Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Evidence Was Not As I Remembered (Time and the Rani)

Well, clearly something has changed about the program.
It's September 7th, 1987. The number one song has to be linked to, I fear. It remains there for three weeks before being unseated by M/A/R/R/S with "Pump Up The Volume/Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance)." Also in the charts are Michael Jackson with Bad, Madonna with Causing a Commotion, U2 with "Where The Streets Have No Name," and The Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield with "What Have I Done To Deserve This."

In real news, recapping since Colin Baker went down in a hail of carrot juice, British Gas and British Airways both go public. The highest ever audience for a British television drama tunes in for the grimly depressing EastEnders Christmas episode. Kurt Waldheim is barred from the United States, Klaus Barbie goes on trial in Lyon, and Rudolf Hess dies. Thatcher wins election to a third term, and the Docklands Light Railway opens in London. And the entire Spycatcher affair rumbles on, with The Daily Telegraph being sued in an attempt to block them from publishing details from the book. And Jeffrey Archer wins a libel trial against the Daily Star. He will go on to lose a perjury trial over his actions in the libel trial. Oh well.

While during this story, Pat Robertson announces that he's running for President, Spycatcher gets published in Australia, and Star Trek: The Next Generation premieres.

Speaking of television, we have here Time and the Rani. Time and the Rani, obviously, is not very good. We might, if we wanted to, suggest that this was some sort of major problem that damaged the series and screwed over the rest of the Sylvester McCoy era, but let's face it, it wasn't. Ratings dropped after the first episode, but recovered healthily over the remainder of the season such that it's difficult to blame Time and the Rani for any long term damage.

This is oddly liberating. For five seasons - arguably for nine - every bad story has required some larger contextualization in terms of the failings of the production team and some exploration into what specific role the offending story played in the downfall of Doctor Who. But here we're free from that! It had nothing to do with the downfall of Doctor Who. There's nothing left to explain here - we're on a twelve story run of bonus stories. The show is doomed, nothing save maybe for realizing that they could have promoted Remembrance of the Daleks as a stunning rebirth of the franchise could possibly have saved it, and we're free to simply enjoy the steady improvement the show undergoes and the fact that it very quickly becomes better than it's ever been before.

So, yes, Time and the Rani is rubbish for all the reasons you expect it to be rubbish, most of which are Pip and Jane Baker, but really, who cares? Not only does it not matter for once, what's bad about this story isn't even one of the most interesting things about it. What's interesting about it are, frankly, the myriad of casually good things.

On a technical level, at least, this is a much more solid show. This, in many ways, began with Trial of a Time Lord. The decision to switch entirely to video gives rise to a newfound unity in the look of productions. It also coincides with a willingness to use locations better and an increased savviness in camera placement and movement such that the flashes of brilliance that characterized Camfield or Maloney or Harper stories in the past suddenly become the norm.

But the technical side can safely be saved for the video blog below. So let's move into the aspects of this story that are better than people give them credit for and don't have anything to do with the production. For instance, the writing.

No, really. For all of its flaws, let's not forget that this story had a genuinely massive mountain to climb in terms of writing. With McCoy's hiring happening barely a month before production, there was no way that his entrance wasn't going to be rough. As good an actor as McCoy is - and we'll talk about that in a minute, his opening scenes are tough to watch.

It's to their credit that the Bakers come pup with a good solution to the problem. If the Doctor isn't going to be up to snuff in this story then pair him with Kate O'Mara's Rani, a character who had already acted Anthony Ainley's Master off the screen in her last appearance. And on top of that, cover up his first two episodes with the utterly ludicrous conceit of Kate O'Mara impersonating Bonnie Langford. Which is a genuinely clever way of papering over that crack. It's notable that Time and the Rani doesn't really start to drag until after the Rani's ruse is exposed. The wheel-spinning of the first two episodes is genuine, but to be honest, Tat Wood's declaration that episode one is the single worst episode of Doctor Who ever is simply bewildering. Much worse, for my money, is episode three, in which all pretense of comedy is drained and we watch a still-not-quite-there Sylvester McCoy in a turgid Pip and Jane runaround through a quarry.

Yes, the Rani has flaws as a character and is at times annoying in her vapid campness. But Kate O'Mara can anchor a scene capably - indeed, she makes a fair meal out of some painful dialogue here. As bad as this story is, it ran the risk of being incoherent and having nothing at all that clearly anchored it if they forced McCoy to the center too early. The decision to have this be Kate O'Mara's show first and foremost steadied the ship considerably and gave McCoy the space to start to feel out his character.

And McCoy, let's be clear, is quite good here too. The usual (and utterly wrong) brief about McCoy's three years are that his first season involved a lot of clowning around and then he settled down. This is based on two things, neither of which have a lot to do with his actual stories. The first is the fact that one of McCoy's pre-Doctor Who jobs was as a physical comedian in roadshow comedy. The second is that, starting with Season 25, the series takes a somewhat darker and more serious turn, and as a result everything prior to that turn is automatically relegated to being "silly."

In truth, both judgments are thoroughly off-base. Season 24 has some comedic stories, but with the arguable exception of Time and the Rani - and let's face it, the Bakers weren't trying for comedy - all of them have serious undertones. As for McCoy, well, this is a complete misunderstanding of him. Yes, he was a physical comedy clown. In the Ken Campbell Roadshow. So that would be a physical comedy clown for the guy who did a nine hour staging of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy. Clearly this is not quite as straightforward a career as "stuffing ferrets down his trousers" makes it sound. And that's ignoring the fact that McCoy had already branched into serious acting performances.

It is true that McCoy's earliest training was in stage shows played to potentially indifferent or hostile audiences, and that he as a result internalized the crucial skill of being willing to do absolutely anything to win over an audience. It's arguable that this leads to his one real failing in the part - his marked weakness in scenes in which he has to be angry or over the top - but for the most part it's to his credit, keeping his Doctor constantly animated and active. Indeed, the more brooding, dark elements of his character that later come to define him are only really possible because of this aspect of McCoy's performance. The skills he honed getting indifferent and intoxicated audiences to keep being entertained are the same ones he later uses to get away with the more somber Doctor he plays.

What's interesting, then, is that McCoy, over the course of Time and the Rani, shrinks into his role. Or, perhaps more accurately, he fills the space he's given with increasing thoroughness. He starts, unsurprisingly, with a broad and comedic scope, but between having Kate O'Mara vamping her way across the first two episodes and, I think, a growing realization that the part calls for something smaller, he draws inward. He learns quickly how to play the part so as to suggest hidden depths. Again, there's an odd way in which the Bakers' script benefits him here. The script spends two episodes with a lot of the plot hinging on the details of what the Doctor is thinking, which means that McCoy gets the opportunity to work at implying a vast and incomprehensible amount of thought under the surface.

By the end we routinely get moments that seem like what we all remember McCoy's Doctor as being. The moment when he muses over what the Rani's control over the universe would mean, commenting that "Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Louis Pasteur, Elvis, even Mrs Malaprop will never have existed" is telling for its lack of bluster. It's not delivered as a furious rejoinder to the Rani, but rather as though the Doctor is thinking through her plan and naming the first consequences that come to mind. Even much earlier, when the Doctor refers to "that sad skeleton" the line resonates in compelling new ways.

The other thing to note is that for all the script's flaws, the Bakers do tend to have interesting ideas clanking about in the depths of their scripts. The line that "the barrier to understanding time is empirical thinking" is deliciously suggestive, even if the Bakers don't do anything at all with its implications.

These are, of course, all small things in the face of a story that is pointedly not good. But it is, I think, more sensible to look at this as the first step in a necessarily gradual process of improvement. It's simply not possible to go from being the sort of show that does Trial of a Time Lord to the sort of show that does Remembrance of the Daleks in a single story. That Doctor Who got there in four stories is remarkable, and the fact that it's not good yet after one story can't be taken as grounds for criticism.

If we're being honest, much of this story's reputation comes from the circumstances surrounding its original airing. Watched without knowledge of the future it was a terrifying moment of "oh God, here we go again." But again, we don't have to do that anymore. We know the series gets better, and can afford to look at this story in the context of that improvement. Its innovations are incremental, but they're important ones that have a huge impact later on. Its flaws are massive, but they're holdovers from an era that is already almost completely shoved out the door. Watched in the context of Doctor Who's larger history, this is clearly more the beginning of improvement than it is a continuation of problems.

But in any case, let's move on to the editing and visual improvements I was talking about and bring in, after some time, another video blog.

90 comments:

  1. I've always been fascinated by the fact that Ken Campbell himself auditioned for the role of the seventh Doctor. Great as McCoy is, how much more astonishing would that have been?

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    1. I was very lucky to see two of Campbell's one man shows and they were amazing. What was especially fascinating was the way that at first everything seemed totally random but by the end you realised they were perfectly structured.

      As for what kind of Doctor he'd have been, I imagine that he would have been totally anarchic to the point where Troughton would have seemed a stuffy social conservative in comparison.

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    2. Campbell's one man shows were astonishing - I was fortunate enough to see many of them in Manchester, the last (an epic journey from the Cathars to quantum theory, by way of Anne of Green Gables and Jackie Chan) just months before his death. Many of them are available as script books, and are as fascinating to read as they were to see performed.

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    3. You used to be able to buy recordings of Recollections and Pigspurt from Colin Watkeys(?). Highly recommended. Brilliant mind.

      I love Ken Campbell but I'm not sure what he would've made of Doctor Who at this stage. He probably would've clashed with JNT. I think Sylvester had more of an affable uncle quality-a little more likeable-for what it's worth. Campbell was more menacing, he would'be made a great Master

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    4. "I think Sylvester had more of an affable uncle quality-a little more likeable-for what it's worth."

      Thank you for saying this! I thought I was the only one who saw the eccentric bachelor uncle aspects of McCoy.

      There's actually a fun pattern here (apologies if I posted this on an earlier post yesterday; I remember thinking about it, but not posting it):

      Hartnell is Susan's grandfather.
      McCoy is Mel and Ace's uncle.
      Tennant is Rose's boyfriend, Martha's crush, and Donna's best friend.
      Smith is Amy and Rory's son.

      Clearly, the Thirteenth or Fourteenth Doctor needs to be a teenaged girl with an elderly companion.

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    5. You forgot a middle link there- Pertwee is Jo's father.

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  2. "If we're being honest, much of this story's reputation comes from the circumstances surrounding its original airing. Watched without knowledge of the future it was a terrifying moment of "oh God, here we go again." But again, we don't have to do that anymore. We know the series gets better, and can afford to look at this story in the context of that improvement."

    Surely you're departing from the blog's original intent by doing this? Isn't a major point of Tardis Eruditorum that you view Doctor Who in broadcast context? Otherwise you're in danger of just turning into another Doctor Who Fan Review site, and like there's not enough of them already.

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    1. The blog also likes to find redemptive readings whenever possible. Different stories require different approaches, and goodness knows saying anything nice about this one is a non-standard take compared to most!

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    2. Well, if he looked at it totally in context of the time, his review might be similar to mine, which was "OMG WHY?"

      Even at the time (I was 15 then) one could see that the FX and general style of filming were making great leaps forward, and the GGI credits impressed, but who cares when the general lack of taste embodied by every decision - the music, the wink, the pink and mauve color schemes, the low camp, the arch dialog, Sylvester's manic flailing - just made me shudder. The headline image is actually the perfect encapsulation.

      However, right away it started getting better. Paradise Towers, for all its faults, I thought was a genuine breath of fresh air. It might not have really worked, but at least it was a new approach, Sylvester was starting to be a compelling presence, and it had some good jokes, too.

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    3. Yes and no. This will be a theme throughout the McCoy era.

