Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Masque Of Mandragora (Part Four)


Originally Broadcast 25th September 1976

Written by: Louis Marks

In a nutshell: The Doctor has less than one day to stop the deadly force of the Mandragora Helix.

Review: Can I just have a moment before we start…Count Federico’s dead! Finally! He’s been pushing his luck since the first episode and he’s slowly been getting more irritating and now I don’t have to see him anymore! Although the role was played brilliantly by Jon Laurimore for me to dislike him so much.

It suddenly feels like we’re winding down. Federico has been killed, Giuliano is back in power and people seem happy. But then the Doctor has to tell us all our characters are still in terrible trouble, the Mandragora Helix still needs to be stopped. There’s a scene in The Family Of Blood when the Doctor is asked if he didn’t visit that place “on a whim” whether anyone would have died and it’s a strong scene. The same thing has happened here. This is all the Doctor’s fault.

The Doctor spends some time looking through a telescope and I can’t fathom why. It makes me start feeling a little bored, just as Sarah is, who saves the scene really by acting like the audience. Luckily the Doctor gets what he is looking for and decides to tell us a big old load of plot which really helps. We finally know how deadly the Mandragora is without a simple line about being able to kill from the Doctor. I love Sarah’s line “The more dangerous things are, the worse your jokes get”. The pair really know each other and it neatly gives the audience a whole new scale of worry to focus on.

The Doctor jokes around before entering the lions den...
I’ve been thinking this since episode one but haven’t said anything so I’m just going to throw it out there. Who thinks Giuliano and Marco are gay? They just seem very close together and there’s never any interest in the girls around them. Answers on a postcard, please.

Meanwhile, we’ve finally got the scene I wanted: a showdown between the Doctor and Hieronymous and it’s just what I wanted. Sadly there’s a horrible interruption which isn’t helped by the jarring change of tone in music at the end of the scene when we get to the oldest trick in the book of someone in fancy dress being mistaken for someone else.

Louis Marks has a good way of building up the danger to breaking point. We’ve been told how bad things will get and then suddenly the Doctor is nowhere to be seen and the end of the world is about to begin. There seems to be no way out but then everything happily falls into its rightful place. It is a very quick denouement and it’s almost over before it begins. But then we’re told Mandragora will try again at the end of the 20th Century. Now that was an interesting century.

I think overall this story is fun and completely carried by Tom Baker and Lis Sladen but the problem was not a lot happened and when something did it was over very quickly but somehow I’ve emerged from the story with some love for it. It looks fantastic (set design, location and costumes) and the acting is all on top form. There’s little to hate but also little that happens.

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