In an effort to readdress some of my negative comments regarding Colin Baker's era as the Doctor, and because today, February 2nd, marks the 31st anniversary since its debut broadcast, I recently subjected myself to rewatching The Mark of Rani. Something I've not done in... oh... let me think... 31 years.
I found it to be rather like the old football cliche - a game of two halves. The first is promising with its historical background and could've developed into something credible, but the second brings the whole thing down to a level where it becomes (avert your eyes if you are remotely sensitive) extremely boring.
The Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) arrive in 19th Century England in the village of Killingworth, in search of the cause of a time distortion, or as we know it 'a plot device'. Miners are being gassed in a grimy bath house which turns them into aggressive delinquents who randomly attack machinery and men. This causes the locals to brand them 'Luddites'. I thought to myself, The Luddites? Weren't they a female country/western/folk band comprised of three blonde sisters dressed in gingham? No, apparently not! It turns out they were in fact textile workers in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Skilled artisans whose trade and communities were threatened by a combination of machines (I preferred my definition).
Anyhoo, the Sixth Doctor and Miss Brown are close at hand to witness the carnage of the rampaging miners. What's that though? Is that red mark on the neck of one miner a clue? Well of course it is, after all something this insignificant always means something, especially to this pompous and imperious Doctor.
The multi-coloured one links up with Lord Ravensworth (Terrence Alexander), a local landowner who is concerned by the nature and seriousness of the unprovoked attacks. Who could be involved in this social upheaval and disarray? Well, there's a new Time villain, who we'll get to in a bit, and the Master. And this was the Master back in the days when he sported a goatee beard, gentleman's vegetables and cackled theatrically like a constipated frog. Unsurprisingly, we never learn how he survived a cremation in Planet of Fire and he appears here without explanation a-la Mr Ben's shopkeeper. But who cares, we welcome him back with open arms on the understanding that anything with the Master in would surely be tense, sinister and highly watchable.
Get me trading standards immediately!
The Master is doing his usually Mastery bid for world domination but this time he's hooked up with someone who initially resembles a 19th Century Widow Twanky. Fortunately under the rags is the smouldering sex kitten Kate O'Mara. She's the Rani, an accomplished science whiz and chemist who has decided to steal and synthesise brain fluid then send it back to the planet Miasimia Goria, which she rules (busy girl!), so the inhabitants of her home can get some sleep. Awww nice.
Sounds good, right? Well sadly the promise of this story soon dissipates and it becomes drawn out and bogged down by an unbelievably slow pace. The 45 minute format does not help it one bit, each episode seems like a week (which I guess means you didn't have long to wait when watching it live back in 1986). If that wasn't enough The Mark of the Rani has some of the worst Northern accents I've witnessed in a British television show. These dire examples are only surpassed by Dick Van Dyke's cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins, Ray Winstone's American hard man in The Departed and Don Cheadle's awful London scallywag in the Ocean's films. It's hard to say where the accents come from, there were (I think) at least a couple of Geordies, one Yorkshireman and a Welshman who came from Dublin. It was so hard to distinguish one accent from another that it occurred to me that perhaps the BBC should have considered employing actual Northerners! I mean, it's a bit of a radical idea, I know, but surely in this case the risk of the cast and crew having to mingle with people from North of Watford, something almost unheard of in the old days of the stiff-upper-lip Queen's English BBC, would have been worth it to save us all the obvious pain of listening to inept southerners trying to speak the lingo. They were so bad that I had to turn the subtitles on.
The dialogue, the parts I could understand of it, sounded as if someone had shaken a dictionary until all the words tumbled out, and then they were delivered unconvincingly by actors talking like an automated phone message. Everyone of them seemed very uncomfortable with the script, apart from Baker who delivers his share with gusto. Though one suspects he would consider reciting a Screw Fix catalogue if the price was right and if he were permitted to pull faces of his choosing.
Now I've pulled it to bits, which honestly really wasn't my intention when I first decided to rewatch it, let's look at the better areas, as there are some. It has to be said that the BBC didn't exactly hold back on the budget when deciding to film The Mark of the Rani on location, it's quite lavish by Classic Who standards and this adds a delightfully gritty tone to the piece.
The real selling point is Kate O'Mara, who is superb as the Rani, and really the only one of the main cast to come out of this with any credit. Her presence and measured voice suggest a controlled evil, and you believe that she is indeed the fearsome genius that everyone claims she is. She didn't need Ainley's Master here, in fact having the two of them together only serves to cancel each other out. Their constant bickering jars and grates/ They are like a villainous married couple halfway down a supermarket aisle, who can't agree on which pasta to buy. The team-up had the potential to be amusing and cutting, but sadly the writers Pip and Jane Baker missed the opportunity and instead saddled the pair with sentences that weighed the same as lorry load of wet pigs.
I've drifted back to the negatives, haven't I? That's the problem with The Mark of the Rani, it's so easy to do because there's just so many of them.
As a production, visually it's really top notch, I cant fault that aspect. It's interesting to look at (and I don't just mean Nicola Bryant) and features great location work. For introducing Kate O'Mara it gets full marks, sadly it loses nearly all of them for saddling her with Anthony Ainley's Master. As a concept The Mark of the Rani has so much going for it, but ultimately it was let down by the script.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter