Rise of the Raj!

Big Finish Folly, Part 106b – Planet of the Rani, by Marc Platt

Planet of the RaniNever one to knowingly read his own mail, the Doctor isn’t aware that old foe The Rani is – after a century in prison – up for parole. His presence is required at the penitentiary on Teccaurora. But when the Doctor and Mrs Clarke arrive onsite, they quickly realise that The Rani has been waiting for them. For decades. She wants to return to her experiments on Miasimia Goria – and she wants to use the Doctor’s mind to fuel her return… Miasimia Goria will never be the same again…

Siobhan Redmond’s incarnation of The Rani is a much more subtle creation than Kate O’Mara’s wonderfully over-the-top TV role. Her character simmers with considered malice, the sort of person who would actually consider all the implications of removing someone’s limbs one at a time – and then do it anyway, recording observations as she progressed. The Master is evil, the Monk is chaos, but The Rani is an absolutely amoral depiction of scientific rigour.

Marc Platt’s script makes it clear very quickly that putting The Rani in prison is a surefire recipe for disaster. She knows how to subvert and control institutions, as should have been obvious from last year’s The Rani Elite, so she was never going to be behind bars for very long. What’s quite audacious is the way that this strand of the plot is set up, played with, and then punted into touch at the end of the first episode. Wire up 600 inmates to provide a single-use time-space portal for the Rani, killing all of them in the process? Yep. Is she bovvered? Nope. The Doctor is forced to leave Teccaurora as a sort of mass grave, there’s no time to explore this mass murder, as The Rani must be stopped before the 600 become just the tip of the iceberg…

The entire cast, therefore, has a lot to live up to – a plot that can casually shrug aside the deaths of so many needs some very strong actors. Fortunately, Colin Baker and Siobhan Redmond have some very good support in this story, quite aside from Miranda Raison’s Mrs Clarke – James Joyce, Olivia Poulet and Tim Bentinck are all excellent, stretching the drama and pushing the conflict between the characters. James Joyce in particular stands out as Raj Kahnu, The Rani’s last discarded experiment before she had to leave Miasimia Goria last time. Regally unhinged and as scientifically driven as his “mother”, he reminds me a lot of Prince Kylo from the Drashani Empire trilogy (The Acheron Pulse, The Burning Prince).

Along with the clockwork roaches that Raj Kahnu has created as his personal guard force, there’s some really imaginative world-building going on here. Miasimia Goria is depicted as a planetwide experiment that got left in limbo when The Rani left, the cities and stone forests cold and abandoned – and yet full of slumbering citizens, waiting to be awoken. It’s a sort of twisted fairy tale, with definite and deliberate Indian flavours and it works well in contrast to The Rani’s more coldhearted and analytical plotting.

Meanwhile, the development of Mrs Clarke seems to be taking some interesting turns. Here’s a companion who isn’t afraid to take on the bad guys from a position of apparent weakness; someone who isn’t afraid to use a gun, against the Doctor’s dislikes; who is taking it all in while remaining focused on her own end objectives. The Doctor may have bitten off more than he can chew with this companion.

If there’s an off-note, it’s that I didn’t enjoy the “oh, let her go…” trial scene at all. But that open ending gives both The Rani and Raj Kahnu scope to return to the range at some point in the future, and you can bet your 12-release subscription that they’ll come back sooner rather than later…
****½

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