The Mark of the Rani

Written by:
Pip and Jane Baker
Directed by: Sarah Hellings
Starring: Colin Baker
Year: 1984
Video Availability: Try

Ah, season 22. the last to have parts shot on film. And doesn't it look good for it? Sarah Hellings is a great director, too, and would be more highly regarded if she'd been given a different story.

In issue 11 of Shockeye's Kitchen Nicola Bryant tells of a missing scene that explains why she's dressed in such a strange way. It's also a little thing, but notice how her pronunciation of "birds" is far less annoying than it was in Mysterious Planet. Colin's, too. Could it be that they were actually subtler here?

Of course, period pieces are something Who does very well, and whatever your misgivings about the story it has to be said that this is one of the most realistic recreations of an historical period ever seen in the series. It's a shame that the interiors weren't also filmed, as the distinction between studio and location is fairly marked, though no more so than most other Who stories.

There's a lot to recommend this one: Peri actually has half a brain for once, while the Rani's scheme is clever (even though Serotonin is never named, and the red spots are silly) and Colin even gets out of that horrible coat for a while.

For Pip 'n' Jane this is easily their best script, though some of the lines ("I'm indestructible, the whole universe knows that"/"fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet."/"next to my hearts - both of them.") stink. That said, others aren't bad, such as the Rani's mocking of the Master/Doctor rivalry, and her put-downs, such as: "he'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line."

Kate O'Mara is good, Colin is actually decent and Ainley gives one of his hammiest performances ever. Yet while individually they're all just about passable, put them all together and it veers towards a luvvie-fest. Fans of inadvertent spitting might like to check out Colin's first scene with the Rani (from the line "You had me fooled" onwards) where saliva is clearly visible, and gurgling around. It never comes out of his mouth, but it's there, a ready thread. Kinetic spit. Jonathan Gibbs's music is also notable by its general absence.

Yes, this isn't a bad first episode, even if the cliffhanger does look like an overweight arse on a table. Which, of course, it is. It's also one of the stories which best fits the 45m format. Yeah, not bad at all.
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One thing I noticed about the first Colin Baker season is how the theme tune is slightly amended to include a "whizz" sound effect when the logo appears. Crass. But nothing to do with this episode in particular, so...

One of the reasons Mark works in the 45m format is the historical setting. Such a setting requires a more leisurely pace, so there's no need for irrelevant padding to fill it out. This is a story than can take its time, and so aid the context. The interior of the Rani's Tardis is also nicely designed. Compare this to the tacky black Tardis of the Master's the following season. However, what makes the second episode something of a let-down are a succession of silly scenes: the mustard gas from the Turner painting, the Doctor roughing up the Master, appallingly out of character, and, of course, "The tree won't hurt you." It's a shame because this last scene is possibly the silliest in the entire history of Who and jeopardises what is, in most other respects, a fairly reasonable story. And does the Rani really give the Master a whack in the nads at the end? Surely not the sort of thing we should see in Who?

Sadly, there's also the sense of inevitable anti-climax. The Rani develops a plan to steal brain fluid from Earth's history, the Doctor foils her by sending her Tardis out of control... and that's it. It all feels a little hollow somehow.
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Despite some dubious moments, this is one of the better Colin Baker stories.
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