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    4. Phil's relationship with time has always been hazier than just a simple focus on the present transmission time of that particular story. Instead of looking at an isolated instant, I've found his focus on the present of the show at the time considers Doctor Who as a process that's roiling along.

      Remember the first run of entires on the William Hartnell era, which I think illustrates this clearly. Phil looks at the first season of Doctor Who tracing how the Doctor becomes a hero. He identifies a problem with most readings of that period (from An Unearthly Child to The Sensorites) as that historians look at those stories expecting the Doctor to be already a hero. They're looking at 1964 Doctor Who from the perspective of 2012 Doctor Who. Phil keeps the present state of Doctor Who in mind, but only as something the show currently under analysis will eventually lead to. The show of the past, taken at the time, doesn't include the show in the present. But it's one contingent process of development.

      We, being farther along the process, can see the elements that have turned out to have the greatest influence, or take new influences from the show's past that had previously been ignored. If Phil's blog restricted itself to the present of the story under analysis as an instant, his first entry on The Two Doctors or his video blog on Tomb of the Cybermen wouldn't have made sense. Thanks to Season 6B canon/fanon, the Troughton years have to be considered in the light of his interactions with the C. Baker era of the program. Thanks to Matt Smith's research for his character development, we now have a new perspective on how to understand what Troughton was doing in 1968.

      Understanding the present as having nothing to do with the development of the future or the past makes a lot of sense, given how we talk about and experience the present intuitively in our day to day life. But if we always think about time and development this way, we create far more problems than we solve.

      After all, the barrier to understanding time is empirical thinking.

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    5. Yes, as you say, fans often look at historical Doctor Who from the perspective of whatever year they're currently in. Which of course leads to things like "re-evaluation of the Pertwee era" and suchlike. This has always bugged me, since any era of a television programme (and this happens more often in musical genres too) is mostly a reflection of the time it was made.

      Jon Pertwee's episodes haven't changed, but our perception of them has, and I feel very strongly that fans don't give enough consideration to this. Bad acting and writing can't be excused, but limitations in FX and budget can and should be. In the same way as literary intentions (or lack of) should. I'm specifically looking at the Doctor only having one heart in The Sensorites and the infamous "Morbius Doctors" which have caused unnecessary sleepless fan nights over the years.

      One of things that immediately struck me about Phil's blog was the fact that he took each Doctor Who story solely on it's own merits, and this has given us fantastic insight into how the programme was perceived during the first few years of it's transmission. In particular Phil has wonderfully punctured the erroneous assumption that William Hartnell's Doctor had descrete stories - "The Chase", "The Daleks", "The Reign of Terror" - and made us realise that Doctor Who in the early 60s was more akin to a Scifi/Fantasy Eastenders than the 6/4-part episodic series that became the 70s norm.

      I can see that it is very difficult to avoid the looming shadow of the 1989 cancellation while reviewing the series as it was in 1987, in the same way as any perspective on the 1st World War is invariably tainted by the shadow of the 2nd, but I just kind of feel that this is the case with the blog now, and has been since Peter Davison. Maybe it's just me.

      I hasten to say that I am still enjoying it, and it is probably my No. 1 Bookmark.

      -Dave

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    6. I actually see the McCoy era less in terms of the looming 1989 cancellation and more in terms of the 1985 one that is rapidly receding. Indeed, I'd point out that the bit you quoted is specifically about not opting to read Time and the Rani as part of a continuing narrative of decline leading towards cancellation.

      But equally, and not to tip my hand too far in advance, one of the things that is interestinga bout the McCoy era is that it was, in its time, unwatched and unloved. The apparent audience consisted of nothing but the people with taste bad enough to endure the Colin Baker era. The McCoy era as it happened is a phantom. Except for two things. One, it turns out in hindsight that there was a generation of new fans who were tremendously influenced by McCoy and who have had huge impact on the program, Paul Cornell being the first one to surface. Two, the McCoy era was unexpectedly brilliant.

      I mean, this is one of the defining characteristics of the McCoy era "as it happened" to my mind - it's the one classic era of Doctor Who that has always been enjoyed in retrospect and not in and of its own time. Though oddly, and again these are themes that are going to be developing out through the Virgin era, in doing so it is strangely and compellingly timely in its own right.

      You're right that the Davison/Baker stuff takes a somewhat different approach. But that's, I think, a peculiarity of what will eventually be Volume 5 of the collected edition of the blog. I mean, if you look through the Davison entries you can see the narrative of the time - a failed attempt at transforming into a Sci-Fi soap for twice-weekly broadcast, the descent into self-consciously cult television structures that followed, the fool's gold of the 20th anniversary and Longleat that fed off of that, and the near destruction of the show afterwards. A series of half-successful reinventions that each compounded the errors of the previous reinvention and lost the benefits.

      Understanding the Davison/Baker era on its own terms seems to me to necessitate treating it as a show that went off the rails, lost over half its audience, and nearly got cancelled. Since, in fact, that is what it was in its time.

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    7. Ever since your first hints at how much you loved the McCoy era, I've been looking forward to this stretch of the blog. I don't know that I'll ever have much influence over the show, but the era certainly influenced me: Sylvester McCoy was my first ever Doctor, and when I was five years old, Time and the Rani was the first Doctor Who story I ever saw. It's a spirit that's influenced me for my entire life, and I think I have Sylvester's performance and the scripts Cartmel commissioned to thank for that.

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    8. Seconding Adam: I'm really looking forward to these next few months!

      Perhaps appropriately given Phil's comment above, Sylvester McCoy's was the first era of the show I came to as an adult without the benefit of the childhood nostalgia that in many ways still guides how I view the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker eras. Despite that, it's become essentially my definitive conception of how Doctor Who should work, so it's certainly been the most influential on me personally. I'm sure I'll never be able to return the favor to the show myself, so I'll have to settle for raving about how good these three seasons are here instead.

