We’re back! At a glance, it might look like I skipped a month. But that’s both true and not, as you’ll see below…
The 7th Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy, who came on board during an extremely troubled time for the show behind the scenes. It had already been cancelled then un-cancelled while Colin Baker was starring as the 6th Doctor, and while the show survived, Baker was fired in-between seasons. While Baker was eventually offered the opportunity to come back for one more story to bring his time to a close, he turned it down and we ended up with no real transition from one to the next (save for a pre-credits sequence involving new actor McCoy wearing Baker’s outfit and a big curly blond wig, only seen from behind).
More importantly, not only was Baker gone, but script editor Eric Saward had also left the series. In the earlier days of Doctor Who, it was the script editor (rather than the producer) who did the bulk of commissioning the scripts for the show, and by the time new script editor Andrew Cartmel was hired he ended up inheriting the first two scripts because everything was so far behind schedule. The end result was McCoy’s first season consisting of four stories where one had been written for Baker, and the remaining three for a “generic Doctor” because no one at the time knew what this new Doctor’s personality would be like.
McCoy had the role for three years, with a total of twelve stories, before the show was cancelled once more. This time it stuck. McCoy did return seven years later, though, to appear in the Doctor Who television movie starring Paul McGann. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to merge McCoy and McGann’s months into a big two-month-long viewing extravaganza (especially since McGann only had that one outing), and to watch all thirteen stories.
What I didn’t count on was work getting even busier, plus losing a lot of free time due to starting graduate school. So with still two stories waiting to be watched, I’m going to use this entry to tackle the first four stories (or first season) starring McCoy; a second and possibly third post will hopefully come soon with McCoy’s remaining stories as well as McGann’s solo outing. And with that in mind…
Ask a Doctor Who fan which of McCoy’s episodes was the worst, and three out of four will tell you that it’s “Time and the Rani.” Sometimes fan lore leads you down a path of opinions that are based on hearsay rather than actual viewing. This is not one of those times.
“Time and the Rani” admittedly has a huge disadvantage; it wasn’t written for McCoy’s Doctor at all, and while writers Pip and Jane Baker and script editor Andrew Cartmel clearly tried to file off the edges of the previous Doctor once Colin Baker’s return was officially nixed, but it’s still trying to push a square peg into a round hole. The Doctor here is often snappish and rude, only to then veer off into pratfalls and slapstick. It’s a bungled mess right from the start.
Then you add in a nonsensical plot (one that relies far too heavily on sheer laziness of the main villain), some truly awful acting, and another rock quarry that’s standing in for an alien planet. At the end of the previous season, new companion Melanie had been introduced as played by Bonnie Langford, but aside from being energetic she was a complete non-entity, and that unfortunately carries through into this season where it’s quickly clear that no one is interested in writing for Mel. Langford gets a lot of flack for her time on Doctor Who, but I feel that’s not fair. She’s clearly very professional and does whatever the scripts and director tell her to do, but at the same time she’s also been placed into a show where no one is interested in her sticking around.
There are two great things about “Time and the Rani,” to be fair. The first is whenever returning guest actress Kate O’Mara’s character of the Rani disguises herself as Mel. Her fake chirpy-sweet voice mixed with genuine disdain and loathing for the Doctor is nothing short of hysterical, and her ever-building annoyance with everyone around her is a real treat in those first two episodes. Sadly once she pulls off the wig and stops pretending to be Mel, she’s straight out of an episode of Dynasty, complete with shoulder pads, lipstick, and a big glamorous hairdo. So much for the hard-working scientist who doesn’t want to take over the world; in “Time and the Rani” her goal is ultimately to take over the universe and rework it as she sees fit.
The other great thing is how director Andrew Morgan has the Lakyrtians run. This may sound strange, but you need to take my word on this. They’re supposed to be slightly lizard-like, and when they run, Morgan has them hold their arms back at an angle. It actually makes them look like a species of small lizard, and while some do it better than others (Karen Clegg as Sarn in particular) it’s at least an attempt to make them a little difference.
Otherwise? I have nothing good to say about this, perhaps save that if you drink a lot it gets funnier and funnier. But it’s bad. It’s really bad. Shockingly, appallingly bad. (Not as bad as “The Twin Dilemma,” which still edges this story out as “worst first story for a new Doctor,” but this is the nadir of the McCoy era, right out of the gate.)