Time and the Rani
The Mark of the Rani
45 minues each
|Dates||Feb. 2, 1985 -
Feb. 9, 1985
With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant.
Written by Pip and Jane Baker. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Sarah Hellings. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: The Rani's plans in 18th century England are threatened by the arrival of the Master and the Doctor.|
Underrated plausibly by
"Finito TARDIS, how's that for style!"
I find Mark of the Rani to be underrated, but at times, I can see why. The dialogue and language used is preposterous, especially the Master's, in the immortal line-- "Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet!" The imfamous "tree" is as irrelevant as you'd imagine, and in the jerky ending in the Rani's TARDIS, a pathetic Dinosaur is on view.
Despite the implausibility of the dialogue there are good bits: "An inspiration of geniuses?" And the Rani is astutely played by Kate O' Mara. This story would've been better if the Master, played tiresomely by Anthony Ainley, hadn't been included, although there's neat interplay between the three Gallifreyans.
Colin Baker is on marvellous form. No sign of violence here. This time, Baker manages to balance his performance nicely. The arrogance is mixed with more wit and compassion to create a rounded Doctor. Nicola Bryant is very badly betrayed by the scripting, and you can't help but feel sorry for her-- especially, considering that awful dress Peri has on.
While Nicola Bryant struggles inanely to rise above the mediocrity of her lines, most of the cast are very good. Stephenson, Ravensworth and the miners are played sensitively, although Luke Ward is cliched.
Other cringeworthy aspects concern the scene with the dog, and the Master dressing up as a scarecrow at the beginning. A particularly laughable occurence is when Peri limply throws bits of coal at the miners stricken by the Mark of the Rani. Also bad is the opening scene in the TARDIS-- a futile and petty argument between the Doctor and Peri, summing up part of what was wrong in the series under JNT.
What saves Mark of the Rani for me, is the superb music-- witness the very start-- and the great location work, something of a change in comparison with the drab, futuristic settings the Sixth Doctor usually comes across. The direction is solid, although the cliffhanger could've been portrayed better.
Overall, no way as bad as it's reputation, although a good Script-Editor would've sorted out the inconsistent and often ludicrous script. 6.5/10
A Review by Leo Vance 17/3/98
This is a great story: excellent, enjoyable, and well-written. Nicola Bryant plays Peri quite well. Luke Ward is well-acted, as are Stephenson and Ravensworth. Jack Ward and the other "Luddites" are not as well acted, but the ingenuity of their creation makes up for this problem. The sets and direction are both great. The costumes work well, and the special effects are also good. But this story's real triumph lies with the Time Lords who are involved.
Kate O'Mara is brilliant as the Rani, with Pip and Jane Baker giving her a perfect script. Colin Baker hits his peak in a performance that had been overshadowed by Lytton in the first story of the season, and the story itself in the second. Here however, he shines. Anthony Ainley is also good, though after watching his performance in the CD-ROM Destiny of the Doctors, it doesn't seem quite so wonderful as it really is.
The historical setting is an excellent one. The best idea they had under Andrew Cartmel was to bring back the historical-style stories. This being the only Colin Baker one, its great.
The only pitfall is the lack of pace. That's not to say that things don't happen, because the plotting is superb. But it might have been more suitable for three 25 minute episodes than two 45.
All in all, a great story. But it isn't perfect. Welcome to a great villainess, too. 9/10
The Mark of Stupidity by Ari Lipsey 3/8/98
I sat watching Mark of the Rani with my kid sister (she can't figure out why I'm addicted to Doctor Who because I barely watch any other Television). We sat through the whole thing, our attention never drifting from the quite special spectacle we saw on screen. One thing that's remarkable about this story is it's not dated.
I saw a Doctor for the nineties, as Colin Baker not only shines, but commands every scene he is in. Peri and the Doctor actually get a few scenes together after the first twenty minutes. The Rani/Master interplay is great. The location filming is great, and there are no bad performances. The whole thing is just a lot of fun and for an hour and a half, it moves.
I could sit here and tell you about the weaknesses of the story. I've always been a sucker for the "back-in-time" stories, but the Luddite rebellion isn't all that interesting. It's not very thought-provoking either, which is something very easy to do in stories occurring in the past (like The Aztecs or The Reign of Terror). There's no mystery, no intrigue or suspense. The plot is farely straight forward. The Doctor is morality, the Master is evil, and the Rani does her own thing. She allies herself with the Master, because they share a common enemy. The Doctor of course defeats evil, and the day is won. However, to do a two-parter, you need more than this. I could go on-and-on about how stupid it is the Master plans to kill all these scientists and is sure beforehand to bring the Doctor in on the proceedings.
For a guy that's seen fourteen different bodies, he really doesn't learn. The Rani of course points this out, and she really is speaking for all the fans. She mocks the pointless rivalry between them, as it's played up to be more than it really is. It really is stupid, but it's still fun. And the tree's are also stupid, but the Rani's comment about plant life having four times the lifespan of a human allows me to say "OK, that's fun" even if it is stupid.
The Mark of the Rani contains all the elements of Doctor Who that you said where dumb and far-fetched, and combines them into one episode. Luckily it's smart enough to point it out, making it watchable for the viewer.
Fortuitous? Unfortunate Would Be A More Apposite Epithet... by Guy Thompson 19/12/98
In places, The Mark of the Rani can be quite entertaining, which allows you to forget what an atrociously-written, mind-bogglingly stupid concept Pip and Jane Baker have come up. This is in part due to the not inconsiderable acting talent on show (Anthony Ainley in particular puts a very brave face on some risible dialogue), and also due to the fairly slick production values with virtually seamless continuity editing, some very nice sets (The Rani's TARDIS and laboratory) and a decent score from Jonathan Gibb. This is all however padding to disguise the preposterous nature of the plot. I could accept the Rani wanting to drain humans of "the chemical that promotes sleep" for an alien slave workforce, but if she was such a brilliant chemist as is often stressed in the script, why could she not just synthesize the substance herself rather than going to such elaborate lengths to get what she needs?
The whole thing loses all credibility when the Rani creates landmines that turn people into trees, and one character having been metamorphosed then moves its branches to rescue Peri from suffering the same fate. Considering the talent of some of the scriptwriters around of the time, it astonishes me that this story actually made it into production at all, as all its redeemable features don't come from the script such as some nicely done action sequences (excepting the infamous tree-rescuing sequence) and the general performance of the production crew.
Do not show this story to a non-fan, or they'll probably neevr talk to you again. On the other hand, this story looks like Academy Award material next to Time and the Rani...
A Review by Michael Hickerson 24/4/99
The sixth Doctor's era is something of a quandry for me--interesting Doctor, lackluster stories (with a few exceptions). I always find myself enjoying Colin Baker's performances but, in general, let down by the overall quality of the scripts.
The Mark of the Rani is a prime example of that.
Here you have an interesting concept--someone messing around with history in the form of the Industrial Revolution along with a fairly interesting new villain in the form of the Rani. Kate O'Mara does some farily good work here, making the Rani an interesting enough villian that I am intrigued at first and, when I first saw the story, interested in her enough to want to see more of this villian on screen. Unfortunately, that sequel turned out to be Time and the Rani, but that's another review...
