Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Mark of the Rani written by Pip & Jane Baker and directed by Sarah Hellings

This story in a nutshell: The ultimate Time Lord bitch fest!

Theatrical Adventurer: I don’t care what any of you say, Pip’n’Jane know precisely how to characterise the sixth Doctor. Gone is the arrogant bullyboy of his first handful of stories and in steps a much more thoughtful, verbose and intelligent chap who is more than up to a duel of words with two pestilential cast offs from his home planet. It’s probably the most responsible take on his character in his first year (The Two Doctors comes very close) and for once he is right at the heart of the action, shows appropriate remorse and has a sparky relationship with Peri which isn’t all about insults. He makes me scream with laughter when he walks straight into the Pit past the guard with the slavering Doberman with a look of pure superciliousness on his face and acting as if he owns the place. I know some people prefer Davison’s gentle approach, but Baker’s overconfidence just makes me howl. My dear fellows, he’s a VIP! Eccentric? Him? Preposterous! The Doctor likes nothing better than to teach Peri a lesson but when her life is in danger he is the first one to stand in her way and take the fall. The inference is that the Doctor and the Master are a well matched pair of pests that bring nothing but trouble…I don’t know if I can disagree with that sentiment. There is a small moment when we cut to the Doctor looking devastated that a mother and child should be so distressed at the loss of the man of the house. To see him showing appropriate concern for the people whose lives are affected by these adventures is essential. ‘These are human beings, Rani! Living creatures that have don you no harm!’ – how wonderful to hear the boisterous and abusive sixth Doctor sticking up for humanity with such passion.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that his sense of humour is famous. The scenes between the Doctor and Stevenson are genuinely wonderful, he gets to pause for a moment and tinker with machinery with one of the greatest minds of the age and he treats him gently and shows the appropriate respect. They often dropped a male figure into Colin Baker’s stories who served as a one-off companion for that particular story (Hugo in The Twin Dilemma, Jondar in Vengeance on Varos, Jamie in The Two Doctors, Herbert in Timelash, the Commodore in Vervoids, Glitz in Mysterious Planet and The Ultimate Foe) and he gets three very good ones in Mark of the Rani (Ravensworth, Stevenson and Luke) with whom he has a good rapport with all. He objects to being called a dilettante. The Doctor wanders around the Rani’s TARDIS with a playful smile on his face and a screwdriver in his hand – he’s going to fuck up her console and have great fun doing so. I like this cheeky sixth Doctor, he’s very engaging. What you have in The Mark of the Rani is an actor who is loving the chance to play the Doctor at a point where he has established the character and the future seems very bright indeed. A shame about what was coming around the corner but for a handful of stories – Vengeance, Mark and The Two Doctors, you can experience Colin Baker at the height of his powers.

Busty Babe: ‘A hyperactive Peri, too ghastly to contemplate!’ Not exactly a casualty of the story but Peri could certainly have done with a little more spunk and a little less dependency in The Mark of the Rani. At times I wondered if she was a little special, she queries ‘manoeuvred off course’ in a manner that suggests she doesn’t understand what the words mean rather than the fact that she is puzzling out who by. For once she has the right to have a right paddy as soon as she steps out of the Ship, as she is decked out in Edwardian finery and the Doctor has brought her to a slag heap. Pip’n’Jane do remember that Peri is something of an amateur botanist thanks to her studies and give her some detailed dialogue and concerns to discuss. Whilst her dialogue is occasionally stilted (in the same way that Hitler was occasionally dictatorial), there is a natural chemistry between Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant that has started to emerged despite them being forced to be at each others throats more often than not. Peri suggests she is not totally ignorant but sometimes she does a great impression of it. Occasionally her smugness infuriates the Doctor (occasionally?). Peri is so, so stupid that when the Doctor shrieks for her to push him to safety, she pushes him down a hill and out of her grasp instead. Words fail me (‘No! The other way!’ is priceless). I remember when I first watched this with Simon and he was left aghast at her retarded behaviour and questioned how any woman could be characterised in such a fashion. ‘Can you jump without falling on your face?’ the Rani asks of her…I’m not saying a word. Peri is given the chance to redeem herself by holding the Master and the Rani hostage and looks as if she might succeed for a while before falling for the oldest trick in the book.

