The Macra Terror

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This is an emergency! Control must be believed and obeyed!  No-one in the colony believes in Macra!  There is no such thing as Macra!  Macra do not exist! There are no Macra!

Control Voice

Synopsis

The Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie visit a colony that appears to be a happy holiday camp.  However, when they scratch beneath the surface, they find that the colonists are mind controlled by the Macra, crab-like creatures, who are forcing them to mine a gas vital for their survival, but fatal to the colonists.

Review

On the face of it, The Macra Terror seems like a kind of B-movie that you’d comfortably sit down to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  There are more interesting ideas lurking beneath the surface, a bit like the titular aliens about the idea of conformity and mind control, which draw obvious parallels to Orwell’s 1984 and give an interesting insight into concerns at the time.  The story has certainly benefitted from being animated and I think that the quality of the animation really helps the story, even if the Macra aren’t a great or particularly memorable villain.  The parts that will stick with me are around some great performances from both the guest and main cast, especially Patrick Troughton who seems to be revelling in the chaos.

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Sadly, the titular monsters are the weakest part of the story.  The Macra feel like a rather generic monster and this really undermines the story especially in its later stages.  They are quite effective in the early parts of the story, where they are shrouded in mist and their glowing eyes are quite creepy.  Later on, sadly they are less interesting, but they still do add a sense of menace, such as when the Macra sneak up on Ben and Polly or when they come looming out of the gas when Jamie is in the old shaft.  As creatures that can only talk through the projections of the Controller, they are rather one dimensional beyond the feeling of threat.  Ultimately, the conclusion feels a bit anti-climatic as the Macra cannot pose more of a threat.   They are menacing enough, but they don’t really pose the Doctor enough of a real threat to be taken too seriously.

However, the underlying ideas of the story are interesting.  The mined gas being fatal to humans but vital to the survival of the Macra is a good idea, making the mind washing seem like a reasonable thing to see here.  I find the mind control a much more sinister aspect of this story – there’s something about gloriously happy people that I find inherently creepy.  Ian Stuart Black obviously takes inspiration from Orwell’s 1984, with the Controller feeling very much like Big Brother.  I particularly find the propaganda songs to be particularly creepy, and while the reveal that the Controller is really the Macra is not particularly shocking – it’s the sort of twist that almost always happens in stories like this – it is well done here.  The story also delves into propaganda, indoctrination and unquestioning obedience to authority, especially when it comes to the character of Ola, who is power hungry and therefore keen to make a stand against the Pilot when he starts to believe the Doctor about the Macra.

Bad laws were made to be broken.

The Second Doctor

The cast is especially good here, especially Troughton who seems to take a childish joy in teasing the authority figures and generally causing mischief.  A story which features a compliant group of colonists is practically perfect for the Doctor to unleash his inner rebel and his detestation of authority.  This story is notable for perhaps giving Jamie the first real action he has seen since joining the TARDIS team.  Ben and Polly are more sidelined here, possibly to prepare the audience for their imminent departure in The Faceless Ones, but Michael Craze does some good work with Ben, despite being subject to mind control for the majority of the story.  You can feel the conflict and anguish he is going through when he sells out his friends to Ola as he battles the Macra’s mind control.  Amongst the guest cast, Peter Jeffrey stands out as the Pilot, who gradually comes to believe that the Doctor is telling the truth, and Gertan Klauber is great as the unsmiling Ola, hungry for more power.

Verdict:  The Macra Terror is a good piece of the Second Doctor’s era, now gloriously restored in animated form.  It is an enjoyable adventure, even if the titular monsters aren’t fantastic. 8/10

Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Michael Craze (Ben Jackson), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Peter Jeffrey (Pilot), Terence Lodge (Medok), Gertan Klauber (Ola), Graham Armitage (Barney), Ian Fairbairn (Questa), Jane Enshawe (Sunaa), Sandra Bryant & Karol Keyes (Chicki), Maureen Lane (Drum Majorette), Graham Leaman (Controller), Anthony Gardner (Alvis), Denis Goacher (Control Voice), Richard Beale (Broadcast and Propaganda Voice), Robert Jewell (Macra Operator), John Harvey (Officia), John Caesar, Steve Emerson & Danny Rae (Guards), Roger Jerome, Terry Wright & Ralph Carrigan (Cheerleaders)

