The strange finger of coincidence visits our blog again. We just saw Kate O’Mara in a Doctor Who story filmed in 1984 a couple of days ago, and here she is in a Champions filmed in 1967. Although I was also telling Marie about how the actress had picked up a reputation of glamour and glitz in the late seventies and eighties – look, I don’t know whether it was earned or not, I’ve never seen Triangle – and here she’s playing the incredibly unglamourous role of a desperate drug addict.
The real selling point for this adventure is all the location filming in London. Sure, there’s some stock footage and Elstree backlot stuff too, but lots of material shot in city parks, major streets, inside a big department store, and the London Zoo at Regent’s Park. The story’s an entertaining one about our heroes busting some drug smugglers, but it’s also a wonderful time capsule of the city in the swinging sixties.
It’s somewhere in the second episode of this story that it really starts to feel like everybody working on this show is enjoying themselves a whole heck of a lot. Well, other than the script editor, who seems to have completely lost both heart and interest, anyway. But it’s really looking and feeling more like a bunch of television veterans and luvvies having a big showbiz party while making some run-of-the-mill, unthreatening, unchallenging television. Not one person involved with writing this script paid the slightest attention to the rule of showing and not telling. There are something like seven occasions where either the Doctor or the Master tells the viewers just how brilliant and amazing the Rani is, when the Rani steadfastly fails to actually accomplish anything brilliant or amazing. It feels like the writers are patting themselves on the back for creating a new returning character before she’s actually done anything to make her worth a return visit.
The Rani remains a massive missed opportunity who’s caught the imagination of thousands of fans, partly because she’s so unlike the Master and isn’t a revenge-crazed megalomaniac, and partly because she’s played by Kate O’Mara, who everybody loves. She was largely unknown in America in the mid-eighties, with only the flame-keepers of Hammer horror fandom really knowing who she was here, but her profile was so high in the UK that she was the obvious choice to come to Los Angeles for a year and play Joan Collins’s character’s scheming sister Caress on Dynasty for most of 1986. I hadn’t even seen “The Mark of the Rani” yet, but I’d read in Doctor Who Magazine that the new Who villain was on Dynasty, so I started watching the show for the only time, which was just about my only experience with prime-time soaps. (There was some time spent later obsessing over Knots Landing on account of some fool girl, but that’s another story.)
I’d like to think that the end of this television adventure isn’t actually the end of the Doctor’s time in 1810ish. Our heroes leave and the credits roll, but I choose to believe that they actually pop over to Redfern Dell and clean up all of the Rani’s silly mines that turn people into trees, and then return to hang out at the conference with Brunel, Stephenson, Faraday, and Davy, and to actually report the sad news that the good-looking character with the unbelievably anachronistic haircut had been killed. And with that paragraph, I can confidently say that I’ve spent more time thinking about the consequences of this story than the people who wrote it.
That’s four turkeys in a row. We are really due for something memorable and wonderful.
Photo credit: Radio Times
The nicest thing to say about tonight’s adventure is that it’s the only Doctor Who story directed by Sarah Hellings, and it’s an incredible shame that she never worked on the show again. The story was mostly filmed around two of the “living history” museums operated by the Ironbridge Gorge, and it looks completely fabulous. It’s a pity she wasn’t given a better script.
The second nicest thing to say about tonight’s adventure is that, like the previous one, it introduces a promising new villain badly in need of a better story. The Rani is an unethical, exiled-from-Gallifrey Time Lord scientist who is played by the awesome Kate O’Mara. It’s also a pity she wasn’t given a better script.
Anyway, “The Mark of the Rani” is also the first contribution to Doctor Who by the writers Pip and Jane Baker, and the nicest thing that I have to say about their work is that part one of this adventure is as close to entertaining as they ever get on the show. It’s a bland, boring hour with a guest appearance by Terence Alexander and the return of Anthony Ainley as the Master, who actually kills a dog this time out, just to remind you there’s no depths to which this criminal won’t sink. Our son said the only thing he liked about this story was the cliffhanger, in which the Doctor is strapped to a runaway cart. Hellings and her team truly did make the climax look great. Wonder how the Doctor will get out of this mess!
I’ve picked up on a cute similarity between “Stay Tuned” and an earlier Avengers episode written by Tony Williamson, “Killer.” Both stories are completely perfect for younger viewers who haven’t been exposed to all this spy business for decades, and both of them feature really good, quick-thinking villains who improvise and change direction when needed. This won’t tax adult viewers very much – Steed has obviously been kidnapped and made into a “Manchurian candidate” and we’re even given the kill-word very, very early on – but our son was completely riveted and worked hard to figure out the mystery.
Even though this won’t tax grownups, particularly the jaded ones, it’s still a really entertaining story just because of how well it’s done, plus there’s the inclusion of some memorable guest stars, and there’s a sadly too-brief expansion to the world of Steed’s department. With Mother temporarily away, Steed reports to a blind woman called Father. She’s only in this one episode for about five minutes, but the character, played by Iris Russell, was also used in the ill-fated Avengers film of the late nineties, where she was played by Fiona Shaw as though she had been a major presence in the TV show.
As for the other guests, there’s Howard Marion-Crawford, in one of his last roles, as another agent from Steed and Tara’s department. It’s a throwaway part for a great actor, and he died less than a year after making this. But it’s best remembered by genre fans – huh, that term again – as featuring two future Doctor Who recurring villains, Roger Delgado and Kate O’Mara, as two of the baddies. Sadly, as nice as it would have been to have the Master and the Rani share a scene together, they don’t get the chance. Weirdly, just a few years later, Kate O’Mara would appear in another production with a Master-of-the-future, Anthony Ainley. They’re both in the BBC’s 1972 adaptation of Clouds of Witness… and they don’t share a scene together, either!