After the grim and grittiness of 'Attack of the Cybermen' and 'Vengeance on Varos', 'The Mark of the Rani' is something of a change in tone. It is notorious for several reasons; one criticism often leveled against it is that three renegade Time Lords arrive in the same period of Earth's history for different reasons. This isn't actually true; the Rani arrives first, the Master follows her from Miasimia Goria, and then he draws the Doctor there. A second issue is a certain special effect, which I'll come to below, and the other thing for which 'The Mark of the Rani' is notorious is that it sees the Doctor Who debut of husband and wife writing team Pip and Jane Baker, who aren't terribly popular with many fans and who are renowned for writing pompous overblown dialogue. Nevertheless, 'The Mark of the Rani' is rather entertaining.
The actual plot is very straightforward; the Rani has been visiting various historical periods in order to steal a chemical from human brains that gives them the ability to sleep, since she needs it for her work. The Master is attempting to pervert the course of history and has decided to take advantage of the Rani's presence whether she likes it or not, and the Doctor wants to stop them both. All of which is merely a framework to allow Pip and Jane Baker to have fun with the relationship between the Doctor and the Master, with the Rani as acerbic commentator. This is, on the whole, rather effective; I have misgivings about bringing back the Master after his seeming demise in 'Planet of Fire', although since it was probably inevitable I can't help being amused by the fact that the script takes the piss out of his tendency to pop up unexpectedly, often in a stupid disguise. There is absolutely no need for him to disguise himself as a scarecrow, and the fact that the script calls upon him to do so smacks to me of a big knowing wink to the audience, especially since he soon sheds this guise. Likewise, after his immolation at the end of 'Planet of Fire', his flippant comment that he is "indestructible - the whole universe knows that" reflects the tendency in certain types of science fiction and fantasy (especially comics) for arch-enemies to return from seemingly certain death.
The presence of the Rani prevents 'The Mark of the Rani' from being the usual Doctor versus Master runaround. She's actually quite a good character here; she is utterly amoral, with no concern whatsoever for what she sees as lesser beings, and unlike the Master she has a very clear motivation; a proficient biochemist, she is obsessed with scientific discovery, to the point that she has no time for ethics. With the current tendency for scientists to be cast in a rather poor light by the British media, this actually feels quite relevant at the moment, although the Bakers exhibit little interest in social commentary. Despite her ruthless and uncaring approach to her work, and her irritation at any interference, the Rani also has something of a vicious streak, as her smug attitude to Luke's transformation into a tree attests. However, she is for the most part a clear contrast to both the compassionate and emotional Doctor, and the Master who here is portrayed, in almost tongue in cheek fashion, as a raving lunatic. And that is the modest beauty of 'The Mark of the Rani' - at its best, it is very witty. The Rani is constantly used to mock both the Doctor and the Master, with lines such as "You're unbalanced no wonder the Doctor always outwits you", "asinine cretin", "He'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line", and perhaps most pointedly, "Do stop squabbling and get on with it" as the Master has the Doctor at his mercy but accidentally allows him, in pure Dr. Evil style, to escape because he can't resist the chance to gloat.
The relationship between the Doctor and the Master is lampooned throughout, and not just when the Rani is present. The Master obviously knows that dropping the TARDIS down a mineshaft won't damage, it but he arranges it anyway, just to cause the Doctor enormous inconvenience. By far my favourite line from the Master is his description of the Doctor: "mean looking wears yellow trousers and a vulgarly coloured coat". In addition, the Master has a plan here which whilst superficially similar to that in 'The King's Demons' is far more in keeping with his characterisation during the Pertwee era, in that he plans on tampering with Earth's history but wants to do so in order to transform the planet into a power base, rather than simply causing chaos. And as during the Pertwee era, the Master's obsession with humiliating the Doctor is the cause of his own defeat, since it is he that forcibly involves the Doctor in the first place.
What really makes 'The Mark of the Rani' work in this way is the acting. Anthony Ainley often plays against his lines and puts in a fairly straight performance, which works brilliantly because it makes the Master seem really bonkers rather than just over the top. Kate O'Mara is excellent as the Rani, bringing a memorable dominatrix air to the role as she strides about in figure hugging clothing and constantly belittles her fellow Time Lords; O'Mara conveys the Rani's lack of tolerance for the Master in particular very well. What also interests me about the two villains is that whilst the Rani would dearly like to clear off and leave the Master to his feud with the Doctor he if hadn't purloined her brain fluid, the Master seems almost besotted with her - it is unusual for him to take an ally without at some point trying to either double-cross or kill them, but he seems genuinely determined to impress her.
