The Doctor (actor Colin Baker) and Peri (actress Nicola Bryant) find the TARDIS drawn off course by another TARDIS and instead of Kew Gardens, appear on Earth, circa the Industrial Evolution. After rescuing a man taking equipment to the local mine from three attackers, the Doctor and Peri get a cart lift to the mine village, where his device detects a lot of energy in use. Determined to meet George Stevenson, the Doctor blags their way into mine boundary as VIP guests, especially after seeing the list of Britain’s geniuses for a meeting in two days time.
Meanwhile, a mysterious old lady is getting men leaving the mine to her bathhouse where she gases them unconscious and drains fluid from their brains before letting them loose. The Master (actor Anthony Ainley) is also in the area and sets some of the men that the old lady worked on to go and attack the Doctor. Fortunately, he is rescued by and meets the owner, Lord Ravensworth (actor Terrance Alexander) instead. The Doctor, with his usual charm and asking the right questions discovers that this change in some of the miners is a recent thing and disguises himself to join the miners who go to the bathhouse.
In the meantime, the Master has already got there and discovers that the old lady is actually the Rani (actress Kate O’Mara), an exiled Time Lady who is harvesting this sleeping fluid from the human miners, which leaves them violently hyperactive, with the intention of feeding it to an alien species she wants to maintain control of. She doesn’t like the Master any more than she does the Doctor, seeing his vendetta clouding his judgement but is coerced when he grabs her vial of fluid. The Master stalks off to find some of these men to get rid of the Doctor’s TARDIS, together with the Rani’s control maggots, which she controls her servants.
The disguised Doctor suffers the same gassing as the other miners but is the first to be secured and examined and the Rani discovers who he is and unravels what she’s up to. Feeling that he can’t do anything, the Rani goes and Peri comes to the rescue, but makes a mistake when getting him outside and his trolley ends up in the hands of the manics who promptly push him towards the mine. Fortunately, he is rescued by George Stephenson (actor Gwan Granger) this time.
Stephenson is a lot easier to convince than Ravensworth of the dangers but doesn’t realise his apprentice, Luke Ward (actor Gary Cady) has been got at and controlled by the Master and messages between the two men to stop the genius conference isn’t passed on and prevents them meeting to discover this.
The Doctor and Peri return to the Rani’s bathhouse to find it diverted and after surviving a defence attack of mustard gas, finds her TARDIS. As it is about to dematerialise, the Doctor orders Peri away and vanishes. It arrives in the mine, guided by the Rani’s remote control device, he hears their plans for him. After they left, he makes some adjustment to the Rani’s TARDIS.
Meanwhile, Peri goes to Ravenscroft and with some guidance from a botany book, locates a herb that might help the manics sleep. Together, with Luke, she goes off to the forest to collect it.
The Doctor catches up with the Master and the Rani, who has just laid a minefield, and, taking the former’s shrinking ray device, keeps them at bay. Unfortunately, too late to rescue Luke who is turned into a tree. Peri blunders into the minefield and the Doctor orders the Rani to rescue her, threatening to use the device.
With approaching manics, the Doctor gives Peri the shrinking device and tells her to take the two renegade Time Lords to the mine. He is less successful in stopping the manics who tie him to a log and carry him right into the minefield, where two of them are turned into trees and he is left over another mine. For the rest, you’ll need to watch for yourself.
In many respects, the second episode is very weak. You can see it occasionally in Anthony Ainley’s expression as he’s just waiting to do something. Having two villainous Time Lords together, even if they are at odds with each other, should have done more for playing against each other. Instead, they talk but not really to each other and it’s a missed opportunity for two good actors.
I haven’t seen the early Peri stories for sometime but this one shows her to be a clumsy whiner, which after so long with the Doctor you would have thought had been resolved by then.
The story is tied up far too quickly. The Doctor hands Ravenscroft the vial of fluid to cure the surviving manics and yet doesn’t explain how to administer the dosage to cure them all. I hope it can be drank as well as spread around.
The audio commentary is split between actors Colin Baker, Kate O’Mara and Nicola Bryant, who gets rather dominated by the other two. The original title for the story was ‘Enter, The Rani’. Although I’ve seen such titles in non-Doctor Who comicbooks, I can see a slightly more rude connotation here. Colin Baker confirms my spotting Anthony Ainley’s uneasiness with his role in this story because he is over-shadowed by the Rani and it does feel like a demotion. As they also had a free film crew for a week, this story also had a lot more outdoor footage and writers Pip and Jane Baker were continually rewriting over night to take advantage of the setting. Maybe this contributed to why I felt the second episode felt so weak.
There is a multitude of extras with this DVD. ‘Lords And Luddites’ goes behind the scenes of the story even if there is some repetition with what it said in the audio commentary. A ‘Now And Then’ compares the Blista Hill Victorian Town location between the two time periods. Better still is the ‘Blue Peter’ footage which looks at the Ironbridge Museum and the Blista Hill village showing how the iron foundry made their mark in the past. There is also an interview with composer Jonathan Gibbs about how he created the story’s music on synthesisers with one of them showing them measuring the beats.
Having said all of that, ‘The Mark Of The Rani’ still works well today and it’s a surprise that she only ever had two appearances. Just don’t accept her offer of a bath.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD 2224. 1 DVD 89 minutes 2 * 45 minute episodes with extras. Price: £ 4.80 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Kate O’Mara, Anthony Ainley, Terrance Alexander and Gwan Granger
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