Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Serial 139: The Mark of the Rani

Doctor: Colin Baker (6th Doctor)
Companion: Peri Brown

Written by: Pip and Jane Baker
Directed by: Sarah Hellings

Background & Significance: If you treat The Doctor as a superhero (and he is, in a lot of ways, a superhero), you'd notice that his Rogues Gallery is oddly limited.

His A-List bad guys would be Daleks, Cybermen, and The Master (Batman corollaries: The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, etc.). His B-listers would be something along the lines of Silurians, Sontarans, and Autons (Batman corollaries: Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, The Scarecrow...), and his C-listers would perhaps be Omega and The Black Guardian (For Batman: Mr Zzazz, Man-Bat, Killer Croc... etc.)

Let's face it, The Doctor's enemies, while compelling, have a very low rate of re-occurrence unless they're A-listers. (The Autons alone have made only three appearances in the show over the course of the series' almost fifty year run, which is a shame because I recently decided that I freaking love the Autons. But we'll talk about them eventually).

"The Mark of the Rani" is an attempt to forge a new recurring villain for The Doctor to face. In essence (spoilers for what you're about to read) she's an evil female Time Lord, bent on her own diabolical and selfish ends. In a way, she's like The Master, but female.

The first I'd heard of The Rani was a Russell T Davies interview about the hand that picks up The Master's ring at the end of the modern series' "Last of the Time Lords", in which he laughed and balked that it was her. That both livened my spirits and depressed me at the same time. Why is he laughing at The Rani? Shouldn't she be a major presence in the show's mythology? A huge deal? I mean I know that it didn't come about at the most opportune time (post Davison, when the show started to decline in term of viewership and popularity in the face of Colin Baker's radical (and awesome) take on The Doctor), but that doesn't mean she's worthy of scorn or dismissal.

So here's what I want you to think about as we go into this.

Why is The Rani such a failure, especially because she's such a good concept? Why was it such a poor execution, and where does said poor execution start?

I'll answer that last bit right now: From minute one.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

We open in London Killingworth in the 19th Century, where people are walking around mining and coaling and doing other things. We get that for about three minutes. So yay for starting the story with a bang.

Some of these workers, three of them, dirty after a hard day’s work, head into a bath house run by an old crone of a woman. They start to disrobe (bow chicka wow wow) and collapse when the room gets gassed, and the men pass out.

In the TARDIS, The Doctor and Peri are talking. Mostly arguing. Interestingly enough, this is exactly the place where we left them off last time, except Peri has changed her outfit from the horrid horrid spandex to something princess and awesome.

And I know I said this before, but I’m totally going to say it again. These scenes rock. I love when it’s just The Doctor and companion(s) in the TARDIS bantering about whatever. Across the board, these are always really good scenes. That’s especially true here, where they just… they work, and I really love their dynamic.

The Doctor notes that The TARDIS isn’t working properly and there’s a time distortion, probably caused by a time machine nearby, which is weird. That’s not how it should be. Time Lord or Dalek or alien force… Something…

They land on Earth and Peri complains about the lack of awesome in where they’ve landed, but The Doctor doesn’t seem to care. He’s got a tracking device to track down the time distortion. And they follow it.

In the bath house, the boys who got knocked out are rough housing. They’re towel snapping, they’re wrestling. It’s amusing.

And then they run outside and kick a kid, shove his father, and knock over their food, which is cooking.

What a bunch of douche nozzles.

The Doctor and Peri head into town, noticing that there are no birds around. They’re also being watched by someone pretending to be a scarecrow. Also, I have NO idea who this person is. I guess it’s supposed to be The Rani, but they NEVER explain it. Which is bad storytelling.

In the woods, they come across a group of men who attack a transportation cart. Strangely enough, they don’t attack the dude driving the cart. No. Instead they go after the machine on the cart.

The guy, who got knocked down explains that the people who attacked the machinery were just afraid of what the machinery was going to do to their jobs. Luddites, we call them.

