Part 1 starts with a pre-credits title sequence. Since its last outing onto TV Doctor Who has struggled through a period of suspected cancellation and has fired its lead actor to be replaced Sylvester McCoy. It is said man who lies on the floor of the TARDIS now, however his usual guise is not yet revealed as he wears a blonde curly wig to imitate the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker had refused to return after his dismissal from the show and so this sequence was created to allow Sylvester McCoy to play both incarnations. When the Rani enters the TARDIS we get the famous line,
Leave the girl, it’s the man I want.
now iconic to the episode. A Tetrap enters and turns over the Doctor, as he does, the purple light of regeneration fills the Doctor’s face. The only change of course is the disappearance of the wig.
Now we have the new titles! A retro look as we head into the late 1980s with a more focused approach on the TARDIS and a galaxy than the show has had previously. Sylvester’s face makes its well-known appearance and we get the opening credits ‘Time and the Rani by Pip and Jane Baker’.
With the help of Lakertyans, a humanoid reptilian race, the Rani puts Einstein into a holding cubicle before going off to prepare her laboratory where the Doctor lies on a central table. The Doctor wakes and is excitable but instantly recognises the Rani and argues with her about what evil plans she is getting up to. He finds it has something to do with strange matter before attempting to escape.
Meanwhile, the Lakertyan [Lack-er-shan] Ikona has found Mel inside the TARDIS and plans to take her in a trade for the Lakertyan leader Beyus, who is enslaved by the Rani. Mel escapes but stops when she sees Sarn, another of the Rani’s Lakertyans get caught in a trap and killed.
The Rani drugs the Doctor and gives him amnesia then disguises herself as Mel so that when he wakes up, he gets the two confused. While the Doctor is fooled, the real Mel tries to reason with Ikona and once she has saved him from a trap, he believes her. The Doctor meanwhile is shocked at his appearance and attitude, thinking himself grumpy and cynical in his new regeneration. He continues to get common idioms wrong and plays the spoons across where he should be working. The Rani continues to try and persuade him to help her fix the machinery which ‘he’ had started.
A Tetrap tries to hunt Mel and Ikona while a small army of Tetraps are being fed by Beyus underneath the Rani’s HQ. The Doctor says he must return to the TARDIS to get a component needed for the machinery and as they walk across the planet the Rani ‘reiterates’ what the Doctor has already told her. Once at the TARDIS the Doctor tries on different clothes, including many from previous incarnations before finally deciding on an outfit which is now vital to the Seventh Doctor era. The Doctor hallucinates about the difference between Rani-Mel and the real Mel before deciding that the Mel seen on the TARDIS scanner (the real one) is actually the Rani in disguise!
Mel, who has resolved to find the Doctor, is caught in a trap and whisked into the air as Ikona watches. One of Mel’s infamous screams is heard as she batters around the cliff faces before the credits role to signal the end of part one.
Episode two is very back and forward with the major developments being; the Rani starts to drop hints about not being Mel, Mel breaks into the Rani’s HQ, the Rani leaves to collect material she needs, Mel and the Doctor check each other’s pulses to see that they are both who they say they are, they discover the strange matter will explode and kill the nearest corner of the galaxy, the Doctor wants to know what’s in the Rani’s locked room at the back of the laboratory, the Rani wants to put the Doctor in a cubicle, the Rani reveals herself to the Doctor and he becomes trapped in the Tetrap pit trying to escape.
The most important point to take from this episode in terms of the Doctor is that he claims himself to be his seventh persona; this opposes the notion that the Doctor had incarnations before his first as suggested in The Brain of Morbius.
After the reprise of part 2 the Doctor escapes with help from Beyus but angers at the captures scientists and suggests that the Rani is trying to perform some kind of time experiment. The Doctor then steals an important component to the Rani’s work before escaping the HQ. Mel, however, has been captured and subdued by the Tetraps and so the Rani offers to exchange her for the component.
Meanwhile, the Doctor has met Ikona and he takes the Doctor to the Centre of Leisure where the other Lakertyans reside. The Rani threatens them by releasing a swarm of deadly insects from an orb which is suspended from the ceiling after hearing of how Ikona killed a Tetrap. The Doctor agrees to trade for Mel but upon her return it transpires that she is only a hologram! The Doctor sets off to return to the HQ where Mel has been set to work to help Beyus. The Rani and Mel argue over the success of the Rani’s venture, but the Doctor is caught and put inside a cubicle. Mel argues with Beyus but he will not be persuaded to fight the Rani.
Mel makes a last ditch attempt to persuade against the plan e both Beyus and the Rani but neither will budge, Mel screams and is grabbed by a Tetrap, the Doctor is linked to the mainframe…
The final episode sees the full extent of the Rani’s plan revealed, more coming and going of Lakertyans and about four untaken opportunities to round off the episode with a suitable conclusion. As for this episode, the most interesting thing to take from it is the Doctor briefly suggesting that he discovered how time travel worked in the first place, saying it didn’t take him long to work it out.
While the episode firmly establishes the Seventh Doctor and his relationship with Mel it does leave some rather gaping plot holes and unanswered questions. Andrew Cartmel, the script editor at the time, suggested in a recent Doctor Who Magazine feature that he should have demanded bigger script changes off of Pip and Jane Baker or dropped the episode altogether.
Sylvester McCoy continued as the Doctor until 1989 when the show was finally cancelled. He would star in some of the series’ most well remembered serials, including the complete 25th anniversary season. His Doctor started to develop a darker more mysterious nature towards the end of his tenure, something that Peter Capaldi has promised us we will receive with his new Doctor.
Andrew will welcome the brief return of the Seventh Doctor tomorrow before finding out who’s filling McCoy’s shoes in The TV Movie.