It has occurred to me that poor Colin Baker is rather harshly judged on his first season. Yes, it did contain such travesties as Timelash, and such ill-executed ideas as Attack of the Cybermen, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks – but it also contained two perfectly decent and well executed stories, that would have worked well in any other era of the show. While Vengeance on Varos tends to steal the plaudits, I think it is a little unfair to dismiss The Mark of the Rani with the rest of the season.
This story is actually a good example of what Doctor Who would become when Russell T. Davies revived the show in 2005 – the combination of a historic setting with an alien menace – in this case a newly introduced renegade Timelord (Time Lady! I’m a traditional girl!) scientist known as the Rani, played with aplomb by Kate O’Mara. Having eliminated the capacity for the natives on her experimental planet of Miasimia Goria to rest, she is stealing from humans the chemical that promotes sleep, hiding her trail by doing so during times of uprest in earth’s history – in this case, the Luddite riots.
Her plan is then complicated by the arrival of two other renegade Timelords – the Doctor (with Peri) investigating localised time distortion, and the Master (with no explanation as to how he escaped in Planet of Fire) looking to hijack a conference of the period’s greatest intellectuals to accelerate Earth’s development and turn the planet into a personal powerbase. A great deal of confused adventuring takes place, before the Doctor succeeds in trapped the Master and the Rani inside the Rani’s TARDIS with a growing Tyrannosaurus embryo.
The Rani suffers from much the same fate as Colin Baker’s era – judged harshly because of how terrible Time and the Rani was. But this story shows that it need not have been so. O’Mara’s portrayal is not in the least overdone, and her depiction of complete amorality in the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a refreshing contrast to the Master’s blinkered pursuit of universal dominance. In this story she is utterly believable, and more than an even match to the Doctor. Baker and Bryant too give a refreshing glimpse of what their partnership could have been like but for some of the production values chosen at the time – Baker’s character achieving that difficult to manage balance between irascibility and a strong sense of justice.
The Mark of the Rani isn’t remarkable enough to merit being mentioned in the same breath as true classics of Doctor Who’s classic era, but it still remains a great example of classic Doctor Who.