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“Taste that air…the air of learning, the atmosphere of erudition.”
“It looks like we’re between a municipal building and a public toilet!”

Invited to the College of Advanced Galactic Education for an honorary
degree in “Moral Philosophy”, “Old Sixie” and Peri discover that there may have been another reason for his summoning…

When a lizardlike Garnantian with signs of attempted brain theft turns to the new arrivals for help, the time travelling duo uncover a conspiracy involving only the most promising and intelligent students…and a very noticeable change in persona that follows a special aptitude test…

“Every timespace event creates ripples.  Each one grows outwards, larger and larger, causing unforseen consequences.  Well, they won’t be unforseen for long…

With this system, I’ll be able to determine the tiny events I need to set in motion to lead to the larger, long term consequences I desire.  Releasing butterflies to create hurricanes whenever, and wherever I choose.”

“She’s not talking about the weather…she means to reverse engineer chaos theory.”

With the Rani putting a scientific spin on chaos magick, author Justin Richards (Whispers of Terror, Jago & Litefoot, Counter-Measures, The Worlds of Doctor Who) has given listeners one of the most solid main range Who stories we’ve seen over the past two years. 

In point of fact, alongside the excellent Moonflesh, the entertaining Fanfare for the Common Men and 2012’s Butcher of Brisbane and Emerald Tiger, this ranks among the top five releases in the main range yet reviewed on Third Eye.  Those stories aside, you’d have to go back to the days of the Paul McGann/Mary Shelley trilogy to find one of comparable quality…

“What’s a library with no books?”
“The books are all digitized – data and information rather than paper and print.  Though for what it’s worth, I agree with you…there’s nothing like the smell of a real library.  Leather binding, yellowing paper…the knowledge of the centuries scratched out on parchment by men of learning.”

As with the early standout of …ish, the Colin Baker Doctor returns to the halls of academia, a setting to which the ever locquacious logophile and pertinacious philologist is particularly well suited.

Despite the reappearance of what seems to becoming a trope in Peri losing her mind and body to another force (how like Nyssa in that respect, albeit more towards the scientific end of the same equation…), the very familiarity and comfort level engendered by seeing the most professorial of Doctors in such a backdrop elevates The Rani Elite above the convoluted revised sendoff of The Widow’s Assassin or even the Island of Terror meets Day of the Triffidsisms of Masters of Earth as the clear and decided standout of the Sixth Doctor/Peri trilogy.

“You appear to imply that chaos theory might somehow influence our individual decisions.  If your contention is that we’re not responsible for our own actions or even thoughts…aren’t you rather ducking the issue of morality?

…Although I will concede that she is a brilliant scientist in her own right, she is in fact a decidedly amoral renegade Timelord exiled from the planet Gallifrey who doesn’t give two hoots about anyone except herself and her mad schemes for galactic domination…

You’ll sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve your own ends.  That’s the difference between us, isn’t it?  I value life – all life.  You treat it as a glorified experiment.”

There’s an absurd and oft repeated old trope about the Rani to the effect that she’s not evil, just singleminded in her pursuit of knowledge and unconcerned about the effects of her cold hearted experimentation on everyone surrounding.

This assertion, of course, is patently absurd; a Miltonian spin doctoring of the facts akin to absolving corporate manufacturers for adulterating foodstuffs, introducing barely tested ‘medicines’ and screwing with nature with no concern towards unforeseen long term repercussions in human health and effects on the ecosystem.  Monsanto isn’t evil, they’re just drawn that way.  Never mind all the blood.

“All important people, then.”
“Important, and rich.”
Further, the story here is about exploitation, and how those who exploit are in turn exploited by those just a dash craftier or more powerful than themselves.  On the bottom tier, the unfortunate students.  On the next tier, the exploiters, the rich and powerful willing to stop at nothing to buy themselves a renewed lease on life.  And above them all, the Rani, manipulating each and every one of them…including the Doctor himself, to her own ends.  Talk about a metaphor for how the world runs…or more precisely, about how we, the willingly manipulated masses, allow our world to run, against both our individual and collective interests.

“For all his brashness and posturing, the Doctor always stands up for what’s right – truth and justice.  He doesn’t seem to care that one day it might get him killed…” 

As always, Colin Baker is simply delightful, his Shakespearean cum Wildean cadences and stentorian tones lending themselves ideally to the recorded medium.  And whatever the particular ‘era’ and nuance of tone authors choose to set their Sixth Doctor tales in, Baker manages to imbue the warmth and likeability of the later, more stable and companionable iteration of the teleseries.  In effect, this makes new audios featuring the earlier, more blustery and confrontational Doctor even more nuanced, as that sort of jolly uncle cum fatherly undertone serves to offset all the arrogance and apparent belligerence.  It’s as if he’s putting on a show for the punters, subtly winking at the listener conspiratorially all the while.

“The trouble with brilliant young minds is that they’re apt to be more than a little rebellious.”

The other major star this time around comes by way of our cover featured guest player. So let’s set this straight right off: Siobhan Redmond is not Kate O’Mara. 

But the good news is, fashionable coteure (and tight leather pants) aside, this is hardly a case of crestfallen hopes, as her fresh take on the character actually provides a significant improvement on the template. 

Leaving aside the over the top, rather camp theatricality the loveable Hammer doyenne brought to the role, Redmond instead opts for a diametrically subdued approach.  With her intimate, somewhat oversmoked and dare I say sexy tonality, Redmond manages to tap into the chilly megalomania of the experimental researcher cum scientist while simultaneously offering a livelier, sarcastically amusing take that eschews all of the obviousness and mustachio-twirling on display in both the excellent Mark of the Rani and the far more questionable Time of the Rani.

Taking matters back to the core of what the character is supposed to represent, rather than playing off or attempting to recreate O’Mara’s own inimitable take thereof, Redmond’s Rani retains the chilling callousness of the character, yet proves both less icy than Tracey Childs’ similarly minded Elizabeth Klein and less comic (and ultimately, juvenile) than the obvious if delightful tongue in cheek of O’Mara’s Rani.

She’s less the vamping domme wannabe than a more fascistically evil variant, totally logical, utterly unconcerned with the costs to anyone she manipulates and tosses aside as unnecessary collateral damage.  It’s one of the most impressive Who-related audio recastings I’ve yet encountered, period.

As with music, the most powerful pieces are seldom the loudest, brashest or most effusive.  Rather it’s the chamber works, in more intimate settings with a quieter focus, that prove the most bracing, the most intellectually and emotionally stimulating. 

Richards and Bentley appear to have understood this oft-ignored dictum, and in partnership with the always wonderful Baker and impressive newcomer Redmond have herein crafted a little character piece well worth your listening time.