Also, the idea of reviving the historical stories, on which Doctor Who was built is a good one. It's just too bad that in the execution it comes off as flat.
First of all, the Master is back (tm) for his annual visit. Part of the problem is that his escapes from death are becoming a bit ludicrous at this point and the other is the character isn't really needed. Ainley's performance here is easily one of his flattest of the series as all he's given to do is strut around and murmer about destroying the Doctor.
The other major problem I have with this one is that it requires a bit too much suspension of disbelief for my liking. I don't mind accepting that historical stories will stretch history at times for drama's sake, but here it's over done. The blinding contrivences needed to advance the plot feel wrong and take away from the enjoyment of the story as a whole.
Which is a shame really. Because somewhere in there is a great story trying to get out...
A Review by John Geenty 18/7/00
When watching a Colin Baker story, I always try to remember that because there are sadly so few of them, it's important to really sit and try to take in not just the story, but the performance of Baker in detail. So, as I sat down to watch the story I was looking for some clue as to the direction that the Doctor's character was taking. And what leaps out at you is how much he has changed already from the character in The Twin Dilemma and even from Vengeance On Varos. True, the 6th Doctor is still arrogant, rude at times and irritable, but other qualities are emerging quickly. There is real compassion for his companion, outrage at the acts being performed by the Rani and an overwhelming desire to put things right. You can see that Colin Baker was in the process of making his Doctor far more complex than any of his predecessors, a patch work of feelings and emotions, but always the moral crusader deep down. When you see the development that has taken place in just the one season, it becomes obvious what a tragedy it was that he was never really given the time to fully explore this 6th persona of the Doctor.
The story itself is typical of the era, a nice idea with lots of good points, but several key detracting features as well. It was great to see a historical location and Baker really shined here, his acting was spot on, as was most of the guest cast, especially Kate O'Mara. The Rani is such an interesting new adversary, intelligent and evil, but not concerned with killing just for the sake of chaos, she is a scientist. It's difficult to see how Pip and Jane Baker could take the character they created and then alter her so drastically in the dreadful Time And The Rani. Also, the Master is totally superfluous to the story. Apart from a few nice scenes with his fellow time lords, he does very little or worth and his role could easily have been given to the Rani, or to a henchman for the Rani. The whole plot involving the master, where he wanted to kill so many scientists and inventors, just seemed to cheapen a generally good storyline. Time and again the story seems all set to take off and a silly moment drags it back down to earth, such as the dinosaur scene at the end...I have to ask why? What was the point? The Rani and Master were already trapped, why add a silly looking prop that would only be ridiculed and had nothing else to do with the story. Another example would be the infamous bending tree scene, but others have talked over that, so I won't go into it in any greater depth.
Overall the good points do outweigh the bad. The music is excellent, the Rani's TARDIS is a great set and it's so nice to see a TARDIS which isn't just a copy of the Doctors with a few tiny adjustments, we finally have a set designer with imagination. The special effects were all as good as they needed to be and despite a few slip ups, the dialogue holds quite well too, certainly no worse than any other Doctor Who story. I liked Mark of the Rani, a few flaws, but then what Doctor Who story doesn't have flaws. Worth seeing and underrated, just look away when the tree and dinosaur appear...
"The Rani IS a genius...shame I can't stand her!" by Joe Ford 19/3/02
A classic or a failure? Neither is really attributed to this story…it's considered as a bit of an in between-er, not gripping enough to satisfy nor dull enough to bore. Being the gushy Colin Baker fan that I am I would give it a chance anyway but just how did it fare on my recent re-watching?
This is the gentlest we see the sixth Doctor all season, his compassion is a welcome breath of fresh air (but I still find the more dangerous Doctor a refreshing change). Scenes like the Doctor's warnings to Luke about his father, his argument with The Rani about her malicious treatment of humans and his apparent fun tinkering about with the Rani's TARDIS should be enough to satisfy even the most daft of Colin haters. His relationship with Peri is still highly watchable, yes they bitch and moan but you can see they still respect and like each other (unlike Tegan who did it for the sake of it!).
Season Twenty Two was an example of just how different Doctor Who can be. Attack of the Cybermen is a gritty action piece, Vengeance on Varos is an intelligent political affair, The Two Doctors is a guilty nostalgic pleasure and Revelation of the Daleks is a horror/character show. This is our historical adventure of the year and say what you will about Pip and Jane Baker they certainly picked a decent event. The Industrial Revloution provides a dramatic backdrop to the action and it's brilliantly brought to life with some gorgeous location filming.
There are just too many Time Lords hanging around for my liking. The Rani I can understand, she has a motive and is integral to the plot. But The Master? By this point he has a habit of just popping up for the sake of it and meddling (Jon Pertwee got it right…"An unimaginative plodder!"). It is also clear that he has become a complete and total loony with some of the most ridiculous dialogue in the shows history.
However somehow they make it work. And it's all down to The Rani's excellent put downs. It's about time someone commented on how daft the Doctor/Master thing was. Her understated "You're unbalanced" after one of The Master's rants is just hysterical.
Okay, okay…the tree mines are poor in conception and excution and the Doctor hanging between two human trees is so funny it hurts! I can't say Pip and Jane Baker have the best imagination in the world but you have to apprichiate their attempt to return a bit of history to the show. Shame about their dialogue though.
The acting is top notch throughout. Kate O'Mara is astounding as The Rani, playing it straight and all the better for it (compare her to Antony Ainley). Stevenson, Ravensworth and Luke Ward are all brought to life with great gusto and Nicola Bryant (working desperately against the daft Peri moments she's given - why would she push that trolley down the hill? Durr!) still gives a quality performance.
Sarah Hellings never directed Doctor Who again which is crying shame is she works wonders with the daft script and capatilises on atmosphere and character and gives us a better story than a lesser director would have. Her shot of Colin Baker through the spiders web is striking in it's elegance. She even makes walking through the minefield gripping until the tree appears!
It's by no means brilliant (Pip'n'Jane see to that…"The tree won't hurt you!") but it passes the time admirably. It is certainly entertaining and beautifully made. Ignore the unresolved Luddite plot in episode two and enjoy the verbal sparring between the three Time Lords.
A confident eight out of ten.
Pit Stop by Andrew Wixon 22/6/02
I've always tended to overlook MotR when considering season 22, for one simple reason: I taped all of the season off-air back in 1985, with the singular exception of half this story, and it wasn't until extremely recently that I saw the whole thing again.
And, well... I liked it. It has problems; the odd plot hole and the rubber trees (and why does the Rani have those botanical landmines in her TARDIS to begin with?), to name a couple, but it's devoid of most of the season's endemic flaws: the violence is understated and relevent and the Doctor takes a clearly moral and heroic stand from very early on.
The horrors of Pip and Jane Baker's later contributions to the series have probably soured people against the entirety of their work. They have a very distinct style: it appears one of them types while the other stands close by with a thesaurus shouting out interesting and obscure new words; they always, always make use of every single bit of information they've assembled (either via research or the writer's guide); and they clearly don't know the meaning of the word irony. And all these things are to some degree true of Mark of the Rani - but this, and the other flaws I mentioned earlier, are all made up for by one thing.