Writer: Ian Stuart Black

Director: John Davies

Parts: 4

Behind the Scenes

  • The first story to feature the lead actor’s face in the opening titles, which would continue until Survival.  It would return in The Snowmen in 2012, until Twice Upon A Time.  This story also featured a new arrangement for the theme tune, but this did not debut until the broadcast of the second episode due to technical issues.
  • Sandra Bryant asked producer Innes Lloyd if she could be released from her contract due to a more attractive offer of work.  Her role was recast for episode four.
  • The Macra returned in Gridlock, forty years after this story was broadcast.  This is the third longest gap between appearances, behind the Great Intelligence and Alpha Centauri.
  • All four parts of the story are missing from the BBC archive, however, the story was completely animated and released in 2019.  This is the last four part story missing from the archives.
  • Peter Jeffrey went on to play Count Grendel in The Androids of Tara.  Sandra Bryant and John Harvey previously appeared in The War Machines, while Gertan Klauber had previously appeared in The Romans.

Best Moment

 

Best Quote

Oh, come now, we can’t have bad temper and differences of opinion in this happy-type colony!  Say you’re sorry, Ola.  Say you’re sorry, Pilot.

The Second Doctor

World War Three

World War Three Doctor and Harriet

I think you’ll find the Prime Minister is an alien in disguise!  That’s never gonna work, is it?

No.

Fair enough.

The Ninth Doctor and Policeman

Synopsis

With the Slitheen family planning to destroy the Earth to sell off for fuel and the Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones trapped in Number 10 Downing Street, the fate of the human race is in the hands of one man: Mickey Smith.

Review

Like the first part of this two-part story, I find World War Three to be utterly frustrating in times, especially when there are more interesting elements, in my opinion, begging to be explored.  The second part has the same issues with tone, with the broadly childish characters of the Slitheen family plotting nuclear armageddon and repetitive Scooby-Doo style chase sequences.  There are also parts that feel a lot like padding to get the episode up to the 45 minute mark – the Slitheen constantly feel as though they are constantly undressing from their rubbery suits, which can only be down to the episode falling short.

One positive, however, is the development of the character of Mickey.  In his previous appearance, he has been portrayed as the idiot, however, this story takes the opportunity to really do him justice.  In my review of Rose, I spoke about how I dislike how easily Rose abandons Mickey in the episode’s closing moments, and here we get to see that the Doctor has re-evaluated him by the conclusion of this episode’s events, offering him the opportunity to come and travel with him.  His character has not made a jarring change but instead has made the first steps towards a more believable change.  Potentially there hasn’t been enough groundwork laid for it to be believable that Mickey is capable of saving the day, however, I enjoyed the opportunity for the character to be useful rather than just being there.  Noel Clarke deserves credit for making this version of Mickey seem like a logical progression rather than an overnight change though.

I just went down the shop and I was thinking, you know, the whole world’s changed.  Aliens and spaceships, all in public.  And here it is.  How can they do that? They saw it.

They’re just not ready.  You’re happy to believe in something that’s invisible, but if it’s staring you in the face – “Nope! Can’t see it”.  There’s a scientific explanation for that.  You’re thick.

We’re just idiots.

Well…not all of you.

Yeah?

Mickey Smith and the Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston again does do the best he can with a rather subpar script.  The scenes with the Doctor trapped with Rose and Harriet Jones in the Cabinet Room are some of the highlights of the story with the Doctor trying to work out how to stop the Slitheen whilst Jackie questions whether he can guarantee her daughter’s safety.  There are other great parts of his performance as well, especially his broad grin when he re-enters the TARDIS at the end of the story and his speech to Rose about the Horsehead Nebula.  He is especially at his best when he is responding to Margaret Blaine’s incredulous reply to the fact that he believes that he can stop the Slitheen despite being completely trapped.  He even gets to bluff when he talks about triplicating the flammability of the alcohol which is a lovely moment.  Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones also feels as though she’s doing the best with this story and the pair of them add some gravitas to this generally and at least keep me entertained for the majority of the episode.  Harriet Jones has some lovely moments, even minor ones like telling the Doctor to pass the drink to the left first, which demonstrates that even in a crisis she doesn’t forget basic rules of manners and etiquette.

