22.3 – “The Mark Of The Rani”
The Doctor and Peri land in northern England durin the first throes of the industrial revolution, where immoral Time Lord scientist The Rani is conducting naughty experiments on the locals. The Master rocks up for some reason and calamity ensues.
Finally, after an epic quest through the first three stories of Colin Baker’s tenure, I’ve reached Pip & Jane Baker’s first contribution to Doctor Who. I’m going to get all sweary, aren’t I?
Nah, not quite. 1. It’s too easy a target and 2. I actually went into “The Mark Of The Rani” with a bit of a spring in my step. Last time I watched it – when it was first released on DVD – I actually rather enjoyed it. I mean, it’s essentially 90 minutes of Time Lords bitching at each other, but it’s competently made – especially compared to the preceding stories – and Kate O’Mara is incredibly watchable as The Rani. I mean, she spends her screentime making an epic feast of the scenery, but I can live with that. She does it very well. Power stomping around Victorian England, bitchslapping The Master at every opportunity. She’s bloody great.
“The Mark Of The Rani” is essentially all about introducing this new potential recurring character, so it makes sense that everything else is secondary. Bringing The Master back to help define her is actually a rare-for-the-time sensible production decision, and there is something a bit brilliant about watching Antony Ainley pour on the sleezy charm, flirting ineptly as she refuses to take any of his shit. She essentially calls him out on everything that’s been wrong about the character since, ooooh, “Logopolis”? “What’s he up to? Something devious and over-complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.” she snarls, going on to refer to him as “that idiot.” And she’s totally got a point. All of The Master’s little schemes in this one are, as she says, overly-complicated. I was going to count the number of times across the two episodes that he could have basically just, y’know, shot The Doctor and been done with it but instead twirls his moustache, does a little speech and does something stupid and overly complicated instead, but ultimately I decided that life was too short. I’ll just go with ‘a lot’. He does it a LOT.
It’s not all about Kate though. There is lot to like about this one. Don’t get me wrong, mind. This isn’t a classic. It’s never going to be a favourite, it’s never going to make the top ten, but episode one at least is terribly watchable, with lots of very good things going for it. Even the music is ace. The opening arpeggios, pads and gentle lead parts are reminiscent of Vangelis. The long establishing scene that opens episode 1, dipping in and out of mini-scenes in the Victorian mining village looks terrific, all restrained camerawork and nicely grainy. The ambient floaty synth sounds contrast really nicely with the grim, sooted-up miners, who are all northern! Northern accents! In 80’s Doctor Who! A true rarity. Admittedly they’re impenetrable comedy Geordie accents, but still, that’s sort of progress, right? And it’s dark. We see a bunch of miners go for a bath only to be immediately gassed. It’s a shame that this then cuts to a TARDIS scene, THAT bloody costume (easy target alert!) and Colin Baker throwing an over-acty strop as the TARDIS is drawn off course by a time distortion caused by the presence of a nearby time machine. Which is the first thing that really doesn’t make sense. If TARDISes are thrown off course by nearby time machines, how on Earth do they leave Gallifrey in the first place? Isn’t that a massive pain in the arse?
While we’re on TARDISes, let’s stick with the positive. The Rani’s TARDIS console room is an AMAZING piece of design. Proper amazing. It looks brilliant. Where The Doctor’s TARDIS is all sharp corners and millions of buttons, the Rani’s is all smooth contours, curves and minimalism. Yeah, it’s well 80’s, but I think it looks aces. On the other hand, The Master’s little death ray of doom is essentially a big black dildo. It’s got a bellend and everything. A bellend that opens up to squirt hot laser death at big butch miners. I can’t believe no-one on the production team thought at any point thought “Erm, guys…The Master is basically waving a plastic dick of death at everyone. We should probably change that. Tea time and so on?” Maybe it’s deliberate, I dunno. There is something quite brilliant on one level about a fruity villain pantomime sneaking around the edges of the story terrorizing people with his futuristic laser cock.
Yeah, sorry, got carried away there. At least he’s not in some lame disguise. So anyways. The Doctor and Peri go off in search of the source of the distortion while three frisky miners have a towel fight. One of them actually kicks an actual child, steals some bread and scampers off laughing. Clearly if not The Main Bad Guy, certainly a nasty little tosser. While wandering around, Peri does an environmental infodump on the effects of the industrial revolution which is so unsubtle, but still quite nice in an attempt-to-engage-with-the-concerns-of-the-time stylee. They’re watched by a living scarecrow which is never actually explained or followed up on, then the three miners mug a guy on horseback and destroy his machinery. Aha! They’re luddites. Not happy about machines coming up to the north, taking their jobs etc etc. It’s a bit Hartnell, this one. An actual semi-educational historical of sorts. Not seen one of these for a while. A couple of mysterious marks on the skin of the attackers tips The Doctor off that all is not quite what it seems and we’re off into the investigation.
For the first time, Colin Baker’s Doctor actually FEELS like The Doctor. He’s less of a dick than he’s been for the last couple of episodes, he’s only semi-responsible for one random death and he seems to actually give a shit about what is going on around him. Hurrah. Though when Peri explains to the lord of the miners or whatever his name is that “The Doctor’s a little eccentric.” I can’t help thinking “DO YOU NEED TO SPELL IT OUT?! LOOK AT WHAT HE’S WEARING!”
So episode 1 builds nice and natural, The Doctor, The Rani and The Master have a couple of chatty confrontations where The Master fails to JUST FUCKING SHOOT THE DOCTOR. STOP FANNYING AROUND AND JUST SHOOT HIM and before we know it, it’s cliffhanger time.
So all in all, episode 1 can be filed under ‘quite good’. Or ‘I was entertained by this.’
So the less good? Well, episode 2. Oh, it’s like “Attack Of The Cybermen” all over again. Scratch that. Nothing is quite like “Attack Of The Cybermen” part two. Despite being well made, part two gets, to put it bluntly, boring. Yup, it’s an episode where a guy gets turned into a living tree and gropes the companion, and it’s boring. I know, right? It’s not a car crash like “Attack Of The Cybermen” part 2, but I just found my attention meandering away, and I found myself picking holes, and then I found myself thinking about other stuff I could be doing. The living tree thing is a shame. It’s something that has a lot of potential. I like the idea. I really LOVE the idea of the tree still being sentient, but it feels like P&J could have done more with it. A minefield full of matter transforming bombs? Brilliant. The execution? Less good. So I end up spending the rest of the story thinking about some of the stuff Alan Moore was doing at the same time with Swamp Thing, wondering what he would have spun out of that idea and kind of missing the rest of the episode, coming back only for the end when celebrity historical figure George Stephenson and, I dunno, some other guy say their farewells to The Doctor and Peri, talking about the two of them like they’re old pals rather than some people they were suspicious of an hour ago. Oh well.
Well, it probably benefits from the proceeding 8 episodes being crap, but “The Mark Of The Rani” earns the not exactly glowing title of best Colin Baker story so far. A very Hartnellesque historical, not life changing, but not terrible. And I’m in a good mood, so 5/10.
Written and edited by Steve Horry