Monday, 2 November 2009

Doctor Who: The Mark of the Rani

Part One

“Well, you’ve certainly never done a day’s labour in your life. And I suppose it’s just possible you might even be a gentleman.”

It’s the early nineteenth century, and there’s trouble at t’mill. We start with some location filming outside a coal mine, and some Geordie accents that sound pretty much convincing to this East Midlander, not something I’ll be able to say throughout. But something strange is happening, with a gas in the bathhouse…

The Doctor and Peri leave the TARDIS with what might be considered unseemly haste for this season, observed by a scarecrow which moves as soon as they look away. They’re soon involved in an altercation with some “Luddites”, arriving at the mine to report what has happened. Here the Doctor hears the name of George Stephenson- it’s a celebrity historical!

The quality of the Geordie accent slips a considerable amount when the old crone starts speaking, but, getting ahead of ourselves a bit, is this Kate O’Mara not being able to do a Geordie accent or Kate O’Mara playing the Rani as not being able to do a Geordie accent? I like to think it’s the latter but, alas, I suspect not.

The Master turns up, and promptly manages to persuade a load of psychotic “Luddites” to attack the Doctor instead of, say, himself, and proceeds to introduce himself to the Rani in a way calculated to annoy her as much as possible. The fact that he’s somehow alive again after quite unequivocally getting killed at the end of Planet of Fire is explained by the line “I’m indestructible,” which of course is entirely satisfactory.

The Rani, meanwhile, is a rather different type of villain to the Master; more of a deeply unethical scientist than the universe conquering type, she finds the Master’s moustache twirling antics to be deeply silly. And indeed proceeds to spend the entire remainder of the story seething with irritation at his antics. Oh, and she has a plan about extracting stuff from peoples’ brains, but I shall not dwell on it as it’s deeply boring. It’s with this scene that it occurs to be that Pip and Baker can’t do decent dialogue. Yes, I laughed at “Unfortunate? Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet,” along with everyone, but bog standard Pip and Jane dialogue is barely tolerable most of the time.

They can’t do characterisation either; the Doctor and Peri are much more shouty and argumentative in this story, and don’t actually seem to like each other very much or to be having much fun travelling the universe. Which is out of character, frankly; however grim recent stories have been there’s always (barring The Twin Dilemma, and at least that has a pretext for it) been an affectionate relationship between the Doctor and Peri and an assumption that travelling the universe is at least supposed to be fun. Here that’s nowhere to be seen.
And for the first time I find Colin Baker’s performance to be a bit off, particularly in the scene where he’s been captured by the Rani. To be fair, he is given awful dialogue.

Part Two

“The tree won’t hurt you.”

Our Perils of Pauline cliffhanger is resolved in the traditional fashion, by blatantly re-editing last week’s final scenes into a situation clearly less perilous. Still, at least we get to meet George Stephenson. And his accent is atrocious. Oh dear.

So, Stephenson’s protégé Luke will “outshine” him, eh? Things are bound to turn out well for him then…
The Master and the Rani are still arguing in much the same way as they have for ages, and it becomes clear horribly early into this episode that there’s no real plot as such; no character has a plan and they’re all just reacting to each other. Consequently there’s no real sense of pace or movement and the story just drifts. This is very dull.

One good thing is the Rani’s TARDIS, mind; it’s refreshingly different from the usual template. But the Rani can control it remotely- I assume this limits its lifespan then, as we were told in The War Games!

The trees are awful, of course, both in appearance and in concept, and it’s a relief when the story ends. We finish with the Doctor explaining what he and Peri do all the time in the TARDIS; “Argue, mainly.” This pretty much shows what a simplistic grasp Pip and Jane seem to have of their characterisation.

A plotless mess with crap dialogue, no sense of pace or direction and poor characterisation. I’ll be generous and give it a 2/5 as visually it looks ok enough.

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