      I also love how the dawn of the McCoy era corresponds almost perfectly with the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, my first great sci-fi love and the show that changed how I look at television and the creative process. The synchronicity is just about too much for me.

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    9. I too first saw the Doctor on screen with this episode.* I was ten when it was broadcast, and had been introduced to Doctor Who by way of the novelization of "The Power of Kroll" found at my local library. I loved every minute of Sylvester on the screen, and devoured all the target novelizations I could find. Sylvester is definitely my Doctor.

      *when I eventually read "Logopolis", I finally understood an image I'd had for as long as had been able to remeber, it turns out my earliest memeory is Tom regenerating...

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    10. it turns out my earliest memeory is Tom regenerating...

      Do you mean Colin?

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    11. I know I won't have to wait too long to find out, but I wonder when Phil will be covering Star Trek: The Next Generation? It does debut this year, but it's kind of embarrassing for everyone involved until the second season when it improves, and then enters classic territory in its third season, and apart from some slippage in season five, stays classic until it starts running out of steam in season seven.

      It might be more appropriate to cover TNG in the gap year after Doctor Who's cancellation, but before the New Adventures start up. That way, it would better reflect the cultural world Doctor Who was operating in. 1989-91 TNG perfected the populist hard SF style of storytelling that Roddenberry first created in the 1960s, then as the New Adventures really got rolling (not that any of the TNG producers noticed) in 1993-4, TNG started to challenge its own populist manifest destiny heritage, as the Federation became an internally complex society with its own political problems and unfortunate realpolitik compromises that the Enterprise crew's idealism couldn't always combat. Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine then embraced the moral conflicts that TNG had begun to explore, while perfecting the sci-fi soap storytelling that Doctor Who first gestured towards in 1982.

      I hope I'm not anticipating too many of Phil's interpretations. But I expect him to surprise me as usual. And probably expose me to all kinds of other cultural artifacts I know next to nothing about now on the way.

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    12. In this case you'll not be surprised, as you've basically guessed it. Though the reasoning is more prosaic - I think looking at how a science fiction show comes back from the dead makes the most sense at that point. It's one of six entries between Survival and Timewyrm: Genesis/Exodus. But yes, there's a larger arc of the development of what science fiction is that plays out over the schedule for the rest of the year.

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    13. @Phil

      "it turns out in hindsight that there was a generation of new fans who were tremendously influenced by McCoy"

      I think this sums up something utterly unique about Doctor Who: Kids who are exposed to their first Doctor Who at an early age absolutely love it. That Doctor becomes (and will always be) "their" Doctor. And yet tragically those kids who grow up to be fans will sometimes end up on internet forums, completely slagging off either the Doctor before theirs, or (generally) 2 Doctors on.

      Which is why I enjoy your blog so much - you manage more than anyone (though even you slip occasionally) to keep your analysis objective, even though personal appreciation of Doctor Who is 100% subjective and always will be. I have difficulty connecting with Doctors 5 through 7 (being a Troughton/Pertwee child myself), but I understand totally that there are people in the world for whom Sylvester McCoy is the definitive Doctor, and I wholeheartedly appreciate how they feel.

      "The McCoy era [is] the one classic era of Doctor Who that has always been enjoyed in retrospect and not in and of its own time.

      I hadn't consciously realised that, but yes you're right. Although I can find no emotional attachment within myself to the 7th Doctor, I do find his stories far easier to watch than the previous two.

      If you'll pardon a momentary fannish indulgence. It has been said that the 9th Doctor could never truly put the Time War and his role in it behind him until he paid the ultimate sacrifice, allowing his successor to continue relatively guilt-free. In hindsight of course this wasn't quite true, as the 10th Doctor did continue to play the guilt card from time to time, and even the 11th has slipped it out of his sleeve once or twice, but generally you can see that after the 9th regenerates the 10th puts the Time War behind him and has some fun.

      The McCoy era kind of parallels this - the reasons for the show's troubles are in the past, and the previous Doctor fell on his sword, now let's get on and make some decent stories. Unfortunately as you point out, although the show may have taken this attitude, Joe Public wasn't so quick to forget.

      @Adam

      "Sylvester McCoy was my first ever Doctor, and when I was five years old, Time and the Rani was the first Doctor Who story I ever saw. It's a spirit that's influenced me for my entire life, and I think I have Sylvester's performance and the scripts Cartmel commissioned to thank for that."

      You see I love to hear this from fans. It's the one thing we agree on (and yet the one thing we also disagree the most on). Our first Doctor was the best Doctor.

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    14. Star Trek:TNG may have debuted in the US at this time, but was still unknown in the UK. In the days before the internet UK viewers had absolutely no idea what shows were playing on US TV. It wasn't until 1990, when season one of TNG was screened on BBC2, that there was any awareness of the show in Britain.

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    15. @Nick

      A similar thing happened in the US with the McCoy era. It had started at same time as TNG but was little known as very few of the episodes had actually aired at that time. In fact, there's an Easter Egg in the TNG Season 1 finale (1988) that name-checks all the Doctors from William Hartnell to Colin Baker (you can see it on one of the LCARS displays when Riker and Data(IIRC) are looking up the family tree of one of the cryo-people). There's no mention of Sylvester McCoy though because the writers and Mike Okuda hadn't seen him yet and didn't know there was another Doctor.

      @Spacewarp

      Well, McCoy wasn't my first Doctor, as I said above, that was either Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, and he was actually the last of the Classic Series Doctors I was introduced to. He's still my favourite though, and the portrayal I consider the most definitive, so does that count me out?

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    16. Yeah. My two points about TNG are going to, briefly, be:

      1) Doctor Who has started to influence Star Trek instead of visa versa.
      2) The precedent is now set for cult shows to return. What does that mean, exactly?

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    17. @WGPJosh

      Depends how old you were when you saw your first Doctor, and whether you're from the UK or not. I tend to think that if you're a UK viewer between 5 and 7 the Doctor becomes a kind of father figure to you. But if you first see him when you're older you can be more selective.