Colin Baker is also crucial to the three-way rivalry of 'The Mark of the Rani', and he conveys very well the Doctor's contempt for both the Master and the Rani. Like the Master the Doctor seems to have some measure of respect for the Rani, or rather for her intelligence, but makes no secret of the fact that he can't stand her. The Doctor's fury at Luke's transformation is one of Baker's best performances of moral outrage during Season Twenty-Two, and it is interesting that it is focused more at the Rani (who created the traps) rather than the Master, who put her up to using them. It reflects an earlier line, suggesting that whilst the Doctor dislikes the Rani, he is disappointed to find that she has sunk to the depths plumbed by his old archenemy. One of things I like most about 'The Mark of the Rani' however, is the denouement; the Doctor spends most of Episode Two on the trail of the Master and the Rani, and maintains the upper hand for a good deal of it. His eventual defeat of the Master and the Rani is beautifully simple; he sabotages the Rani's TARDIS and sends them hurtling off into the depths of space, out of control. The reason I like this relatively low-key defeat is that for all the Master's overly complicated plans to humiliate his old enemy, the Doctor manages to outwit both him and the Rani with simplicity and ease.
The other cast members in 'The Mark of the Rani' are all perfectly adequate, although they tend to be overshadowed by the performances of the three Time Lords. The only one who really stands out is Terence Alexander as Lord Ravensworth, who's first meeting with the Doctor prompts him to reluctantly concede, "You just might be a gentleman". As for Nicola Bryant, she's fine as Peri, although she gets relatively little to do here. Nevertheless, there is some nice use made of Peri's botanical background, and in keeping with the light hearted feel that permeates much of the story, her usual bickering with the Doctor has by this point clearly become that which can exist between close friends. The Doctor and Peri may exchange lines such as "Occasional, just occasionally, your smugness infuriates me!" but they are obviously deliberately winding each other up rather than offering genuine or angry criticism.
The production is generally rather good; the location filming is stunning, and the sets, despite looking rather artificial, match up with the exteriors very well. The Rani's TARDIS is worthy of particular note, since it is far more imaginative than the design used for the Master's in 'Planet of Fire', which was of course identical to the Doctor's but black instead of white. Sarah Hellings does a great job of directing (the cliffhanger, insertion of an extra frame into the reprise, is highly effective) and is aided and abetted by an impressive score from Jonathon Gibbs.
On the whole then, 'The Mark of the Rani' works very well. Despite the Bakers' reputation, the dialogue is not too overblown, aside from odd exceptions such as "Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet", or it is overblown but used for comic effect in the case of some of the lines uttered by the three Time Lords. But one thing I have to mention, inevitably, is the tree. I don't care that it looks fake, its just a low-budget prop when all is said and done, but what does make me cringe is the fact that it is able to bend its branch and save Peri from being similarly transformed. It seems the Rani's evil genius lies not in transforming hapless victims into trees, but into Ents
Filters: Television Sixth Doctor Series 22
It is unfortunate that Colin Baker made so few Doctor Who stories for television, but his short era is fascinating, as in many ways it is a microcosm of the series. In Season 22 there is a multi-Doctor story, a Dalek story, a Cybermen story, and this, a pseudo historical adventure set during the Luddite riots in England. While on the whole it is probably one of the better Sixth Doctor adventures, lacking as it is many of the obvious faults that befell his two and a bit seasons, it is still a somewhat misjudged.
The title refers to a Time Lady, the Rani, who has been stealing brain chemicals from pit workers in 19th century Newcastle. The Doctor and Peri arrive, forced there by The Master, who plans to kill his nemesis. But they both become involved in the strange events, the former trying to prevent the alteration of history, the latter planning to use George Stevenson to aid him in his dreams of world domination.
The script, by Pip and Jane Baker, is intriguing, but they come up with some of the most preposterous dialogue heard in series history. They should probably be praised for trying to enlarge our vocabularies, but then again does anyone know what "Apposite epithet" means, or even care? They also seem to get the characterisation of The Doctor and Peri wrong, and insert a set piece in which The Rani and Peri must traverse a field of mines...that turn unfortunate victims into trees. It's so out of place you have to suspect that substances were involved during the writing...mind you, some of the blame must be pointed at poor Eric Saward. He might've been apathetic to The Master, but that's no reason not to provide an explanation as to his escape from death in Planet of Fire. Sometimes, I think he's undeserving of most of the critical flack he receives. But for laziness like that, most of the time I have to agree with it.
