Doctor Who #665: Time and the Rani Part 1

"You don't understand regeneration, Mel. It's a lottery, and I've drawn the short plank."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Sep.7 1987.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor regenerates and meets the Rani posing as Mel to manipulate him.

REVIEW: The 7th Doctor opener is initially a real shock to the system. It starts with a teaser (sadly, a modern idea that wasn't kept past Part 1) filled with computer animation, the TARDIS being drawn off course by the Rani no less (and more glamorous than ever), and the Doctor and Mel knocked out in the console room. Worse than that, the Doctor has been killed and is regenerating. Then bam, new credits sequence completely unlike what has gone before, fully computer animated, the TARDIS spinning in a bubble, debris flying around, the sense that we're looking at the vortex from new angles rather than dead into it, and that huge new logo at the very end. Love it or hate it, it's actively trying to leave the difficult years of dated television behind, and we're soon looking at pretty cool effects like the trap that puts someone in a giant pinball ricocheting off quarry walls. But we're been fooled before. The Trial of a Time Lord also began with costly effects and degenerated from there.

Yes, it's cheap to have a regeneration scene without the past Doctor, but I support Colin Baker's decision not to suspend his career for a shot at doing a single episode or story just to so he can pass the baton against his will. Sylvester McCoy is one of my favorite Doctors, but like everyone who makes that claim, I'm usually quick to say I mean the dark mastermind 7th Doctor of the later stories, and not the spoon-playing, pratfalling, idiom-mangling clown of the early stories. That said, I don't dislike that portrayal. It's very 2nd Doctor (which makes it very 11th Doctor too, and all three seem to have an obsession with hats - his remembering red hair coupled with Mel looking a little like River Song while she sleeps made me think of Eleven for sure). The confused idioms are good fun, and to a certain point, especially knowing what comes later, one might very well surmise he's putting on an act to piss off the Rani. She only thinks she's manipulating him, and it's very 7th Doctor not to even reveal he was faking it. Of course, we're ready to forgive almost anything while the Doctor is in a post-regenerative state (even choking his companion, apparently), so what's a little clownishness while he recovers from his trauma. Though the pendulum might have gone a little TOO far in that direction, I'm actually happy to see comedy properly return to the program. The costume-choosing scene is probably my favorite of any in the show's history, paying homage to all the past Doctors, with a fun play on words for each one ("Old hat" "Not frilled" and so on). His new creme suit and panama hat does include more question marks than ever before, but after the sixth Doctor's technicolor coat, it's welcome anyway.

The Rani's been taking notes from the Master as far as convoluted plots go. She's apparently kidnapping geniuses from history, nursing some kind of "strange matter" asteroid nearby, enslaving an alien race with the help of a bat monster, and dressing up as Mel (without the prodigious shoulder pads) to manipulate the Doctor into fixing her equipment. That's an unhealthy agenda! She can barely keep her cool as the Doctor treats her like a simple assistant. It's fun to see her breaking character when faced with this new Doctor's craziness. Now can they keep this up?

THEORIES: A lot of people make fun of the way the sixth Doctor dies, describing it as him hitting his head on the corner of the console. But we don't know that's what happened. When we get to the TARDIS, it's obviously under attack, and nothing indicates there wasn't an energy discharge or even that the Rani engineered this extreme result. I do like the idea put forward by Paul Cornell in his 7th Doctor novel Love and War that the Web of Time, requiring the Doctor to become "Time's Champion", asked the Doctor to commit suicide to allow a new incarnation to take the reigns. It's a crazy idea, presented as a sort of dream, but I like what it says about the Time Lords' relationship with time. Sensing the "turn of the universe", the Doctor instinctively knows the coming challenges will require a different way of thinking, and to preserve time (the Time Lords are absent from the next three seasons, perhaps because of the upheaval we see at the end of the Trial), he allows himself to regenerate into a mastermind incarnation. Part of why I like this idea is that it's a heroic sacrifice on Doc6's part. One can hardly imagine him swallowing his great ego and ending his life.

- A fresh start with cool effects and a frankly charming Doctor. Glad to see the Rani again as well. It's not a great way for the sixth Doctor to go, and the plot's already pretty crazy, but I'm feeling the winds of change on my face here.


CiB said...

McCoy is my second favorite Doctor, behind Troughton. While it's true he's a bit Troughton here, with Troughton there was always a fairly scheming and quite ruthless (at times) character beneath the clownish exterior (for example, look at the way he is manipulating everyone in Tomb of the Cybermen, or the way he uses Jamie in The Evil of the Daleks). So I'd argue that the 7th Doctor is always quite Troughton-y, at this point he's what the 2nd Doctor often pretended to be, later he's what the 2nd doctor occasionally was (when the occasion called for it)

Admittedly, this is based on the interpretation that the 2nd Doctor was just paying the clown in order to trick people into underestimating him. I think Troughton could play it like that, McCoy in season 24 is trying and failing to, so the 7th Doctor became more obviously dark and mysterious (in something of a gamble, as playing it like that was not something you'd think McCoy could do based on his background)

Madeley said...

If everyone has "their" Doctor and it's the Doctor they remember most from their childhood, then McCoy is definitely "my" Doctor. Considering my memory for specifics from when I was young is usually so shoddy, it's amazing to me how clearly I can remember watching episodes from Season 25 and 26.

I'm pretty sure, though, that I missed Season 24 and only started watching from Remembrance of the Daleks, so it was only in the 90s that I watched those episodes, and absolutely HATED them. I should probably take another look at some point.

Really looking forward to the next few weeks' worth of reviews. To this day still my very favourite era, and as showrunners/script editors go, Andrew Cartmel's second only to the Robert Holmes/Philip Hinchcliffe team for me.

Siskoid said...

CiB: He's also bringing something of himself, the variety entertainer, to the role. The comparison to Troughton is in large part informed by hindsight, that the clown was indeed hiding something darker. And the physicality, of course. And hats.

Madeley: I also started my McCoy journey with Remembrance (i.e. the DVDs) though I had seen an episode here and there on TV back in the day, though couldn't contextualize it. It might have been this story, or Delta and the Bannermen, or The Happiness Patrol... not too sure.

I don't think I can disagree with your assessment of Cartmel.


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