The Mark of the Rani ★★★

Kate O'Mara's Rani upstages the Master in a costume romp set during the Industrial Revolution

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Season 22 – Story 139

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“Like many scientists, I’m afraid the Rani simply sees us as walking heaps of chemicals. There’s no place for the soul in her scheme of things” – the Doctor

Storyline
The Doctor and Peri encounter the Master and fellow Time Lord the Rani in a 19th-century Tyneside coal-mining community. While the Master plans to hijack a meeting of key figures of the Industrial Revolution, the Rani has rendered the locals aggressive by her experiments on them. She is extracting their brain fluids to benefit the people of the planet Miasimia Goria, of which she is dictator. Can the Doctor outwit the scheming Gallifreyan allies and avert disaster for the planet Earth?

First transmissions
Part 1 – Saturday 2 February 1985
Part 2 – Saturday 9 February 1985

Production
Location filming: October/November 1984 at Granville Colliery, Blists Hill Open Air Museum and Coalport China Works in Telford, Shropshire; and Park Wood, Ruislip, Middlesex
Studio recording: November 1984 in TC1

Cast
The Doctor – Colin Baker
Peri – Nicola Bryant
The Master – Anthony Ainley
The Rani – Kate O’Mara
Lord Ravensworth – Terence Alexander
George Stephenson – Gawn Grainger
Jack Ward – Peter Childs
Luke Ward – Gary Cady
Guard – Richard Steele
Tim Bass – William Ilkley
Edwin Green – Hus Levent
Sam Rudge – Kevin White
Drayman – Martyn Whitby
Young woman – Sarah James
Older woman – Cordelia Ditton

Crew
Writers – Pip and Jane Baker
Designer – Paul Trerise
Incidental music – Jonathan Gibbs
Script editor – Eric Saward
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Director – Sarah Hellings

RT Review by Mark Braxton

Doctor Who is nothing if not cyclical. It seemed as though yesteryear yarns featuring real historical figures were, indeed, a thing of the past, but after nearly 19 years and exactly 114 stories the trend was resurrected. The relatively low-key presence of George “Rocket” Stephenson and the tantalising mention of Faraday, Brunel et al stop it well short of full-blooded immortality. And the period grasp, like the wandering North East accents we hear, is shaky. But it’s still a refreshing, earthbound delight in an undistinguished era of offworld futurama.

Key to its standout status is the location filming, with Blists Hill and its open air museum in Ironbridge standing in for Killingworth colliery. The damp-looking autumn shoot gives it an atmosphere akin to ITV’s Robin of Sherwood or Dick Turpin. And if some of the Rani-aided Luddite scuffles are allowed to play out for a bit too long (you can almost hear the extras muttering “Just hurry up and say, ‘Cut’!”), it’s still a delight to get away from light-blasted studios.

Also, in its own, unassertive way, this is “Event Who”. Not one but THREE Time Lords! And the moments they share the screen are a joy, something writers Pip and Jane Baker seem to have relished.

Anthony Ainley ups his game as the Master (miraculously surviving his fiery death five stories ago), competing with both a spirited Kate O’Mara as the rapacious Rani and Colin Baker in one of his more charming turns as the Doctor. Not just a grumpy grammarian, after all.

The Doctor’s scenes with Stephenson (an engagingly unshowy Gawn Grainger) are nicely done but miss the opportunity to really hit home. The always good-value Terence Alexander gives us the only other character to make an impression, Lord Ravensworth.

The dialogue is a mixture of wonderful and woeful. On the one side we have the colourful insults of the Time Lord trio: “intellectual microbe”, “that dilettante Doctor”, “He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line” and “crack-brained freak”, though the last jibe would be taken a different way these days.

And on the other we have clangers like “He’s not susceptible to your irresistible charm”, “Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet” and, my favourite, “Don’t worry Peri! The tree won’t hurt you.”

The dribbling impotence of the first-episode cliffhanger – Peri’s pathetic inertia as the Doctor is trolleyed off to his doom – conveys the tale’s almost total absence of threat.

And so The Mark of the Rani ends up being a collection of things. Some of the things are wonderful. The Rani’s Tardis, for example, is absolutely gorgeous, quite the best piece of design in the show for an age. And there’s Stephenson’s laboratory, a T-rex embryo, an interesting mini-discussion on humanity’s worth, plus the weird but well-rendered tree mines.

And because of that variegated mix, it’s a story of considerable interest. But little flair or sizzle.

RT archive material

Rani-feature
Rani billings
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[Available on BBC DVD]