Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor story. Today is the Sixth Doctor adventure The Mark of the Rani...
Mark of the Rani is not all bad I'll give it that.
Kate O'Mara is excellent as the Rani & the character is a breath of fresh air. She is contemptuous of the Master's 'devious & complicated' plans & the Doctor's morals. She mocks the Master's fight with The Doctor with panache. But then they go & team her up with The Master.
Now The Master is an idiot in this story & you wonder why the Rani just doesn't kill the skulking fool & get on with it. The Master also appears to have disguised himself as a Scarecrow & stood in a random field to await the Doctor's arrival. Now why would he do that? Why? Then he ditches the scarecrow disguise & is back in his 'I'm off to do evil things' outfit as soon as possible.
In fact all the Timelords in this story get to do some dressing up. The Rani as an Old Crone, The Master as a bloody Scarecrow & the Doctor (temporarily & unconvincingly) as a workman in need of a bath. Colin Baker's impressive mop of blonde curls should have put the kibosh on that disguise straight off & why it takes the Rani two minutes to suss it is the Doctor whilst he is unconscious is beyond me.
Then there's the accents. I'm assuming this is supposed to be set in the north-east somewhere - after all Stephenson's from Northumberland by birth - but some of the faux Geordie-Tyke-whatever is bloody appalling. And some of the minor actors are pretty terrible but given that most of the time they're given little to do except shout a lot & rage rather unconvincingly I don't think they can take much of the blame. But if I hear another pseudo-Geordie mention of 'Tobys' I might just smash something up.
But I must remember that this isn't all bad. Colin Baker is excellent - again. I like his mischievous glee when he gets a chance to have a go at the Rani's TARDIS. So too is Terence Alexander as Lord Ravensworth & Gawn Grainger as Stephenson. Gary Cady as Luke Ward is a bit difficult to take seriously if you have strong memories of the rather wonderful Brass but does a reasonable job of a pretty bland part.
The fact that a lot of the story is filmed on location in Shropshire helps to. The opening shot in particular does a fantastic job of setting the scene & period. It's all rather refreshing but once again when one moves into a studio in a story like this it often feels & looks studio-esque. The change from film to video being part of the reason.
However the location filming doesn't excuse one of the most pathetic pieces of special effect in Doctor Who's long history. I'm talking about the 'Luke Tree' saving Peri. The idea of the Rani's clever little mines is one thing but it is at moments like this you wonder why someone didn't say: "Look this Luke Tree branch thing...it's going to look bloody ridiculous unless we have time & money to do it properly. This is Doctor Who so we won't have either. Let's write something else." But no. So we get a very plastic looking tree fondling Peri. Then we get two big plastic looking trees supporting an uncomfortable looking Colin Baker. It's like someone has gone: "So you've suspended your disbelief thus far. Let's see how you feel after THIS. No...What about THIS. HaHaHaHaetc"
It's a shame really because the writing in this story isn't too bad. Pip & Jane Baker get a lot of flak but it isn't too badly written this story. It's too 'busy'. Why have the Master & the Rani when one will do? In fact since you've apparently killed off the Master once & for all - something the Rani seems to know about btw. How is this? Do they have a Timelord Twitter? Bringing him back makes this story too crowded & in comparison with the Rani, the Master ends up looking like a total twonk. He is less Moriarty, more Sylvester Sneaky.
So if you ignore some terrible accents & acting, a surfeit of Timelord’s, the terrible Luke Tree, The Master's stupidity this isn't entirely bad. It isn't that good though. Go & watch Vengeance on Varos again. It's much more fun.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.