Kate O’Mara: An Appreciation

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Guest contributor Francis Milan pays tribute to the late Rani actress.

the rani

There’s no argument about how much of a brilliant and awe-inspiring role Kate O’Mara had to play in Doctor Who in the late 1980s. She’s the esteemed actress who graced our screens as the Rani, one of the fandom’s all-time favourite antagonists, who transformed a fairly rusty pair of serials into two wonderful pieces of Who history.

First materialising onto our screens in 1985 for the famously okay-ish The Mark of the Rani, O’Mara captivated audiences with her inimitable zeal and watchability, performing alongside the Master as portrayed by Anthony Ainley. They made for a fantastic pairing, which emphasised how quickly Kate managed to acclimatise to the role. It was an important part to play; the Doctor, the Master and the Rani were familiar with each other since their youth, before taking completely different paths upon leaving Gallifrey. O’Mara was perfectly cast, completing the Time Lord trio with style.

Moving on to 1987, the Rani came back for the opening episode of the Seventh Doctor’s era. Here, Kate was really in her element, and served us her finest outing as the iconic villainess. For the majority of the first episode, the Rani cunningly disguised herself as the Seventh Doctor’s bubbly loudmouth companion Mel. This resulted in some truly commendable acting from Kate, as she switched between the vivacious Mel façade and her cold, shrewd Time Lord persona. In fact, she even surpassed the quality of Sylvester McCoy’s début performance, bringing refreshing vigour to the notoriously below-par Time and the Rani script.

Behind the scenes, Kate’s love for Doctor Who was especially apparent. In 1986, having recently played a lead role in popular US soap opera Dynasty, she was struck with a decision to make – stay in sunny California to perform among American superstars, or return to a wet and muddy quarry to film the new series of Doctor Who. And lo and behold, she returned to Britain, choosing to reprise her role as the Rani on Doctor Who. It really says a lot about how much she adored the show, doesn’t it?

Following her two major Doctor Who appearances, she would reprise her role twice more: once in 1993 charity special Dimensions In Time, and again in 2000 for audio adventure The Rani Reaps the Whirlwind. On top of that, she’s been no stranger to the show in recent years, meeting fans at conventions and enthusing about fond memories of the often divisive serials she appeared in, and she was such a lovely person for every fan who had the good fortune to meet her.

We may all jest from time to time about wishing the Rani to return – though her characterisation lacks somewhat in the writing department, Kate’s performance more than compensates for it. At heart, thousands upon thousands of Doctor Who fans really would have long to have seen more of her. And following Kate’s marvellous portrayal – is it any wonder why?

In loving memory of Kate O’Mara (10 August 1939 – 30 March 2014). Gone, but most definitely never forgotten.