Ah the Sylvester McCoy era, I have finally arrived at thee.
You know how everyone talks about they have “their” Doctor? The one they grew up with and therefore the one they relate to most.
Well unfortunately for me, “my” Doctor is Sylvester McCoy, the Doctor that rightly or wrongly has a reputation for being the “Crap One”.
Is that fair? Well we’ll see, because based on TV stuff alone, I think any Doctor would have to be exceptionally bad to be worse than Season 21/22 Colin Baker.
But we’ll see.
Growing up, I think I seriously resented McCoy. Perhaps what worked against him was that in the early 90s, people might have blamed him for the show being cancelled, and what’s worse, they’ll have had his shows recorded off TV to compare
with the early VHS releases.
But neither issue is McCoy’s fault really.
For one thing, the BBC clearly didn’t care much about the show by the time he was in the lead; if they did, they’d never have put it up against Coronation Street in an era before Sky+ and TV on Demand. That will be the main reason the ratings declined and they couldn’t be bothered with it any more.
And as for the comparison to older stuff? Well John Nathan Turner was wrong when he said “The memory cheats” in regards to fandom thinking the 60s and 70s stuff was better, but it’s perhaps a little bit unfair to the McCoy era that the stories his stuff was being compared to was the earliest released VHS tapes. So people might compare Dragonfire to the likes of Pyramids of Mars and Talons of Weng Chiang as opposed to stories The Android Invasion and The Sunmakers which would not see commercial release until much later. Obviously the majority of his stuff could not hold a candle to the better stories of the 60s or 70s, but then the same could be said of the 80s output in general.
Certainly when reviewing McCoy’s stuff I’ll try to go into it with an open mind, but the problem is that his first story – Time & The Rani – is considered as being one of the worst ever. Indeed, in the DWM Mighty 200, it ranks at #198.
This does not bode well…
Doctor Who – Time & The Rani Review: What’s This One About
Well Colin Baker wouldn’t come back to film one last story, so this one starts with Sylvester McCoy dressed up as the Sixth Doctor lying face down on the ground dead after what seems like an innocuous tumble.
Then the Rani comes in, has him turned over and he regenerates into Sylvester McCoy.
What follows is four episodes of absolute drivel.
Something to do with the Rani wanting to use the brains of some of the universes foremost thinkers to harness Silly Matter or something. To be honest, I can’t be bothered looking it up to get the right name because this story is just a lot of old shite.
Thoughts – Him?!
The accompanying documentary on Time & The Rani concerns the firing of Colin Baker and the casting of McCoy. In it, JNT – in an archived interview that seems to take place in a grotty cafe in the mid 90s – talks about how he wanted to hire Sylvester McCoy, and the Sixth Floor of the BBC kept coming back to him saying “Are you sure? Him?”.
Now surely JNT must have seen that as a sign that he might be failing to spot something that everyone else could see quite clearly, but alas not. What they do is make him take a screen test with some other actors, and hilariously, it appears that
so desperate was JNT to get his man, that he had McCoy test against two of the most unsuitable actors you’ll ever see. The first one looks like a giant tramp while the other one looks like he’d only excel in the role of a nervous psychiatrist or a nonce.
Honestly, those screen tests are spectacular for all the wrong reasons, but what they do manage to do is make Sylvester McCoy appear to be a match for Sir Laurence Olivier.
So JNT got his wish and McCoy got the job, but for anyone old enough to appreciate what good acting was back when it was first broadcast, Episode One of Time & The Rani must have come as a shock. And not a mild surprise type shock, but an ice-cold bucket of water over your unsuspecting head style shock.
You’d be hard pushed to find a worse acting performance in all – to that point – 141 Doctor who stories broadcast than the man who has somehow managed to take the lead role.
He starts of with the S0-Bad-It’s-Hilarious “Just three questions. Who am I? Where am I? And who are you?!??!” but then it quickly descends into So-Bad-It’s-Painful territory with him throwing himself around the screen like an ugly bloke who thinks he can only win the girl by putting himself in danger.
In no way does McCoy come across as an actor, let alone a leading man. It’s just dreadful.
Things continue badly through Episode Two with his slapstick running, incorrect phrases and general demeanour and then by Episode Three we have perhaps the worst delivered line by a Doctor ever. “A hologram. As substantial as the Rani’s scruples”
The thing is though that I don’t think McCoy really knew what he was doing at the start. He didn’t know how to play it and didn’t have a good enough set of writers (yes, Pip & Jane are back), a script editor with experience or a producer with any idea how to actually produce a TV show to back him up.
And so by Episode Four – with three episodes in the bag and an idea of how he thinks he should play it forming in his head – his performance is actually a million times better than it was at the start.
But I don’t think people would have noticed or cared. Like Colin Baker’s Doctor, the first impression was the key, and the first impression of Sylvester McCoy was justifiably that he couldn’t act and had no business being on our TV screens.
Even allowing for him improving though – which he does – it’s fair to say that he’s a strange choice for a leading man. Could you imagine him being cast as the Doctor today? Of course you couldn’t. In an image driven world, he just doesn’t look the part.
The Story Itself
So Episode One is the worst Doctor Who episode ever. I think that’s clear. For what it is, it surpasses even the Twin Dilemma for being awful. Not only have you got McCoy stinking up the screen, but there’s all that nonsense with the Rani
dressing up as Mel, then there’s Mel being considerably worse than she was in Terror of the Vervoids, and finally the *shudder* beginning of the Keff McCulloch Reign of Instrumental Music Terror.
