Friday, March 19, 2010
The historical stories have always been one of the staples of Doctor Who's success since the earliest days of the show, but ever since the programme moved away from the straight historicals of the 1960s, there have been a tiny handful that have successfully captured the feel, mood, and atmosphere of the period in which the story takes place. In my mind, there are only two such stories made since 1967 that have come close to achieving perfection in those qualities: The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Mark of the Rani.
Both stories were blessed with being able to film more scenes on location for a more authentic feel. Most of the Palace Theatre scenes in Talons were actually shot at a Victorian theatre, and Rani benefited from an extra week's filming at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. The results are extraordinary. The opening shots of men lifting up coal from a mine, complimented by Jonathan Gibbs's painfully beautiful music score, set the scene incredibly well. This story feels entirely different than any Who seen in some time, and it is absolutely delightful.
Writers Pip and Jane Baker, who receive a fair amount of flack from fan and script editor alike, make their penchant for overblown dialogue seem right at home in the early part of the 19th century when such language was commonplace. Their writing style suits Colin Baker's Doctor rather well, too. Baker is sublime in this. You can tell that, after a couple shaky outings, he feels he's arrived in Doctor Who, and he is at his most Doctor-ish in this episode - bragging about his genius, showing off his time tracer device like a seven-year-old waving a freshly drawn picture in front of his distracted mother's face, and verbally sparring with The Rani and, later, The Master.
Yes, The Master is back somehow, having apparently been burnt to a crisp in Planet of Fire, but magically back and intact here. Whatever. We all knew he was coming back somehow, and seeing him appear from out of his scarecrow costume here sure beats another "So, you escaped from (insert planet name here)" line. Plus, he and The Rani form a great duo. Neither are on 19th century Earth out of malice, which is nice. The Master is only after revenge against The Doctor (and, by extension, Peri). The Rani is motivated by science, and her questionable methods are borne only out of disregard as opposed to evil.
A rollicking good episode, and one that finally sees The Doctor involved in the story from an early stage.
Posted by Steven at 12:50 PM