Slitheen World War Three

The elephant in the room here is the Slitheen family from Raxacoricofallapatorius.  The reveal of their home planet is just the latest revelation about these ridiculous creatures that irritates me.  I appreciate that Doctor Who is a family show, meant to provide something for everyone, however, I feel that the flatulent, booty shaking villains are frankly just too childish even for this general audience.  They are pretty incompetent villains too, demonstrated by the fact that the very weapons that they use to incapacitate the experts are also capable of harming them too, and they seem pretty ineffectual at hunting too.  Only the policeman who hunts Mickey and Jackie really seems to know what they’re doing, and this isn’t helped by scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in Scooby-Doo or a Benny Hill sketch.  Ultimately though, their plan is quite interesting: they want the UN to give them access to the nuclear codes under the pretence of an alien threat in space, then use nuclear weapons to destroy the planet and sell the remains off for a profit.  However, with the flatulence and ridiculous undressing scenes and desires to be naked, it’s difficult to take them as seriously as the story demands, undermining the threat and damaging the tone of the episode.  I will praise Annette Badland, who puts in a good performance as Margaret Blaine in spite of some pretty cringe-worthy dialogue as I think she’s the best of all of the villains in the piece.

I feel that this story also neglects potentially the most interesting element.  The story begins in Aliens of London with Rose returning home 12 months after she left with the Doctor, and shows in a limited capacity the effect that this has on those left behind.  This is the first time in Doctor Who history that this kind of issue is even flagged up, and it is surprising that Davies, with his more domestic storytelling, doesn’t focus on this more.  Jackie, despite her concerns, still seems to grudgingly accept that she can’t stop Rose travelling with the Doctor, and it still bugs me that there’s no lasting consequence on the relationship between Jackie, Rose and Mickey due to the fact that the latter was suspected of her murder for an entire year.  Whilst it’s nice to see this issue brought up in the show, I feel that it could have been handled a whole lot better.  That being said, however, the scenes where Jackie pleads with Rose in vain for her to stay and the moment where she looks at her watch for ten seconds after the TARDIS dematerialises are utterly heartbreaking.

Mickey and Jackie World War Three

Verdict: A story that has some more interesting ideas but fails on execution.  3/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), Morgan Hopkins (Sergeant Price), Andrew Marr (As Himself), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Steve Spiers (Strickland), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachele Carl (Reporter), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Elizabeth Fost, Paul Kasey & Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Keith Boak

Behind the Scenes

  • This story is the first time in either Classic or New Doctor Who that the TARDIS is seen to have a working telephone.

Best Moment

The scene where Rose and Harriet fire facts about the Slitheen at the Doctor to work out where they come from and how to fight back against them.

Best Quote

I’ve seen this life of yours, Doctor.  And maybe you get off on it.  And maybe you think it’s all clever and smart.  But tell me, just answer me this: Is my daughter safe?

I’m fine.

Is she safe?  Will she always be safe?  Can you promise me that?

Jackie Tyler and Rose Tyler

The Keys of Marinus

kom court

Synopsis

The TARDIS crew are forced to fulfil a quest for the people of the planet of Marinus to retrieve four of the five keys of the Conscience of Marinus, which are scattered around the planet, to ensure that the Voord do not get control of the planet.

Review

The Keys of Marinus is a really ambitious story which is potentially constrained by trying to do too much with little material and let down by repetition of plot points in each of the locations.  Due to the limitations of telling stories set in different locations on the same planet, a lot of time has to be spent establishing the threat in each different area before the story can get moving again, and I don’t feel there’s really enough story to justify the six parts.  The Key to Time arc would do it better, telling six four-part stories as part of a larger arc.  Despite this, there are some parts that work really well.  The last two parts of the serial work really well, with a murder mystery story dominating the final one and a half parts of the story, but the additional time spent in this final location really helps this to be one of the more memorable parts of the episode.