It's exceedingly rare that a single guest performance carries a whole DW story but here it's true as Kate O'Mara is simply brilliant as the Rani. The scripting of the character, with her rather sardonic and contemptuous view of the Doctor/Master feud, would have made her memorable enough but O'Mara plays the role to perfection. The sparring between the Doctor, the Master and the Rani is the making of this story: even the Master benefits from it, verging on appearing two-dimensional (well, that's one more than normal).
On paper Mark of the Rani looks a dodgy prospect: the Master, another Time Lord villain, season 22, tree-mines. But - while not an absolute gem - it's a solid story, very well directed and well worth catching if you get the chance. Just try not to leave 17 years between episodes.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 24/3/03
When this story started I believed we were in for a treat. The wonderful location work at Blists Hill Museum in Shropshire providing a time long gone. The Doctor and Peri investigating a time disturbance. This was going to be one of those pseudo-historicals that Doctor Who does so well.
As the story progresses though it deviates from this promising beginning, resulting ultimately in a fair amount of disappointment. The focus changes from industry to chemistry - and the villains turn it into a battle of egos. There becomes less wandering through this bygone world, and more verbal sparring - more suited to an audio than a televisual story.
The problem does not lie with the Doctor and Peri. Colin Baker plays the Time Lord as his most ebullient. Muscling into the action, and getting to the heart of the issue. Peri is his shadow, hoisting up her skirts trying to keep up with this rush of energy. Whinging Peri is still there, but at least she shows some intellect. Also nice to see her dressed in something different, though it proved impractical for much of the action of the story.
The first episode is very good. With its focus on the industrial revolution, the discovery of a meeting between geniuses (not sure that's good English), and a Doctor and companion team that are always watchable. The story is set up beautifully. But then the Rani and the Master come together - and things just aren't as good. I don't doubt that Kate O'Mara and Anthony Ainley are great in their portrayals of the Bad Time Lady/Lord, it's just that together they are diminished - better to have just one at a time. The verbal sparring and battle of egos was dull and unimaginative - a poor team.
The Sixth Doctor era relied so heavily on the past of the programme, that Colin Baker really had to try hard to stamp his own personality into the show's History, to enable him to stand out from the crowd. That he ultimately succeeded in this shows his strong will, and proves what a great Doctor he turned out to be. The audio stories are showing this to great effect, but there are plenty of examples in his TV stories.
Mark of the Rani stands as one of the peaks in location shooting for all of Doctor Who. Unfortunately the story was not equal to the locale, and ultimately it was an average tale with only the Doctor, Peri and Blists Hill Museum to recommend it. 6/10
A fine surprise by Tom May 16/5/03
Don't get me wrong, I had seen this more than one time before - yet years ago, in the days when I regularly watched Dr Who. My position of occasionally dipping into the show these days pays dividends, as detailed remembrance of the series ebbs with time, and fresh viewing experiences are formed upon my whimsical viewings. As with other more recent ones I've seen, I watched this with a friend, a non-fan who has been converted to liking the show by my lending him a few tapes. He came into watching Mark of the Rani quite fervently disliking Colin Baker from seeing The Two Doctors and Mindwarp; whereas he is a certified fan of Tom Baker and slightly less so of McCoy, from stories he has seen. Yet, he came out preferring this modestly regarded Pip and Jane Baker-penned adventure to that great favourite of mine, The Ribos Operation.
My friend's fresh perspective on this story really emboldened arguments I may have felt were in story's favour. Before, I had really dismissed it because of a few overriding concerns. These concerns included a few cringeworthy aspects and its overripe scripting by Pip and Jane Baker - but for every preposterous 'fortuitous must be an apposite epithet' there are many gems delivered with gusto by Colin Baker, Terence Alexander and to some degree, surprisingly, Nicola Bryant. I must admit that I prefer in general a vision of Dr Who that isn't afraid to be creative - and perhaps cavalier - in its use of language. The story is never dull, and this is one reason; you are waiting for a moment of verbal delicacy - "an inspiration of geniuses?" - or absurd lunacy - "Finito TARDIS, Doctor...! How's that for style!" that is inevitably around the corner, one way or t' other. And indeed, you have a ripe mix of voices in this cast - from the thespianry of Baker, Ainley and O'Hara to some genuine north-east English accents (a first surely in Dr Who?) to many amusingly put-on accents (from the Luke Ward actor particularly, and of course Bryant, fairly convincingly, as Peri).
This story really refreshes in so many ways: it has a glorious amount of evocative location work - especially unusual during this period in the show's history - that is far more pinned to the material than is the case with The Two Doctors. While perhaps enough isn't done with the central luddite theme - it may have been nice for the Bakers to explore this in more depth alongside the sci-fi main plot strand - the locations seem like genuine early industrial Britain. The BBC were always good at evoking such periods; and indeed, what a majestic opening do we have to this story, after the fanciful (if corpse strewn) settings of earlier Season 22 jaunts? The music here pours out of the speakers in a reassuring way - asserting, this is Dr Who, and taken in a fresh setting - all blissful synth washes; evoking the sad grind of the historical period. Added to this you have Sarah Hellings' expansive, filmic direction of OB footage, sweeping around the ambivalent landscape of cropped housing, mills and pits with real gravitas. This story is wonderfully directed, really conveying an adventure of some scale, and of engaging incidents - look at the fluid, mobile camera work following around the pompous, striding Baker and the resolutely high-heeled, trailing Bryant, as Baker brushes aside talk of his credentials and manages to talk his way past a pit-guard.: "Nobody gets in 'ere withoot a pass!"/"A pass?! My dear fellow, I'm a V.I.P.!"
My friend - known for occasional fits of indignation himself - professed an umbrage at Colin Baker, who he very much saw as an upstart, usurping the title of 'The Doctor'. He loved the cliffhanger, as Baker is sent hurtling towards a mine shaft, by a gang of goading north-easterners (we indeed both live in Sunderland). But, indeed, Baker really excels here, in possibly his best performance as the Doctor during his television run. He treads beautifully the line between his combative pugnaciousness, a self-regarding pomposity and an undeniable conscience. This comes out wonderfully during the late sequence which is unfairly maligned because of the realisation of one human tree. It is clear in this story that this is The Doctor; indeed the relative rarity of the Sixth Doctor's moral anger marks it out as being especially important. My friend remarked grudgingly that he found Baker more impressive in the role than in other stories; partly because of better writing and partly because he has some time without that coat, which 'makes him look like some kind of intergalactic jester!' I must admit I agreed with this, despite also my belief in general that this Doctor's use of this coat marks out his character as being a man who just doesn't give a damn about how he is sartorially perceived. Sticking with costumes, it's a far more moderate wardrobe than usual for Peri, trying to fit in with the promised 'Kew Gardens' visit; which makes one focus more on her character than perhaps usual, ahem.