The performances are mixed. Colin Baker is as good as ever, but Nicola Bryant is growing increasingly annoying. Granted, she gets some of the worst dialogue ("You suspect another motive?"), but she still doesn't have the skill to deliver it in a way to make it sound half-decent, and her American accent is growing even more wobbly. She also wears too much, although that's perhaps a more trivial complaint. Anthony Ainley returns with an oddly restrained performance, acting as nothing more than The Rani's lackey throughout the story. And The Rani herself? Well, Kate O' Mara's not bad, but essentially her character is nothing more than a female Master, and when she's in a scene with former co-star Colin, or Ainley, things really do get cheesy.
It's left to director Sarah Hellings to make up for these deficincies. Helped by an atmospheric location, she works wonders, which are magnified when you look at who directed the two stories surrounding this one. There are some delightful visual touches, like the volcano, The Rani's TARDIS (which, I'm afraid to say, is a lot better than the Doctor's) and the odd shot at the end in which one of the dinosaur embroyos inside her TARDIS begins to grow at an accelerated speed, which is a surprisingly effective, er, effect.
Unfortunately though, The Mark of the Rani also has bad dialogue and some duff performances, so they negate these good points to a certain extent. But I'm prepared to be generous to this one as Colin made so few, and was such an enjoyable and under-rated Doctor, even when the odds were stacked against him.
Filters: Television Sixth Doctor Series 22
A bit of the "odd man out" in the notorious Season 22.
A kinder, gentler story in this very morbid and "noir" season. The Doctor is a bit more approachable. The storyline, simpler. And the general tone of the whole tale is considerably less dark than the other stories surrounding it. This made quite a bit of fandom happy since a lot of folks aren't happy with the direction most of Season 22 went in.
But now, here's where I differ from most of you. I loved what Season 22 did. I know I could be very alone in that sentiment, but I really enjoyed the whole anti-hero nature of the Doctor and all the strange, off-beat violence and the general sense experimentalism at work throughout the season. So, does this mean I despise "Mark of the Rani" for going against the grain?
Meh. It's an okay story.
It's got a couple of really big flaws to it that have been attacked and lambasted several million times over by fandom. The tree saving Peri, the Master offering no real explanation for surviving "Planet Of Fire" and several other moments like that. There are even some flaws to it that bothered me that didn't seem to bother anyone else. For instance, the attack on the Doctor in the first part where the three recently-converted Luddites are trying to shove him "down pit" looks horrendously fake. Watch really careful, by the way, at the bad editing. One of the Luddites falls into the pit - only to re-appear a moment later!
But none of these flaws are quite enough, in my book, to genuinely "kill" this story. They lessen its effectiveness a bit, but they don't turn it into a genuine "stinker". I do feel, however, that there is a genuine flaw to the overall "flow" of the plot that does cause it to lose some of its impact. I'll explain it in a moment. First, I'll heap on some praise where praise is due.
Pip and Jane Baker, for all their overblown dialogue, do offer an excellent first script. Based on this tale alone, I can see why they were re-commissioned as writers. And, for my money, what they did in Trial of a Time Lord was pretty good too (but that's a whole other review!).
The greatest strength to this story is how they set up the Doctor/Master/Rani dynamics. To me, the very high-handed vocabulary even suits them (they're Time Lords, they'd use big words with each other!). The banter between the three of them as they reach the cliffhanger is just a whole lot of fun to watch and is probably one of the most memorable moments of Season 22. I really like how these scenes are executed.
The biggest problem, to me, that arises is that the Master/Rani/Doctor confrontation is the high point of the story. But we still have another forty minutes or so to get through in the next part. And though there are some nice moments in the second half of Mark of the Rani, it never quite "measures up" to what we got in the first half. Thus making the whole thing a tad on the anti-climactic side. This is the greatest flaw to this story. We get all the really good stuff far too early. I suppose it couldn't be avoided in some ways. A second, drawn-out three-way confrontation between the Rani, the Doctor and the Master would've seemed too forced. Perhaps, then, it would have been better to have kept the first encounter short and then given us a bigger one later.
This doesn't mean, of course, that the second half of the story is totally bad. We still have some nice little moments. The excursion into the Rani's gorgeous TARDIS interior being highly memorable. And the Doctor almost "losing his cool" and being tempted to use the Tissue Compressor on his two rivals is also quite riveting. But, overall, most of the bang for my buck is done as the cliffhanger rolls up.
