Of all the Doctor Who villains, the Rani was by far the most glamorous! Played by Kate O’Mara, she caused chaos for the Doctor in two TV adventures from the 1980s.
Creating new Doctor Who villains is always a challenge, but for series newcomers Pip and Jane Baker, it’s one they rose to ably. They created the Rani for the 1985 story ‘The Mark of the Rani’ where she was introduced as an evil chemist with her sights set on a Victorian mining village.
In the adventure, she has established a phoney bathhouse business which is really a front for human experimentation as, behind closed doors, she is secretly extracting the brain chemical which induces sleep. The result is a pack of hyperactive, sleep-deprived residents who have taken to sabotaging industrial machinery – which is admittedly small-time evilness by the standards of most Doctor Who villains.
Interestingly, ‘The Mark of the Rani’ features the return of one of the other classic Doctor Who villains – the Master, played by Anthony Ainley. This certainly creates a headache for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, but from a storytelling point of view, the inclusion of the Master is fascinating as it enables the writers to compare the personalities of the two Doctor Who villains.
Whilst the Master is hellbent on wreaking havoc at all costs (and, ideally, killing the Doctor by whatever means) the Rani is much more considered and methodical in her approach. She, too, is a renegade Time Lord from Gallifrey, and yet sees herself as a scientist carrying out important research. She has a laser-like focus on her work, but no empathy; she simply sees humans as subjects for experimentation, and thinks nothing of ruining their lives or even killing them for the purposes of her research.
For instance, there is an interesting moment in ‘The Mark of the Rani’ where she sets up a woodland minefield. The explosives, when activated, turn the victims into trees, and she smugly insists that the humans will have a much better quality of life due to the increased lifespan, much to the Doctor’s horror.
And whilst there is little good that can be said about the Rani, there is no denying that she owns one of the coolest TARDISes in the Whoniverse. Indeed, ‘The Mark of the Rani’ is worth watching for the TARDIS set alone, which really is a no-expense-spared piece of design. It’s amazing to think that the Doctor Who production team went out on such a limb, especially when one remembers the show’s modest budget and the TARDIS’ secondary nature in the story (even if it does provide the means of the Doctor Who villains’ defeat at the story’s conclusion…)
But the Rani would later return for the Seventh Doctor’s debut story ‘Time and the Rani‘ in 1987, and this time she is causing trouble for the people of Lakertya. The population are effectively enslaved; some of them are at the mercy of the Rani’s killer bees, whilst others are being forced to assist with her laboratory experiments. She has also acquired an army of bat-like Tetraps to do her bidding, as well as a minefield of killer balloons and a mobile TARDIS missile launcher… thing.
And what is her grand plan this time? Well, as with all good Doctor Who villains, there is a healthy dose of time travel involved. The Rani has been capturing some of the greatest intelligences in the universe (including Albert Einstein) and wiring them into a mega-brain to fuel her time manipulator. It’s a complex scheme involving an approaching asteroid and a cloud of strange matter, but her ultimate goal is to gain mastery over time and achieve a god-like power over evolution.
Interestingly, ‘Time and the Rani’ was originally penned with the Sixth Doctor in mind, and he would have been killed in the Rani’s lab after destroying her time manipulator. Alas, for various reasons Colin Baker declined to appear, so the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration was moved to the beginning of the story, making the Rani one of the few Doctor Who villains to actually succeed in killing the Doctor – albeit by making him fall off his exercise bike. (Although, if we’re being really picky, there may have been a completely different explanation for his death. See ‘The Last Adventure‘ from Big Finish.)
And even though the Rani is captured by the Tetraps at the end of the story, there are some Doctor Who villains who just refuse to die. She was revived (and recast) by Big Finish for a number of audio adventures, this time played by the actor Siobhán Redmond.
But Kate O’Mara did make one final appearance as the Rani in 1993, joined by a whole host of Doctor Who villains and former Doctors in a controversial story called ‘Dimensions in Time.’ This adventure was written exclusively for the British charity telethon Children in Need and marked Doctor Who‘s 30th anniversary, standing in for the abandoned, straight-to-video tale ‘The Dark Dimension.’
‘Dimensions in Time’ is controversial in that no one is really sure whether it’s canon. It certainly has all the trappings of a classic Doctor Who yarn, and sees all of the surviving Doctors (and many of their companions) trying to fight the Rani’s attempts to extract them from time. But in an unusual twist, the Time Lords find themselves wandering around Albert Square and interacting with the characters from the BBC’s soap opera Eastenders, so quite what this means for the Doctor Who canon is anyone’s guess. Also, ‘Dimensions in Time’ has yet to receive a commercial release, and it’s possible that it never will.
Nonetheless, this is an ambitious scheme for one of Doctor Who‘s most glamorous villains, and features one of the Rani’s greatest ever lines of dialogue which, sadly, was omitted from the broadcast version: “Oh, Doctor… I am going to miss you so little!” she purrs.
And whilst we have seen the return of many Doctor Who villains since the series was revived in 2005, we are still waiting for another showdown with the Rani. It is not even clear whether she survived the Time War that ravaged most of the universe and trapped the remaining Time Lords in a parallel pocket universe. She did briefly make a return in a fake scene shot by Michelle Gomez in 2014 (the actor told the Doctor that she was the Rani in order to fool any eavesdropping fans!) but, otherwise, the Rani’s last official appearance was in 1987.
So is the time ripe for the return of one of our favourite Doctor Who villains? And if so, who would you cast as the Rani? Let me know in the comments below.
Shop on Amazon
- Doctor Who: Will the original Davros ever return?
- Will there always be 97 missing Doctor Who episodes?
- Looking back at the first Doctor Who companions
- New to Doctor Who? Here’s what you need to know
- Steven Moffat tops Doctor Who episodes poll