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21 October 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 659: The Mark of the Rani, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Mark of the Rani is, for me, another one of those 'fact' stories. What I mean is that I can rattle off plenty of information about it - it's the first Pip n' Jane story, the first appearance of the Rani, the Master's first face off against the Sixth Doctor - but I couldn't have told you just how good it is! I'm watching today's episode on a coach, making my way across the country, to visit family. I was praying that it might be an interesting enough instalment of Doctor Who to help break up the monotony… and is it ever! I've loved it!

The thing which is appealing to me the most here is the direction. It's genuinely some of the best we've ever had in the programme (it's better than The Caves of Androzani, which is the one every bangs on about direction-wise in this era, though for different reasons), and I'm gutted to know that this story represents Sarah Helling's only work on the programme, because she's got a talent that really could help improve the stock of the series.

I think it's partly helped by the fact that so much of today's episode takes place out on location (is this one of the highest film-to-videotape ratios that we've ever had?), and regular readers of the 50 Year Diary will be well aware of my feelings towards film in Doctor Who. There's lots of shots that look simply gorgeous here - beautifully framed - and I'm a little bit stunned by them. I've seen The Mark of the Rani before, but couldn't remember it being this visually gorgeous! I'm just hoping now that I won't have to pay the price tomorrow, and spend most of the episode trapped inside on video…

I've already made brief mention of the fact that this is the first appearance of the Rani in the programme. She's built up something of a reputation over the years for being a bit of a rubbish character, but I have to confess that I'm rather fond of her. I think it helps that this is the serial in which she's given less over-the-top eccentricities, and her plan is half-way decent, too. She's not here trying to impersonate the Doctor's companion, or trap him in a time loop on Albert Square, but rather because she's got her own experiments to work on.

I'm less thrilled to see the Master turning up, and surely this is the most ridiculous disguise that he ever wears? There's something quite creepy about the way the scarecrow's head moves as he watched the Doctor and Peri depart, but then when he takes off the costume (in one of the few poor areas of direction, sadly), there seems to have been no reason for the disguise at all. I can just about buy that he's ended up in the same place and time as the Rani, because he claims to have followed her here, but he seems to have been standing in the field just for something to do on a Tuesdays afternoon!

That said, when he's paired up with the Rani, I can't help but really love it. The way the pair spark off each other is hilarious, and you can't fault the Rani's description of the Master's schemes - ' It'll be something devious and over-complicated. He'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.' The one area which does feel a bit out of place is that they seem to all subscribe to the Gallifreyan Academy's alumni newsletter. The Rani is well aware that the Master's last plan went wrong for him and seemed to finish him off, and they both know on sight exactly what this new Doctor looks like! It must be terribly awkward for him - every time he turns up to a reunion, he's got a different companion in tow, the old dog!

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