Crone Transformed: ‘They should never have exiled you, they should have locked you in a padded cell…’ There is such a world of difference between the Rani’s first appearance and her second and the funniest thing about it is that Pip’n’Jane seem to think they are writing for the same character in both. In Mark of the Rani the titular character is a genuinely strong in her own right and one who thinks that her work is the mot important thing to consider and everybody else (including the disturbing presence of the Doctor, the Master and Peri) is a distracting irrelevance. The Rani is being set up as a recurring villainess and one that is more than capable of holding up the story without the Master to hold her hand, she’ll just knee him in the nuts and shove him out of the way anyway. I love a bad girl with attitude and Kate O’Mara pitches her performance at precisely the right level (in a way completely different to how Susan Engel and Myra Frances tipped over into pantomime), mostly straight but with enough winks to the audience to let them know that she is enjoying every second of it. What is so wonderful about pairing up the Master and the Rani is that just like the Doctor and Peri, their relationship is acerbic and spiky and you can happily contrast the two. It is about time that somebody took the piss out of his lunatic schemes (hers are far less showy and more sophisticated) and the Rani has a line in dry put downs that had me gagging.  She’s got a grudge against the Time Lords who exiled her and I would love to have seen the day where she caught up with them (wouldn’t it have been wonderful of she had given the Daleks the key to Gallifrey and been responsible for the Time Lords downfall?). For the sixth Doctor to compliment anybody is a near miracle and so for him to laud the Rani with the acolytes of being a brilliant tactician and chemist must mean she is something pretty special. It is no use simply telling us that the Rani is a dispassionate scientist, we need to see some evidence and the moment where she kills Josh and Tom simply because she doesn’t want to leave any unfinished business is very cold. The Turner painting is given far too much attention but trying to murder the Doctor and Peri with mustard gas is pretty nasty method to choose. You’ve got to watch this one. She should stick to brain experiments, if her coughing fit is anything to go by then amateur dramatics isn’t really her thing. I’m not sure what happens to the Rani between this and Time and the Rani because she develops from a (relatively) sensible character into a panto ice queen. The only explanation I can think of right now is that she has now experienced how much fun it is to toss logic aside and indulge in grandiose masterplans. The Master has a lot to answer for.

Hehehehe: ‘I’m indestructible of course, the whole universe knows that!’ Oh bless him. He’s a bit irrelevant, isn’t he? However this is one of my favourite appearances of Ainley’s Master for that very reason. For once we don’t have to rely on him as the dramatic lynchpin of the adventure and so he can just hang around on the sidelines as the Rani’s companion, concocting his nuttier than squirrel shit plans and giggling away like a woman in labour that’s just a had a heavy puff of gas and air. Once you stop relying on this incarnation of the Master to scare you (that only happened once for me, in his final appearance in the series) he actually becomes a lot of fun and you can see some of the charm that the actor brought to the role. Isn’t the thought that he has been waiting in that field for months, possibly years, dressed up as a trampy old scarecrow and hanging about for the Doctor to arrive wonderfully ludicrous? No-one but the Master would ever think of wasting so much time in such a preposterous manner. The way he holds his tissue compression eliminator looks more like he is grasping hold of a giant knob with each consecutive story. Is he trying to compensate for something? The Master enjoys winding up the Doctor and Peri so much that he needs to be reminded by the Rani to shut up and get on with killing them. Watch as the Master and the Rani share a smile of mischievousness at the thought of getting up to messy business that the Time Lords would never permit. They are like a pair of naughty school kids (one sensible, one completely batty). If the Master turned into a tree it would be a laburnum because the pods are poisonous. He refuses to run away and let that ‘crack brained freak win again!’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Peri, how would you like to meet a genius?’ ‘Thought I already had.’
‘An inspiration of geniuses?’ – sometimes Pip’n’Jane hit upon something special. Not often, but sometimes.
‘One that encompasses the whole human race!’ ‘You’re unbalanced…’
‘It’s probably something devious and overcomplicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line…’
‘Use some of that famous American initiative! Push him outside!’
‘The Rani is a genius. Shame I can’t stand her…’

