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Time And The Rani
The Rani lures the TARDIS to Lakertya, where she requires the Doctor's aid to complete a device which will draw on the intelligence of history's greatest geniuses to help her reshape the universe to her own design. To this end, she drugs the newly-regenerated Doctor and masquerades as Mel to gain his trust. The real Mel, however, allies herself with the native Lakertyans, who have been suffering under the rule of the Rani and her bat-like Tetraps. It is up to Mel to rouse the Lakertyans to rebellion, and free the Doctor from the Rani's clutches.
On August 19th, 1986, the BBC confirmed that Doctor Who would return for its twenty-fourth season. This was a rare piece of good news in the midst of a year of turmoil for the programme. Already, script editor Eric Saward had quit and highly respected writer Robert Holmes had passed away while still working on The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Four). Shortly after the announcement, Season Twenty-Three began transmission to disappointing ratings, and Colin Baker was fired from his role as the Sixth Doctor. Finally, on November 28th, John Nathan-Turner learned that he would stay on Doctor Who for a seventh season as producer, rather than being moved onto new projects as he had hoped.
Having not expected to be at the reins of Doctor Who in 1987, Nathan-Turner had little upon which to build a new season. He only knew that Bonnie Langford would be returning as Mel; her contract had been renewed for Season Twenty-Four on November 13th. As such, his first priority was to begin lining up scripts, aware that none were left in reserve. As he had done when story problems mounted on Season Twenty-Three, he turned to writers Pip and Jane Baker to craft the first adventure; they had written both The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Three) and the final episode of The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Four). Nathan-Turner harboured hopes of persuading the BBC to invite Colin Baker to record a regeneration story, and he felt that a rematch with the Rani -- whom the Bakers had created for 1985's The Mark Of The Rani -- would be a suitable way to write out the Sixth Doctor. Nathan-Turner had already been in contact with Rani actress Kate O'Mara, who was then filming the soap opera Dynasty in America but was eager to return to the UK.
It was Nathan-Turner who suggested that the Bakers' story be set on an alien planet, and feature a giant brain. Otherwise, the writers drew upon their 1986 Find Your Fate book Race Against Time, in which the Rani tries to build a Time Destabiliser in order to reshape the universe to her design. This, in turn, had been based on rejected ideas submitted to the Doctor Who production office in 1984. The Bakers' scripts were commissioned on December 22nd under the title “Strange Matter”. Several character names were plays on words, including Ikona (“iconoclast”), Beyus (“obey us”), Lakertyan (“lacertian” meaning lizard-like), Tetrap (from the prefix “tetra” and referring to the monsters' four eyes) and Loyhargil (an anagram of “Holy Grail”).
Meanwhile, Nathan-Turner had convinced the BBC to offer Colin Baker a contract to record “Strange Matter”. However, the actor was concerned that if he was still the star of Doctor Who in the eyes of the public until the adventure aired in September, he would have difficulty securing work in the interim. Instead, he asked to remain with the programme for the entirety of Season Twenty-Four, which would then conclude with the Doctor's regeneration. The BBC refused, and on December 18th it was announced that the actor would not be appearing in Season Twenty-Four -- despite the fact that the Sixth Doctor was alive and well at the conclusion of Doctor Who's 1986 run. Pip and Jane Baker telephoned the actor to try to persuade him to reconsider, but he soon accepted the lead role in the stage play Corpse, meaning that he would not be available for Doctor Who's recording dates. The final nail in the coffin was an interview with Baker which appeared in the Sun on January 6th, 1987 and was highly critical of the BBC.
Since it was now a certainty that “Strange Matter” would have to introduce the Seventh Doctor from the beginning of episode one, the Bakers altered some of their plans for the serial. Originally, the Doctor stayed behind at the Rani's headquarters to ensure that the missile strike failed, and the ensuing explosion caused him to regenerate. Instead, it was decided that the new Doctor would be introduced in a pre-credits scene (replacing an earlier such sequence in which either King Solomon or Albert Einstein was kidnapped by the Rani). Also deleted was a giant spider which attacked the Doctor during his meeting with Ikona; the Bakers had included this as a rib on Colin Baker, who was arachnophobic.
