Doctor Who #668: Time and the Rani Part 4

"Every dogma has its day."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.28 1987.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor confuses the brain, then destroys it and the Rani's chances of turning the planet into a time manipulator.

REVIEW: I realize this story was probably commissioned before Andrew Cartmel came on board as script editor, but that doesn't stop me from seeing his comic book aesthetic in this first story. Later stories will take the 2000 A.D. route more clearly, but Time and the Rani has this thoroughly amazing piece of technobabble at the center of it that would be very much at home in a Grant Morrison comic. The only time I like technobabble is when the writers go for broke, make it incredibly outlandish, and convince me the science is so ridiculously advanced, I only PERCEIVE it as babbling. And who could really get their heads around the Rani's plan to infuse a giant brain with history's greatest minds so it can calculate a way to explode strange matter easily to create Helium-2 which will fuse with the Lakertyan atmosphere to form a shell of chronons while the brain goes into a hothouse-fueled chain reaction that will make it grow to the size of the planet itself, thus creating a time manipulator (or Loyhargil), a mega-brain with a Lovecraftian name under her control that can basically block transfer the universe. Go broke or go back to Gallifrey! Yes, it's insane and makes grand leaps of scientific logic, but it's SO insane it works. We're in budgetless comic book where we can throw away a dozen celebrity historicals at once and SCIENCE can do anything.

On the flip side of the comic book aesthetic, the Rani turns into a far less interesting creature than she was in her first appearance. From amoral scientist, she moves to an unhealthy interest in imposing "order" on space and time, which puts her at too small a remove from the Master. Other faux-pas? Why do Tetraps need to "look around" when they have full 360 degree vision, and how can Ikona sneak behind them? Under the Rani's leadership, they go too far, strengthening the Lakertyans' resolve against her, though may I just say the farewell scene in which Ikona pours out the killer insect antidote because he thinks his people should meet their own challenges is complete hogwash. Just a few minutes before he was all about getting the Doctor's help against the Rani! The production doesn't sell Beyus' sacrifice very well, or maybe I got hypnotized by the pulsing purple light in the final scene and missed why it was so crucial. And I'm not a big fan of the Rani's final fate in the episode, upside down in a TARDIS overrun with betrayed Tetraps, featuring the worst CSO since the Pertwee era.

The bits with the Doctor and Mel are much better however. I love the way the Doctor fractures the big brain's mind with all manner of word play, my only complaint being that it's hard to catch them all in the verbal frenzy of the scene. Mel gets to use her computer skills - though I guess she's more of an electronics expert than a programmer - wiring the Lakertyans' explosive ankle bracelets so they can be removed safely. Beats screaming, Mel. You should do more of that sort of thing. Everything seems lost, but the short delay caused by the Doctor's intervention means the missile misses the strange matter asteroid, which makes perfect sense given how big space is, but his crossed fingers are a nice touch. While I don't know how all the Tetraps got into the Rani's TARDIS, it may be a clue we're already dealing with the mastermind Doctor of the later stories. And yes, the puns and malapropisms get impossibly numerous, but many are clever and I imagine this will go down once language fetishists Pip and Jane Baker are no longer writing him. (Full disclosure: I've never seen Paradise Towers and several other Season 24-25 seventh Doctor stories, or else not since they first aired, so I may be wrong. I am pretty happy I sat on those DVDs all this time so I could see some stories fresh - it's exciting!)

VERSIONS: The Target novelization gives the sixth Doctor a final moment trying to set the HADS. Sadly, his new last words are "Take a look at the computer read-out screen", hardly better than "Carrot juice! Carrot juice! Carrot juice!" and he's forced to regenerate by " tumultuous buffeting". The book also explains how the Rani escaped the T Rex in her TARDIS from her previous story (it broke its neck on the ceiling), the Tetraps' language is backwards English like a Zatanna spell, and they get a little more background. The Doctor's pratfalls are caused by his brain thinking he's still 6 feet tall. Ikona is initially repulsed by Mel's appearance. The final escape from the lab includes a scene in which a Tetrap tries to use one of the Rani's chemicals and gruesomely covers itself in fungus.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A fun finale, though not without its plot holes. Some viewers may be less forgiving than I am on the resulting explosion of irrational plot.

- While the 7th Doctor has some good opening scenes, the story fails to meet its promise and manages to look like a close cousin of Timelash (but one I don't mind inviting into my home).


Unknown said...

Thanks for putting how the Rani escaped the T Rex. I always wondered that. I only bought the books of my absolute favorite episodes, because I had to special order them.

Bill D. said...

The bit at the end where Einstein studies the TARDIS controls and the Doctor has to promise he'll explain it all later always made laugh as a kid.

I remember when my PBS station first got this story and rushed it to air... I saw the listing in the TV guide and thought it was a rerun of The Mark of the Rani so I skipped it. I tuned into see the last 5 minutes and when I realized it was the first of the new Doctor, I was so upset. It was months before they'd rerun it when they got in the rest of the season.


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