Dialogue You’ll Never Forget: After some discussion with a friend, I feel that Pip and Jane’s eccentric form of dialogue would be the perfect style of grandiloquent verbosity to carve a musical out with. Try singing this dialogue in the form of I am the Model of a Modern Major General from Gilbert and Sullivan – 'The Catharsis of Spurious Morality!' 'No it’s an Apposite Epithet!' 'Wait! A Megabyte Modem!' 'Hark! You are Elevating Futility to a High Art!’ ‘Pray...hurry along to the hydroponics centre!' 'Are we to be subjected to more chicanery Sagacity!’ Trust me, worse musicals have been written. Pip’n’Jane: The Musical – coming to a theatre near you.

And of course here are the gems from The Mark of the Rani…
‘Hoist of your skirts, Peri, off we go!’
‘T’others’ll be along when they’ve emptied Toby’s!’ – is it possible to stress Northern descent more?
‘Murderous would be more apt!’ – Peri gets some gems in this story. I really wanted the Doctor to ask ‘who the hell are you?’ at this point.
‘Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet’ – where’s the dictionary?
‘You don’t get much, do you?’ – the Master comments on the Rani’s unfortunate state of affairs.
‘Do they worry about the lesser species when they sink their teeth into a lamb chop?’ – sheer poetry!
‘He wants to pervert history!’ – the mind boggles…
‘All the way down - to the bottom!’ – courtesy of Mike Wilberforce and his filthy mind.
‘Peri-pheral vision…’
‘The tree wont hurt you!’

The Good:

  • It’s a promising opening and the sort of thing that eighties Who shied away from and should have indulged in more often – a luxurious location sequence that takes the time to set up the location and period. Afforded more location work than a normal Doctor Who shoot, Sarah Hellings takes the opportunity to plaster as many stunning exterior shots across the screen as possible and the net result is one of the more gorgeous looking stories of the period. The opening is unhurried, complimented by a beautiful score and takes the time to show the background characters going about their business before they become central to the plot. It’s unusual in it’s easy temperament and relaxed scene setting. As daft as the end of episode one is with the Doctor tearing down the hill on a trolley, it is very dynamically shot with an awesome POV camera so we can witness the furious pace from through his eyes. As the story progresses you become aware that this story has a wealth of OB work compared to the others of this period and Sarah Hellings is particular adept at ensuring that no matter how perfunctory the scene is, the scenery is beautiful and distracting. Shooting through the spiders web was inspired.
  • It is another generally strong cast with some impressive names showing up to take part. Season Twenty-Two is quite avant-garde in that respect with each of the stories sporting some big names (even Timelash features Paul Darrow but each other stories has several memorable performances each). Terrance Alexander isn’t given a terrific amount to do but he sure makes the most of his screen time and he gets to stand up to Colin Baker’s Doctor to such a point that he is almost apologetic in his presence. In the first episode he gets quite a meaty share of the screen time but once the Time Lords takes over and all the fun with etymology begins we only cut back to him occasionally (‘Confounded!’). Gawn Grainger only turns up halfway through the story but gives a charming turn as George Stevenson, with able support by a very handsome Gary Cady as Luke Ward.
  • Once the three Time Lords get together and start bitching at each other I was in sheer bliss. It might be reducing their interaction to the lowest common denominator but who cares when it is this fun? The Doctor insults the Rani’s clothes, she insults his general appearance and tells him at least she can change hers, the Master gets off on having the Doctor at his mercy and a chance to kill his assistant, the Rani wants him to shut up and get on with it…and everybody insults Peri. It’s sublime viewing with some of the most florid (yet wonderful) dialogue you are ever likely to hear.
  • The musical scores in season twenty-two are some of my favourites too. I don’t even mind the explosion of plastic eighties synth that Malcolm Clarke pumps all over Attack of the Cybermen (although I do always take a couple of Paracetamol before hand). Vengeance on Varos is injected with pace thanks to it’s dynamic and spooky music, The Two Doctors is given a Spanish flair, the score is one of the few things to commend about Timelash and once again Graeme Harper manages to squeeze atmosphere out of Roger Limb for Revelation of the Daleks. Jonathan Gibbs was a last minute replacement for John Lewis who fell ill before completing work on the story and he brings a much more involving, far less artifical musical style to the story (you can listen to a rough cut of Lewis’ soundtrack to episode one on the DVD which, despite having some merit, is far too sci-fi for the setting). For the period it is a pretty relaxed score but really charming in places and easy to listen to. It remembers to be incidental (something that much of the synth music of the eighties neglects to remember often) but also draws attention to itself by it’s delicate nature. The subtle menace when Luke picks up the tool to attack Lord Ravensworth if he isn’t convinced of his information is precisely the sort of thing I am talking about, and the creeping danger when Peri is exploring the Dell.
  • How comes the Rani gets to enjoy such a stylish TARDIS when the Doctor is stuck with one that is bare and impossible shoot with any kind of dynamism. It is a glorious piece of design, chic Time Lord technology with a hint of mad scientist. An impressive central dais (with a rock solid looking console) with many examples of the Rani’s obscene biological experiments on display around the room. However my favourite touch is atop the console, the stylish indication that the TARDIS is in flight.
  • The Rani’s T-Rex experiment grows to gargantuan proportions and the Master gets kneed in the nuts. A very satisfying ending for this troublesome pair.

