Time And Tide Melts The Snowman: Part Six
Although Look-In wasn't really in the habit of covering BBC shows, it's fair to say that late eighties Doctor Who would have benefitted from its 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 John Whittingdale and Ian Shazam 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 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 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 admitted, are one of the genuine weak links in this story. The magazine's 'Autumn Special', which included fascinating features on new techniques in design, video effects and computer-generated title sequences, was held back until Time And The Rani had actually been transmitted in the hope of avoiding lessening the impact of the New Look Doctor Who; 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 their 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 we approach it? What is there in and about Time And The Rani that would be worth slapping a photo 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 good metaphor for how the McCoy era itself is viewed.
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 heads 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 featured two whole full-length tracks from Time And The Rani - peculiar human voice-sample driven pastiche of Indian 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 medlodrama 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 a handful of old 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. Time to set up the banjo-dampening soundproofing, pour that Panda Pops Green Cola into the Macallan 55 Single Malt, and get down to business...