They also revive one of the dudes who attacked the cart, The Doctor careful to note the red mark behind the man’s ear. Spooked, the man runs off, which is weird, because the cart man says it’s weird cuz he knows him well (or something).

Really, that’s a running theme in this story. People telling us about things without actually showing it.

The Doctor finds out the machinery was a delivery for George Stephenson, who was one of the groundbreaking leader people in the Industrial Revolution.

They ride into town, and The Doctor’s distortion detector seems to go mad as they pass the bath house, although The Doctor thinks it possible that that was just a bump, not watching as the lady of the bath house watches them with suspicion as they pass.

More men enter the bath house. It’s cool, I guess. Not boring. But as the old woman ushers them in, The Master appears, watching the place.

The old woman doses these bath housers as The Master stands outside, wondering what’s going on. But no matter. “He has a death to arrange.”

I guess that means The Doctor? I guess?

The Doctor and Peri find the residence of George Stephenson and are refused entry because they’re not on the list. So… what Doctor Who is telling me is that, like… back in the 19th Century, houses involved in the Industrial Revolution were like modern day nightclubs? “Cool” was defined as “innovation and intelligence?”

Damn. Even the bouncers wear hats.

The Doctor tries to pass himself off as an inventor (dude, so cool. He’s trying to be the 19th Century Bieber) by showing off his time distortion tracker. But Peri just tells them to ignore him because he’s The Doctor, and thusly a bit eccentric.

Turns out, all they had to do was mention that he was a doctor and you’re instantly “on the list.” That’s rad.

They head inside and the gate closes behind them. Apparently they must be blind because The Master LITERALLY watched this happen and was standing right there when the gate closed.

The Doctor and Peri are locked in the bouncer’s house with the dog watching the door. But the dog won’t let them pass. The Doctor tells Peri that it’s important they understand what’s going on because according to the list and the date on top of it, the most important people of the Industrial Revolution are going to be there in two days to have a very important meeting.

But this bores the dog, who leaves and decides to go see what’s at the gate.

It is, of course, The Master. And he’s being really creepy.

The dog charges the gate, warning of an intruder, when The Master zaps him with his matter convergence ray, which obliterates the poor dog. The Master then turns the weapon on one of the guards (obliterating him), and then walks away.

The Doctor and Peri, now free to run around the complex looking for the time distortion, do so. Little do they know The Master has other plans for them.

And this youtube is… oh it’s so amusing. It’s a nice little action scene that includes a spectacular fall down a really deep well.

It’s sad that that’s one of the highlights of the episode.

So now that The Doctor’s been saved, they head into Lord Ravenworth’s house (the house with the now-dead dog) and start talking exposition and logistics, trying to figure out what’s going on.

It’s strange because while there’s been Luddite action all over the country, here it’s taken to its extreme and it’s only the men who seem to be doing it.

Blah blah. Blah blah.

In the bath house, the old woman conducts experiments on unconscious victims. She’s busy working, so she doesn’t notice The Master break in and see her lackeys bring unconscious men into and out of her lab.

The Master steps in and greets the woman, whom he identifies as The Rani, an exiled Time Lord scientist. She scoffs at him, saying she heard he was dead after his last scheme.

And okay, so I’m going to spoil the ending of “Planet of Fire”, but that’s just because you need to understand where we are now. The last time The Master showed up was in “Planet of Fire” and at the end of that he was burnt to a crisp or something.

But then it turns out that producer Jonathan Nathan-Turner thought The Master a good and popular villain, so he brought him back in this. Why? No reason. Just cuz. And he didn’t even bother to give him an explanation to how he survived or how he came back. He just did. That’s all that’s important.

Not true. That’s lame and that’s bad writing. If you’re going to bring someone back, at least explain it, because otherwise it’s just lame and a cop out.


The Master appeals to The Rani, saying he admires her and he wants to work together with her. But she’s having none of it. She’s not interested in his petty squabble with The Doctor and she’s not going to get involved so he best be on his way.

But he’s not taking no for an answer.

The Master starts to fiddle with The Rani’s equipment, killing her assistants, and stealing her tin of mind-control maggots.