keys of marinus dress

I will start with the elements that I did not like.  The direction from John Gorrie is largely flat and lifeless, with the exception of one scene in The Velvet Web, where Barbara sees through the illusion that the others are convinced with, and there are some lovely POV shots which demonstrate this beautifully.  Otherwise, the direction is distinctly functional, with very little other directorial flairs to report.  The biggest impact this has on the story as a whole is that it makes the establishing scenes in each of the different locations feel very repetitive and really frustrated me.  The blame cannot solely be laid at Gorrie’s door, however, as Terry Nation’s writing is pretty atrocious too, although, admittedly, this story was written in a hurry.  Sadly, despite the narrative’s ambitions to tell a story set in five different locations, it does really suffer from the feeling of repetition which gets extremely tedious, however, the production team deserve a large amount of credit for making the story look as good as it does on an already stretched budget.  Additionally, the story has some really troubling moments for a family drama, including the attempted seduction of Barbara by the trapper in The Snows of Terror, which really just made me cringe, and the guard seemingly beating his wife after she has been questioned by Barbara and Susan.  I know this story was made at a different time, but it really feels out of place.

The Voord are also largely disappointing.  I quite like the design of the Voord as it leans into the limited budget of the show by using modified wetsuits for the design of the aliens.  I also am really fond of the simple and effective way it is used to convey the horrific nature of the death of one of the Voord in the first part – it is quite an effective and creepy image to show that the acid has completely destroyed the body of the alien.  As they only feature in the first and final part of the story, they are ultimately quite forgettable and I would have liked to have seen them crop up in attempts to stop the Doctor and his friends gathering the microkeys or providing some kind of competition to get them first.  As the story stands, they feel rather like a last minute addition and I had almost forgotten about this central part of the plot by the end of the story.

The story’s saving grace is indisputably three of the four leads – I’m sure that Carol Ann Ford would agree that her characterisation is pretty awful and infantilises her character even further, despite her best efforts, and the two members of the guest cast who stick around for the majority of the story are pretty wooden.   However, Jacqueline Hill and William Russell are superb throughout, and William Hartnell seems extremely reinvigorated following his absence in the middle of the story.  Hartnell does by and large improve in each performance as this incarnation of the Doctor seems to soften story by story and it is nice that his relationship with Ian and Barbara has drastically improved from the rocky foundations their relationship started on.  His enthusiasm on his reintroduction at being Ian’s defence counsel is great and he seems to be giving as close an impression as possible to Sherlock Holmes here.  It is to Hill and Russell’s enormous credit that the middle parts of the story do not suffer through Hartnell’s absence.  Both are particularly great throughout, but credit must especially go to Hill for her performance in the second part.

kom ian barbara brains

When we get to Sentence of Death and The Keys of Marinus, the story manages to pique my waning interest again.  The story switches to a murder mystery for the majority of the remainder of the story, with Ian framed for murdering a guard and the tone ultimately shifts.  Welcoming the chance to do something a bit different seems to invigorate Hartnell, as mentioned above, and he gives possibly one of his best performances to date.  The mystery tone seems to return from the first part when the TARDIS team are investigating the temple, and Hartnell’s courtroom performances are fantastic.  The resolution of this subplot almost came too soon, and I would rather have had more of this type of story than the rest.

Verdict: The Keys of Marinus cannot be faulted for its ambition, however, in the execution it seems to fail in a number of ways and feels particularly repetitive.  Hill and Russell are superb, and the final two parts are buoyed by a returning and reinvigorated William Hartnell.  5/10

Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Carol Ann Ford (Susan Foreman), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright), George Coulouris (Arbitan), Martin Cort, Peter Stenson & Gordon Wales (Voord), Robin Phillips (Altos), Katharine Schofield (Sabetha), Heron Carvic (Voice of Morpho), Martin Cort (Warrior), Edmund Warrick (Darrius), Francis De Wolff (Vasor), Michael Allaby, Alan James, Peter Stenson & Anthony Verner (Ice Soldiers), Henley Thomas (Tarron), Michael Allaby (Larn), Raf De La Torre (Senior Judge), Alan James (First Judge), Peter Stenson (Second Judge), Fiona Walker (Kala), Martin Cort (Aydan), Donald Pickering (Eyesen), Alan James (Guard) and Stephen Dartnell (Yartek).

