This is the sixth part of my look back at and increasingly less defensive and more brashly confident defence of the much-derided 1987 Doctor Who story Time And The Rani – you can find part five here – and some of you might well feel that this particular instalment constitutes what in modern parlance would be considered one of those young persons’ ‘deep dives’ into an aspect of the escapades of Urak The Tetrap and company that could have been dispensed with in a sentence in one of the other instalments. Well, a paragraph. Yes, alright, two. Anyway, the fact of the matter is that I was actually deliberately drawing the whole series of features out as far as possible by this point, but we’ll come back to the reasons for that shortly. They’re more exciting than they sound, honest. What I really like about this in retrospect, however, is just how important even the most trivial of magazines were in that pre-Internet day and age, and how you would re-read the same page or two of limited information again and again in the hope of somehow drawing more out of it. A quick cursory Google search tells me that in the same month as the issue of BEEB featured above I would also have bought amongst others Captain Britain, Crash ZX Spectrum and – of course – Doctor Who Magazine, and I could probably still recite parts of each of those issues word for word. If you’re looking for something else more up to date you can read and recite word for word, you can find an expanded version of the full collected Time And Tide Melts The Snowman in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Although Look-In wasn’t really exactly in the habit of covering BBC shows, it’s fair to say that late eighties Doctor Who would have benefitted from something approaching its unique brand of ITV bigging-up support. BEEB, the BBC’s rival to the self-styled ‘Junior TV Times’, often felt reserved and esoteric in comparison, and seemingly embarrassed about the idea of actually promoting any of the shows that it covered; so if you’ve got a spare copy lying around, please feel free to roll it up and whack Tim Davie and Richard Sharp with it until they get fed up and go away. Look-In, on the other hand, would not just back any horse that happened to be cantering across the ITV regional schedules in a self-defeatingly asynchronous manner, but as good as hire a squadron of those vans with loudspeakers on the top and go around shouting about them until every last driver had been arrested and charged with breach of the peace.
It didn’t even matter what percentage of their readership could actually see the shows in question, or even if they were any good or not; maybe the late eighties revival of The Saint stank to high heaven but it still got more than its fair share of double-page features, while despite being banished to post-midnight screenings in most regions, William Tell actually made it onto the cover of one issue. BEEB would never have given post-1987 Doctor Who that kind of unapologetic promotion, although the fact that it had ceased publication in 1985 hardly helped.
Instead, it was left to hapless old Doctor Who Magazine to preach to the converted about the forthcoming new series and new Doctor. Their pre-transmission coverage of Time And The Rani in particular went endearingly way overboard, combining the traditional impenetrable and unfunny behind-the-scenes anecdotes – on this occasion something to do with Lit Roundels and Tetraps-On-A-Stick – with a really rather alarming amount of enthusing over the sets; which, as has already been conceded, are one of the genuine weak links in the story. The magazine’s ‘Autumn Special’, which included fascinating features on the new techniques in design, video effects and computer-generated title sequences, was held back until Time And The Rani had actually commenced transmission in the hope of avoiding inadvertently lessening the impact of the new look Doctor Who; in some ways an early manifestation of the profound misunderstanding of the concept of ‘spoilers’ that plagues the show’s production team to this day. With entirely the wrong kind of features giving them a totally misleading impression of what to expect from this exciting relaunch, even the programme’s staunchest fans were left underwhelmed, and in fairness they can hardly be blamed for any unrealistic expectations on this occasion.
So, if this was Look-In – or BEEB, or Doctor Who Magazine, or Sky, or LM, or Number One, or Crash ZX Spectrum, or that sort of intellectual broadsheet thing for teenagers that just had Robert Elms going aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh about soap operas every week, or that rubbish free comic they used to give away with Rowntree’s Striper, or just about anything that you might have pulled off the newsagent’s shelves to help pass time during that long wait for a third series of The Tripods – how would they approach it? What is there in and about Time And The Rani that would be worth slapping a photo of Ikona on a front page over?
