It’s Season 24 … again … the least we can say for Time and the Rani is that it at least escaped the bottom ten.
Lots of things didn’t go well for this serial, beginning with the decision not to invite Colin Baker to return for his regeneration scene. It meant that the Sixth Doctor’s apparent end was due to the TARDIS being shot down by the baddy of the piece, a renegade Timelord known as the Rani. It also meant that Sylvester McCoy ended up donning a blond curly wig to impersonate Baker’s prone form lying on the TARDIS floor. It was all somewhat undignified, and made worse by McCoy not being able to ditch Baker’s wholly unsuitable and garish outfit until episode two.
But if we are going to talk about costumes, we must talk of the Rani. Played by the late Kate O’Mara, she was actually rather good in her first serial The Mark of the Rani – her unique take being that she was a scientist without conscience – seeking knowledge at all costs in the same way the Master seeks power at all costs. In this serial however, she spends the first two episodes mainly impersonating Mel, not even that convincingly. To ask an actress of O’Mara’s calibre to effect such an awful bit of drama is even worse viewed 30 years later.
So to recap. The old Doctor does not get the send-off he deserves. Kate O’Mara’s quite good character is reduced to rather poor acting. We can add to this infamy the same issues that we have already raised for this season – Bonnie Langford’s Mel at her ‘stand stock still and scream at danger’ worst; dubious production values; and a plot that is decidedly weak. It’s also hard to imagine what the BBC had in mind for this serial. Their original intent was that Baker should return for this serial, and then would regenerate at the end. But it’s hard to imagine Baker at his bombastic best clowning around as McCoy did in this serial – the role doesn’t especially suit McCoy either. One my friends very neatly summed up the problem McCoy faced – he was being asked to act to scripts written with Baker in mind.
And yet despite these flaws – I used to rather enjoy Time and the Rani. I think because I enjoyed the Rani’s first story I was more sympathetic to her second outing, despite the poor story quality and the rather lacklustre villains she is working alongside. And while McCoy deserved a much better entry story, it is nowhere near as catastrophic as The Twin Dilemma. This reason alone puts the serial above Dragonfire, even though the latter was a more pleasant surprise when reviewed on DVD.
I have promised (and will deliver soon!) my own take on what Season 24 could and should have looked like. But my teaser remark … Time and the Rani is the serial I will be making the most alterations to!