      Also US fans' introduction to Doctor Who is quite different to UK ones, unless you're consistently shown only one Doctor at an early age. As I understand it, PBS showed a mixture of 3rd & 4th in the 80s.

      I first met the Doctor at the crossover between 2nd and 3rd, so although I saw Troughton first, I was young enough for Pertwee to supplant him in my affections (though I freely admit adolescence and Jo Grant may have helped).

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    18. @Spacewarp
      I am a US viewer and the first Doctor I was exposed too was the 4th in 1978 (I first viewed it on a commercial station). I later moved and my PBS station at the time in 1983 started with Tom Baker, but by the time the station stopped showing Who I had seen all seven Doctors.

      What is funny at the time I watched Season 24, I hated it and McCoy. However, as an adult McCoy is one of my favorite Doctors and the 7th is my favorite overall (because of the NA books), but I still don't like Time and the Rani or most of Season 24 for that matter.

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    19. As an American teen in the late 70s/early 80s I saw only Tom Baker, who was easy to like. I knew there'd been others (the magazine Starlog had an article about them). By the time Davison came along I was in college and too busy to follow much tv, though I was aware of him (though I'd gotten my wires crossed and thought he was named Pertwee). I was completely unaware of both Colin Baker and McCoy until much later.

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  3. Not 100% sure about the relevance of the directing/editing comparison. The editing, fine, but the directing... two different directors. Many directors have been stagey and bad, and many have been great. I would've understood the comparison more if these two stories had had the same director.

    I love TATR though. Much underrated, and a complete surprise they even got this written in time. It's great fun.

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    1. Well, you can't really do a huge comparison in a video blog - YouTube limits you to ten minutes, as does the need to hold the viewer's interest. Regardless, all of Season 24 has similar sharpness, while in Seasons 22-23 really only Revelation did. So though limited, I think the examples are representative - the sort of things you see in Time and the Rani are the norm from here on out, not the exception.

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  4. "The number one song has to be linked to, I fear."

    Well played, sir. Well played.

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    1. I can't s lee a link, so I actually went so far as to look up the charts for 1987.

      Well played indeedl

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    2. Bah. I hate when I forget to add hyperlinks after typing it in a word processor. Fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  5. I did a drama workshop with Ken Campbell once that was equal parts revelatory and terrifying. He would have made an outstanding Doctor but may have given the production team a few Tom Baker like nightmares. He pretty much built his whole career on being VERY opinionated. By the way the nine hour 'Illuminatus' is nothing, the best thing I saw him do was his 24 hour play 'the Warp'.

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    1. Campbell's skill as a theatrical impresario (Nina Conti talks about this in her recent documentary on herself, Campbell and ventriloquism) was to amplify the skills of his collaborators. I can't help but wonder if he might have raised the level of the whole production...

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    2. Yes, I was going to mention the Nina Conti documentary (One of the best things on TV this year. Highly recommended) but didn't want to stray too far off topic. Thinking about it, and considering Campbell's love of ventriloquism if he had got the part we might have been treated to Baker's oft suggested talking cabbage as the companion!

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  6. Brilliant analysis of a story that pretty much everybody writes off. Wonderful as always, Professor.

    Is there a particular reason that all of the video blogs are of stories you didn't particularly like?

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    1. I tend to favor them for stories where there's not a lot else to say. :)

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  7. 10-15 year old fans would have been familiar with Sylvester McCoy from the BBC kids programme Vision On (where he was known as "Sylveste"). As it was primarily aimed at deaf children he was very visual in it, and most of his sketches took place outside in a strange world where everything ran backwards and he could do things like jump onto walls and un-pour tea. There's a little bit of him here on this vid, from about 1:55 onwards. You can plainly see his Chaplin influences.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhVz8BGOoVU&feature=related

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    2. Wow, and check out this Dalek sequence from the same show. Kind of frustrating that they are better shot and edited here than on Doctor Who itself. I hereby declare this sequence canon.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKgyL0xio-Y&feature=related

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    3. Thank you - I'd never seen that, and it's completely marvellous!

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  8. The thing that strikes me the most about TATR is how the other characters react to someone dying. Gone is the cavalier nonchalance of Six. We get a fuller range of emotions than rage or fear -- and more, I get the sense the moral center of the program has returned. And, I don't know, it seems like it's been forever since we've had characters I can actually care about -- not that this is a hallmark of good characterizations, but rather that they're people who are actually good, rather than despicable.

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    1. Yes -- the way the mass killing in the Leisure Centre in episode 3 is handled made a big impression on me when I first watched it. It seemed like the show was taking death and evil with the seriousness they deserved again.

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    2. I think what's also interesting here is how that progression occurs within the episode itself- compare the girl's death in episode one (which I remember being particularly disturbed by its callousness on first viewing) to the deaths as they happen later on. There's definitely a shift in approach, first in how the characters themselves react (with the daughter being given much more weight and impact purely by the reactions of Ikona and Faroon), and eventually in how the show itself regards these deaths.

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  9. Rather surprised you didn't have a lot more on this story too. There's some nice ideas of overlap (the new Doctor spending half the story in his multi-coloured coat - an indicator that he should really still be the Sixth Doctor throughout this adventure) and some fresh breaks from the show completely (though that comes into play in the next story mainly).

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    1. It's odd that the coat looks somehow less garish on Sylvester - is it because he doesn't have blonde hair, or it's shot differently? Maybe because it's swamps him like a child in a too-big dressing gown it's more endearing somehow, coat tails sadly dragging the floor rather than lapels proudly tugged.

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    2. I can't put my finger on what it is either, but it does work. It doesn't particularly suit him, but it works.

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    3. Colin's coat makes Sylv look like a mischievous if tacky elf.

