One of the most memorable enemies in television series Doctor Who during the 1980s was the Rani - a female Time Lord1 who is the Doctor's equal. She uniquely manages to defeat three different Doctors2, is more than a match for the Master and kidnaps Romana, despite only appearing in two proper Doctor Who stories and a non-canonical charity spin-off.
The Rani was created by husband and wife writing team Pip and Jane Baker, and was memorably played by Kate O'Mara (1939-2014). The Rani is the ruler of the planet of Miasimia Goria, however this world is never seen in the series. Both ruthless and glamorous, she considers morality, sanctity of life and the rights of others irrelevant. Only the completion of her scientific experiments matters, regardless of their impact or effect on others. She describes her views by stating,
Am I expected to abandon my research because of the side effects on inferior species? Are you prepared to abandon walking, in case you squash an insect underfoot?
When interviewed by Doctor Who Magazine, Pip Baker described her creation with the words,
[Producer John Nathan-Turner]... wanted an errant Time Lord other than the Master who he thought was a pantomime villain. We came up with this woman, the Rani. It occurred to us that if we made the Rani a neurochemist and if she regarded humans as a lower species, rather like laboratory rats, it was more sinister than somebody who wanted to dominate the universe.
The character was not written specifically for Kate O'Mara, an actress who had previously appeared in Hammer horror films, television series The Brothers alongside Colin Baker, and soap Triangle. Following her casting as the Rani, she starred in Hollywood soap Dynasty. Despite having hit the big time, she was happy to return to Doctor Who's quarries3 to replay the character. Jane Baker described Kate O'Mara's casting in the role by saying,
We felt strongly that she had to be a worthy adversary for the Doctor, otherwise it wouldn't work. She had to be able to challenge him… John said, 'Right… What do you think of Kate O'Mara?' and we both said 'Absolutely spot on!' and from that moment onwards it was never anybody but Kate... We liked her enormously. We thought she was absolutely right as the character we'd created, which doesn't always happen with casting.
The Rani was at university with the Doctor, but was exiled from Gallifrey by the Time Lords after an experiment on mice went out of control. This experiment resulted in the Lord President's cat being eaten and the Lord President himself being injured. Some time after, she began to rule her own planet, Miasimia Goria, but this was not beneficial to the locals. She altered the metabolism of the natives in an attempt to heighten their awareness, but this prevented them from sleeping, resulting in complete mayhem.
Like 'Master' and 'Doctor', 'Rani' is a title. Rani is a Hindi word that translates as 'Queen', reflecting that she is the ruler of an entire world.
When the show was relaunched in 2005, the Doctor believed himself to be the last of the Time Lords. He subsequently came across the Master again, but has not yet re-encountered the Rani. She is one of the few recurring villains who has not yet appeared in the 21st Century.
Here is a description of the three televised Doctor Who stories that feature the Rani.
'The Mark of the Rani' (1985)
Having disguised herself as the old crone that runs a bath house in an early 19th-Century industrial town4, the Rani is minding her own business performing experiments on humans. Designed to harvest a chemical only found in human brains, these leave a mark on the necks of the victims and inadvertently make the victims aggressive. Knowing about this side effect, she has deliberately come to a violent period in history, using the uprisings against the Industrial Revolution as a cover for her actions.
The Master turns up unexpectedly, despite having definitely died at the end of 'Planet of Fire'. He now not only likes to masquerade as a scarecrow but also wishes to take advantage of a gathering of many of the greatest minds in 19th-Century Britain as the first step in ruling the universe. He diverts the Sixth Doctor's TARDIS, bringing him to the town, and later arranges for the TARDIS to be dropped down a mineshaft.
The Rani finds both the Master and Doctor's presence an irritating interruption of her work, telling the Master You and the Doctor are a well-matched pair of pests, you bring nothing but trouble and with you on the scene I might be wiser to cut my losses and go, yet she enjoys verbally sparring with them both.
This was two 45-minute episodes written by Pip and Jane Baker, directed by Sarah Hellings. The novelisation was also by Pip and Jane Baker. When released on DVD, the story contained a commentary by Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Kate O'Mara, who played the Doctor, his companion Peri and the Rani respectively.
'Time and the Rani' (1987)
I have the Loyhargil! Nothing can stop me now!
- The Rani, shortly before being stopped.
