Monday, September 04, 2006

Doctor Who - The Mark of the Rani

As is now becomming a regular feature, following my previous postings for Inferno and The Hand of Fear, here is my review from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide of this week's DVD release, The Mark of the Rani:

Forget the tree

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
The Mark of the Rani can be purchased from here.

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