British actress Kate O’Mara passed away on March 30th at the age of 74. Because of her strikingly aristocratic good looks and air of cultivation, O’Mara was quite often cast as strong, ruthless, icy women. Her best known role is probably portraying Joan Collins’ sister on Dynasty in the mid-1980s. Now I’ve never really seen that series, outside of the odd episode,but from what little I know about it, with its hellaciously bitchy catfights, O’Mara was probably right at home on that show.
In the world of sci-fi, though, O’Mara is most famous for portraying the renegade Time Lord known as the Rani on Doctor Who. The creation of writers Pip & Jane Baker, unlike most of the Doctor’s foes, the Rani wasn’t out to conquer the world or anything like that; all she wanted was to be left in peace to conduct her scientific researches. The problem, though, was that the Rani was completely lacking in any kind of morality or empathy for other beings. She looked upon the universe as one vast laboratory, its inhabitants mere test subjects for her experiments. O’Mara played the part perfectly. She was a brilliant adversary for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, with his crusading zeal against tyranny & injustice. “The Mark of the Rani,” broadcast in 1985, is one of the strongest stories from Baker’s all-too-short tenure as the Sixth Doctor on television. I think the only real drawback to the serial is that Pip & Jane Baker were told to incorporate the Doctor’s arch-nemesis the Master into their script. The result is that O’Mara ends up spending more of her screen time engaged in petty squabbling with Anthony Ainley than she does dramatically sparring with Colin Baker.
Unfortunately the Rani’s next appearance two years later was in “Time and the Rani,” which usually ranks pretty damn low on fan polls. It’s a hastily thrown together production that literally tosses Sylvester McCoy into the role of the Seventh Doctor, giving him no time to find his feet. To be honest, it’s one of those rare examples of Doctor Who that you would probably never want to show to any non-fans, because it would leave them wondering what the hell was wrong with you for liking the series. To O’Mara’s credit, she is one of the few positive aspects of “Time and the Rani,” even if she’s forced to spend part of it masquerading as Bonnie Langford… no, just don’t ask.
O’Mara’s last televised appearance as the Rani was in 1993 in the infamous charity special “Dimensions in Time,” which was basically a case of cramming as many surviving Doctor Who actors as possible into the space of 15 minutes, filmed on a shoestring budget, while simultaneously tying in with popular British soap opera EastEnders. I’ve never actually seen “Dimensions in Time,” but its reputation precedes it.
I think is really says something about O’Mara’s abilities as an actress that even though two of the Rani’s three televised appearances are quite awful, the character nevertheless left an indelible impression on the series’ fans. Certainly it’s a regrettable that the Rani was never brought back in a better-written story, either on television or in the Big Finish audios. She did have one opportunity to reprise the role, in the audio drama The Rani Reaps the Whirlwind, released in 2000 by BBV.
Of course, Kate O’Mara’s career was certainly not limited to just Dynasty and Doctor Who. In 1970 she appeared in two of Hammer Studios’ horror films, The Horror of Frankenstein and The Vampire Lovers. In the later of those two, she famously fell under the erotic vampire seduction of Ingrid Pitt.
O’Mara was an incredibly prolific actress on British television from the mid-1960s onwards. She made three separate appearances in the Roger Moore series The Saint. In the Jason King episode “A Kiss for a Beautiful Killer,” O’Mara memorably played a fiery Latin American revolutionary who is inevitably attracted to Peter Wyngarde’s secret agent turned bon vivant novelist. In the mid-1970s O’Mara was a regular on The Brothers, portraying air freight manager Jane Maxwell, who crossed swords with corporate raider Paul Merroney, played by a young Colin Baker himself.
Among O’Mara’s most recent television roles, her most prominent was on Jennifer Saunders & Joanna Lumley’s hit comedy Absolutely Fabulous. O’Mara portrayed Patsy Stone’s even more unpleasant sister Jackie. I always thought that was absolutely brilliant casting.
It seems that, like many actors & actresses who are often cast as villains, in real life O’Mara was seemingly a pleasant individual. In an interview last October, she commented “I’m actually quite a nice person. It’s to do with the way I look, an uncompromising sort of face, brusque delivery and voice, and I think the combination of all that.” O’Mara also expressed an interest in returning to the role of the Rani. “I’m a much older woman and there’s a huge population of older people who, if they’re watching television, they can’t watch Hollyoaks. If you put a much older woman in Doctor Who, they can identify with it. I think it’s quite an interesting concept and if you remember things like Grimm’s Fairytales, the older woman is often the villainess, often the terrifying figure – why I do not know, but often she is. I think it’s an idea to be exploited.”
It is unfortunate O’Mara never had the opportunity to once again portray the iconic character she brought to life. However, she definitely leaves behind a legacy of dramatic, larger-than-life performances.