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  10. I watched this recently and came to similar conclusion to Phil. Just a few other points struck me:

    1. The Curse of the Coat. McCoy settles pretty much into his style the minute he gets rid of That Coat. His first scenes are a bit uncertain, but once he steps out of the Tardis in his proper clothes, he's essentially established his Doctor. Is Colin's coat another of these quasisentient entities, this time on a mission to sabotage Doctor Who, defeating Baker but vanquished by McCoy?

    2. It should have been a three-parter. Two episodes of entertaining, if silly, vamping around with Kate O'Mara which the new guy finds his feet, then an episode of proper Doctor Who to wrap it all up. Unfortunately, in the middle of this we have an episode three of tedious running around with a bunch of dull aliens.

    3. The missing scene. The idea of having O'Mara dress up as Mel and do a Bonnie Langford impersonation is hilariously brilliant, quite the best thing Pip'n'Jane ever did on the show. But weirdly, they fail to have scene where Real!Mel confronts Rani!Mel - the obvious scene that the story seems to be building towards.

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    1. Great points!

      Especially point 2... "Dragonfire" would have been a better 4-parter, as the stuff leading to 'that cliffhanger' would not have been cut from the actual transmission in the process...

      It is a shame that the disguised Rani and Mel never met on screen...

      But, yeah, there wasn't enough material for 4 parts...

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  11. The thing I remember most about this story (other than hating it) is that I somehow knew he was going to say "Elvis" before he said it. WOO WOO.

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  12. So, post-regenerative trauma. It became obligatory, I guess, when Peter Davison took over, and it can be frightfully overplayed.

    There is some point to it. When a new Doctor takes over, the audience is going to be asking "what's this new guy going to be like?", and using some period of instability as a way of asking and answering that question within the show can be quite effective. However, it can become terribly tedious if it goes on too long. We watch Doctor Who to see the Doctor running around saving the world in a Doctorish way, not dealing with some kind of personality breakdown. So it's important to establish the new guy, and then let him get on with the adventure. Ideally, for a multi-part story, the new Doctor should be up and running no later than the end of Part One.

    Time and the Rani actually does this quite well, and that may well be because it was originally written to have the regeneration at the end, not at the beginning. This means there's plenty of proper action for the Doctor to get into without having to spend the whole time being erratic and uncertain, let alone stuck in a fucking box for half the story.

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    1. So, post-regenerative trauma. It became obligatory, I guess.

      I think you overestimate a bit the role "post-regenerative trauma" played in this story, at least as the term applied to Davison and CB. McCoy doesn't spend several episodes fainting all over the place, nor does he have psychotic fits. Quite the contrary -- he wakes up, immediately realizes where he is and who the Rani is, and then he boldly seizes control of her equipment to investigate her schemes. His later confusion stems not from regeneration but entirely from being drugged by the Rani, and even then, his "trauma" consists mainly of believing the Rani is Mel and vice versa. Once he gets into the new suit, there aren't a whole lot of scenes where McCoy acts "out of character" relative to how he actually meant to play the part.

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    2. I think his point is the same as yours!

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  13. What I like best about this one is that, unlike in previous seasons, the callbacks and inside jokes don't really make a difference to the plot. The Rani is a villain because she is doing villainous things, and the Doctor treats her like a real threat; there is no presumption that you're going to be intimidated by her presence simply because you've seen the last 10 adventures with her. I was shocked, actually, that she appeared in only one story before this one, given how McCoy plays like she's the Master or a Dalek or something.

    Similarly, the scene where McCoy wears all the other Doctors' old clothes is played for laughs, and he looks silly enough that it doesn't matter whether you know he's dressed like his predecessors or not, especially with O'Mara getting increasingly angry with each new outfit. And if you want to read that as an indictment of the previous Doctors, and a statement that this Doctor will be different, well...?

    Overall I agree with Dr. Sandifer. Pretty bad plot with a TON of great little bits.

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  14. That leaves us with three postregenerative traumas to come: amnesiac, narcoleptic, and relatively mild apart from the food thing.

    How come River and Romana have no postregen trauma?

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    1. Perhaps it only applies to male Time Lords... ;-)

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    2. It's a good thing Eleven didn't try to strangle little Amy at first meeting. First, she would have kicked his butt, and second, it would have marred his likability a tad.

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    3. I always assumed it was simply that the Doctor is unusually bad at regeneration (just as he is uncharacteristic of his people in other ways): most other Time Lords don't get the trauma, and some, like Romana and the Master, can even pick their new appearance.

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    4. "How come River and Romana have no postregen trauma?"

      Because neither of them are half-human? [ducks and runs]

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    5. "How come River and Romana have no postregen trauma?"

      Because Romana's had practise (hence she can try on bodies) and because River... um... she's just... um.

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    6. "Because neither of them are half-human? [ducks and runs]"

      River is! :p

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    7. "River is! :p"

      Is she? Remind me again - which one of her parents isn't human?

      Oh God I've just turned this blog into GallifreyBase...

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    8. "Remind me again - which one of her parents isn't human?"

      Ex-Auton "Rory the Roman", maybe, who has memories of two thousand years of existence that never happened? Or is it Amy, who grew up with the time energy running through a crack in her bedroom wall, and can bring things back from non-existence with her mind?

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    9. At the risk of compounding the felony - Which one of her parents is Time Lord?

      Anyway I think there's a simple explanation for the regeneration trauma and anything else we might care to nitpick about.

      There is no Doctor Who canon.

      If something happens because a writer decides it'd be cool there's no guarantee it'll happen or be referred to again. Sorry that's the way it is and that's the way I like it. No need for retcons when there's no ret to con.

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    10. River has *three* parents -- she's a Child of the TARDIS, too. Of course, that means the TARDIS helped birth a child that would grow up to be a suitable mate for her "husband" which implies a kind of incestuousness, but of course that's rubbish, it's not like the Doctor drops out of the sky to hook up with little girls...

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    11. If regeneration is a gift granted by TARDISes, that adds a whole new kink to the idea that they might be the real power in Time Lord society...

