Judge Eric Profancik is known for his garish apparel, grouchy temperament, and love of carrot juice.
"He wears yellow trousers and a vulgarly colored coat; but tread carefully, he's treacherous."
Colin Baker is the least favorite of all Doctors; though for some time I had to be different and claim that he was my favorite. The Sixth Doctor, known for his garish apparel, grouchy temperament, and love of carrot juice, holds the shortest tenure of all the regenerations (ignoring the blasphemy known as McGann) and thus doesn't have much material to compare and contrast. He only has two real clunkers in his two seasons, and "The Mark of the Rani" is definitely not among them. Let's explore the strange world of British mechanization, and find out why it would draw the attention of three Time Lords.
Facts of the Case
It's 19th Century England and three Time Lords are about to meet: the Doctor, the Master, and the Rani. Each is there for individual reasons, but their plottings will converge at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The Master, the Doctor's best enemy, is there to kill a group of men pivotal in Earth's development; and, of course, he's also there to trap, humiliate, and kill the Doctor. The Rani, a new-to-us Time Lord, just happens to be passing through, extracting a neural chemical from the brains of the locals, which she needs to help maintain her dictatorship on the planet Miasimia Goria.
Will The Doctor unravel the twisted plots and thwart the nefarious machinations of two sinister Time Lords?
"The Mark of the Rani" is an oddity in Colin's time. If there's one thing we all know about his era, it is the violence (and the infamous hiatus) that permeates all the lovely little nooks and crannies. Even in "Rani" there's quite a bit of violence, epitomized by the result of the humans who had the never-named biochemical extracted from their brains. You can't sleep, you get supremely cranky very quickly, and then go off and kick little boys. Yet even within the context of violence, this story isn't all that violent. It's something of a mini oasis for Colin, and that's because he has two enemies this time.
With two enemies comes an intriguing twist in that things aren't necessarily more evil, sinister, and violent. On the contrary, the meeting of the Master and the Rani yields unexpected levity and humor. Instead of the two renegade Time Lords blending into an axis of evil, their pairing creates the Whovian version of the Bickersons. The Rani finds the Master to be a bit daft in his obsession to squash the Doctor, and her continual derogatory statements against him are actually keen insights—and amusing. Going a further step, the bickering Time Lords afford an opportunity to look at the Doctor and Peri's relationship, which has always been dramatic. Those two constantly bicker, with the Doctor being condescending at times. Seeing the "good Bickersons" against the "bad Bickersons" puts it all into perspective.
Aside from being a semi-light story set in the midst of Colin's run, what else does "The Mark of the Rani" have going for it? Let's talk about something that has never escaped my fingers until now: visual style. Director Sarah Hellings invested this story with an actual style—one not so cut and dry as we've come to know over the past two decades. Hellings used new angles, approaches, and even cranes to establish a broader, more cinematic feel to the story. As nicely detailed in the bonus materials, the opening shot creates an ambience and feeling long missing in the land of Who. This story feels different for Hellings treated it as more the just a television show—and it's a refreshing change of pace.
Abundant location filming, an interesting story, and solid performances also help. The introduction of the Rani adds flair, putting her in the same episode as the ever-lively Master feels off. Nonetheless, there's very little to find fault with in this story.
The same holds true for the DVD, again from the fine folks at BBC Video and The Restoration Team. Classic Doctor Who is always in full frame and the transfer is solid, without error. Colors are true and often bold, blacks are deep and rich, and detail is above average for these releases. I believe we can attribute that to the relative youth of the stories. The audio, a Dolby 2.0 mono mix, is clean and clear with easily understood dialogue but no further bells and whistles.
If you're looking for bells and whistles then the bonus features will fit that bill nicely:
• Audio Commentary with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant (Peri), and Kate O'Mara (The Rani): A fun, warm, entertaining, and informative chat from three of the four leads in the show. (Anthony Ainley, the Master, died in 2004.) You'll learn all kinds of juicy bits in this one, but I wish Colin would stop fawning over Kate so much. Nicola is far more attractive!
• Text Commentary: All the glorious technical tidbits you've come to know and love. Oh, and a few cheeky bits along the way too.
• "Lords and Luddites" (43 minutes): A thorough and instantly riveting discussion about the making-of this story. There's a whole wealth of interesting stuff to learn in here.
• "Now and Then" (4 minutes): A brief featurette that goes back to the location where this story was filmed and shows you what it looks like now versus then. I've seen a few of these in the past, and I wasn't especially impressed with this one.
• Deleted and Extended Scenes (8.5 minutes): Any new Doctor Who footage is warmly welcomed and appreciated, and these aren't all that bad either.
• "Blue Peter" (11 minutes): This featurette details the history of the location of the story, Ironbridge Gorge. It starts off well enough but gets dull quickly.
• "Saturday Superstore" (2 minutes): Colin and Nicola taking phone calls on the television show Saturday Superstore. The Master impersonation is actually pretty good.
There's a story behind the next three items. Two composers wrote music for "The Mark of the Rani." The first composer wrote a score for just Part One, and the replacement composer redid the entire story.
• Isolated Music Track: This track isolates the score of the second composer.
• Optional Music Track: This track reinserts the original composer's work into part one.
• "Playing with Time" (9 minutes): This featurette gives a quick history of the dual-composers for this story.
And, rounding things out as usual are a photo gallery and—on PC PDF—the 1985 Doctor Who Annual and Radio Times Billings.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Only two things to say on this one:
(1) Peri's yellow puffy dress
"The Mark of the Rani" is a brisk and entertaining tale that introduces the audience to another nasty, renegade Time Lord: the Rani. She would come back for another historic appearance, but this first story is her best—and a definite winner in the Colin Baker era. This DVD is the complete package: nicely filmed, convincingly acted, well-written, solid transfers, and quality bonus materials. With all of that, why wouldn't you want to add this to your collection? I recommend it.
Doctor Who: "The Mark of the Rani" is hereby found guilty of abusing a young, blonde Northerner. They are sentenced to take a nap.
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