Wednesday, May 21, 2008

view from the panopticon- time and the rani

8-22-06 “Time and the Rani”

“The more I know me, the less I like me.” –The Doctor

Okay, I decided to watch this since chronologically it followed the big Colin Baker-fest I was doing earlier in the summer, and in honor of the fact I just heard they’re bringing the Rani back in season 3 of the new series
[1]! Well, along with “The Five Doctors,” this is the first Doctor Who I can remember watching from when I was a kid (I have vague memories of Autons, Sontarans, and Cybermats). I know that this transition period between Baker and McCoy is generally considered one of the most horrendous seasons ever, and in general that’s true. However, maybe it’s just my childhood connection—whatever it is, I still like this story, a lot.

As a regeneration scene, it’s a dud. Colin Baker couldn’t be bothered to come back to film it (on one hand, I can understand his position) so we have Sylvester McCoy lying around in a blonde wig, looking very much not like Colin Baker. Oy. Then we get a very weird and ‘80s title sequence which, despite myself, I like a lot. Especially the purple swirlies. Like the Doctor needs more amnesia! I’m not sure why the Rani wants to abduct the Doctor and then force him to do her work rather than just konk him out with amnesia . . . he makes it clear that he won’t help. But it does yield a good chunk of exposition for anyone who missed “The Mark of the Rani.”

The story is quite complex (some might say convoluted), including geniuses such as Einstein (what is it with the Bakers and geniuses?!), giant bats, reptilian aliens, a scary-looking enormous brain, a rocket, strange matter, and, of course, the Rani. I suppose all these elements are so ingrained into my consciousness, I don’t blink an eye—though I can’t say I understand how the strange matter is going to make Lakertya into a time manipulator, nor what the geniuses and the giant brain have to do with it. Obviously I haven’t got a giant brain myself. I wonder what happened in the TARDIS with all the geniuses. Someone needs to write a story about that. Maybe someone has.

I think I noticed in the next few stories of this season, the Seventh Doctor has a hard time getting his bearings, ending up being kind of silly. He’s definitely silly here, but in a good way, I find. First off, the way Baker’s outfit looks on McCoy is kind of clownish—but in an endearing way, like how the Second Doctor’s clothes were always too big for him. He has to change, of course, and there’s a cute sequence in the wardrobe room (it helps those younger viewers who haven’t seen the older Doctors). “Old hat,” the Doctor exclaims of the Tom Baker-esque outfit, followed by a dandyish frilly shirt, followed by a cricketing outfit, followed by a big fur coat—and the horrible question-mark jumper and the good old Panama hat. (I also like that he dresses like Napoleon—with whom McCoy shares something of a physical resemblance—and says, “Lacks my natural humility.” Yeah right!) He even seems to be somewhat depressed that he’s gone from looking like Colin Baker to looking like Sylvester McCoy. (A bit like going from Richard E. Grant to Jim Broadbent? Er, not quite.)

There are still hints of the Sixth Doctor here: the Rani, as Mel, asks, “I thought you said you were a genius?” “Oh, I certainly remember that.” And he can be unkind in that offhand alien way, too: again to the Rani, as Mel, “Why I chose you as assistant I’ll never know” (nor will we, frankly). When left alone, the Seventh Doctor plays the spoons—will he next pull a ferret out of his trousers? (I was told that was a skill of Sylvester McCoy’s.) Another quality of this new Doctor is that he lets himself get manhandled! The Rani knocks him all over the place, hitting him quite hard across the face! The Doctor’s being abused—I don’t like it! The farcical romping around of Mel and the Doctor in the Rani’s lab also sets the tone for several episodes. And we get a little canon: the Doctor’s nine-hundred-fifty-three here. (The Ninth Doctor must really be rounding down when he tells Rose his age!) What I do like in this story is the Doctor’s penchant for messing up proverbs. “Where there’s a will, there’s a Tom, Dick, and Harriet!” “All good things come to a bend.” “A bird in the hand keeps the Doctor away.” “Out of the frying pan into the mire.” “Where there’s a will, there’s a beneficiary.” It’s therefore appropriate that he mentions Mrs. Malaprop. Overall, the Doctor’s regenerational trauma could have been worse!