I must admit I have to go against much of fandom's opinion, and say that I do like her character here, as I did with The Two Doctors. Okay, she's rather physically helpless in a few scenes, but not all companions can be Leela... and indeed Leela was never burdened by such a cumbersome dress as Peri is here! Peri acts I guess, as many of us would if travelling with the Doctor. It must be remembered she's supposed to be a fairly normal student, and not a savage or an intellectual Time Lady. But indeed, the script gives her plenty of choicely bitchy ripostes to the bombastic Sixth Doctor. She is verbally allowed to hold her own and get in many half-serious, half-jokey jibes at the Doctor's expense - almost on the viewer's behalf. I love the pair's portrayal here; there is just enough genuine warmth between them, conveyed in a few scenes, to make the bitchiness all the more enjoyable. Perpugilliam - to use her curious full name - does not manufacture her stroppiness; she clearly does enjoy travelling and would like to visit some enjoyable places - witness her eager sprightliness on holiday in Planet of Fire and at the start of The Caves of Androzani - but is perpetually landed in places of great danger. With a bizarre Doctor she is just about managing to put up with. There is just reason for her to be rather put upon, unlike with earlier compansions such as the laughable, permanently-pyjamed maths nerd moaner Adric, and Tegan, who from the start travels in the TARDIS against her will, despite having the most human, mild-mannered, 'jolly good chap' Doctor of them all to travel with.
It is an edgy relationship that is much more entertaining viewing than proved the fair attempt at softening it the following year, and indeed the cringeworthy blandness of Baker and Langford.
It is all pulled off as Baker and Bryant work together so brilliantly; there have a fine love-hate chemistry worthy of many a fine sitcom and both actors are sorely underrated as comic performers. Baker's joie de vivre in delivering wonderful expressions like "my static and solitary peregrinations!" is a joy forever, and Bryant's petulant rebukes are essential to comedically balance out Baker's verbosity. You really do feel for Peri at certain points; she is a good audience-identification figure. However much one may love the livewire eccentricity of Baker, one is aware that at times he would be severely wearing company!
Of course, this is but one script that pitches the relationship well among very few of the total number - Revelation of the Daleks and The Two Doctors in my opinion are other successes - but it shows to my mind that the leads were generally unfairly maligned. It clearly was Saward's and others' fault that they'd not been given the material to work with.
So, the regulars are wonderful; a far more successful and interestingly fraught dynamic than the tiresome Davison era ones (with the early Tegan and Adric just per se, being real irritants). The guest cast is good, with George Stephenson well played by Gawn Grainger, with a likeable Yorkshire lilt and the redoubtable Terence Alexander as Lord Ravensworth; who is exactly the sort of wonderfully Dr Who blustering gentleman 'type' of whom we don't see enough of in this era - examples from the show's past being Jago and Litefoot in The Talons of Weng Chiang. My friend made a good point that he's an excellent character as he manages, with his stature as a self-made gentleman, to cut the Doctor's pomposity down to size a tad - especially in one blissful sequence where for once this most verbose of Doctors can't even get a syllable in edgeways!
The Master is, of course, an entirely redundant presence here; and this is (go into justified fan-cliche mode) yet another example of JNT's obsession with dredging up old continuity. But, frankly, his appearance here is a hoot: clearly the writers cannot take him seriously, so he is sent up. Ainley goes with the flow and thus, well over the top! He is both made to seem absurd and one-dimensional, and also far more likeable than usual: this dichotomy is achieved by placing him side-by-side with the new villain, the Rani, for virtually the whole story. She is a very credible villain, without 'plans to conquer the world' as such, but driven by scientific endeavour and lacking any moral scruples. Kate O'Mara plays her wonderfully here; no cackling and excessive camp, as in Time and the Rani. The Rani is here a very credible threat; played low-key and all the more threatening for it, making little or no fuss about her plans. The contrast is laid clear; the Master is the most cliched of pantomime villains... his presence is unrealistic, even in view of his own past history. He seems to have no real understanding of anything, blundering around almost as a millstone around the Rani's neck; his single-minded fervour is even tartly mocked by the Rani herself. It is touching almost that he does actually manage to trouble the Doctor at all. But so it must be, in a script that is so aware of Dr Who's conventions. In the time honoured nature of pantomime villains we root for the Master, dressed in black of course, as he is placed besides a fellow villain who is a viable threat and without his absurd flaws as a baddy. Yes, the character's credibility is 'further diminished'; but frankly, who cares? He was, as played by Ainley up to this point, always a pantomime villain, and it was about time this was fully explored in a script, as is done here.
Mark of the Rani really makes one wish that Baker and Bryant had been given more historically-based stories; it was a gold mine untapped, as they come across so well in the format here: with a setting as distinct, detailed and colourful as their themselves, they thrive. A sublime musical score, astute direction and use of location filming... coupled with a generally sound script, make this a fine overall production that satisfies one far more than most in this era. It is a larger-than-life adventure, with a subtle degree of convention-subversion and much, much fun. It confidently suggests an unploughed, alternative furrow for the Sixth Doctor, where Colin Baker was afforded a deserved chance.
Forget the tree by Tim Roll-Pickering 3/6/03
Historical settings are rare in the later seasons of Doctor Who so it is interesting to see this one, which also holds the distinction of featuring, in the form of George Stephenson, the first 'real' historical character since The Gunfighters (King John in The King's Demons doesn't count due to only being impersonated). This is a welcome change of approach, even though Stephenson himself doesn't appear until the start of Part Two, as we get to see the Doctor interacting with the history of Earth and resisting all attempts to interfere on a massive scale. Less effective are the references to Faraday and the other geniuses who are coming to Killingworth for a meeting, since we never actually see any of them at all. Otherwise the historical setting makes for a pleasant change from a succession of contemporary and futuristic stories, as well as allowing for a lot of excellent location filming.
Unfortunately most of the characters native to the setting are incredibly poorly scripted and acted that only two make any noticeable impact at all whilst the rest merely provide a backdrop to the events of the story. The two exceptions, George Stephenson and Lord Ravensworth, are handled better and provide good support and foils for the Doctor, aided by good performances from Gawn Grainger and Terence Alexander respectively. Otherwise the setting is predominantly a backdrop to the battle of wills between the Doctor, aided by Peri, the Master and the Rani.
Although it has by now become the norm for the Master to seemingly be destroyed at the end of a story only to survive and return in a later one, Planet of Fire had apparently finished him off far more effectively than many earlier adventures and so the lack of an explanation as to his survival here is especially perplexing. The Master's plan in this story is somewhat contradictory since at the same time he is trying to destroy the Doctor yet also seeking to cause disruption to Earth's history once more, even though luring the Doctor to this period is likely to cause problems with enacting such a plan. As a result the Master feels extremely superfluous to the story and provides little more than a motivation for proactive action against the Doctor, whilst the Rani has little time for feuds. Introducing a new Time Lord villain, possibly a replacement for the Master as a semi-regular protagonist for the series, is a good move forwards and the Rani is shown as being much more than merely a female version of the Master but instead as a amoral scientist dedicated to the task at hand, acting only to prevent her work being disrupted, and caring little for the side effects. Kate O'Mara gives a strong debut performance and competes well with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant's performances, though Anthony Ainley seems bored by the restricted role the Master has in the story.
