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An underrated if bizarre period piece,
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This review is from: Doctor Who - The Mark of the Rani [DVD]  (DVD)
I have a great if somewhat irrational fondness for Pip and Jane Baker's "The Mark of the Rani", probably arising from its incredibly evocative setting within an early Victorian mining village, created with extensive location filming in and around the Blists Hill Open Air Museum near Ironbridge, Shropshire. The village of Killingworth is organic, dirty and probably the most convincing period setting the show has ever created. Overall the story, including its interior sets, gives the appearance of having high production values (and features an evocative score).
The plot, of course, is a bit of a mess, overburdened with rogue Time Lords. The Rani (Kate O'Mara) is a great creation: amoral rather than immoral, seeking only to accomplish her own objectives and regarding human beings with nothing more than the nonchalance of a scientist exploiting a lesser species rather than any particular malevolence, using the Luddite rebellion as cover for her own experiments, which are turning ordinary people violent. The Master (Anthony Ainley), however, is quite the opposite, turning up at the same time and place for no particular reason (back from the dead with no explanation, I might add), chuckling evilly to himself and apparently deciding that Killingworth is the perfect base from which to entrap and destroy the Doctor, before embarking on a mission to hijack the development of the human race's industry to serve his own ends, apparently giving him the key to ultimate power. It's an irrational set-up, for sure, but essentially one has to shrug and accept this fact and get on with enjoying the story, which, aside from its lack of logic, is quite fun.
The fractious relationship between the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion Peri (Nicola Bryant), so often cited by fans as a reason to dislike the series' twenty-second season, has calmed down somewhat by this stage and the Doctor and Peri genuinely seem to care about one another beneath the bickering. In a season often further criticised for its violent content, the Doctor also gets a welcome chance to underline his essential abhorrence of violence on more than one occasion. It's a good outing for the Doctor and Peri, and the supporting characters from the village are likeable, too. The cliff-hanger between parts one and two is a little goofy, but is an impressive piece of stunt work none the less.
"The Mark of the Rani" was a rushed DVD release, but still comes with an excellent array of special features, including an illuminating commentary by actors Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Kate O'Mara, a comprehensive making-of documentary, a "Now and Then" featurette showing the Blists Hill Museum as it is today, and some interesting bits and bobs from the archives. A strong release of a somewhat underrated story.