While the Bakers worked on “Strange Matter”, Nathan-Turner was trying to find both a new Doctor and a new script editor. The latter was the first to bear fruit. Around the end of 1986, agent Richard Wakely suggested that Nathan-Turner speak to his client, Andrew Cartmel. While working in the field of computer-aided design, Cartmel had been invited to participate in workshops run by the BBC Script Unit. Nathan-Turner read one of his unproduced scripts, on the strength of which he agreed to invite Cartmel for an interview. Despite Cartmel's inexperience, the two men got along well, and on January 16th he became the new script editor of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, Cartmel did not develop a good relationship with the Bakers: he thought that “Strange Matter” was too old-fashioned, while they felt that Cartmel lacked the self-assuredness that his new position demanded.
Casting the Seventh Doctor proved to be a more difficult challenge, although Nathan-Turner identified his lead candidate fairly quickly. This was Scots actor Sylvester McCoy, who had been suggested to Nathan-Turner twice -- by BBC producer Clive Doig and the performer's agent, Brian Wheeler -- within hours of the announcement of Baker's departure. Born Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith, McCoy had taken on many different jobs in his early years, from novitiate to insurance salesman to bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. While working in a box office, he was discovered by comedy legend Ken Campbell; he took his stage name (originally “Sylveste McCoy”) from the title of one of Campbell's shows. McCoy had made numerous television and film appearances over the years, often in comedies and children's programmes (such as Vision On, Tiswas and Eureka) but also in some dramas (including the 1979 movie version of Dracula and the mini-series The Last Place On Earth). In 1983, McCoy had put his name forward for consideration to play the Sixth Doctor.
On January 6th, Nathan-Turner went to see McCoy in a production of The Pied Piper along with his partner and Doctor Who production manager Gary Downie. Downie was enthusiastic about the prospect of McCoy as the new Doctor, and Nathan-Turner grew to share this sentiment as well, especially since he suited the producer's preferred profile of an actor who would be reminiscent of the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. In the meantime, others who inquired about the role included Andrew Sachs (Manuel in Fawlty Towers), Chris Jury (later Deadbeat in The Greatest Show In The Galaxy) and McCoy's mentor, Ken Campbell.
When he joined the production office, Cartmel voiced his agreement with the idea of casting McCoy. Now convinced, Nathan-Turner sought the approval of Jonathan Powell, the Head of Series and Serials. Powell, however, was concerned that McCoy did not possess the screen presence necessary to play the Doctor, and so he asked Nathan-Turner to consider other options. As such, on February 18th, McCoy joined three other actors to record screen tests opposite Janet Fielding (who had played companion Tegan Jovanka in the early Eighties). The other candidates were Irish actor Dermot Crowley (General Madine in Return Of The Jedi), Hugh Futcher (a Carry On actor who had played Hickman in The Sea Devils) and David Fielder. Futcher dropped out after accepting other work, but both Powell and BBC1 Controller Michael Grade agreed that McCoy was best suited for the role. His casting was announced on February 28th, with a photocall alongside Langford following on March 2nd. McCoy was formally contracted for Season Twenty-Four on March 6th, with an option for two additional years.
With all of the elements for the new season finally falling into place, the Bakers set about putting the finishing touches on their scripts, using McCoy's audition tape as a basis upon which to write for the new Doctor. By now, Andrew Morgan had agreed to direct “Strange Matter” as Serial 7D. His previous credits included episodes of Blake's 7, Triangle and Knights Of God; he had also declined the opportunity to helm Time-Flight for Season Nineteen.
A late addition to “Strange Matter” was the running joke of the Doctor mangling proverbs; this was conceived by Nathan-Turner as a way of distancing the character from Colin Baker's incarnation, who was prone to verbose literary quotations. Similar thinking went into the Seventh Doctor's costume design. It was generally agreed that the Sixth Doctor's bad-taste outfit had been a miscalculation, and something much more subdued was now desired. In consultation with McCoy, Nathan-Turner and Morgan, designer Ken Trew came up with the idea of a costume which would appear to be normal at a distance but unusual on closer inspection. It incorporated the straw hat which McCoy had worn to his initial meeting with Nathan-Turner. The only element that the actor disliked was the question-mark pullover, which Trew had included at Nathan-Turner's insistence (following on from the question-mark collars which the producer had devised for the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Doctors). However, McCoy decided to remain silent on the issue, in the hope that he would eventually be allowed to vary his wardrobe as he saw fit.
