fourth season, the jumper would have gone.
  • For this story only, he wears a tartan scarf. This is replaced in his next story by the Paisley patterned one.
  • Only Castrovalva and The Five Doctors have had a pre-credits sequence up until this point - something we now take for granted. One was a recap, and the other was a little bit of nostalgia, but here it is the start of the new story (from the TARDIS being bombarded up to the Doctor's regeneration).
  • The main reason for the pre-credit sequence is because the new titles had McCoy's face in them, so it was daft to show it before the regeneration.
  • When broadcast, the fourth episode had McCoy's face less obvious in the titles. This was felt to make him look a bit sinister, so was never used again.
  • Unseen story time - just how does the Rani know how to imitate Mel when they have never met? Obviously an unseen adventure? Trouble is, Mel doesn't appear to know about the Rani.
  • That horse-racing drama that Mark Greenstreet was in was called Trainers. It was written by someone else with a Rani connection - Gawn Grainger, who had played George Stephenson in The Mark of the Rani.
  • McCoy's ferret / exploding trouser escapades had occurred when he was part of The Ken Campbell Roadshow. Campbell himself was up for the part of the Seventh Doctor. As was Andrew Sachs of Fawlty Towers fame. Irish actor Dermot Crowley was also considered. At the auditions, Janet Fielding was brought in to play a Mrs Thatcher-style villain.
  • Another audition piece would become part of Mel's leaving scene at the end of this season.
  • Talking of Mrs T., at his audition, Andrew Cartmel had said that he hoped Doctor Who could bring down the government. There will be a Mrs T. pastiche along in just the next story, though the media won't notice it for another 30 years or so... 

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