The Rani has concocted a foolproof plan that is simplicity itself. All she has to do is go to the planet Lakertya with a small army of bat-like Tetraps5 to force the inhabitants to build her a rocket base equipped with a laboratory. From there she can kidnap geniuses from Earth's history in order to create a gigantic artificial brain which will be able to deduce how to synthesise a material known as Loyhargil6, which has the same property as Strange Matter. For this bit she requires some help, so obviously she will need to hijack the TARDIS, force the Doctor to regenerate somehow or other in order to take advantage of the Doctor's post-regeneration trauma and artificially-induced amnesia, disguise herself as Mel and convince him that it was all his idea. If the Doctor or another Time Lord is used to create the giant brain, it will then be given knowledge of how to control time. This achieved, she can then fire a rocket containing loyhargil to explode when it comes into contact with a strange matter asteroid due to pass Lakertya during its solstice. In her words, ...the explosion [will cause] helium-2 [to] fuse with the upper zones of the Lakertyan atmosphere, forming a shell of chronons… In the same millisecond as the chronon shell is being formed, the hot-house effect of the gamma rays will cause the primate cortex of the brain to go into chain reaction, multiplying until the gap between shell and planet is filled. This means that the whole planet will become a giant brain that can serve as a time manipulator, with the power to control creation. Other than minor details, such as laying some bubble traps, convincing the hedonistic inhabitants of the planet that a deadly hive of insects is in fact a decorative glitter ball, and finding out what shop Mel buys her clothes from, it couldn't be easier.
Curiously, despite the straightforward plot as described above, this story is consistently considered to be one of the worst Doctor Who adventures ever. In 2009 it was voted in 198th place out of 200, and in 2014 it was 239th out of 241. Why does the Rani particularly want to go to all that bother to get a planet-sized brain? Does she want a pet that she doesn't have to take for walks? Is she wanting to keep up with the Paranoid Androids and have a brain the size of a planet of her own? Or is she just rather fond of brains, as is shown by her always wanting to experiment on them?
This story is often criticised for its long-winded plot, dire dialogue (absence makes the nose grow longer) and undramatic melodrama - but never for Kate O'Mara's performance. Staying exactly the right shade of camp, she delights when dressed as Mel and makes even the silliest lines instantly memorable.
Leave the girl, it's the man I want!
This story consisted of four 25-minute episodes, written by Pip and Jane Baker (who also wrote the novelisation) and directed by Andrew Morgan. It was Sylvester McCoy's introductory story as the Seventh Doctor.
Dimensions in Time (1993)
The Rani traps the Doctor7 and many of his assistants8 in Albert Square in the London East End, which frequently switches between 1973, 1993 and 2013. The Doctor describes this with the words, 'I'm being pulled backwards through time and my companions are being drawn back with me... The inrush of time zones is designed to seal us all together.'
The Rani wants to distract the Doctor while she captures a human, as then she will have the genetic code and brain prints of every living creature in the entire cosmos. She will then be able to use the Greenwich Meridian to rule the Earth and control evolution. Why she hasn't captured a human on any of her previous trips to Earth is never explained, nor is why she creates an elaborate time trap rather than simply popping to a part or time of the planet that the Doctor isn't visiting.
This story also inexplicably features characters from television soap EastEnders. This can be seen as a canonical paradox – in the Doctor Who 'Whoniverse' EastEnders is a work of fiction, as the Doctor later watches an episode in 'Army of Ghosts'. Similarly at least one character in EastEnders has been a dedicated Doctor Who fan. Neither of the EastEnders characters that appear in the sequences set in 2013, Pauline Fowler and Kathy Beale, were actually still in the show in 2013. One thing we learn in the programme about the far future of 2013 is that using all-over sunblock is apparently now a legal requirement.
Dimensions in Time consisted of two 3-D episodes, Part One approximately 7½ minutes, Part Two 5½ minutes, broadcast soon after Doctor Who's 30th Anniversary as an attempt to raise money for Children in Need. Viewers were encouraged to purchase Children in Need themed glasses with red and green lenses, although it could be enjoyed without these. It was written by John Nathan-Turner and David Roden and directed by Stuart McDonald. Not normally considered to be official Doctor Who canon, the novel First Frontier has a line where the Doctor says it was all a dream.
Producer John Nathan-Taylor had intended for the Rani to appear again the year after 'The Mark of the Rani', however when Michael Grade became Controller of BBC1, he put Doctor Who in hiatus for a year and this proposed story was dropped.
The character of the Rani has also appeared in other adventures besides these televised ones.
Kate O'Mara played the Rani in the CD audio drama The Rani Reaps the Whirlwind (2000) in which the Doctor does not appear. This story was written by Pip and Janes Baker for authorised company BBV as a sequel to Time and the Rani.
In late 2013/early 2014 Kate O'Mara's agent approached Big Finish, a company that makes licensed Doctor Who audio dramas, about the possibility of making another audio drama as the Rani. Sadly she died shortly before this was recorded. Shortly after her death her agent informed Big Finish that Kate had hoped that the Rani, being a Time Lord, would regenerate and continue to threaten the Doctor. The Rani will be played by Siobhan Redmond in this drama, opposite Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as the Sixth Doctor and Peri. Entitled The Rani Elite and written by Justin Richards, it is due to be released in December 2014.
