Doctor Who Rogues Gallery: The Rani

The Rani, played by Kate O'Mara

Just to clear things up, last week we were talking about the Master and the Doctor, and discussing how their names are unique among Time Lords, being a combination of the definitive article and a job title, one which also happens to encapsulate their relationship to other species (I’ve added this last bit, cos I think it’s what I was trying to say at the time but failed to do so).

There are other Time Lords whose names are also their career status (the Monk, the Corsair) but these are inward-looking titles, describing little about their attitude to everyone else. You can’t be a Master without a domain, or a Doctor without patients (or a War Chief without a war, which says something about the mentality of that particular Time Lord). And then there’s the Rani.

Rani is the Urdu/Hindi word for “queen,” which of course means she also needs to have a populace to rule over. The curious thing about her name is that it’s descriptive in one sense: she needs power in order to do the things she wants to do, but entirely misleading in another. The Rani (played by Kate O’Mara) is a Time Lord scientist with no scruples about who or what she experiments upon. If she’s a queen, she must be a rotten one who treats her subjects like lab rats (the Master even tells a story about her genetically engineered mice attacking him and killing the president of Gallifrey’s cat). The Vivisectionist would perhaps be a more honest name.

Here she is, enjoying an emotionless reunion with her old friend the Doctor:

Now, she may be a genius, and she may be evil, but she’s not hellbent on conquering the universe for power’s sake. So of course when we first meet her, in the middle of the Luddite riots (The Mark of the Rani), she’s hooked up with the Master, who IS hellbent on conquering etc etc.

Her motivation is different. She just wants to fiddle with the brains of humans to remove their capacity for sleep, in order to restore order to the planet of Miasimia Goria, where a similar experiment has reduced the population to violent psychosis. It is of no concern to her what this does to the population of Earth, of course. And the Master can always twist people’s weaknesses against them:

Time Lord TARDISes do tend to end up resembling their owners, don’t they? So it’s only natural that the Rani should be travelling around in laboratory with museum exhibits. Those tyrannosaurs will soon be her undoing, as is the way with all evil scientists in a morality play. And so her first adventure ends with her, the Master and one growing dino-baby, trapped in her TARDIS.

The next time the Time Twosome meet (Time and the Rani), there’s no Master, Peri has left, to be replaced by Mel, and the Rani has attacked the Doctor’s TARDIS, forcing a crash landing and a regeneration. This time, rather than mucking about with sleep glands, she’s after geniuses, so that she can use their brainial superlatives to control time itself. Presumably so that she can clone it and create mutations, or something.

As you can see, when criticised, she always has a snappy comeback about vegetarians or people who accidentally tread on beetles, in order to justify her work. As far as she is concerned, she’s not evil at all. But the reality is she’s too wrapped up in gleeful experimentation to worry about ethics in any case. And this is another point of commonality between her, the Doctor and the Master. All three Time Lords, in their own way, approach their chosen mode of being with absolute delight. The Master laughs at the chaos he creates and the power he seeks to attain, the Rani passionately strips back the wiring on reality itself, and chucks a cup of water over it to watch the sparks, and the Doctor delights in saving the day, always chasing another triumph, and often winning.

Meanwhile the rest of the Time Lords present as a dreary, hide-bound bunch, obsessed with piety and etiquette. No wonder the renegades tend to give themselves these childishly self-aggrandising names.

Mine would be the King of Skill, since you ask.

Footnote: Sadly the Rani, who had been planned as a long-running adversary, fell victim to Doctor Who’s cancellation in 1989. Her only subsequent appearance, on TV at least, was for the BBC Children In Need Doctor Who special Dimensions In Time, in 1993. But you can’t read too much into that, it’s silly:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

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