The Bad:
  • Do people in the north of the country genuinely talk like Jack Ward? It’s just I’ve been to a fair amount of places in upper regions of the country, including Newcastle, and I have never come across a single specimen of humanity with a dialect quite this incomprehensibly garbled. In fact most of the material surrounding Jack Ward doesn’t quite come off as it should, especially the playground bullying that he and his mates start dishing out which should come across as something altogether scarier like a mob riot. Although the bit where they spoil the jacket spuds and kick the kid over is hilarious. Surely if you smacked somebody on the back that hard with a spade it would do some damage? Or is the Rani’s aggression enhancing experiments sufficient enough to render it’s subjects pain-free? Jack’s little mate (‘talks funny don’t he, ‘hold hard’, this hard enough?’) is even less comprehensible. By the end of the story you might just get a little bored by their attempts to kill the Doctor and their general ineptitude in this task.
  • You’ve just got to love the moment when the Doctor is hanging on for dear life over the pit and his attackers tap at the chain ineffectually so not to cause Colin Baker any harm. Even the Master is watching from the distance pissing himself.
  • There are two plotlines that the Master and the Rani discuss in episode one that the story could potentially be about. Either her experiments to gain the brain fluid and sort out her problems on the planet she rules or the perversion of history that the Master suggests putting into action. The story could run with either of these and be quite a satisfying hour and a half. Bizarrely it decides to jettison both and become nothing but a game of Time Lord tag as the Doctor, the Master and the Rani dash about and try and outwit each other. Whilst that is fun on it’s own terms I can’t help but think that the narrative does suffer as a result. In my ideal version of this story the meeting does take place (which would give us a chance to catch up with some of the finest minds of the age) and the Master/the Rani stage an assassination attempt. It would certainly be a more dramatic conclusion than what we get (the Master and the Rani leave with their tails between their legs).
  • The Mark of the Rani might be more frightening if it didn’t look as though it had been drawn on with lipstick.
  • Why would dropping the TARDIS down a mineshaft destroy it? Surely the Master knows better than that?
  • It’s absolutely nonsensical, I recognise that, but when you take a look at the Rani’s character spec then turning Luke into a tree isn’t quite as illogical as it might seem. It just looks humiliating. Why they couldn’t have just shot a normal tree baffles me, one with an branch that could be pulled with a piece of string to cuddle up to Peri. Instead they choose to slam a rubbery example in the middle of a gorgeous wood that sticks out like an erection in Speedos. Somehow that baffling sequence is trumped by an even more unlikely scenario – the Doctor being held up by two men who miraculously turn into trees at the same time. God bless Colin Baker who managed to keep a straight face through all this lunacy and continue acting. It is unfortunate that the story should run out of steam in the last fifteen minutes, especially the flat final showdown in the mineshaft. This pair-on-pair rivalry deserved something a little more showy.
  • You have to admire the cockiness of Pip and Jane Baker in final few scenes, suddenly remembering they have two plots that were left hanging from the previous episode. ‘Doctor, now you’re done hanging about on trees and playing in mine shafts there are men deprived of sleep and a meeting of geniuses to worry about!’ ‘Pish Peri! I picked the Master’s pocket of the sleeping draught and I’ve kicked those meddlesome Time Lords to the End of Time…now do stop dilly dallying and let’s go fishing!’