Writer: Terry Nation

Director: John Gorrie

Part: 6 (The Sea of Death, The Velvet Web, The Screaming Jungle, The Snows of Terror, Sentence of Death and The Keys of Marinus)

Behind the Scenes

  • William Hartnell does not appear in The Screaming Jungle or The Snows of Terror as he was on holiday.  Hartnell had been working solidly from October 1963 through to April 1964.
  • John Gorrie was reluctant to work on Doctor Who due to apathy towards science fiction but was persuaded to by Verity Lambert.  Gorrie was a member of the BBC Plays Department, and was particularly dismissive of the scripts, but signed up to further his career.
  • Only one of two stories written by Terry Nation not to feature the Daleks.
  • Between The Velvet Web and The Screaming Jungle being broadcast, BBC Two was launched, meaning that The Screaming Jungle was the first episode to be branded as being on BBC One.
  • This is the first of 34 six part stories and the first of several “travelling” stories where the main cast move location multiple times within the same story.
  • The Voord were an unsuccessful attempt to rival the popularity of the Daleks.
  • The Screaming Jungle saw the show’s first plagiarism controversy as Robert Gould complained that he had outlined a story with plants as the final point of evolution to David Whitaker.  Whitaker argued that Nation had arrived at the similar idea independently and that the idea was derivative of The Day of the Triffids anyway.
  • This was a late replacement for a problematic story written by Malcolm Hulke, called Dr. Who and the Hidden Planet.

Best Moment

Possibly the scene where the Doctor, Susan and Ian are all possessed and only Barbara can see things as they truly are.

Best Quote

I don’t believe that man was made to be controlled by machines.  Machines can make laws, but they cannot preserve justice.  Only human beings can do that.

The First Doctor

Dragonfire

cliffhanger

Do you feel like arguing with a can of deodorant that registers nine on the Richter scale?

Ace

Synopsis

As trouble brews on the space trading colony of Iceworld, the Doctor and Mel encounter their sometimes-ally Sabalom Glitz – and a new friend who goes by “Ace”.
Review

Dragonfire wraps up a rather indifferent debut series for Sylvester McCoy, which at times feels like it is stumbling towards the finishing line. There are some interesting ideas here but there’s no time to flesh any of them out, and as a result everything feels quite flimsy. Despite this, there are signs of promise to come in the following series coming up to the show’s cancellation in 1989, especially with the debut of Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, and hints at the sort of character that the Seventh Doctor will become. This story also features a good, if underdeveloped villain in the shape of Edward Peel’s Kane, and sadly does show the lack of budget available to the programme at this time.

ace glitz doc mel

I’ll start by talking about the two companions, one incoming and one outgoing in this story. Firstly, the outgoing incumbent, Mel Bush, as played by Bonnie Langford. Langford certainly is possibly one of the least popular Doctor Who companions, which isn’t entirely her fault, as her character feels like a regression to some of the 1960s companions, with her response to everything being to scream. I don’t blame her for wanting to leave, although it feels as though it almost takes the entire production team by surprise in the way that her departure is completely shoehorned in. It seems completely out of character for Mel to go off with Glitz, and this is certainly up there with Leela’s exit in The Invasion of Time for the most rushed way of getting rid of a companion. Don’t even get me started on Liz Shaw’s off-screen departure between Inferno and Terror of the Autons though, which is probably the only problem I have with the Letts era, however, equally, it would have been a tragedy not to have had Katy Manning in the show. With that out of the way, it is nice to see Mel get to interact with another companion and it is perhaps notable that she probably spends more time with Ace than the Doctor does. Sophie Aldred’s Ace seems much more rounded, if not entirely believable as a teenager, character than companions that came before her. Her propensity for yelling out her own name and phrases like “Mega!” make me think that no-one in the Doctor Who production office had ever spoken to a real teenager in their life.

The story here can be seen to be a bit of a throwback to the 1960s as well as being a comedy in places, however, there are some elements which are genuinely quite disturbing. Belusz’s admission that she is having doubts about signing up with Kane to Kracauer is almost looking at the naivety of youth and the idea of consent, with the Doctor stating explicitly that her debt to Kane won’t be easy to be repaid. There is also a pretty explicit criticism of capitalism, with the shops on Iceworld acting as a front and Kane confident in the belief that every soul has its price, his coin acting as a bit of an obvious but effective way of getting this message across. Kane is sufficiently menacing and sinister and despite his icy demeanour, there is clear emotion bubbling away under the surface. Edward Peel deserves a great deal of credit for doing the most with a limited character.