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    12. Reading this thread, I'm somewhat puzzled why the fact that River goes from seeming like an impulsive but basically functional friend of Amy and Rory's to a casual killing spree through the Third Reich is not considered a form of post-regenerative trauma.

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    13. I guess because I thought her behaviour was due to her post-hypnotic assassin mode being triggered by meeting the Doctor, rather than by the regeneration per se.

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    14. "relatively mild apart from the food thing"--I take that as a twofold issue.

      One: Post-regeneration, the Doc's taste buds are many, many times "brighter" than yours or mine, and take a while to dull down to normal. It's why kids always go for the sweets--the experience is so much more colorful for them.

      Two: The Doctor is messing with Amelia to distract/calm her down a bit, 'cause she is TERRIFIED of that crack in her wall. If there's one thing he's good at, it's misdirection and sleight-of-hand. He pretends to "hate" apples, yet the distinctive bite mark is there as proof (the apple, now exposed to air, hasn't turned brown).

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  15. I do have to wonder when, between 1984 and 1987, tv programs learned how to be more expansive in style.

    I always thought Sarah Hellings' direction, as televised theater, was effective, but you're right - had "Mark" started with a wide shot of the forest, a sense of perspective would be created and then the tight shots would be more effective...

    "Time" is easily the worst P&J story, and "Mark" has the Rani as a much better and effective character, "Time" does have a great visual impact... it is put together well, despite the underlying story being a mixed bag...

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  16. I don't see McCoy's inability to do 'angry' as a real weakness in the context of the character. His Doctor has a penchant for deliberate bathos as a way of undercutting rhetoric: 'unlimited rice pudding', 'bus stations', 'tea getting cold'. That the character should do big angry speeches badly fits in with that.

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    1. It's certainly arguable that giving McCoy lines like "If we fight like animals, we die like animals" constitutes a mistake in much the same way that assuming the BBC could do a giant rat does.

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    2. Though he could do coldly/chillingly angry quite well, as when he disarms the guard in Happiness Patrol.

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    3. Fortunately, Matt Smith, who is pretty much McCoy 2.0, can do anger astonishingly well, so it's not a weakness for him. :-)

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    4. That scene in Happiness Patrol is possibly my single favorite scene in the entire history of Doctor Who. Pertwee would have knocked the sniper out. Troughton and TB would have told jokes and then had Jamie or K-9 knock out the sniper. CB would have pulled out a fob watch or something silly. Davison would have probably fainted. McCoy? He drives a hardened, psychopathic killer to break down with nothing but words.

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    5. Though the scene in "Ambassadors of Death" where Pertwee psychs out the captured soldier is faintly analogous, and one of my favourite Pertwee moments. (Though I'm sure the Pertweephobes will see it as a Tory/aristo move, which is not at all how I read it.)

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    6. @Matthew Blanchette
      Matt Smith might be Troughton 2.0, but not McCoy.

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    7. @Russel Gillenwater - Coming in to reply *exceedingly late* here, but I'd argue Matt Smith is pretty much a straight up amalgam of Troughton and McCoy. In fact, I *have* argued this. At great length.

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  17. Something I noticed from Phil's video blog: TATR's director isn't just good at establishing a sense of space, he's a *cheat.*

    Go to 1:19 of the blog, the scene in the quarry where Mel is actually a hologram. Andrew Morgan opens that scene with a mid-range shot of her waving to the Doctor, then cuts to an over-the-shoulder shot where Mel is still waving, but now we can see the Doctor.

    This over-the-shoulder shot is what's tricky -- it's conventionally used to show a character's perspective or point-of-view; it's a shot to which we automatically assign a certain kind of subjectivity. But there is no Mel there! So the subjectivity of the shot is a cheat, designed to get us to believe on a subconscious level that there's really a Mel there, and making her "reveal" all the more effective.

    Tricky director.

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  18. Good things about "Time and the Rani":

    1. The visuals and direction.
    2. The show is taking itself less seriously, while at the same time...
    3. The characters, even if they're not...good, show a little more emotional depth.
    4. The new Doctor, even if he's flailing around a bit at first, is immediately more charming and compassionate.
    5. Everyone takes the piss out of Mel, suggesting...
    6. Unlike the C. Baker era, the show actually seems to have a little self-awareness (rather than self-referentiality) now.
    7. Planet of the Homosexual Iconographies.
    8. Sylvester McCoy manhandling Bonnie Langford!

    Just think about #8 on its own for a moment. There's no way Colin's Doctor could *ever* have gotten away with that, not with the shadow of domestic abuse hanging over him since "The Twink Dilemma". If he'd ever wrestled Bonnie Langford it would've been a horrible wife-beaty disaster. Colin's Doctor, however softened, on TV never entirely sheds that air of overbearing, insensitive, masculine aggression. The Saward era has a macho taint.

    Even in a crap story with minimal prep time, McCoy makes his Doctor sensitive and compassionate, not a bully but someone who stands up to bullies, not by meeting aggression with aggression but with a refusal to play that game at all. More than the "chessmaster" thing, this ends up defining McCoy's Doctor: a refusal to play by the villains' rules. "Time and the Rani", for all that it isn't in any way an actually good story, is definitely a fresh start. That baggage is gone. Doctor Who may not be a good show again yet at that point, but it's stopped being a bad-creepy one. I'd rather watch it again than almost anything from seasons 22 and 23, and a fair number of stories from seasons 21 and 20. Or "Time-Flight". Or "Four to Doomsday" even.

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    1. I've come to realise from listening to Big Finish's Lost Stories- particularly Point of Entry and The Elite, that firstly, so many good submissions and scripts went unused or were outright rejected in favour of the trash we got onscreen instead in the Saward era, that it can't have been just JNT to blame.

      Secondly, that one thing that might have saved the show during this period would be if Eric Saward was replaced as script-editor by Barbara Clegg sometime before or during Season 20.