Still, the story does score some extra points by having a very different "feel" to it. As much as I enjoyed the nature of Season 22, I'm even more impressed with the fact that they stuck something so radically different in the middle of it. I also find the Master to be at his all-time creepiest in this story. All those moody shots of him just skulking about were so well-achieved. Yes, he's psychologically imbalanced and, therefore, not half the man Delgado was. But that was the whole point of the Ainley Master. He was living on borrowed time and this was having a drastic effect on his sanity. And his nuttiness is played up quite effectively in this tale. Making him genuinely scary rather than just comical. Like "Ultimate Foe", having the Master take a bit of a backseat in this tale was actually a great move for his character. He could really focus on just being sinister and nasty rather than having to propel the plot a whole lot.
So, in the final analysis, this is a fairly passable tale. Overshadowed quite a bit by some of the other offerings of Season 22, but still a nice little break from all the sombreness. Even if said sombreness is greatly enjoyed by this reviewer!
Filters: Television Series 22 Sixth Doctor
One of the most patronising things that anyone can say about a good sixth Doctor story is wow, thats really good for Colin Baker. Its as if its impossible for one of his stories to be genuinely good on its own terms, and people have to instead make the best of things by saying oh well, it could be Timelash, so count your blessings. Now when a bona fide classic comes along like Revelation Of The Daleks this is rendered nonsense, but I can sort of see why this view comes about in relation to The Mark Of The Rani; while its not quite good enough to be counted as able to survive its own era like Revelation or Vengeance On Varos, its still streets ahead of one or two other moments of Colins brief era. Therefore what reputation it has largely rests on the fact that it comes in the same season as Timelash and Attack Of The Cybermen personally, while I understand this viewpoint I think its unfair to attack the entire story because the reasons it gets laughed at occasionally can be isolated into just a couple of scenes.
Immediately noticeable is the vast quantity of location shooting (a figure of 50% is one Ive heard passed around), and thanks to some quite superb direction from Sarah Hellings sadly her only story for Doctor Who theres a much classier feel to this story than I might have expected from an era not known for its taste. Its helped by some pleasant incidental music, even though the dated sound of the synthesisers is highlighted by the period setting and their attempt at imitating actual instruments. The studio sets are also pleasantly subdued (particularly the Ranis TARDIS, of which more later), possibly earning this the title of best looking sixth Doctor story.
Unfortunately, a sixth Doctor story will at some point involve the presence of the sixth Doctor. Dreadfully misconceived though his character is, Colin just about manages not to embarrass himself too much in this story, apart from his first scene with its notorious malfunction! shriek. Its made all the worse by being his first scene and therefore devoid of context, and his theatricality disrupts the peace of the opening scenes like a sneeze in a library.
In case anyone doesnt notice when they watch the story, this is what first introduces us to Pip n Jane Baker, two decent plot-writers but whose tortured dialogue has earned them a reputation as two of Doctor Whos worst writers. To be honest in comparison with some of their later work The Mark Of The Rani seems alright, even if they undo their good work in the second episode by providing the programme with one of its most infamously stupid lines. Nevertheless its quite sweet to see them pitching their episodes firmly at a family audience, as the miners newfound aggression manifests itself in them whipping each other with towels and kicking over stalls of potatoes.
I dont know why the Masters dressed as a scarecrow, alright? Its just spooky looking, I suppose, although Ive never approved of elements in a story technically good though they may be that emphasise effect over sense. However, a serious mitigating factor is that Anthony Ainley tones down the ham in a story that in many ways doesnt allow for that sort of thing. However, there are still one or two annoying scenes as the writers advance the plot by having him talk to himself. Theres a good scene where he meets the miners for the first time, and the deliberate irony of having the Doctor chide Peri for her smugness is amusing.
Terence Alexander gets most of the best lines in the episode, although he throws himself into the Victorian-gentleman trope a bit too enthusiastically to make him believable. He certainly has a dramatic entrance though in a decent action scene over the pit.
To be honest, neither Ainley nor Kate OMara is terrific in their roles, but OMara comes off the best here even if Ainley is still above average. The exchanges between the Rani and the Master are always fun to watch; what scores this story serious points in my book is the way it uses the Rani a character with clear-cut needs and motivations to send up the Masters cliché of causing mischief for its own sake, without a proper reason.
