Rani Takes on the World: Beyond Bannerman Road

Posted in Audio by - April 25, 2023
Rani Takes on the World: Beyond Bannerman Road

Released April 2023


The Sarah Jane Adventures left an immense and enduring mark on a generation prior to the unfortunate passing of the beloved Elisabeth Sladen. Though skewing to a younger audience than even the family-oriented Doctor Who, its uncanny ability to blend a sense of childish wonder and optimism with surprisingly mature and emotional storylines and relationships ensured that it would be remembered and respected as a truly engrossing drama in its own right. Well over a decade following the last aired episode, Big Finish has finally presented an opportunity to delve back into the world of Bannerman Road’s finest with Rani Takes on the World and Anjli Mohindra reprising her adored role of Rani Chandra, now at age thirty.

Veteran writer Joseph Lidster who penned multiple serials of The Sarah Jane Adventures opens up this Beyond Bannerman Road set with ‘Here Today,’ a story that quickly reintroduces Rani as a successful journalist and podcaster who has even brought down a government. And while the return of Clyde Langer and his expecting girlfriend would ordinarily be the biggest piece of news on an otherwise unremarkable night in Ealing, a flying saucer is reportedly approaching from above, setting into motion a remarkable chain of events that brings back so many childhood memories for these two old friends. Regardless of how Rani and Clyde may have moved on since their last adventure on screen, it’s fitting to see that they have managed to retain at least a semblance of contact over the years as they have lived their own lives, and Mohindra and Daniel Anthony instantly rekindle the immense chemistry that their characters developed during their ordinary and extraordinary adventures together. It’s also immensely satisfying to see that Clyde’s artistic talents have flourished and that he is willing to sacrifice professional advancement when he sees someone treated improperly. To that effect, the new additions of Phoenix and Samira fit in quite nicely to this corner of the Doctor Who universe, and while they will assuredly have greater development in future stories, the time loop nature of the plot accentuates these supporting characters with new nuances each time through rather than having them remain static and dimensionless with strict repetitions. Of course, this is rightfully the time for Rani and Clyde to shine, and they confidently and boldly gather information and steer events in each subsequent cycle to uncover a surprisingly touching central mystery that has been decades in the making. It’s not particularly groundbreaking narratively, but the bond of love enduring through the passage of time is a visceral central message that at least parallels if not mirrors these entwined young individuals who have forged such successful paths apart. Yvonne D’Alpra and Angus Dunican add a tremendous emotional resonance to make this looping narrative all the more profound, and the many nods to events and characters from The Sarah Jane Adventures– perhaps most humorously through UNIT’s Private Reeves- ensures that the energy, optimism, determination, and maturity on display here are a respectful and impactful continuation of an iconic series.

‘Destination: Wedding’ by James Goss continues with the themes of Rani exploring where she is in her life while still reflecting on the loss of Sarah Jane. Here, Gita and she have been invited to a dream wedding on a private luxury island, Rani’s childhood colleague Tiff marrying famed celebrity Kristoffay. While Rani does her best to turn her journalistic instincts off to enjoy this holiday, the strange mesh of A-list celebrities with the most banal of Ealing who seem to have no tremendous importance to Tiff is too much for Rani to simply look past, and the apparent disappearances of certain individuals that even she has trouble remembering were once there presents a fascinating central mystery that challenges Rani on every level. Of course, Rani is very much human and in no way serves as a surrogate of the Doctor for this spin-off range; accordingly, Goss quite rightly leans into the very human element of its plot, the tremendous relationship between Rani and her mother a particular highlight as Gita gives less than subtle hints that she would like to see Rani married while thoroughly enjoying each and every moment here. Mina Anwar and Mohindra are superb together here, and the comedic elements that Gita so often lends to stories have rarely fit so seamlessly as here. However, it’s Rani’s messages to Clyde that are the most heartfelt and telling, assuredly hinting at a greater reunion for these two in the future, and her steadfast determination to follow her intuition even as her perceptions seem to be altered along with everyone else’s is a true testament to the character and how wonderfully she has developed over the years. Rani has an implicit ability to read people and to glean key information that would otherwise go unsaid, and her inability to perceive any true memories or emotions between the betrothed allows her to look past the superficial glamour of the situation to find the truth behind these strange affairs. While some weddings certainly have the potential to truly change the world and perceptions, Tiff’s ‘Princess Day’ takes that sentiment to an entirely new level as Tiff’s earlier discussions about the sacrifices she has made to reach this point come into an entirely new light. While neither Tiff nor Kristoffay are necessarily the most well-developed characters, Rachel Fenwick and Will Bishop give strong performances in these roles, and it’s fittingly Rani’s ability to connect to individuals on a personal level through shared experiences and a sense of common decency that provides an appropriate- if relatively easy- solution to the dangers of fulfilled desires with no boundaries.

Lizzie Hopley closes out Beyond Bannerman Road with ‘The Witching Tree’ and Rani pursuing a podcast award and a secret source’s lead by investigating a purportedly haunted restaurant built around a twisted tree that inspires romanticism, fear, and even adulation in certain patrons. And though Rani knows that the owners could be faking the entire setup, she soon realizes that the tree is not quite what it seems as perceptions are blurred and time passes without her memory of any events. Of course, this set has been based around the principle of Rani running a successful podcast, and with a neat nod to the Redacted series from BBC Sounds last year and a surprising incorporation of Big Finish’s own Torchwood series, ‘The Witching Tree’ expertly showcases the thoughts and motivations that go into each and every recorded scene from Rani as well as just how precisely editing can give form to whichever version of truth is wanted to be advertised. A solid working relationship and friendship between Rani and Samira is shown here, but it’s understandably the immense camaraderie between Rani and Clyde that again comes to take centre stage as the danger mounts and Clyde realizes that these stories are based on something much more serious that sick building syndrome. Mohindra and Anthony again excel with highlighting their characters’ stated and unstated emotions and bond, and it’s clear that this duo has a bright and long future together for Big Finish should all parties desire. Of course, this series has already established that Clyde has a girlfriend expecting their child, and Anthony also brilliantly incorporates the weightiness and anxiety that such a monumental life event should bring while the script touchingly allows Phoenix to provide a voice of determination and assurance for Rani who is not immune to experiencing doubt and anxiety. However, despite truly immense visuals regarding the titular tree and the marks it can leave on those in its presence, the ultimate twist regarding a burgeoning army fails to fully land because it relies on a character who is still pretty much an unknown quantity, making the subversion of assumed facts somewhat less impactful than it may otherwise have been. Nonetheless, despite another fairly easy resolution, the fact that Rani and Clyde must live with the memories of what has occurred even as those around them forget everything is a tremendous impetus for further development that will assuredly have greater ramifications for their friendship as they carry on in future sets. It’s an obvious fact that Rani Takes on the World is not The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it has already proven to be a heartfelt and engrossing offshoot of that beloved franchise with its two leads that would absolutely make Sarah Jane proud.

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