The Rani also appears in Doctor Who novels. In addition to the novelisations of the television adventures, she perhaps most notably appeared in State of Change by Christopher Bulis. Another novel that features her, though only briefly, is Gary Russell's Divided Loyalties.
The Rani has various ways of spending her spare time when not busy ruling her own planet. She is perhaps fondest of conducting experiments on sentient lifeforms. She removed a chemical fluid from human brains, the absence of which prevents the mind from resting and causes aggression.
Unlike the Master, who is an immoral villain, the Rani is amoral. She believes there is no difference between experimenting on sentient life and raising livestock to be eaten. Her willingness to experiment on members of her own species shows that she has no conscience. One of her hobbies is, in her own words, 'pickle [Time Lords] in time like gherkins in a jar'. According to the Fourth Doctor, she even hates children.
Kate O'Mara described her with the words,
The great thing about the Rani, the character the Rani, is that she has absolutely no morals whatsoever and she's completely free in her emotions because she has nothing to restrain her, she's just at the mercy of her own ambition.
Like most other renegade Time Lords, including the Master, Meddling Monk and War Chief, she is obsessed with the history of the planet Earth, specialising in human engineers and scientists. Her first appearance in the series coincides with a historic meeting of Earth's greatest Victorians, including Faraday, Brunel, Davy, Telford and George Stephenson. She later began kidnapping Earth's greatest scientific minds, including Hypatia of Alexandria, Pasteur and Einstein. She reveals that she's 'been coming to this wretched planet for centuries', including during the Cretaceous, Trojan Wars, Dark Ages, American War of Independence as well as the Industrial Revolution.
The Rani is also fond of dressing up, with the Doctor commenting that disguise was one of her talents. She is notably seen looking like an old working-class crone and even like Mel. Her talents also run to making holograms. These are convincing enough to even fool the Doctor.
Managing a Menagerie
The Rani likes collecting specimens of different creatures in order to make a menagerie. Her collection includes Tyrannosaurus rex embryos, a Cyberman, an Ogron, a Sea Devil, and even a fellow Time Lord. In fact, she has amassed the genetic code and brain prints of every living creature in the entire cosmos, keeping many of her specimens contained within her TARDIS. That she is able to collect examples of the universe's most fearsome creatures throughout history proves that she is a formidable opponent.
Mine all Mine
One of the Rani's most creative hobbies is the creation of elaborate booby traps and landmines. Never content with mere 'Keep Out' signs, barbed-wire fences or laser cannons to keep away the unsuspecting from her laboratories, she finds far more exciting ways to prosecute trespassers. In 'The Mark of the Rani' she conceals a mustard gas trap in a painting of a volcano and has landmines that turn those who step upon them into trees.
By 'Time and the Rani' she has developed bubble traps. These spectacular devices, quite possibly the most exciting thing in the story seen in fantastic effects sequences, not only imprison, but also spin and hurtle the occupant who inadvertently steps upon them against the face of a cliff before exploding in a shower of sparks. Sadly one completely fails to kill off Mel.
Perhaps her most elaborate trap is seen in 'Dimensions in Time', in which the Doctor and his companions are imprisoned in an episode of EastEnders.
How does she view her fellow Time Lords, and what do they think of her? She describes the Master with the words,
What's he up to now? It'll be something devious and overcomplicated. He'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.
The Sixth Doctor describes her as a brilliant tactician as well as a brilliant chemist. The Seventh tells her, Your past is littered with the mutilated results of your unethical experiments.. He wishes, if only the Rani could have redirected her incredible talents for good.
The Rani's TARDIS
When first seen, the Rani's TARDIS appears as a wardrobe, with strips either side of the entrance that illuminate during dematerialisation. The interior is slate grey in colour. The central console is black with silver controls, with a circular theme not only present in the controls but also the circular nature of the console itself, decorated with silver spheres. In the very centre, the time rotor consists of interlocked rotating and gyrating gyroscopic hoops. Her TARDIS can be remotely piloted by a Stattenheim remote control, but it can be accessed with the Doctor's TARDIS key9.
When next seen it is disguised as a shining, reflective pyramid, with pyramid patterns continuing inside. On its last appearance in Dimensions in Time internally it looks very similar to the Doctor's TARDIS, complete with identical roundels in the wall.
A Rani by Any Other Name
The Rani should not be confused with the character of Rani Chandra, as seen in Doctor Who spin-off series The Sarah-Jane Adventures. With the Doctor over a thousand years old with all of time and space to travel in, sooner or later he was bound to come across two people with the same name.