Result: Hugely underrated, The Mark of the Rani has a shopping list of great elements that ensure that it is an enjoyable experience. Just don’t go looking for a plot. Kate O’Mara is a revelation as the Rani, clearly enjoying the role immensely but ensuring that the character never descends into pantomime (unlike her second appearance). The Rani so strong a villainess that she relegates the Master to the role of her assistant and strangely enough (and as much as he might have objected) Anthony Ainley is a scream in that role, no longer having to support the story and filling the quite moments with the Master’s moments of insanity. As a duo, they contrast very nicely against the Doctor and Peri and whilst Nicola Bryant is hardly afforded her best material, Colin Baker is at the height of his powers, battling playfully with the villainous Time Lords and playing a crucial role in the story. There are a wealth of other treats too; the prosperous amount of location work that helps to set the scene vividly, a delicate and beautiful musical score, a memorable guest cast including star turns from Gawn Grainger and Terrance Alexander and a stunning new TARDIS design for the Rani. The most discussed element of any Pip and Jane Baker script is their use of dialogue, which would cause the viewership of TOWIE and other reality treats to come out in hives, and everybody else reaching for the dictionary to try and dissect each sentence. The Mark of the Rani is easily their finest script in this department, whilst there are moments when you cringe at the bizarre juxtaposition of words, there are also plenty of gems and when the dialogue is rooted in the rivalry between the Time Lords I was rolling about on the floor. In comparison, Vervoids has a stronger plot and Time and the Rani offers more opportunities for visual storytelling. As I have discussed the narrative chugs along in one direction until the first cliffhanger and then abandons its course completely and instead of taking any of the suggested plots to their natural conclusion chooses to forget about them and indulge in some antagonistic Time Lord frippery in the second episode. It’s fun but not everything that it could be. I could make a decent excuse for much of this material but even I would struggle when it comes to the tree antics in the Dell, that is when this tale plunges over a cliff into pantomime. After this I was gagging for a Rani and Master spin off, exploring the universe like an old married couple, her kneeing him in the nuts every time their extravagant plans go wrong. For an era of Doctor Who that was about to take a massive knock, this all feels extremely optimistic about the future. I want to be harder on Mark of the Rani than I am but frankly I find it all so gloriously entertaining I cannot award it any less than: 8/10


Anonymous said...

People on BF fourms have been asking for the Rani to return on audio and Kate O'Mara herself saif that she would love to reprise the role. Wouldn't it be awesome to have the Rani on big finish audios?

When I forst said this episode my first thought was "what the***is Peri wearing?" LOL
Pip and Jane are unfairly bashed and hated among who fandom but they have some great stories! I love old Sixie

Anonymous said...

BTW, pr'hps I'm the only one and people will shoot me for saying this but... I prefer the clownish, funny, saying-his-proverbs-wrong 7th Doctor from Time and the Rani than the chess player, master manipulator, dark, I-have-all-the-adventure-solved-before-landing Doctor from the NAs. The Time and the Rani Doctor was MUCH MORE fun...

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