The story does act as a pastiche of science fiction, with elements paying homage to films like Alien and Star Wars. There are moments of black humour in there too, like Stellar drinking her milkshake in the café where everyone has been murdered and playing with her teddy bear in Kane’s dungeon. There are also hints here of more of the scheming Doctor we would see later on in McCoy’s run when he tells Mel that the signal coming from Iceworld has been going on for a little while – as if it’s been on his list of intergalactic wrongs that he will one day get round to putting right. This put me in mind of the setup for Mummy on the Orient Express, one of my all-time favourite episodes, so that’s no bad thing really!

Well? Do you fancy a quick trip round the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea?

Ace!

But there are three rules. One, I’m in charge.

Whatever you say, Professor.

Two. I’m not the Professor, I’m the Doctor.

Whatever you want.

And the third. Well, I’ll think up the third by the time we get back to Perivale.

Seventh Doctor and Ace

Sadly, I feel that the story has lost something from the transition from page to screen and it feels as though there is some disconnect. A much-lambasted demonstration of this is the famous cliffhanger at the end of part one, which finds the Doctor hanging by his umbrella on an actual cliff face. This is not clear in the transmitted episode, but the passage leading to the cliff was supposed to be a dead end, meaning that the Doctor would have to climb down. This seems to almost be symptomatic of the problems of the production in general. There are great juxtapositions, for instance, as the design of the dungeon looks fantastic and evokes The Tomb of the Cybermen and is all the more impressive considering the constraints of the budget, but then the caves look cheap, in no small part due to the sets being overlit. The story also never really gives us a good enough reason for Glitz to be in this story other than to give an exit for Mel, and I’m not sure what he adds to this story otherwise.

doctor and ace

Verdict: Dragonfire brings Sylvester McCoy’s first series as the Doctor to a close, and though it hints at the direction the show was going to venture into in the next two, it really hits stumbling blocks. 6/10
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Tony Selby (Sabalom Glitz), Edward Peel (Kane), Patricia Quinn (Belazs), Tony Osoba (Kracauer), Shirin Taylor (Customer), Ian Mackenzie (Anderson), Stephanie Fayerman (McLuhan), Stuart Organ (Bazin), Sean Blowers (Zed), Nigel Miles-Thomas (Pudovkin), Leslie Meadows (The Creature), Lynn Gardner (Announcer), Miranda Borman (Stellar), Daphne Oxenford (Archivist), Chris MacDonnell (Arnheim)
Writer: Ian Briggs
Director: Chris Clough
Parts: 3
Behind the Scenes

  • The story sees the return of Sabalom Glitz, the departure of Mel and the debut of Ace. This was Sophie Aldred’s first role on television.
  • Sylvester McCoy requested that the farewell scene with Mel was changed to incorporate dialogue from one of his audition scenes, which Ian Briggs and Andrew Cartmel inserted into the script.

Best Moment

Kane’s face melting moment is fantastic and very similar to the Indiana Jones effects.
Best Quote

I’m going now.

That’s right, yes, you’re going. Been gone for ages. Already gone, still here, just arrived, haven’t even met you yet. It all depends on who you are and how you look at it. Strange business, time.

Goodbye, Doctor.

I’m sorry, Mel. Think about me when you’re living your life one day after another, all in a neat pattern. Think about the homeless traveller and his old police box, with his days like crazy paving.

Mel Bush and the Seventh Doctor

girl and dragon

The Mark of the Rani

The Master and the Rani.jpg

He wears yellow trousers and a vulgarly coloured coat, but tread carefully – he’s treacherous!

The Master

Synopsis

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.

Review

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 Doctor Mark of the Rani

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 Rani

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

Parts: 2

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.

Best Moment

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.

Best Quote

I will venture just one question, Doctor.  What precisely do you do in there?

Argue, mainly.

Lord Ravensworth and Sixth Doctor