Meanwhile, back on the other side of the plot, the Doctors logic in piecing together the peculiar events so far is interesting to listen to, but the villains have been given too much screen time too early on (with consequent plot revelations) to build up a decent sense of mystery. And, just in case youd forgotten who wrote this story or felt their reputation was undeserved, we get the ridiculous line fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet. That said, there is much to enjoy in the Doctors confrontations with the Rani and its always nice to see his costume covered up. The only serious problem with the episode so far, as far as I can see, is that its shallow. Apart from the send-up of the Master theres little here beyond the basic plot for me to really get my teeth into.
The cliffhanger to the first episode, at least this side of the episode break, is pretty good with some excellent film editing and good stunt work from whoever the poor sap was inside that casket (so you want a job, do you?). Unfortunately episode two has the famously lazy resolution where the reprise is re-edited and extra footage spliced in showing that the Doctor was never actually in any danger. They might have got away with this five or ten years before when episodes were being watched only on transmission, but by 1985 the era of the home video recorder was well underway and the production team short-changing the viewer like this isnt so easy to overlook as it might have been in a black and white episode.
Episode two sees a definite drop in quality over episode one, and the interplay between the Rani and the Master is still a highlight of the story. However, having the Master repeat the mark of the RANI! as if its an incantation a second time is a very unsophisticated piece of writing. There is a genuinely touching moment as the Doctor waxes lyrical about the Ranis morals, and the mustard gas moment is a nice idea that worked better when I was a kid, I think.
The Ranis TARDIS is seen for the first time at this point, one of the classiest sets ever seen in the series. I could easily believe that the entire budget of the season was used up on this one set, and it seems like an affront to designer Paul Trerise to allow Colin Baker on it while wearing his full costume. Its all complimented by more superb location shooting (like the spiders web shot Hellings is possibly in the top twenty Doctor Who directors, maybe top ten for location filming). However, now we come to the most contentious issue in the entire story, and the easiest target for its detractors: the Ranis landmines.
Is it plausible to have a device that can turn a human into a tree in a small explosion? Since its Time Lord technology, I dont see why not. Is it a good special effect? I think so, yes. Was it a good idea to have the character formerly known as Luke reach down a branch and grab Peri? No. Its compounded by that stupid line I alluded to earlier, the hilarious dont worry Peri, the tree wont hurt you! What elevates the line from just another clunker and into a piece of loopy genius though is that it makes perfect sense in context, which rather detracts from the whole concept of the scene, really. The storys wound up with some more dodgy lines, like calling the Master a crack-brained freak, and a non-resolution where the Ranis TARDIS is sent flying away faster than it should, and alls done. I still like it, but I cant help but feel a sense of waste.
I do like this story, but its got just a few too many flaws to really qualify as above-average. Whereas stories like Day Of The Daleks settle quite comfortably into average ratings, I feel more disappointed by The Mark Of The Rani because, despite all that works against it the writers being the chief example it comes very close to being something more.
Filters: Television Series 22 Sixth Doctor
Written by Pip & Jane Baker
Read By Nicola Bryant
Released by BBC Worldwide - April 2018
Available from Amazon UK
I was never a big fan of Pip and Jane Baker's writing on the series. They only wrote three stories, but none of them thrilled me. "The Mark of the Rani" was probably the best of the three...but even then it was a little too campy. I didn't think the Rani was an interesting new villain, as she just seemed to be a pale imitation of Anthony Ainley's version of the Master, and her scientist goals seemed very anti-science in their depiction.
Little did I know I'd need to write a review of the audiobook someday.
This is the kind of sentence that seems to end a lot of sequences and chapters in this novelization. "Little did they know..." and variations upon that permeate the book. The Bakers aren't particularly good writers in my opinion, not for the screen, not for the page. While Nicola Bryant proves to be a great narrator, the story is only so-so.
I don't remember disliking the original episodes, though I went back and read my review of when I last watched it many years ago, and my review is pretty critical of it. I'd have to rewatch to see where I stand on the televised version. But the novel is mediocre. Not awful, but just somewhere in the middle...and there is little that is less interesting to talk about than something that is middle of the road in terms of quality.
If you happen to be fan of this story, Nicola Bryant is giving her all to the audiobook. I would say her reading made up for the lack of story and interesting characters. If you don't really care about this particular Sixth Doctor story, I wouldn't waste my time.
Filters: Sixth Doctor Audiobook Target BBC Audio