Doctor Who #642: The Mark of the Rani Part 1

"What do you call a collection of geniuses? A bevy?" "An inspiration of geniuses?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Feb.2 1985.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and the Master meet the Rani in a 1820s mining town.

REVIEW: A couple of important firsts. It's the first script by Pip and Jane Baker, writers well matched to the sixth Doctor's thesaurus-babble, and in this episode, it's a verbal quirk only shared by one other character. I mention it because their reputation is for stories where everyone talks that way and to show they didn't start out that way. It's also the first time in Doc6 history where we don't spend a whole lot of time on the TARDIS in Part 1. There's only one brief scene - with all that boring bickering that's sadly become standard - before the characters walk out and into the story. And most importantly, it's the first time we meet the Rani, a new renegade Time Lord/Lady, as played by the glamorous Kate O'Mara. She's great and it's almost a shame the Master had to show up (and again, with a total lack of explanation as to how he survived being burned alive in Planet of Fire). I say almost, because his absence would have robbed us of the Rani dryly making comments about him and his relationship to the Doctor. After one of his starry-eyed speeches, she off-handedly gives her diagnosis: "You're unbalanced." Later, she makes another astute evaluation, calling the Master's plans over-complicated and saying he'd be "dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line". To her, the conflict between the Master and the Doctor is a boys thing she has no use for. She's just an amoral scientist who wants to get on with her work, collecting restful chemicals from human brains to give her pet planet's residents after she robbed them of their sleep by raising their awareness, and who cares if a few violent humans are made more violent still. Earth wars, rebellions and riots are the perfect cover, and for the Rani, the whole universe is one big lab experiment anyway. Her presence makes the Master look and sound even more ridiculous, a matinée black hat at best and a school yard bully at worst, playing keep-away with her hard-earned chemicals.

Killingworth, the mining town location, is played by Shropshire's Blists Hill Open Air Museum. We have such "historical villages" here too, tourist attractions with authentic buildings and costumes, and demonstrations of how people used to live and work. It's a great place to stage a Doctor Who historical, lending a lot of production value in the form of costumed extras, outdoor locations and jeopardy involving mining equipment. It also means a lot of rather aimless wandering, but not enough to be intolerable. Doing stunts in the open air like that has become a rare thing since the end of the Pertwee era, and while there are choreography problems (a Luddite hammering at the chain the Doctor's holding instead of the Time Lord's fingers, for example), the two set pieces - the aforementioned chain sequence and the Doctor rolling down a hill on a trolley - look fairly dangerous and exciting. Despite the music, I should say. The DVD extras are rather proud of the score, of I find the airy synths completely anachronistic, in addition to taking the zing out of the action scenes.

Crucially, this is the point where, if I look at the program as if I'm experiencing it for the first time, I finally accept the sixth Doctor. He's not involved in scenes of pure sadism. He and Peri have a good Holmes and Watson relationship, where they help each other come to the right conclusions. He's got some nice lines and also takes part in the action, a pleasant mix of cerebral and physical. Peri looks at the past as a collection of plants and animals relating to the destruction of the environment in her own time, and seems educated without magically knowing too much. This is what the program should be like in this era.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Great location, great new villain, and the stars do very well with it. I'm sick to death of the Master, of course, but so is the Rani, which takes the sting out of his needless reappearance.

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