Doctor Who - The Mark of the Rani

Doctor Who

Continuing his journey through classic Doctor Who whilst he waits for the new series, Steve Hendry watches The Mark of the Rani...

Welcome to Pip and Jane’s Phantasmagorical Pseudohistorical Pisscan (or, if you’re a stickler for the rules -The Mark of The Rani).

It is forgiveable to lose count of the articles and online forum posts that are negative about Season 22. The season that preceded the show’s first hiatus (I’ve rarely heard that word used in the context of anything other than Doctor Who not being on television) comes in for some scathing criticism. The thing is, I like the majority of it. It offers Davros and the Daleks, Cybermen, a multi-Doctor story with Sontarans in, along with some excellent satire and violence in Vengeance on Varos. Viewing figures never dipped below 6 million, starting with a season high of 8.9 and rounding off on Tranquil Repose with a healthy 7.7, so what’s the problem? I decided to have a look at the now sadly departed Kate O’Mara’s debut story to see if it could be found there.

It’s a bit daft at times, The Mark of the Rani. Pip and Jane Baker’s overuse of elaborated code is the daftest bit of all, even though Anthony Ainley’s delivery of it is always exquisitely malevolent. They’ve got me at it now. Ainley’s Master never really seemed like he was wired up properly, but his scarecrow disguise near the start of episode one doesn’t seem to serve any purpose at all. He may as well have hidden behind a hedge, but it is probably appropriate in a story where he seems to go the long way round about everything.

The excellent Kate O’Mara’s Rani is, by contrast, a saner kind of psychopath, and seems irritated by The Master throughout. She even knees him in the knackers when he has the audacity to try and pilot her TARDIS, “you wouldn’t be told!”. A new Time Lord appearing in the show is always exciting, even during the 1980s when their appearances were more frequent than now. The trick is to make recurring characters memorable, Borusa having been the stand-out malign Gallifreyan before The Rani, The Master excepted. She is amusingly matter-of-fact about Luke’s fate and even manages to keep a straight face when he, newly metamorphosed into a tree, grabs Peri in the centre of the weirdest minefield ever seen in Doctor Who. O’Mara and her character are better than this script allows them to be. There is so much scope with which to work with The Rani, and her comeback story to kick off Sylvester McCoy’s debut season is far better. Hopefully she will return again, regenerated, sometime soon.

The entire story verges on the ridiculous at times, and is spread more thinly than a cheap margarine. One 45 minute episode would have been adequate, the repeated capture/escape sequences are seemingly only padded out with inane dialogue which causes the whole story to drag. The Doctor hurtling to his doom on a trolley is more Last of the Summer Wine than sci-fi, and somehow manages to be less funny. Yet when the end of the story comes, it feels rushed. A more cynical reviewer might suggest that script editor Eric Saward was too predisposed with writing Attack of the Cybermen (Paula Moore indeed. I wonder if I would get away with letting my other half write a review or two.) and Revelation of the Daleks to be bothered with his day job here, but of course I wouldn’t suggest such a thing.

On the positive side of things, the location work at the Ironbridge Gorge(ous) Museum is some of the best you will see in 1980s Who, and I can vaguely recall seeing that black TARDIS interior of The Rani’s through my then five-year-old eyes. It is certainly an improvement on The Master’s sprayed-black replica of The Doctor’s Ship, replete with dinosaur embryos in jars and sundry potions fit for a rogue time-travelling chemist’s console room. Other than that, I’m struggling here. I did say I liked the majority of season 22, and I will review Attack of the Cybermen in order to prove it in a couple of weeks, but this hasn’t been pleasant. The titular ‘mark’ is a visible sign on The Rani’s victims’ necks that their capacity for sleep has been removed. If you’re struggling with insomnia yourself, watching The Mark of the Rani could be just the thing for you.

Image - BBC.