Summary: The Doctor is regenerated into a new form, and in the midst of his regeneration crisis, has to come to grips with the machinations of the Rani. The spark of life is there, though it rarely breaks through, in this story ultimately making enemies into allies and how foolish it might be.
BLOT: (30 Mar 2011 - 03:05:29 PM)
"Time and the Rani". Doctor Who serial 144. Seventh Doctor: Sylvester McCoy.
Episode 1 starts with a so-so CG sequence of the Tardis being blasted, quickly followed by the Rani and a servant entering. Mel and the Doctor are laying on the floor, and as they "leave the girl", we see the Doctor flip over and regenerate from his Sixth to his Seventh incarnations. Then clicks on the ear-splitting Seventh Doctor theme song, and we are off to a new (and for the old-Who, last) era.
The story is fairly straight-forward: the Rani wants to do something with a "strange matter" asteroid, and has enslaved one race—Lakertyans—to do what she needs partially by using another race—the Tetraps [the analog towards using criminals to keep the Jews in line, along with the "appeasement" angle, seems kind of obvious]. The Doctor is first unsure of who he is, and who others are, and the Rani uses this to convince him that she is Mel and Mel is the Rani. As the Doctor helps her to complete her asteroid-interacting machine, unknowingly, Mel runs around avoiding traps and Tetraps (bat-like violent sorts). She teams up with a rogue Lakertyan (humanoid with some reptilian qualities) and eventually gets a chance to jog some memories and meet some new but old faces. By this time, though, things are at the breaking point and the Doctor has to not only stop the Rani, but figure out how to get the Lakertyans to rise up from their lethargy and leisure.
There are about five things I feel need to be pointed out. First, Colin Baker had been fired. Apparently early drafts had him returning for at least the beginning bit, but he refused and so we have McCoy in the Sixth Doctor's outfit. Had Baker returned, there might have been a substantially different story. Second, Mel was introduced in the last half of the "Trial of a Time Lord" season. She came in, without much introduction, and was last seen presumably being taken back to her own time stream. The amount of time between the two stories is completely unknown. It is possible that this takes place almost immediately after. Three, the direction here changes some from the bleak pomposity of the Sixth Doctor era—quoting Shakespeare while running through washed out tunnels filled with deject servitude—to something more more akin to stage play. A stage play regularly involving, at this stage (no pun intended), prat falls, big guestures, big faces, and snappy malapropisms.
Four, the Rani was established a season or two back (about two years in real-word time, I think) as a person willing to risk a lot to accomplish what she thought was best, and a master of bio-chemicals. Here she is staging an experiment that will give her a massive weapon of manipulation by pitting two species against each other. That is much more in line with the kind of thing which which the Master would get involved. Fifth, the use of name dropping great geniuses such as Albert Einstein and Louis Pasteur, combined with an overall decrease in close-up violence from the past couple of seasons, along with the prat-fallish stage direction seems to suggest a renewed push towards treating the show like a children's drama. This explains some of the initial direction for the Seventh Doctor before his "darker" stories crop up more and more later.
And while this is not a good story, since so much of it involves getting out of the lab and then finding a way to get back in again, it does show promise. CG effects and costumes combined to seemingly increase the number of aliens that can be seen at one time (I assume some of the Tetraps and some of the captured geniuses are the same as some of the Lakertyans) both show a show trying to play with its budget rather than simply bow down to it. What's more, the theme of cute things that are really dangerous crops up here between the Rani's attempt at a cute-side and her pinkish pyramid of a Tardis. Little of what would become the Seventh Doctor is noticable, even though the humorous man seen here would be the underpinning of later stories. Slicing it down to three episodes, cutting a little bit of stagishness, and retooling the why for the Rani would go a long way to fix it. Still, outside of the cliffhanger involving Mel caught in a trap that turns out to be resolved through sheer...whatever that was...there are few moments 100% worhty of disdain (the combined geniuses arguing together in the brain comes close, but it really is a device for the Doctor to unleash wordplay so I'll allow it).
Overall, I'd say somewhwere between Meh and Fair. Not the most ostentatious of openings, but the solid concepts underlaying some of the pomp get a chance to go on to better effect in later episodes.
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: March 2011