The BBC is notoriously good at period drama and so The Mark of the Rani features good location work, costumes and sets that are all highly accurate for early nineteenth century Britain. The notorious artificial moving tree only appears briefly and isn't that bad at all and can be easily ignored. Pip and Jane Baker's script holds together quite well and contains some good dialogue accurately capturing Colin Baker's charecterisation of the Doctor, though otherwise there is little actual excitement generated outside of the cliffhanger. Ultimately The Mark of the Rani is a competently put together story but not one that generates much enthusiasm at all. 5/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/6/04
For the most part The Mark Of The Rani is great fun and largely enjoyable. The historical setting is a refreshing return for the series and indeed is a good outing for the Sixth Doctor, who is possibly at his least bombastic here. The story is also notable for introducing a new female villain (something all too rare in televised Doctor Who) in the form of the Rani played by Kate O`Mara. Thankfully she is an interesting enough character in her own right, more concerned with scientific research (however unethical) than petty revenge; the only function the Master seems to serve or indeed be motivated by in this tale.
Despite this,the interplay between The Master and the Doctor is a joy, with great character moments; the Master deliberately having the TARDIS dropped down a mineshaft because it will inconvenience the Doctor being just one example. This aside it wouldn`t have hurt the story had he not appeared at all, as the Rani is strong enough both in character and Kate O`Mara`s portrayal for the Sixth Doctor.
As for the remaining cast Nicola Bryant as Peri gets little to do besides wear a terrible dress; although some use is made of her botanical background. The supporting players are adequate, with Terence Alexander being the only real standout as Lord Ravensworth. Excellent location work, a simple yet effective way of dealing with both the Master and the Rani, strong direction from Sarah Hellings all add to a largely enjoyable story. Just don`t mention the OTT dialogue and the fake trees.
More than disappointing by Ryan Thompson 1/7/04
After the claustrophobic atmosphere generated by Vengence on Varos comes a story set in pre-industrial England, with plenty of beautiful outdoor shots. The costuming and sets are both interesting, and most of the acting from the incidental characters is well above average. Unfortunately the story, and the main ideas behind it, offend the sensibilities of even the most truly stupid people.
Of all the contrived and unexplained appearances made by Anthony Ainley this one is the least plausible of them all. If this is supposed to be the introductory story for the Rani, why steal her thunder by writing the Master into the story.
Mark of the Rani, like The King's Demons, fails to explain the ridiculous motivations of the baddies. Maybe the Doctor should try reverse psychology: "Go ahead prevent the industrial revolution or the signing of the Magna Carta. See if I care."
The story does not overstay it's welcome, and has an awful lot of style to hide its lack of substance or relevance. Colin and Bryant give watchable, if laxed performances. Bryant, in actuality, doesn't give much of a performance at all because she's hardly in the story. Not exactly the worst story from the era, but then again, that's not saying much.
A Review by Brian May 9/8/04
The Mark of the Rani is a pleasant diversion in a season notorious for its unpleasantness. There are no hands being crushed, no acid baths, no eating of rats or humans, and no human-cum-Dalek blobs. It's a carefree, almost flippant, pseudo-historical romp, with some gorgeous scenery, interesting visuals, and some much-needed self-deprecating humour.
For the first time in ages Doctor Who becomes self aware without a bombardment of continuity references. The production team finally seemed to realise the virtual redundancy of the Master. With a few exceptions, he was always the instigator of ludicrous, ill thought out plans of conquest - as far back as the Roger Delgado years, not only the current incarnation of Anthony Ainley.
The Rani has a field day with him, with lines like the following:
"You contrived to get him [the Doctor] here"which runs well alongside:
"No wonder the Doctor always outwits you!"Then there's the Master's plots:
"..something devious and over-complicated"On his character:
"Grandiose schemes of ruling the universe"
"You incompetent egoist"and, to top it all off, the sublime:
"He'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line!"
Smashing stuff! The Master's miraculous escapes are also addressed. Peter Davison twice had to say "So you escaped from _______", with no explanation given. Now, after arguably his most dramatic "death" in Planet of Fire (incidentally, one of the best uses of the Master in the 1980s), he merely says that he is indestructible.
The Rani is an interesting character, played with bombast by Kate O'Mara. The first renegade Time Lady in the series' history, she's a bit too soap opera bitch for my liking, but still makes an entertaining villain, and has more realistic and credible motives for her actions than the Master. She already rules her own world, so she's not out to conquer or subjugate the Earth. Her actions are indeed malicious, but they're a means to an end, thankfully with no madcap invasion plan. She's an updated version of the Meddling Monk - her actions result in trouble, but as a side effect of her work, not trouble for its own sake. The madcap scheme is, as usual, left to the Master. Why he wants the minds of Stephenson and the like is unclear, and how will it give him world domination? It seems no less daft than his plot in The King's Demons.
But, being as self-conscious as the story is, the Master's wild plans are deliberately held up for ridicule. There's another pointless disguise. He draws the Doctor's TARDIS here in order to kill him but, as the above quotes have shown, he shouldn't have bothered. But it's nice to have a script that's actually aware that he shouldn't have bothered!
Aside from the wonderful love-hate-respect-annoyance interactions that take place between the three Gallifreyans, there's not much else to the story. It seems to meander way too long. It's as if the Time Lord relationships took up so much of Pip and Jane Baker's consideration, they finally realised, a bit too late, they had 90 minutes to fill! On more than one occasion there really isn't that much going on. There's no real sense of a climax either; the Doctor orders the Master and the Rani off the planet; they leave, but the Doctor fiddles with the Rani's TARDIS first to ensure they stay away - explained after the event, of course!
However, the story is nice to look at. First time Who director Sarah Hellings does a sterling job. The location work at Ironbridge Gorge is exquisite, capturing the period feel perfectly. One of the opening images, when the camera tilts up and zooms out to reveal a wide shot of the setting, is one such example of the professionalism and attention to detail. The choice of rapid shots at the end of episode one are also brilliant, as is the quick zoom to the mouth of the pit, just before the titles. A period setting is always easy for Doctor Who, given the BBC's resources, and this is no different. I even like Peri's dress! That doesn't include the horrid yellow jacket, nor her pink tights. *Bleah!*
Acting wise, Colin Baker excels. It's perhaps his breakthrough in the role. In this story, he is the Doctor. The decision to make him a more alien incarnation is not a bad idea in itself, but it cannot excuse some of his actions in The Twin Dilemma. The subsequent stories had some worrying aspects, like casually telling Peri to shoot a man in Attack of the Cybermen, and his flippant joke after the acid bath scene from Vengeance on Varos. In The Mark of the Rani the Doctor is heroic, twice telling Peri to keep away when his life is in danger, for the pure and simple reason of protecting her. Then there's his confrontation with the Master and the Rani in episode two, displaying his outrage at their actions, in a way we've come to expect from a hero. Holding the Master's tissue compression eliminator on them is no more un-Doctorish than Peter Davison raising a blaster in Earthshock, or Jon Pertwee shooting an Ogron in Day of the Daleks - instinct or self-defence.