Can you see why The Rani fails yet?

She offers him to try a small tin full of mind-control maggots, and The Master takes the whole tin and refuses to give it back despite her weak protestations.

The Rani tells him that she needs a chemical from the human brain that removes peoples’ ability to sleep. She has but a small vial of it because there’s not much in each brain.

Oh and The Master steals that from her too and threatens to drop the vial if she doesn’t help him.

Can you see why she fails yet?

Turns out she needs the chemical to allow her subjugated planet of “Miasimia Goria” to sleep, as she performed experiments on them in order to heighten their abilities at the expense of their sleep.

She’s hiding in the Luddite era because the lack of sleep makes people violent and uncontrollable, as the Luddites had the propensity to be.

Oh, and anytime she refuses The Master anything he just holds the vial aloft and threatens to drop it. And then she does whatever he says.

He convinces her to help him because he knows The Doctor wants to shut them down.

So now The Master and The Rani are teaming up to defeat The Doctor. Wonderful. Way to go. See why this fails?

The Master heads out to a mine shaft in order to recruit some more mind-controlled folk to see if they’ll help defeat The Doctor.

The Doctor manages to piece together that the violent chaps all have one thing in common: the bath house. Peri notes the time distortion detector going mad when they passed by, saying that must be the place, especially because the violent chaps were all clean, not like they just came from the mine.

See, that’s funny. At least The Rani’s giving them good service and allowing them to actually use the bath house, rather than just stealing their brain fluid and heading off. She’s providing a good public service and she should be proud.

So The Doctor sullies himself up and heads off to the bath house to go undercover.

The Master enters the mine and one of The Rani’s men (acting under The Rani’s orders) attacks him. But The Rani chickens out, so worried about the vial in the midst of scuffle that she kills her man remotely.

The Master looks at the mark on the man’s neck (which is HUGE) and says “The Mark of the Rani.”

Great. Way to spoon feed us.

The Master encounters some mine workers and blames the man’s death on The Doctor, telling them that it’s all due to him and his infernal machine. They’ll need to drop it down a mine shaft in order to get rid of it

The Rani receives customers, and bids them entrance despite the fact that she was just watching The Master on her scanner. Come on, Rani. Which is more important?

I also love that The Doctor going undercover “in disguise” involves him STILL WEARING HIS YELLOW PANTS.

But then he gets gassed and strapped onto a table in The Rani’s lab, where The Rani (WHO NOTICES NEITHER THE DOCTOR’S FACE NOR HIS YELLOW PANTS) starts to examine him, wondering why his body’s all strange.

The Doctor wakes up and realizes it’s The Rani. The Rani reveals that she knows The Master’s here, despite The Doctor’s insistence that The Master was burnt to a crisp.

So then they banter a bit, I guess. It’s alright. It’s nothing special or wonderful to discuss. It’s all exposition. The Doctor also manages to figure out EXACTLY what The Rani is doing without her telling him.

The Rani heads off to go do god knows what, bidding her assistant to kill the man on the table next to The Doctor if The Doctor makes a move.

After she’s gone, Peri breaks into the bath house and The Doctor bids her to remove the other bloke so that she can then remove him.

Just as she’s about to get the guy out of there, The Master and The Rani return, and keep Peri hostage. The Master gets angry that Peri didn’t save him, but The Rani insists they not kill her. She could be usable for brain fluid extraction.

Sigh. I’m sorry, but this scene is dreadful boring cuz all it is is The Master admiring how awesome The Doctor is as an opponent and how much he’s going to love killing him.

Wait a minute, isn’t this supposed to be a story about The Rani?

Hahahaha. Nevermind.

So yeah, then we get the end of the episode, which is a lame cliffhanger, but that’s okay. I guess? It’s not like this episode is doing wonders for Doctor Who or anything. Although watching them drop The TARDIS down a mine shaft is really funny.

I also think Colin Baker’s really, really good at his job.


Part 2:

So at the last minute, George Stephenson runs out of the woods and manages to stop The Doctor from falling into the pit well thing.