Well, perhaps we’re approaching this a little too literally here. What about the various multimedia bits and pieces that actually had to have Time And The Rani on the cover as their literal only selling point? Are there any clues to be found in any of them? Well, not really. The Target Books novelisation of the story, written by Pip And Jane Baker themselves, famously accidentally featured an upside down photo of the Tetraps hanging upside down on the cover. This was quickly corrected, but it would remain forever known as the one with the classic design clanger, which is at least vaguely in keeping with how the story itself is remembered. This is a shame, as it’s one of the better covers and indeed one of the brisker and more fun novels, but it’s also somehow entirely appropriate and indeed a handy metaphor for how the McCoy era itself is regarded.
The subsequent Virgin Books reprint used a bash-it-out-after-tea bit of artwork showing The Rani apparently cowering from The Doctor and Urak arriving on a rainbow, while the BBC Video release opted for similar artwork of the unsmiling faces of the three protagonists set against a dull grey rock facade and a noticeably non-canonically darkened sky, almost as if attempting to reclaim the story in the name of gritty realism. Meanwhile 1988’s The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album, (which you can read more about in Top Of The Box Vol. 2 here) which featured two whole full-length tracks from Time And The Rani – peculiar human voice-sample driven pastiche of devotional music that was still better than Kula Shaker Future Pleasure, as featured in the scene where a frowning Ikona shows The Doctor his fellow docile sap Lakertyans in their Centre Of Leisure shortly before they get attacked by that endlessly recycled flying insect effect, and the climactic Rani’s-plan-comes-together melodrama of The Brain, smothered in so many orchestra hits that Debbie Gibson’s ‘Electric Youth’ would have been left dejectedly contemplating their alternative career options – didn’t see fit to feature any of the characters on the cover.
In fact it didn’t see fit to feature any characters at all. Despite being a Keff McCulloch-dominated present-day series soundtrack album in all but name and handful of previous arrangements of the theme music, it was promoted with – what else – the tediously over-eulogised ‘Diamond Logo’, which hadn’t been seen on screen for over eight years by that point, in a procession of utterly non-collectable ‘collectable’ glittery variants to boot. You would be hard pushed to find a better example of how by then Doctor Who was being sold by people who didn’t care to fans who didn’t have the faintest idea of how to actually keep it on the air. Sometimes, it was difficult not to sympathise with Starburst‘s ‘Mr. Controversial’ Paul Mount.
So we’re not doing too well really. Until, that is, you consider the DVD cover. Designed by one Clayton Hickman, it’s an unashamed riot of beams of light in varying shades of pink, with four key characters front and centre and actually smiling – well, apart from Ikona – and is less an illustration than an invitation to watch the story. It knows that it’s bright and gaudy and light-hearted fun and it just doesn’t care, almost as though Ken Kesey And His Merry Pranksters have waded into the middle of a McCoy-bashing forum thread to tell the miserable sods to lighten the fuck up. This is not a paisley-banded-panama-hat-in-hand apology for the story, it’s the work of someone who understands and appreciates late eighties Doctor Who for what it is, and woe betide you if you want to sit in the corner frowning. It’s a whopping great gauntlet thrown down to the non-fans who will merrily sneer at the McCoy era without ever having seen any of it. And it’s exactly how we should be heading into the home straight of any self-respecting defence of Time And The Rani. So set up the banjo-dampening soundproofing, pour that Panda Pops Green Cola into the Macallan 55 Single Malt, and get let’s down to business…
Next Time! We let the snooker do the talking…
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You can find a massively expanded version of the complete Time And Tide Melts The Snowman in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. You can also find more about The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album in Top Of The Box Vol. 2, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Please make sure to follow the example of all indifferent family members and slam the mug down on the nearest issue of BEEB leaving a huge discoloured warped ring when coasters were also within easy reach.
It Would Make Your Tea Sweet? is a look at Doctor Who‘s 25th Anniversary and one particular scene in Remembrance Of The Daleks; you can find it here..
There’s tons more about BEEB in Looks Unfamiliar here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.