Doctor Who and The Mark of the Rani

‘The Mark of the Rani’

Written by Pip and Jane Baker, Directed by Sarah Hellings
Story 139
Transmitted 2 February – 9, 1985

Looking forward to showing Peri The Great Exhibition, the Doctor is frustrated that the TARDIS has once again missed the date. But it seems that it is not a wasted journey as there is a distinct trace of alien technology in what appears to be an otherwise peaceful mining village. Hiding amid the citizens of Killingsworth is a deadly mastermind with schemes that could threaten human development. To add to the danger, the Doctor has been followed by his old nemesis, the Master, who vows that this encounter will be their last.

When the Doctor and Peri witness the delivery of machinery attacked by a band of roving ludites. Soon, it becomes evident that the seemingly random acts of violence are hardly random as the inventor George Stephenson (an inventor responsible for the success of the railroad system) has arranged for a meeting of learned men to take place in a few day’s time. Combined with the trace of technology far in advance for the human race of that time period, the Doctor realizes that someone is attempting something quite deadly that could have far-reaching consequences. All clues lead to a bath house run by an old crone, which demands that the Doctor infiltrate her operation by placing himself in direct peril.

Surviving his first meeting with the crone, the Doctor comes face to face with the brilliant yet twisted Time Lady known as the Rani. Seeking to deprive the miners of much-needed serotonin, the Rani is causing havoc in the village, but to her it is just a bi-product of her mission to obtain chemicals required to control a far off population of subjects. When the Master learns of her involvement, it takes little coercion to use the chaos to their advantage and destroy the Doctor as well. Against two individuals of equal intelligence, the odds are against the Doctor, but if he loses the first steps toward industrial progress will have never happened.

Peri and the Doctor investigate the Rani’s TARDIS

Mark of the Rani is one of my favorite Doctor Who adventures, specifically of the Sixth Doctor’s era. The combination of an historical setting with a new and old villain was a brilliant move. Filming in a genuine historic site is an added bonus while the musical score is inspired and moody. Just three stories in and Colin Baker is rocking the role of the Doctor.

In 1985, Baker had intended to play the role of the Doctor for as long as possible. It had appealed to him as an actor to be the best part on television and he had even attempted to get in the door when Tom Baker departed but missed out to Peter Davison. Having strong opinions on how to play the role, he was devastated when he found that the garish costume would threaten to out-act him on screen. Nonetheless, he took to the part with enthusiasm and saw the program through one of its rockiest periods.

A follower of science fiction and fantasy, Colin Baker has stated that he preferred scripts by Pip and Jane Baker as they were more intelligently written, but in my opinion this is the only good one of their three efforts. Still, it’s a cracking yarn.

Even die-hard fans slag off Colin Baker, yet his first series is actually quite solid with Mark of the Rani ranking quite high alongside Vengeance on Varos, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks. There are admittedly some sore points in Mark of the Rani, such as how the Master got to 19th Century England, why he was masquerading as a scarecrow and what is he doing there anyway aside from cackling like a loon.

Ainley’s contract demanded that he appear once per year and this is a poor excuse to place him in the series, nevertheless he is excellent as the Master. His diabolical grins and devilish physical language are just superb. An admirer of Roger Delgado, the original Master, Ainley describes his performance as part imitation and part homage to Delgado’s characterization. An accomplished stage and screen actor, Ainley was independently wealthy and only acted because he enjoyed it. The Master was Ainley’s favorite role which could explain why he kept coming back so often no matter what the situation. Appearing with more incarnations of the Doctor than any other guest actor aside from perhaps Nicholas Courtney, Ainley adjusted his performance slightly to match his opponent. Against Colin Baker, he is scintillating in his language and Machiavellian in his actions.

The Master (Anthony Ainley) and the Rani (Kate O’Mara)

Reportedly, Ainley was a bit cheesed off that he was little more than a guest villain, playing second fiddle to Kate O’Mara (The Rani), but none of this comes through on screen.

A starlet in her own right, O’Mara had become a household name on TV thanks to the US drama Dynasty. She had also appeared in a similar drama, the Brothers, which also starred a young Colin Baker. Getting the pair together again was likely the sole reason John Nathan Turner asked O’Mara to appear in Doctor Who, but even so, it resulted in a new villain(ess). As a new enemy, the Rani doesn’t do much for me. Smarter than the Doctor and the Master, she is so methodical and clinical that there’s not much to invest in her as a character. It’s an interesting direction to take the concept in, just not a very rewarding one.

I had noted the musical score earlier as being part of the reason why I dote on this story so much. It was composed by Jonathan Gibbs and is so evocative and effective at setting a specific mood that I wish he had contributed more work to the series in the 1980’s. Strangely, his score was a last minute addition after the original composer John Lewis had taken ill. Both soundtracks are available on the DVD which is a nice treat.

The Doctor (Colin Baker) confronts the Master and the Rani

When it was first screen on my local PBS station, I was very excited about this one. Already the visceral Attack of the Cybermen and the cynical Vengeance on Varos had been aired and were excellent installments for a new era and this one added the element of smarts. A sterling adventure with a wonderful location and a top notch cast, Mark of the Rani is a high point for Colin Baker’s debut season. It played up to his strengths; action, brilliant dialog and intense drama as well as provide some lovely actors to spark off of. If you are unsure of Colin Baker, you may want to give this one a go.

(Just be prepared for one of the weirdest moments in Doctor Who when a tree saves Peri’s life.)

‘Don’t worry, Peri! The tree won’t harm you!’

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