Wouldn’t you know it. That’s just how it always seems to work out. George Stephenson just runs out and saves the day. It’s like this thing that he does.

And then Peri shows up, being chased by sleep-deprived Luddites and the three of them all manage to run into the woods into relative safety. I guess. I’m just going to assume they got away.

They get back to the complex where kid Luke is wondering where his father got off to. But Peri knows his father’s a sleep deprived Luddite (because of The Rani) so Luke goes out to try and find him and figure out what’s going on.

Luke then runs across The Master, who hypnotizes him and coerces him into eating one of the Rani’s mind-control maggots. Now, that might not sound creepy, but The Master tells Luke that he wants Luke “to swallow this very special sweet meat.”

Oh that is so awkward. SO awkward. Here’s words of wisdom to live by, kids: If a strange man with facial hair hypnotizes you and tells you to swallow “his very special sweet meat” YOU DON’T DO IT. It leads to bad thing.

Alas, Luke is now under The Master’s control and he allows The Master to read the list of people attending the meeting for the Industrial Revolution. The Master, in an interesting turn of events, tells Luke that under no circumstances is the meeting to be canceled.

The Doctor and Peri walk off and come to a random, pointless scuffle with some of these Luddite folks, which involves trying to push The Doctor into the river. But The Doctor gets out of it by jumping really fast and Peri gets rescued by some dude at gunpoint.

I’d go on about it, but it’s really just a pointless excuse to get a shot of The Doctor’s feet jumping.

The Master meets up with The Rani and reveals his plan: control all the attending members of that Industrial Revolution meeting. If they do that, they could harness their power and take over the world!

Which… you know… Not the best of plans. You’re two Time Lords with MUCH more wisdom than these folks. These guys just invented wheels and cotton gins and stuff and you guys know how to DEMATERIALISE DIMENSIONALLY TRANSCENDENTAL SPACESHIPS.

So clearly you need these people.

I’m sorry, but that plan is just ridiculous and pointless. The Master, or at least, a competent Master, is SO above something so base and ludicrous.

Fortunately for him, this plan suits The Rani (for some reason), who has no problem with enslaving the human race and turning it into a giant laboratory. She kills her assistants and heads out, The Master careful to note “The Mark of the Rani” as he goes.

Oh my God, dude, you did that already. Way to slam home what your title is all about.

After they leave, The Doctor and Peri arrive at the bath house and begin investigating the place, looking around. The Doctor somehow knows The Rani won’t be around and they start to poke around.

The Doctor sees the volcano canvas thing as slightly out of place and rigs up a piece of wire to see what happens if he tugs on it. Which he does.

The volcano goes off, leaking mustard gas into the room! They start to choke on it, trying not to breathe it in too much. Peri manages to pull some gas masks off the fallen dudes in the room

Which, like… I dunno. Maybe you guys shoulda just busted out the windows and ran out of the place.

Trap averted, The Doctor pulls aside the volcano canvas dressing board thing, revealing a cabinet. Peri (who went and opened the door for ventilation purposes) watches as The Doctor pulls out his TARDIS key and uses it on the cabinet.

The door opens and they rush inside.

Which is… I dunno. Maybe The Rani shoulda changed the locks on the door? It seems rather convenient that all TARDISes have the same lock? Or maybe The Doctor stole hers off of her? I dunno. Very convenient solution, is all I’m saying.

They enter The Rani’s TARDIS (which, be tee dubs, beautiful) and start to take a look around it, taking careful note of several Tyranosaurus Rex embryos and other things.

Suddenly, The Rani’s TARDIS starts to power up and The Doctor kicks Peri out. Once she’s out, the Rani’s TARDIS dematerializes away, leaving Peri behind.

In the TARDIS, The Doctor takes special note of the fact that The Rani has managed to rig her TARDIS to a remote control. Which is impressive.