Kate O'Mara and Anthony Ainley put in good performances (despite the character, Ainley always made the effort). Elsewhere, Terence Alexander as Lord Ravensworth and Gary Cady as Luke Ward are the most impressive, with the rest veering between passable and flat. Unfortunately, Nicola Bryant is none too inspiring as Peri.
I already mentioned the great filming and direction, but special mention must go to the interior of the Rani's TARDIS. It's amazing. Every aspect of it, especially the time rotor, are triumphs of design. The dinosaur embryos lying around add a macabre touch, not out of character for the Time Lady.
I didn't want to mention them, but I feel like I have to. Those trees! The one really embarrassing part of the story. They're laughable or cringe-worthy, depending on which way you look at it.
Pip and Jane Baker have done an excellent job with the three Time Lords, with some great exchanges and tongue in cheek character observations. Unfortunately, the rest of The Mark of the Rani is not much of a story. There's a vague semblance of plot, but lots of static scenes and a general lack of consistency makes it a bit boring and frustrating. However, the direction is excellent, and the whole thing looks wonderful; add to this the reassurance that Colin Baker has finally become THE DOCTOR, and you have some enjoyable saving graces. 6.5/10
A Review by Leigh Falsson 27/11/06
I'll always faintly regret that none of Pip and Jane Baker's Doctor Who stories ever really worked. You have to be pretty po-faced not to at least enjoy the idea of them: outsider auteurs, constantly churning out bizarre works for programs seemingly selected at random.
Even worse, The Mark of the Rani contains all of their characteristic devices: absurdly overblown dialogue, constant references to offscreen "geniuses", ridiculous pseudoscience, villains carrying out extremely convoluted schemes and wearing implausible disguises. (In the case of the Master, seemingly only in order to see what being a scarecrow was like.) You might expect that this would all fit well with the garish, noisy, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that Doctor Who had circa 1985.
Unfortunately it doesn't, and it's not entirely the Bakers who are at fault. Admittedly the story is carried off with quite some style. This is one of those rare stories where the direction, location, music and design all work seamlessly together to create an overall atmosphere: there's no jarring transition between film and video, for instance. The outdoor locations are fantastic, and the sets are not just surprisingly tasteful for the time, but, in some cases, even good.
Why, then, is The Mark of the Rani so fundamentally uninteresting? A lot of the problem lies in the incompetence of its pacing. Since the audience becomes aware of who the Rani is and her (pointlessly convoluted) scheme at about the 25-minute mark of the whole story, the rest, particularly the second episode, becomes literally about running around aimlessly. It's easy to imagine a four-part version of the story which delays even the earliest of the revelations (like the purpose of the bathhouse, or the appearance of the Master) until the end of the first episode, and therefore had a lot more suspense.
Since the various red herrings (such as the Luddites and the meeting of geniuses) are either poorly explained or dropped unceremoniously, and the local characters are not written or played with any great interest, the whole story is very insubstantial from the moment we hear about the Rani's plan. The rubber tree part, for instance, isn't as bad as people make out, but is so obviously padding that it would have stretched viewers' credulity even if the tree had been more wooden. (Insert joke about certain actors here.)
Most of the entertaining bits in the story consist of the Rani and the Master bickering, partially because of the absurdly flowery dialogue they're made to say (I stress that I enjoy it; P&J should have included far more), and also because of the Rani's amusingly self-aware criticism of the Master's incompetence. The Rani is a very entertaining character, because Kate O'Mara plays the role really well (which is juxtaposed with Anthony Ainley's increasingly odd, simultaneously wooden and unhinged, performance), and because most of her gadgets, like her impregnated hypnotic maggots, are genuinely impressive. Still it's a little hard to work out exactly what purpose she's supposed to serve: the "amoral scientist" angle which was planned for her doesn't really come out in the story, and she just ends up looking like a conventional villain. This provokes the question of exactly why the Rani and the Master have to be in the same story: it's a very bad story for the latter, because not only are his plans absurd, he also has to be heckled about that for most of the story, which is occasionally amusing but not very good for the credibility of the character.
After being super-competent for most of the story, the Rani suddenly starts faffing around for no reason. Not having noticed the Doctor sticking what look like tweezers into the console of her TARDIS, she and the Master disappear to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, tormented by a tyrannosaurus rex which is going to get a major crick in its neck when it grows to full size. It's a rather absurd and anti-climactic ending, but somehow appropriate for a story which promises a lot but ultimately fails to deliver.
A Review by Finn Clark 3/3/09
I like Mark of the Rani. Admittedly, this is partly my fault for pretty much liking all of Doctor Who, but it strikes me as a minor but completely solid runaround with plenty of charm. Its main problem is that it got made in 1985. Admittedly, that's more than enough for many people, but I don't hold that against it. I like Colin and Nicola. Admittedly, there's also JNT, Eric Saward, Anthony Ainley and Pip & Jane Baker to be taken into consideration, but I've got plenty of time.
Taking those characters in order, we can overlook the producer and script editor. Saward didn't touch these scripts because he hated Pip & Jane, who were commissioned over his head. This explains the mysterious lack of mercenaries and sadism. Instead, there's a surprising amount of whimsy, which one tends to overlook in a story of Time Lords, technobabble and the coal-mining industry. I shouldn't think Saward even noticed it. I love the minefield of trees and the Master's scarecrow disguise, while there's a slightly fairy-tale air to the setting of dells, groves and Stephenson's steam engine. Despite itself, this story looks rather beautiful. Admitedly the story's in love with science and has a techno-Darwinian theme of the new superseding the old, but it still makes time to consider the mysteries of nature. The Rani represents unfettered progress no matter what the cost, but Stephenson is going to change the world and the Doctor takes a more holistic view. His solutions involve herbal medicine and turning technology against its user, which makes a change from acid baths. He even quotes Shakespeare's "dreamt of in your philosophy" at her. I admire all that.
Unfortunately, this aesthetic is only bits and pieces. The second half mostly drops the pseudo-historical angle in favour of its three squabbling Time Lords and it's hard to see Alice in Wonderland subtleties when you're drowning in 1980s BBC sci-fi and the finest overacting of Colin Baker, Kate O'Mara and Anthony Ainley. I like them. They're great fun. It's pantomime, but sometimes all you want is a good pantomime villain and here we have two of them. (I nearly said three, but that wouldn't be fair.) Nevertheless, the 19th century world stuff was lovely and it's a shame to ditch it.
Of course a complication is that they're spouting Pip & Jane Bakerbabble, in another of the story's, um, idiosyncrasies. I liked that too. This story gets bashed for their language, but I personally think it works. For starters, it's subtler than it looks at first glance. We don't just get high-faluting Gallifreyans, but instead a full range of voices. Look at the humans. They get dialogue appropriate to their era and station in life, with the miners talking more crudely than Lord Ravensworth. Unfortunately, later Pip & Jane stories would give us no respite from the thesaurus, but I genuinely like what they're doing here. There's Shakespeare, Northern dialect, etc. It's rich and interesting. What's more, I approve of Time Lords not talking like ordinary people but instead stretching children's vocabularies, even if I don't necessarily agree with the extent to which Pip & Jane tended to take that principle. Besides, everyone's relishing their lines. Give this lot a chance to overact and they'll eat it up with a spoon.
