He wears yellow trousers and a vulgarly coloured coat, but tread carefully – he’s treacherous!
In the 19th Century, the population is turning violent and unpredictable ahead of a meeting of the brains of the Industrial Revolution, and the Doctor has to get to the bottom of what’s causing it.
The tone of The Mark of the Rani feels different from what’s come before it, which is probably the biggest plus point in its favour. The inherent bleakness that seems to have saturated the show since the Saward era of script editing began disperses for this two-part story, which does lapse unfortunately into pantomime at times. The story features a new Time Lord adversary in the shape of the Rani, but seems so keen to establish her as a serious villain that it comes at the expense of the Master. This story also features a rather more standard portrayal of the Doctor, with the Sixth Doctor being generally more amiable.
One thing the story does massively benefit from is the location shooting, carried out at the Blist Open Air Museum in Ironbridge, which really helps evoke a sense of atmosphere and helps the story along. Sadly, the direction doesn’t feel very cohesive and is very pantomime-y at times, which doesn’t help when the story feels particularly simple and threadbare at times. Sequences like the scene with the Doctor wheeling towards the pit attached to the stretcher feel extremely ridiculous at times, the blame for which can be pointed at Pip and Jane Baker and Sarah Hellings in equal measure. I would like to praise the design of the Rani’s TARDIS interior which looks absolutely beautiful, however, on the flip side, the land mines that turn people into trees are utterly ridiculous and the resulting trees look utterly ridiculous. Where the use of a wonderful location helps to make the production look glossy, elements like these trees and Peri’s dress (combined, of course, with the Doctor’s garish costume) make it look cheap and are easy fodder for the programme’s detractors.
The best part of this story are any scenes where the Doctor, the Rani and the Master are together. As much as it may stretch credulity to find three renegade Gallifreyans in the same place and time, it is quite fun to see the Doctor interact with his own people. In fact, when this trio are separated, the story does feel as though it slows immeasurably to feel like a bit of a slog. Kate O’Mara is clearly having an absolute ball, and the scene where she has captured the Doctor in the bathhouse is a particular delight as Colin Baker and O’Mara really spark off each other well. The Rani is an interesting villain making her debut here and I largely feel that she would have benefitted from not having the Master present too, as the pair are really quite different as characters. The story does seem to complete Anthony Ainley’s Master’s transformation into a moustache twirling parody of the character. The fact that he thinks that he can destroy the Doctor’s TARDIS by throwing it down the pit really highlights this – the Master is supposed to be an intellectual equal to the Doctor, but this harebrained scheme really damages the character. Through I largely like his incarnation, especially from his first appearance in the late Tom Baker era and through the Davison era, however, his presence feels stapled on here and some of the dialogue he is given here is just plain ridiculous. I feel that he was probably inserted to allow the story to show how evil the Rani is, but really it does do more harm than good to both characters.
He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line!
The story does have a lightness of tone which is much needed in this era, and I did broadly enjoy the bits that didn’t seem to lapse into pantomime. The story is also relatively straight forward and continuity lite, despite the reappearance of the Master. There are elements of it that I do find generally quite entertaining, but as stated above, when the three Time Lords are off-screen, it can feel a bit flat and slow. This was my first time watching the story, and I felt as though the first part was coming towards a cliffhanger on several occasions before it eventually arrived, and when it did arrive, I felt disappointed by it. The resolution is particularly frustrating too, with George Stephenson appearing as if from nowhere to rescue the Doctor. There are no real interesting guest characters, and it is perhaps fitting that Luke turns into a tree considering a largely wooden performance. The death of the Rani’s assistants is also particularly overacted – and again demonstrates issues with the direction and tone. It certainly feels as though the story almost hypes up the entrance of Stephenson and also mentions other industrialists whom we never see. This is a story that potentially promises a lot, however, when it comes to delivery, all we have is a rather light-hearted romp through history, which is fun in places but lacks any real feeling of stakes.
Verdict: The introduction of the Rani is positive, however, some lacklustre direction and writing really lets this story down. It is quite fun in places, and drags in others. 5/10
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Anthony Ainley (The Master), Kate O’Mara (The Rani), Terence Alexander (Lord Ravensworth), Gawn Grainger (George Stephenson), Gary Cady (Luke Ward), Peter Childs (Jack Ward), Richard Steele (Guard), William Ilkley (Tim Bass), Hus Levent (Edwin Green), Kevin White (Sam Rudge), Martyn Whitby (Drayman), Sarah James (Young Woman), Cordelia Ditton (Older Woman)
Writers: Pip and Jane Baker
Director: Sarah Hellings
Behind the Scenes
- The Rani makes her first appearance. She was originally intended as an ongoing nemesis, however, she would only appear on television one more time.
- With the appearance of historical figures George Stephenson and Lord Ravensworth, this story features historical figures for the first time since The Gunfighters.
The moments that really spark are the moments between the Doctor, the Master and the Rani, with the three renegade Time Lords sparking off each other.
I will venture just one question, Doctor. What precisely do you do in there?
Lord Ravensworth and Sixth Doctor