The Rani’s TARDIS materializes in the mines where The Master and The Rani are waiting for it. Why are they in the mines? No idea. Why did The Rani move The TARDIS there? No idea. It’s just cool thing we get to see The Rani do, I guess. It’s not like they gain any advantages from moving her TARDIS or anything like that.

The Doctor hides as the two of them enter and overhears their conversation, in which The Rani puts on her horridly 80s top and leather pants and grabs a series of mines. The Master also reveals that now he wants to kill George Stephenson.

Wait, what? Didn’t you just want to use your sweet meats to mind control him so that you could take over the Earth? That was like, twenty minutes ago. Double-you tee eff.

After they leave, The Doctor stays behind to meddle with The Rani’s TARDIS. But to do what? I guess we shall find out.

The Doctor meets up with Peri and heads back to Ravensworth. There, he meets Luke and asks him if he knows where Stephenson is. But Luke says no. Which is a lie. Because Luke was trying to subtly kill Stephenson (with a rifle). But he failed.

The Doctor finds Stephenson anyways, who is about to head out to go rescue Faraday from Redfern Dell. Faraday says he’s bunkered down and needs assistance. Which makes sense, kinda. I mean, somehow Faraday was able to get a message all the way there and it somehow landed with Stephenson, I guess.

I don’t know. I really have very little clue as to what’s going on right now.

The Doctor volunteers to go in Stephenson’s stead and rescue Faraday, but, having figured it out, he warns Stephenson to not trust Luke.

Peri comes up with the idea (FINALLY) of using a sleeping draught to get the sleepless men sedated. She volunteers to concoct one, but in order to do that she needs to go pick the right herbs from the woods. So she goes off with Luke to Redfern Dell.

Little does she know, The Master and The Rani are both placing mines in Redfern Dell. Why? So they can take out The Doctor. Seems a little farfetched, though. How do they know The Doctor’s going to go through there? It’s like setting a trap on a backroad you’re not even sure your victim takes.

UGH. So hokey.

So Peri and Luke arrive in the dell and start looking for the necessary plants they’ll need to create a sleeping draught.

The Doctor manages to catch The Rani and The Master overlooking the Dell, getting the drop on them and stealing The Master’s Tissue Compression Eliminator (TCE). He demands to know what they’re doing, turning around just in time to watch Luke step on a mine and get exploded into a tree.

The Doctor is outraged in the face of The Rani’s purely scientific reasoning for why it’s okay they turned a guy into a tree (trees live four times as long as humans, she says). He leads them off, and doesn’t see Peri’s trekking through the dell.

That’s unfortunate, because then Luke the Tree grabs her.

That’s right. Luke. Who is now a tree. Grabs her.

The Doctor hears her screams and demands that The Rani head into the minefield and pull Peri out.

So… The Rani does that. It’s… kinda exciting. Kinda whatever. By this point I have no idea what The Rani’s doing with these tree mines. It’s totally pointless that she did this at all.

So Peri gets out. Yay. (I say that not because I think Peri’s lame, I actually really love Peri a lot, I just really don’t give a crap about this thing right here.)

And then we get our next youtube, which I’m doing just because it’s so fun to watch Peri be a badass and to watch The Doctor try to get out of this one. Also, ugh to tree mines.

So The Rani and The Master get away and head for The Rani’s TARDIS. The Master doesn’t want to let The Doctor get away from him. Again. But The Rani tells him to be less of a die-hard and to live to fight another day.

The Doctor arrives back at the mineshaft and tricks The Master into vaporizing one of the mine’s support beams, caving in the mine and trapping the two of them in with The Rani’s TARDIS.

The Rani activates her TARDIS, amidst The Master’s angered words. She knees him in the balls (which works, I guess) and dematerializes the machine, hoping to escape the mine.

But you remember how The Doctor stayed behind to fix the thing? Yeah. Turns out he rigged it to be unstable and head off course at a crazy rate, shooting it out of the solar system, galaxy and to the edge of the universe.

The Rani’s TARDIS starts to lose stability and the tyrannosaur embryos break. Given the nature of the fast acceleration (or something) the dinosaur starts to grow and stuff, and we leave them accelerating far out into time and space with a dinosaur growing up fast around them.