Let's not overstate the acting resources on display, mind you. There's Peri. That girl needed to whine less and concentrate on getting into mortal peril. However, the three Time Lords are wonderful, with the Rani coming out and saying what we were all thinking about Ainley's Master. Meanwhile the Master is being staggeringly vile for no reason at all, using people as pawns and destroying lives. He's having fun. No motivation beyond that whatsoever, which would make this the point where he officially became an unhinged psychopath. One might think he had a plan in mind when he tells Luke to destroy anyone trying to cancel the meeting, but it's not clear why he should care beyond random malevolence and he then changes his mind and makes the Rani a proposition anyway.
Then there are the guest actors, doing solid work in thankless roles. Terence Alexander as Lord Ravensworth manages to make something out of a weak final line, for instance. Similarly, Luke Ward and George Stephenson aren't showy roles, but you couldn't ask for more from Gawn Grainger and Gary Cady. It's admirable to see, but it's a shame that they didn't get more to do in the first place. You get that kind of thing a lot in this era's pseudo-historicals, but this is clearly the worst example of it. I don't mind Saward's mercenary fetish, but I do object to his lack of interest in the plebs. (Admittedly, he had nothing to do with this story, but I'm making sweeping generalisations here.) Didn't he torpedo Pat Mills's The Space Whale because he couldn't buy a working-class starship captain? Point at a single character in any story like this on par with, say, Lawrence Scarman worried about his brother. Half the time they're being mind-controlled anyway. The Visitation (Terileptil control bracelets), King's Demons (Kamelion), The Awakening (which is at least a bit more subtle about it), Mark of the Rani (hypnosis and maggots) and The Ultimate Foe, if you think that counts.
That's my problem with this story. Nothing else. The Time Lords have no meaningful opposition beyond each other. It's The Visitation all over again. One thing the 21st century series has got right is that its pseudo-historicals aren't populated entirely by nonentities only there to be bossed around by time travellers. Note that in episode one, the Rani doesn't do anything. She milks brains and makes sarky comments. It's the Master who's being villainous, but it seems so petty since his victims are so dizzyingly far below his league. He's playing with miners who've been brain-sucked by the Rani. Formidable opposition can make him look impressive, but here he's like a child squashing ants. At least in Planet of Fire you can remember the names of the people he deceives.
Incidentally, it's an unusual story structure for Doctor Who, in that the villain with a plan had her operation up and running before anyone else got here. Thus, the story doesn't really have a structure in the normal sense. Episode two is just lots of random peril. It's still fun though, even if it's pretending to be based around a McGuffin (the meeting) that never happens. It's fun to watch Luke being evil and of course I relished the Doctor-Master backchat as the Rani fetches Peri from the dell. I even like the tree. No, scratch that. I adore the tree! I like it when Doctor Who doesn't play it safe but instead goes a bit mad and so for me a groping fake rubber tree is one of the highlights of the entire series.
The production is also great. The Rani's TARDIS is awesome, while it's worth pointing out that this is to date the show's one and only tyrannosaurus not to be a joke, yet it appears in multiple versions for barely seconds. Overall, this is a gentle story of which I'm really rather fond. It's never going to make a list of all-time classics, but it's also pleasant and does nothing wrong. It's funny and almost sweet, it looks terrific, the music's nice and it's an object example for dictators everywhere. Forget the Master in Last of the Time Lords. Look at what the Rani's doing here for her Miasimiagorians. Now that's job dedication!
"It won't go" by Thomas Cookson 4/2/20
This story seemingly stumped Tat Wood in About Time 6.
Its many plusses should elevate it above 1985's usual fare, being Colin's best-produced, least-objectionable story. But somehow it doesn't translate into a viewing experience we can be enthusiastic about, then or now. It's the closest Season 22 gets to cleansing its palette from the season's sloppy bloodsplatter. It's the season's least frustrating story and chugs along without presenting anything jarringly unpleasant. But in any other season it'd probably be the dull spot.
By weeding out the sloppy humour that's been this tonally confused season's bugbear, this story's virtues sadly concern more what's absent from it than its actual content. It's more the kind of story Colin needed to win over concerned viewers. His previous three stories had exhibited his clumsy, lethal violence. Whilst past Doctors were occasionally violent or ruthless, this was a worryingly unprecedented early critical mass for any Doctor. Made more troubling by how moronic his actions seemed. It's not whether he pushed those Varos guards into the acid, but rather why he initiated the fight at all by tapping their shoulder rather than sneaking away.
His actions didn't sit right in the circumstances presented. Too many unsatisfying, insidious questions nagged of why he had to or whether the danger mitigated it. Questions that slowly dissected our suspension of disbelief. Here, Colin ingratiates himself with this community as gatekeeper. His only significant violent acts, tackling hooligans threatening Peri and pistol-whipping the villains over Luke, are motivated by selfless, chivalrous instincts.
Mark should be a return to innocence. But, worryingly, it demonstrates that, without Season 22's violence or indulgent fanwank, in their absence things can get dull. Unfortunately, fan criticisms make this era sound more exciting than it is. This story epitomises how insipid this season could be. Regarding the theories about Season 22's ratings fall, one possibility occurs that perhaps JNT's controversial publicity worked against him here.
Whilst some were horrified by Saward's violence, others who tuned in specifically to see what the fuss was about, expecting a gore-fest, might've come away disappointed and bored.
We could respect Doctor Who enough to be patient with it being serious and educational. The show didn't give us many treats easily, but it was through being serious that it gave us suspense and lasting anticipation few shows did. And that made us wait for treats like Remembrance.
At best, the show's mission statement emphasised how historical human development rests on revolutionary ideas and brave, crucial decisions (Inferno, Genesis, City of Death). The Rani should perfectly fit that theme of historical decisions' pitfalls and promises, being a time-meddling geneticist unconcerned about unethical consequences.
City of Death conveyed history and causality being a minefield. The Kings' Demons and this didn't. Perhaps because there wasn't enough time for genuine friction between Ainley and the period. Everything's resolved too neatly. There's no cliffhanger moment where causality appears doomed. In recreating the period, they had a perfect preserved slice of history to hand in Blists Hill's preserved industrial village where time stood still.
I suspect that's the problem. It was too easy for the makers. Perhaps by alleviating the makers' usual design workload, this feels lacking the sweat, spark and effort that usually goes into maintaining the illusion. The opening montage of village life is memorably scored, conjuring nostalgia for that lost, simpler age. But it doesn't remain compelling.
Tat Wood summed up how TV and cinema was becoming obsessed with glossy soothing images over substance (1982's Koyaanisqatsi), with lushness becoming the primary focus of British TV to make itself exportable. Thus, this story feels bereft of anything suggesting the makers were tackling any resonant issue or anxiety. It's the epitome of JNT's writers complying with fan sensibilities rather than genuinely performing any self-exorcism.
The show has seemingly lost the ability to carry a theme. Instead, pretension has given way to moral disillusionment and attempts to still feign a moral theme the show no longer believes in. Hoping fans remain gullible enough to believe it's meaningful. We're too deep into the phase where Historicals have lost their purpose. If the Doctor's without a blaster and some Cybermen to kill (conveniently free of any moral dilemmas), Saward literally doesn't know what to do with him.
