In the late 1980s, Doctor Who was in trouble. The Powers That Be in the BBC didn’t like it much, and wanted to get rid of it altogether. They’d made their first attack by cancelling the planned 1985 series, but allowing it to return for The Trial of a Time Lord, in which both the Doctor and the series were on trial. The forces of darkness decided to compromise – the series could come back, but there would have to be a new actor cast as the Doctor. Colin Baker, who was just getting into the swing of things and just developing his interpretation of the character into someone the audience could actually like, was not very happy about this. So unhappy, in fact, that he declined to appear in the opening episode of the 1987 series to do a regeneration scene. And quite honestly, who could blame him for that.
And so, when the new series began, new Doctor Sylvester McCoy had to fake it a bit, with the aid of a not very good wig and some swirly video effect thingies. It’s never really made clear why he regenerated, either. But never mind all that, let’s get on with the DVD.
The TARDIS, containing the Doctor and new companion Mel (played by Bonnie Langford, one of the loudest screamers ever) is brought down on the planet Lakertya by the Rani, who we last saw bickering with both the Doctor and the Master in The Mark of the Rani. For ludicrous plot reasons I won’t go into, she wants to use his brain to work with those of other captured geniuses (Einstein makes a predictable appearance) to power a captive giant brain into doing some unlikely physics which will make Lakertya’s star do alarming things with time and make her all-powerful and probably even nastier…
While the Doctor is in a post-regeneration state of confusion, the Rani pretends to be Mel so she can persuade him to work on “his” experiment in “his” lab.
And so it goes. There’s the usual quota of running around, some malapropisms from the Doctor, some Nasty Monsters and some Noble Natives, and some nasty booby traps. All good fun, but not really enough to attract larger audiences, especially as the BBC were working quite hard to keep the audience low by putting it on at the same time as ITV’s unaccountably popular Coronation Street.
Incoming script editor Andrew Cartmel had some quite different ideas of how the show should develop, which led to some fun with writers Pip and Jane Baker, and to some changes in characterisation after this story. For instance, the Doctor mangling common phrases with monotonous regularity soon stopped…
Anyway, it’s a harmless enough thing, the Rani is nicely evil and bonkers, and the Doctor, well, let’s be kind and say he’s suffering a bit from his regeneration. Sylvester got a lot better later on.
There’s the usual collection of extras, of course. In addition to the expected commentary, production subtitles, a trailer for the next release, which is an interesting one, galleries and so on, you can see:
- The last chance saloon – Cast, crew and even a BBC Dalek executive remember the time when the show was in danger of being exterminated.
- 7D FX – the video effects in this story were made using what was, at the time, seriously advanced stuff. This is a behind the scenes look at some of them
- Helter-Skelter – Quite apart from having a new version of the theme tune, the new series had a new title sequence, the first to be computer generated. Its creators talk about it.
- And more! There’s another bit from Blue Peter, a BBC Breakfast on location report and Kate O’Mara (the Rani) talks about gossip.
Perhaps not one of the best releases, but still worth watching at least once, if only for the Rani’s immortal opening line:
Forget the girl, it’s the man I want!
All good fun…