The Doctor and Peri arrive back at Ravenswood and he shows her the vial of sleep chemical he managed to pickpocket off The Master, which’ll allow everyone to go sleep again. Peri tells him not to get too excited cuz they’re still short their TARDIS.

Don’t be so sure, Peri.

Turns out that offscreen The Doctor managed to convince Stephenson and Ravenswood to hoist the TARDIS out of the pit. So basically that entire worry/plothole was taken care of without any real mention of it.

Lazy writing, that.

So they prepare to depart when Ravenswood asks The Doctor what it is he and Peri do in the TARDIS. The Doctor’s answer, (and I only bring this up because it is) is nothing short of brilliantly delivered, eloquently put, and wonderfully stated.

“Argue, mainly.”

The TARDIS leaves and Ravenswood and Stephenson watch it dematerialize. And then Ravenswood calls The Doctor “A strange sort of fellow.”

(Thank God all that’s over.)

Final Thoughts?: So ummm.... Yeah. This sucked almost as much as "The Armageddon Factor" (which was easily the worst of the bunch so far). It just goes to show you once again that not even an excellent Doctor and Companion can save a story (and I'm a huge Colin Baker and Peri fan).

And really, this sucks because it's just frivolous camp that doesn't really accomplish anything. It's wildly inconsistent and slopped together merely because it's Doctor Who, I'd expect, which is a horrible excuse for a story's suckage.

But you know all that. You just read the whole thing which describes why it sucked. But I never answered the question of "Why does The Rani fail?" Did you catch it?

The truth is, The Rani fails because she's completely incompetent. All examples of The Rani being adept and good at things are all told to us, we don't see her actually do anything except conduct silly experiments and fret about her little science. She's not invested in what's going on, and she only does things because she's... well... I don't really know why she's doing anything, to be honest.

And honestly, if you're going to have a character show up and be a badass and a villain and see him/her become an adversary for The Doctor, don't undermine her by making someone who is easily cooler than The Rani steal the spotlight. The Master being in this killed The Rani before she even got off the ground. The Master steals The Rani's stuff from her and all The Rani can do is whine and beg for him to give it back?

That's just bad. That shows The Rani as incompetent in the face of The Master. And he's thus far NEVER beaten The Doctor (except, perhaps, in "Logopolis", but we haven't gotten there yet...). And if he can push The Rani around like that, what threat is she to The Master's far superior adversary?

Not only that, but you're also looking at an unusually incompetent and wasted use of The Master. The Master's goals in this are all over the place and he can't really seem to do anything right ever (except give young lads his very special sweet meat, but that's a whole different conversation entirely), and if The Master comes out as looking like the cooler, awesome villain in this (while being grossly incompetent and tremendously inconsistent), what hope does The Rani have of actually coming out looking good?

You can't do a villain team-up with a badass villain and a new guy. That just won't work. Much as I might want to, I don't care about the new guy. I haven't seen her (in this case) do anything yet. What a frakkin waste. A stupid waste by incompetent storytellers who literally undermined their cool concept for a Doctor adversary before she could even show up.

What a stupid, stupid waste.

Next Time!: 2nd Doctor! World War I! Mind-Control Eyeglasses! Another Time Lord! And probably the best story we've reviewed so far, or at least it's my favourite. And it's so epic it'll take two posts. We kick off the first of an epic two post examination of Patrick Troughton's swansong "The War Games" next Monday!


  1. Point of information: the story isn't set in London, but the north-east of England, in Killingworth, near Newcastle upon Tyne. (The accents and fragments of dialogue are slightly wrong...)

    Lots to agree with here. The story has two People From History - Stephenson and Lord Ravensworth - and has them and the Doctor preach and teach while the Rani and the Master don't do very much at the end of the day.

  2. Sorry - meant dialect, not dialogue...

  3. Ack! My bad. Forgot about that. Thanks for the catch!

  4. The scarecrow at the beginning was supposedly the Master but it's still totally random.