‘I’m a bit worried about the temporal flicker in Sector 13. There’s a bicentennial refit of the Tardis to book in. I must just pop over to Centauri 7, and then perhaps a quick holiday. Right, that all seems quite clear. Just three small points. Where am I? Who am I? And who are you?’ The new Doctor wakes up full of plans. He’s diverted, for a while, by the Rani’s manipulations, but from the off this is an incarnation who intends to get things done. Most Doctors are a contrast to their predecessors, but the seventh especially so. While ‘Sixie’ was bombastic, erudite and confident the seventh Doctor is an underdog, dismissed as a ‘cretin’ by the Rani, jumbling his aphorisms, pratfalling and prone to melancholy: the Buster Keaton of Time Lords.
I think he’s great. Clearly Colin Baker was treated very badly; by the end, though, the sixth Doctor’s character was so denuded there was practically nothing but Baker’s performance left from The Twin Dilemma. The way they did it stinks, but I think the BBC were right to start afresh. Though his own performance develops, McCoy is immediately impressive. Lacking Baker’s physical presence, he makes up for it with his physicality: a clown, leaning forward more than he needs to as he studies “his” laboratory, peering in an exaggerated fashion at “Mel’s” face, giving a sad little wave to Sarn’s skeleton. Even the sixth Doctor’s costume suits him: oversized, he looks a bit lost and Chaplinesque in it. It’s the most immediately on-point debut since Tom Baker’s.
If The Trial of a Time Lord was a necessary reset, Time and the Rani is a step forward. It’s as colourful and accessible as Terror of the Vervoids, but more stylishly done (tinsel in the storm drain excepted). The pre-credits sequence isn’t as good as Trial’s opening model shot, but it’s easily the most dynamic TARDIS flight sequence so far, and it ties neatly into the new opening titles – the first radical overhaul since 1980, accompanied by Keff McCulloch’s Marmite theme arrangement (I personally love the inclusion of the wistful middle eight, which really suits the seventh Doctor. The logo can get in the sea, though). The Rani’s killer bubbles are awesome, the glimpses of Tetrap (a claw, a hint of wing) are great. The Lakertyans aren’t the best aliens, but some effort has been put into giving them distinctive characteristics, like their lizardlike run.
The script isn’t brilliant either, but it’s bright and comprehensible, and quickly establishes key information (the Rani is kidnapping scientists and she needs the Doctor’s help to repair her machinery), and the Doctor and Mel are immediately involved in the action. True, the Rani has become a camp super-villain (even more so than in The Mark of the Rani), but, at worst, this is the show pushing too hard against things like Jacqueline Pearce being thrown away as Chessene in The Two Doctors. There’s a freshness and brio to this episode that I’ve always found very appealing.
Next episode: Time and the Rani – Part Two