McCulloch, with an instrument that sounds ugly and out of date even then, seems to think Incidental Music involves repeatedly stabbing at the same key over and over again. It goes beyond wearing and into the realms of seriously distracting and then torturous. Again, this is JNT’s fault as far as I’m concerned.
The story progresses though and as I said earlier, it’s just a load of toss that is such a chore to watch that I can barely be moved to remember the plot. And I only finished watching it 15 minutes ago.
On the whole it probably exceeds the likes of Underworld and Terminus for being boring, while also being as embarrassing as the Twin Dilemma. It really is the double whammy.
I’ve read it said that in terms of how it looks it really isn’t all that bad, but once again I would disagree. Yes, the Rani’s palace blends in well with the quarry, but there’s so much more to it than that. For example, the Tetraps look and act like something out of a pantomime. Their masks look cheap and immobile and their mannerisms are amateurish.
Then you’ve got the Lakertyans who are straight out of the Twin Dilemma School of Silly Costumes. Underneath those costumes are actors who are mostly either ropey (like Mark Greenstreet) or are playing the role with a level of withering apathy that implies they feel their career has hit rock bottom (Donald Pickering),
And what about the “CGI” of the insects in The Centre of Leisure (a lot of thought went into naming that place).
So Time and the Rani is awful. It’s a failure on every conceivable level.
And it’s worse than the Twin Dilemma
The Strange Desexualisation of the Doctor Who Companion
Now let’s be honest here; Bonnie Langford is not the sort of actress who would “Get The Dads Watching” like some of the companions they’ve had in the past.
Even so, what they do to her here is odd.
She’s a 23 year old woman, but the costume department appears to have made the decision to dress her up like a child. It’s unsettling.
Now fair enough, they don’t have to dress her up like they dressed Peri in her skin-tight figure hugging lycra, but dressing her like a little girl who looks like she should be carrying a teddy bear and sucking her thumb is just creepy.
And with her looking like a child, Bonnie Langford – maybe being dragged down further by those around her – puts in a performance that is so far from her Terror of the Vervoids turn that it’s confusing.
All she does is scream. Again and again. Like a little girl.
That’s JNT for you though I suppose.
- Making the decision not to come back and play the Doctor in Time & The Rani must be hands down the best career decision Colin Baker ever made. Could you imagine how much worse his tenure would have been thought of it was book-ended by the two worst Doctor Who stories ever?
- Ironically though, that decision was probably the worst one ever made for Sylvester McCoy’s career.
- Could they not have just had the story start with McCoy already in place and perhaps with a new companion? It wouldn’t have been too difficult to write Mel out off screen. I doubt the average viewer would have cared, and on the latter point, I imagine the Angry Army Of Superfans would have been thrilled.
- As it was, we had to put up with that awful scene where the Doctor picks his new costume. At least this time it’s not as bad as Colin Baker’s one.
- Although, in fairness, McCoy suits that costume more than Baker did.
- To say something positive about this story, when she’s meant to be frozen stiff, Bonnie Langford has fantastic posture and core strength.
- And let’s not forget Kate O’Mara, who deserves credit for going out on location to film footage in a quarry at her advanced age. One unfortunate tumble and she’d have needed a hip replacement.
- Why the Doctor and the Rani stand shouting to each other when they are only about 10 metres apart is baffling.
- How is a computer expert the sort of person who’ll know how to deactivate an ankle bracelet? And how is it that after doing one successfully, the Doctor hands the job over to someone else?
- I remember seeing a clip of the scene at the end where the Doctor has all the brilliant minds in his TARDIS a few years ago and genuinely having no idea what story it was from. That’s how memorable this is.
- At least we can be thankful that this is the only story where The Doctor has that “Getting the phrases wrong” gimmick.
- The interview on the documentary with Pip & Jane Baker has an astonishing moment where Jane talks about how they originally wanted to base it around the story of Solomon, and how new script editor Andrew Cartmel vetoed it saying that people wouldn’t be familiar with it. Jane Baker said she didn’t believe it and that everyone knows the story of Solomon. I think that sums up how out of touch those two are or were.
- And don’t they both look like Ronnie & Mildred from One Foot In The Grave? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s who they were based on.
- Andrew Cartmel? I don’t like the cut of his jib.
- Often I find myself agreeing with the story critiques in the About Time series of books, but in their summing of up Time & The Rani they say that Episode One is the worst episode ever; even worse than Underwater Menace Episode 3. On reading that I lost all respect for the writer’s opinion. Underwater Menace Episode Three is legendary.
- This story ends with Sylvester McCoy saying “You’ll get used to me”. That’s two Doctors in a row whose first story is so terrible that the writers feel compelled to have the lead actor finish on a line that pretty much says “Yes, I know I’m a terrible choice, but tough”. I don’t recall Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker having to do that.
- More spelling mistake fun. Wouldn’t this have been a far superior story if it was called Time & The Rabbi?
- John Nathan Turner says he liked it. Says it all.
- DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #198
Doctor Who – Time & The Rani Review: Final Thoughts
At the end of my Twin Dilemma review I wrote “…the Twin Dilemma probably is the worst Doctor Who story…”
I was wrong.
Time & The Rani has the worst single episode I’ve ever seen, a lead who – rather than being written badly – appears to be unable to act on first impressions, elements of the story that are embarrassing, a plot that bored me into submission and incidental music that made me want to perforate my own ear drums just to stop hearing it.
It genuinely does not get worse than Time & The Rani.
On the other hand, as 80s singer Yazz would say, the only way is up!