Poor Bonnie Langford. I think she’s the companion everyone loves to hate. It’s hard to find a redeeming quality about Mel, though. I needn’t say that her costume in this story is hideous (the leg warmers!). I should mention that she wins the award for the World’s Best Screamer, displaying her skills to FULL ADVANTAGE in this story. Ow, my ears. To be fair, she has some funny moments . . . and she does, at least in this story, show a healthy amount of pluck and loyalty to the Doctor. “Underestimating the Doctor is a common fault,” she matter-of-factly tells the Rani. “He’s not exactly predictable,” she also says of the Doctor. So she’s supposed to be a computer expert as well as a fitness freak? Somehow I can hardly believe that. I could believe it of Zoe, but not Mel, not really . . .

I think the Rani is a good villain, hence why I am pleased she will be back for another story. Kate O’Mara is a good actress, and it’s really funny to see the Rani having to cater to the Doctor while pretending to be Mel. “There’s no evidence it’s [Lakertya] ever been graced by your meddling presence.” She also utters the rather funny line (well, it’s funny to me), “Leave the girl—it’s the man I want.” She also has a cool-looking gun. When the Doctor speaks with wistfulness of the fascination and sadness he feels for the Rani’s wasted potential, Mel says, “The fascination’s mutual”—the Rani has reserved a spot in her giant brain for the Doctor. One wonders why. Did she like him just a little better than she liked the Master?

I like the secondary characters. I think they’re well-acted, for the most part. Donald Pickering as Beyus lends a distinctive patrician voice and a grave tone to his collaborator character, who dies rather uselessly in my opinion. Wanda Ventham really cranks out the tears as Faroon and manages to act from under all that makeup. I really like Mark Greenstreet as Ikona, however. Not only is he pretty efficient at not getting himself, Mel, or the Doctor killed, he’s actually quite funny most of the time. When he finds Mel to take her hostage, he notes that the Doctor has left her behind. “He wouldn’t have done that!” “If he had any sense, he would have.” He also calls her hideous. The Doctor evidently shares his feelings, as he says, when associated with Mel, “Don’t hold that against me.” What’s nice about Ikona, too, is that he’s not all nicey-nice. It takes him quite a while to decide he wants to help Mel rescue the Doctor, and his decision to destroy the antidote at the end certainly signals some perversity. Yes, as a secondary character, I like him a lot. Though one wonders what he does all the time while being estranged from the other Lakertyans. If it were Earth, I could imagine him tipping cows for amusement. However, I didn’t see any cows.

The Tetraps are the stuff of nightmares (at least, they were in my nightmares). They’re giant bats, for one thing, eat blood that comes out of a trough thing in their underground lair (God, how that part used to scare me as a kid!), have four eyes (that yield really cool Tetraps-vision; love that special effect), and paralyze you by sticking out their nasty-looking tongues. Maybe not that creative in terms of monsters, but Urak is kind of interesting—extremely fawning except when he finds out what the Rani’s going to do to him. I wonder how she ever got out of that mess?

Hats off to Ken Trew for the costumes. The Lakertyans are reptilian as well as combining elements of birds and American Indian dress (a bit reminiscent of the costume designs from “The Twin Dilemma”). I never noticed before, but both Sarn and Ikona run funny—Lakertyans have their own, non-human way of running, with their arms down, kind of cat-like. I love it. While the story has the bad luck to be filmed in a gravel quarry, at least other elements of the design are cool. Like the Centre of Leisure. That giant bee hutch thing is pretty iconic, and I have very vivid memories from six or seven years old of seeing the Lakertyan skeleton against that abnormally blue pool. Designer Geoff Powell must have been doing something right. I have to say, too, that the special effects are more than adequate here. I personally love the bubble booby traps the Rani has set up—they seem very her, and they look pretty cool. Also, I know most people can’t stand Keff McCulloch’s score. Either because of the childhood factor again or because it actually is rather clever, I still think it fits this story well. Turgid chords? Maybe, but it works.

Ushering the geniuses away with a “ladies, gentlemen . . . others,” the Doctor says, “I’ll grow on you, Mel.” Somewhat different from how Colin Baker ended his first story. Indicative of a new Doctor. I’m afraid to watch the next few episodes—I recall them being quite bad. I need to acquire more from the latter end of the Seventh Doctor’s era.

[1] Er … they are?

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