      She was a writer who really understood the show and the character of the Doctor, and she was very good at making stories highly literate and unpredictable. And since the 80's script-editor was the go-to person for penning Dalek stories (as they were someone closely on hand for quick rewrites if Terry Nation wanted changes made before he approved it), I think The Elite knocks spots off any of Saward's efforts with the Daleks- and certainly does the moral sucker punch far better than Resurrection of the Daleks did.

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    2. "The Saward Era has a macho taint."

      I'm sorry...it has a *what*, now? o_O

      Oh, biggest laugh of the day...Thank you.

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  19. So this is completely off-topic for this post, but as this blog doesn't have "open threads," I was wondering if anyone has read "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe." It's a fairly recent SF novel, and intensely influenced by Doctor Who. All of its themes revolve around narrative collapse and the relationship between story, memory, and time travel. I'd say it was influenced by this blog if this blog was around pre-2010. I'd love to hear Phil's thoughts on it when we get to that period.

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  20. That’s an excellent piece, Phil – I always love something that really feels love for a story that it’s not easy to praise, and this is compelling even on a couple of Pip and Jane’s ideas. For me, too, their Rani-Mel is the best thing they ever came up with: not only is it very, very funny, but balancing the viewers’ instinctive ‘He’s not the real Doctor’ post-regeneration feeling with ‘She’s not the real Mel’ brilliantly gets everyone to root for him, instead (and it helps distract us, too, from ‘brilliant scientist’ the Rani suddenly needing the Doctor as a consultant). As Iain says upthread, though, it sags later in the story – the first episode carries me away with its bold, exciting direction (and colours), the second with Kate as Bonnie, but the remainder drags when it tries to be earnest, along with its ‘science’ based on a half-read article in a dentist’s waiting-room magazine. On that direction, though, I think your video blog’s very persuasive until the last line, which is – well, the politest I can be is ‘A bit of a leap’…

    It’s a shame that the Rani, who had a quite distinct characterisation two years ago, has just turned into the Master, with a ridiculous doomsday plan and bigger hair. Still, she’s fun to watch, even if you can’t help wondering how fabulous Ainley dragged up as Mel would have been. And after their previous ‘Ethnic cleansing is the only [final] solution’ script, I don’t feel like rooting for Ikona the ranting xenophobe as the ‘hero’ and new absolute ruler that the others don’t question, replacing the collaborator with a fanatically racist isolationist.

    A couple of other interesting pointers to the future: it’s the first of several Who stories from this point on that have vampires while always running scared of calling them that; and while it’s hardly the New Adventures and the Stone Roses, by mentioning Elvis the Doctor’s suddenly taken a giant leap into pop culture, even if ‘contemporary’ still has to be from just before Doctor Who started.

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  21. In a way this is the tail-end of the Seasonish - this story was originally offered to Colin as his last, with a regeneration scene at the very end: this was going to be entirely his story. I'm curious as to what Pip and Jane had in mind: would the Doctor still be amnseiac, but through drugs administered by the Rani? Quite in character for her.

    Considering how we've talked about Colin's blustery Doctor working well in the audios when humiliated or put in a danger that renders his bluster ineffective, it would have been interesting to see him lose his memory, unable to trust his senses - and not regain them at all. Entirely strip away all his confidence - all his *over-confidence* - and bluster and arrogance, and yet still be left with a man who will save the day, because at heart he is the Doctor and a good man willing to sacrifice himself to save others. If Colin had gone to his death, to his regeneration like this, it would have been fantastic on a level only reserved for Caves of Androzani: finally a story worthy of his Doctor, just as they kill him off.

    Of course it might not have been like this at all, it could have been a standard run-around with Colin just happening to die at the end. But it's a nice idea, and if it's at all true certainly worthy of the Seasonish. Does anyone know of any early drafts of the Pip and Jane script that could address this?

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  22. Some interesting points.

    I really find McCoy utterly charming in this story. He's very likeable.

    One of the reasons I feel that McCoy got a rough ride for an introduction is that normally the audience is introduced to the new Doctor through the eyes of the companions. They're us in discovering what this new man is like. We respond how they respond. But McCoy has the unfortunate position of being introduced to us through the Rani. Despite needing his skill and talent for her experiment, she treats him with utter contempt and as a "bumbling idiot" - That can't fail to effect us. We're not meeting him from a position of respect. We're being told that this man is an idiot so he has a real upward struggle to really prove himself.

    Having said that I do like that the Doctor has to find himself in this story. He told this story about who he is but it all doesn't ring true "The more I know me the less I like me". It would have been an interesting tale for Colin's finale story with his discovering who he is as the Doctor.

    In many respects I feel that this is the archetype JNT story. He used to say that his vision for the show was to see it constantly evolve but I feel that's rather non-committal. He relied on the script editors to provide the shape of the series. Time and the Rani was built without any script editor. JNT just wanted a script and the "baker twins" were the obvious option (they'd proved they could provide a script quickly - they had their stock sci-fi interests and concepts - usually going back to their Space 1999 episode). JNT's interests lay in the rather more surface aspects of the show like costumes and sets, the theatrical aspects. In TATR he had his glamorous villainess
    and glitzy costumes so he was happy.

    Despite Pip and Jane Baker very awkward stilted dialogue, I don't think the story is too bad, it's very linear but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think that Andrew Morgan's direction drags it down. His camera placement is usually very awkward and encourages the broader style of performance - usually due to placing his cameras on the fourth wall for a wide shot (yet he is capable of effective close ups which soften the performances). He only gets the accolades for Remembrance of the Daleks as that has enough set pieces and big moments to distract from his work.

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    1. "The more I know me the less I like me" good grief imagine if this was still Colin's story, with him spouting these lines it would have completed the exorcism, and the cause of regeneration would basically be suicide by intentionally placing himself in mortal danger to save others (knowing he can save himself too, but choosing not to).

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  23. Is it just me, or does Mel's costume make her look like she should be selling candy?

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  24. So that would be a physical comedy clown for the guy who did a nine hour ... clowncostumemen.blogspot.com

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