Peri holding the Rani at gunpoint might be the most refreshingly useful she's been so far. Interestingly, putting her to quick-witted use makes her seem smarter. You could show that scene in isolation and leave no hint of Peri's reputation as a clumsy, whiny bimbo. She's fooled by the Rani's coughing-fit, but just like any of us might've been, were our better nature played upon.
Fans tend to celebrate the Rani as a more interesting scientific-minded villainess. This is generally judged her best story, simply by virtue of not being the other. But I think that's theoretical. Being in love with the idea of the Rani rather than anything shown onscreen.
Terror of the Autons introduced something genuinely surreal, intimidating and larger than life about Delgado. At a slight remove from normality, lethal whilst never losing his cool. His collateral left a frightening impression of what he's capable of. His ultimate escape filled us with foreboding that he's still out there. The Rani's nothing so surreal. She's in the rather banal role of soap bitch, and her lacking air of enigmatic Time Lordiness is typical of a soapish era that's diminished the Doctor's mystique too.
Under JNT's reactionary soap sensibilities, there's more effort to make the Rani easy to despise than admire or be intrigued by. She has only poor, vague ambitions. Never really establishing proper stakes for Colin to thwart. It's almost fortunate Ainley's here to pad this out, but if either villain had masterplans, they seemingly forgot them fast.
That can happen when introducing a new antagonist and finding yourself kicking yourself afterwards at missed opportunities you could've utilised. Like how Aliens utilised the facehuggers' many biological advantages that its predecessor missed. Sadly, the Rani never betters herself. Despite anecdotes about her amoral, genetic-engineering experiments, we never see them wreaking havoc like Davros' creations in Genesis. Did we need a second-rate female Davros?
The Rani's not very intriguing. I think she necessarily isn't, because this story's trying to intrigue us over what the Master's up to again instead, when stumbling on and sabotaging her low-level activities. It might've succeeded, were this the first we'd seen of him since Logopolis (give or take an anniversary special). But we'd become too used to him as a pest whose plans are a non-starter. We've had too many unexciting Master stories to care this one might be different.
Have I outgrown the childhood wonder of The Five Doctors, of knowing Ainley's the same villain from The Daemons, under different guise? Or does 15 years of him being a menace, whilst the Doctor's contractually obliged to still indulge him, now seem too long for any audience? Tom's Doctor had seemingly naturally outgrown the need for that arch villain.
I know he's here to ease Colin in with familiarities, whilst asserting this new Doctor's shorter tolerance. But JNT seemingly thought the Master was a villain audiences wanted back. It should've now been clear his appearances were ratings lulls. Not that audiences were repelled by him, but they weren't incentivised into tuning in by him either. If Bidmead's Master Returns trilogy was intended to compete with the ongoing Star Wars' saga, then every Master story since seemed to needlessly, aimlessly prolong that trilogy.
Hinchcliffe's era had once portrayed a more dangerous, haunting (and endangered) universe than anything in Star Wars, with a hero who renounced Han Solo's blaster-ready methods and was far closer to Kenobi's wiser means. The Doctor's abstinence from weapons informed his intriguing alien mythos of secretly understanding and trusting when the time's right. Which upped the stakes regarding the suspenseful mystery of how he'll overcome these terrifying evil adversities, unarmed.
But, so far, Colin's era hasn't felt dangerous or confounding enough to preserve that thick intriguing mythos. His Doctor seemed able to walk through these hostile worlds, causing most deaths by contrived, accidental calamity. Repeated banal action stories had demystified the Doctor. Exposing him as a clueless loser.
Previously we had enough sense of greater stakes, unfinished business elsewhere and jeopardies still on hold that the show could afford nonsensical filler interludes. But the Daleks and Cybermen seemed finished in a Sawardian display of self-sabotage overkill. The show seemed done. Its universe feels no match for Colin's ruthless, quick-to-shoot Doctor. But we're no longer incentivised by any suspense to see how else he'll save the day through wiser means or patient mental effort. That core suspense is lost. Perhaps why Season 22 isn't so gripping, despite its ultraviolence.
Basically, Colin's propensity for guns is the ultimate spoiler, giving away how the Doctor's likely able to easily resolve this in the most disappointing let-down way. It's not that the show can't do this, but to do so, it must find ways around this to still maintain suspense over the outcome. In Day of the Daleks, Pertwee shoots an Ogron, but he still must contend with the Daleks and the forces of fate. Something no gun was enough against. Saward lacked the craft or interest, thinking that upping the nastiness, violence and gore was enough. Only Remembrance restores the Doctor to a compelling intellectual force to be reckoned with, hiding his aces until the end.
This just feels like a sluggish slog of disinterested filler from an exhausted show that's tried too long to be frenetic and overcrowded. It's less where this new era settles and matures and more where, after the booster shot of Colin's casting, things devolve into tiredness again. Watched in isolation, you'd think this was from Colin's waning years, not his debut season.
There's no suspense when Peri walks through the minefield. The tree-conversion concept is too nonsensical to buy. By its ridiculous science, it seemingly should be equally possible to reverse the condition, restoring Luke's humanity. Which would've given Colin some goal here. But it goes nowhere. The violent luddites disappear from the plot. Luke's tree transformation could've conveyed this forest remaining haunted, centuries after. But the rubber tree looks rubbish. Its catching and molesting Peri feels less Evil Dead and more a pantomime gone porno. When Colin quotes Shakespeare at the Rani, the mood's already spoilt.
The Doctor's greater moral outrage at the Rani's wilful deviance, whilst the genocidal Master's right beside her, makes little sense beyond unpleasantly chauvinistic implications. She never feels like a legitimate threat to Colin. Merely a shrew he must chastise. Terrence Keenan suggested she's autistic, given her hobbyist devotions, anxiousness when working with others or belief that extending someone's years by turning them into plant-life is worth their social life.
This could've made her somewhat sympathetic, but unfortunately she's in Colin's vengeful firing line when he decides to finish the Master for good. She ends up sharing his death carriage despite trying to assert her innocence by disassociation. Unfortunately, that seems an accidental by-product of the era's confused moral anger, not any authorial wisdom.
What differentiates Delgado and Ainley's Master is Letts' team seemed to enjoy writing him, whereas seemingly no-one under JNT liked being tasked with this. Also, I suspect Logopolis took the character too far to remain a guilty pleasure anymore. The Bakers, however, seemingly relished the villain's sharp eloquence and dastardly potential. Colin's shot about Ainley becoming understudy if the Rani fails, and potentially becoming a laburnum tree, is delicious. Possibly their best verbal sparring since Pertwee. It's taken a long time and many turgid tries to recreate that, but had this second-generation Doctor-Master rivalry started on this note, I'd be happy.
But we reach the end feeling nothing substantial's happened. 2001: A Space Odyssey had its longeurs, but it saw humanity undergo an enormous transition. The only transition here is that someone becomes a tree. Even Colin's parting line confirms the season's usual crap will continue unchanged. But almost nothing since Logopolis really has changed. We're still doing this same dance.