The advent of a new Doctor gave Nathan-Turner the opportunity to refresh the Doctor Who title sequence. The starfield version designed by Sid Sutton had been in use since 1980, and Nathan-Turner had considered changing it for Season Twenty-Three before budgetary limitations prevented this. In conjunction with CAL Video, graphic designer Oliver Elmes created a computer-generated sequence of the TARDIS tumbling through the cosmos. Elmes drew inspiration from comic books, which also influenced his new Doctor Who logo. Nathan-Turner was generally happy with the result, although he disliked the indistinct, skeletal appearance of the Doctor's face, which formed out of stars and nebulae. As such, it was decided to superimpose photos of McCoy over Elmes' digital footage. In addition, Nathan-Turner wanted a new arrangement of Ron Grainer's Doctor Who theme music, both to better fit Elmes' title sequence, and because the Dominic Glynn version used during Season Twenty-Three had not been particularly well received. This task was given to Keff McCulloch, who would also be asked to score Serial 7D at short notice.
In conceiving “Strange Matter”, the Bakers had envisaged Lakertya as a forested world, but designer Geoff Powell encouraged Morgan to reimagine it as a barren, rocky wasteland instead. As such, three quarries in Somerset were used to represent the planet's surface. The first of these was Cloford Quarry in Cloford, where work took place on April 4th, 6th and 7th. In between, on the 5th, the cameras rolled at Whatley Quarry in Whatley. Finally, April 8th saw Morgan's team relocate to Westdown Quarry near Chantry. After filming had concluded on the 6th, McCoy entertained the cast and crew at the unit's hotel bar with a performance that included playing the spoons. Geoff Powell suggested to Nathan-Turner and Cartmel that this should be incorporated into the script. On the whole, however, the producer found himself trying to discourage McCoy from incorporating too much comedy into the role.
Recording for “Strange Matter” then resumed with a two-day block at BBC Television Centre Studio 8, spanning Monday, April 20th and Tuesday the 21st. The first day dealt with scenes in the console room and wardrobe room of the Doctor's TARDIS, together with the eyrie. For the pre-credits sequence, McCoy himself donned a wig to pose as the regenerating Sixth Doctor, with visual effects obscuring his features. As an in-joke, the TARDIS wardrobe was seen to contain items reminiscent of previous Doctors' outfits, including the Third Doctor's velvet jacket, the Fourth Doctor's burgundy coat and scarf, and the Fifth Doctor's cricketing costume. Sets in use on April 21st included the Rani's TARDIS interior, the Centre of Leisure, and the inner workings of the pyramid machine. Originally, the Rani was to be seen hanging upside down in her workroom, but during rehearsals, O'Mara was left in this position so long that she burst blood vessels in her eye. This forced Morgan to change his plans for the shot.
Production then concluded with a three-day session in TC1 beginning on Sunday, May 3rd. The sets for the laboratory and the arcade were in use on all three days, together with the brain chamber on May 4th and 5th. O'Mara enjoyed reprising her role as the Rani, and she and McCoy spoke to Nathan-Turner at the wrap party to suggest a rematch between the two Time Lords set on a pirate galleon; however, nothing would come of this.
Nathan-Turner was not satisfied with the title “Strange Matter”, and asked the Bakers to come up with an alternative. Inspired by JB Priestley's 1937 play Time And The Conways, they suggested Time And The Rani, which was adopted on May 12th. This would turn out to be the Bakers' final contribution to televised Doctor Who. In addition to writing for programmes such as Watt On Earth, they novelised their Doctor Who screenplays for Target Books. The Bakers also contributed a sequel to Time And The Rani, featuring both the evil Time Lady and the Tetraps, to BBV's Audio Adventures In Time And Space range of unlicensed Doctor Who spinoffs. Entitled The Rani Reaps The Whirlwind, it was released in November 2000. Jane Baker passed away on September 8th, 2014.
Both Seasons Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three had returned Doctor Who to its traditional Saturday teatime slot, after the BBC had scheduled the programme on weekday evenings throughout the Peter Davison era in the early Eighties. However, the family audience which once swarmed to the television set on Saturdays seemed to be dwindling, and so Michael Grade decided that Season Twenty-Four would not only be relocated to Mondays, but also transmitted about an hour later than Davison's episodes. This put Doctor Who squarely against ITV's long-running juggernaut Coronation Street, with the idea being that this was effective counterprogramming for the juvenile audience against the older-skewing soap opera. As a result, Doctor Who was firmly in the ratings crosshairs when Season Twenty-Four premiered with the broadcast of Time And The Rani part one on September 7th...
|Updated 21st July 2015|
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