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Soundtrack Review

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Doctor Who
Time and the Rani
Original Television Soundtrack


Composer: Keff McCulloch
Label: Silva Screen Records
RRP: £10.99
SILCD1578 (CD), SILED1578 (download)
Release Date: 24 November 2023

Time and the Rani was the opening serial of Season 24, first broadcast on 07 September 1987. It marked the debut of Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and made use of CGI – very much in a basic form as the technology was still in development. It also debuted a new computer-animated opening title sequence, with a new synthesiser version of the theme created by Keff McCulloch. The composer was invited to create incidental music for the series and became a regular member of the team, subsequently writing scores for Paradise Towers, Delta and the Bannerman, Remembrance of the Daleks, Silver Nemesis, Battlefield, Dimensions in Time and the original VHS release of the incomplete Shada. McCulloch, Dominic Glynn and Mark Ayres were the composers for the last three years of Doctor Who during its original run (which ended in 1989), the latter compiling and producing this release...

With the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who upon us, and many of the most notable soundtracks already available, is Silva Screen scraping the barrel with its November 2023 releases, Revenge of the Cybermen and Time and the Rani? Far from it. Having discussed the virtues of the Revenge of the Cybermen score in my review of that product, I now confess to you that I have a bit of a soft spot for Time and the Rani.

You might not think so if you ever read my review of the VHS release of this serial, which appeared in Dreamwatch magazine way back in 1995. I’d given what I considered to be an honest and balanced assessment of the production, but unfortunately this didn’t conform with the views of the editorial powers that be, who downgraded my mark out of ten and qualified every positive point I made with words along the lines of, “though his/her efforts are wasted on this sorry affair.” Now finally I can set the record straight.

Sure, the serial has its faults, including a script (by Pip and Jane Baker) that was written before the lead actor had been cast; the Doctor regenerating at the start of the story for no readily apparent reason (in their novelisation, the Bakers would claim that the transformation was about by “the tumultuous buffeting” caused by the Rani’s attack upon the TARDIS, though somehow the Time Lord’s human companion, Mel, managed to survive without injury); an underwritten role for Mel (played by Bonnie Langford, who was seldom well served during her time on the show in 1986–7); and a surfeit of slapstick humour (including pratfalls and spoon-playing). In its favour, however, Time and the Rani boasts good performances by its entire cast, including a splendidly arch turn by Kate O’Mara as the villainous Rani; strong, if rather kitsch, visuals; and great energy in the work of three newcomers to the show – Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, director Andrew Morgan (who would be brought back the following year to oversee the more highly regarded Remembrance of the Daleks) and composer Keff McCulloch.

Whereas other musicians might add a sting at the end of a scene, with McCulloch it’s often every other note! This signature device of the composer is present in, for example, “Urak and Ikona”, when the Doctor beholds the bat-like Tetrap Urak for the first time, and various tracks concerning the Rani’s deadly Zorb Ball, such as “The Death of Sarn” and “Mel and the Bubble Trap”.

You might come away from an episode scored by McCulloch thinking that stings are all he does. However, some of his compositions contain surprisingly soulful moments, including the endings to a couple of tracks I’ve just mentioned – “Urak and Ikona” and “The Death of Sarn”. The demise of the young Lakertyan is also referenced in “Faroon, Ikona and the Mourning”, while “Memory Like an Elephant” and “Pulses” underscore the Doctor’s poignant recollection of and eventual reunion with Mel.

Indian influences add a touch of the exotic to the depiction of alien cultures. For the “Tetrap Eyrie” scenes, McCulloch synthesises the sound of a tabla (an Indian drum), while “Future Pleasure” (heard during scenes in the lethargic Lakertyans’ Centre of Leisure) makes use of a pungi (a wind instrument played by snake charmers) as well as the musician’s own sampled voice.

Three compositions, “A Nice Nap”, “Hologram Mel” and “Undoing the Rani”, entertainingly reference the Doctor Who theme. “A Nice Nap”, in which the Rani examines the sleeping Doctor, is my favourite track from this story, followed closely by the supremely mellow “Future Pleasure”.

I also love the fact that Silva Screen has chosen to open this album with “The Rani Takes the TARDIS”, comprising the sound effects (created by Dick Mills of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) that accompanied the opening CGI sequence of the TARDIS being attacked in space. This is followed by McCulloch’s “Leave the Girl, It’s the Man I Want”, which underscored the remainder of the first episode’s pre-titles sequence, with the Rani boarding the TARDIS and witnessing the Doctor’s regeneration. Only after this do we hear the show’s opening theme. This really helps to set the scene and takes the listener right back to the episode itself.

The final 23 minutes of this 75-minute release consist of alternative and unused versions of various compositions, including the moodier – subdued, even, by McCulloch’s standards – original demo version of the Doctor Who theme, and the suite of “The Brain” that appeared on 1988’s The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album. The delightful “New Wardrobe”, in which the new Doctor tries on various outfits, including those of his predecessors, is also broken down into its original mono mix without overdubs; just the overdubs (including an accordion, a military bugle, school bells and the sound of a window being shattered, as if by a cricket ball); and the original mono TV mix.

Yes, the story has its faults, but Keff McCulloch’s music for Time and the Rani is great fun. In fact, I can’t quite believe how much I’ve enjoyed listening to this! Of the two November 2023 soundtrack releases from Silva Screen, I definitely prefer this one. Leave the Cybermen, it’s the Rani I want!

Vinyl releases of both will follow on 08 December 2023.


Richard McGinaly

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