A bit of the "odd man out" in the notorious Season 22.
A kinder, gentler story in this very morbid and "noir" season. The Doctor is a bit more approachable. The storyline, simpler. And the general tone of the whole tale is considerably less dark than the other stories surrounding it. This made quite a bit of fandom happy since a lot of folks aren't happy with the direction most of Season 22 went in.
But now, here's where I differ from most of you. I loved what Season 22 did. I know I could be very alone in that sentiment, but I really enjoyed the whole anti-hero nature of the Doctor and all the strange, off-beat violence and the general sense experimentalism at work throughout the season. So, does this mean I despise "Mark of the Rani" for going against the grain?
Meh. It's an okay story.
It's got a couple of really big flaws to it that have been attacked and lambasted several million times over by fandom. The tree saving Peri, the Master offering no real explanation for surviving "Planet Of Fire" and several other moments like that. There are even some flaws to it that bothered me that didn't seem to bother anyone else. For instance, the attack on the Doctor in the first part where the three recently-converted Luddites are trying to shove him "down pit" looks horrendously fake. Watch really careful, by the way, at the bad editing. One of the Luddites falls into the pit - only to re-appear a moment later!
But none of these flaws are quite enough, in my book, to genuinely "kill" this story. They lessen its effectiveness a bit, but they don't turn it into a genuine "stinker". I do feel, however, that there is a genuine flaw to the overall "flow" of the plot that does cause it to lose some of its impact. I'll explain it in a moment. First, I'll heap on some praise where praise is due.
Pip and Jane Baker, for all their overblown dialogue, do offer an excellent first script. Based on this tale alone, I can see why they were re-commissioned as writers. And, for my money, what they did in Trial of a Time Lord was pretty good too (but that's a whole other review!).
The greatest strength to this story is how they set up the Doctor/Master/Rani dynamics. To me, the very high-handed vocabulary even suits them (they're Time Lords, they'd use big words with each other!). The banter between the three of them as they reach the cliffhanger is just a whole lot of fun to watch and is probably one of the most memorable moments of Season 22. I really like how these scenes are executed.
The biggest problem, to me, that arises is that the Master/Rani/Doctor confrontation is the high point of the story. But we still have another forty minutes or so to get through in the next part. And though there are some nice moments in the second half of Mark of the Rani, it never quite "measures up" to what we got in the first half. Thus making the whole thing a tad on the anti-climactic side. This is the greatest flaw to this story. We get all the really good stuff far too early. I suppose it couldn't be avoided in some ways. A second, drawn-out three-way confrontation between the Rani, the Doctor and the Master would've seemed too forced. Perhaps, then, it would have been better to have kept the first encounter short and then given us a bigger one later.
This doesn't mean, of course, that the second half of the story is totally bad. We still have some nice little moments. The excursion into the Rani's gorgeous TARDIS interior being highly memorable. And the Doctor almost "losing his cool" and being tempted to use the Tissue Compressor on his two rivals is also quite riveting. But, overall, most of the bang for my buck is done as the cliffhanger rolls up.
Still, the story does score some extra points by having a very different "feel" to it. As much as I enjoyed the nature of Season 22, I'm even more impressed with the fact that they stuck something so radically different in the middle of it. I also find the Master to be at his all-time creepiest in this story. All those moody shots of him just skulking about were so well-achieved. Yes, he's psychologically imbalanced and, therefore, not half the man Delgado was. But that was the whole point of the Ainley Master. He was living on borrowed time and this was having a drastic effect on his sanity. And his nuttiness is played up quite effectively in this tale. Making him genuinely scary rather than just comical. Like "Ultimate Foe", having the Master take a bit of a backseat in this tale was actually a great move for his character. He could really focus on just being sinister and nasty rather than having to propel the plot a whole lot.
So, in the final analysis, this is a fairly passable tale. Overshadowed quite a bit by some of the other offerings of Season 22, but still a nice little break from all the sombreness. Even if said sombreness is greatly enjoyed by this reviewer!