Monday, 17 June 2013

The Masque Of Mandragora (Part One)

Originally Broadcast 4th September 1976

Written by: Louis Marks

In a nutshell: The Doctor and Sarah unwittingly take the deadly Mandragora Helix to 15th Century Earth.

Review: I love getting to look around the inside of the TARDIS and we get to in the opening of this episode. We see the boot cupboard, a source of endless jokes from fans, and we visit the second control room. Or the first. There’s a third Doctor frilly shirt and jacket and Sarah plays a recorder, presumably the second Doctor’s. In fact, the opening couple of minutes is very strong and could be used as an introduction to people who are only familiar with new Who, the scene is a clear example of this being the same show.

This is Sarah Jane Smith’s penultimate story as a regular and I think after she departs is when Tom’s Doctor starts getting a little too big as his ego begins to grow. Here, however, he’s using the right humour at the right times without going over the top. There’s also a really strong and friendly bond between Doctor and companion. I think Sarah and the Doctor have a much better relationship than any of the other fourth Doctor companions because they have a real friendship. There’s no sense that Sarah is lesser than the Doctor and there’s no competition as there is with the Romanas. The two are fun and it’s no surprise this is one of the most fondly remembered teams in the show.

We turn to 15th Century Italy with some surprisingly strong imagery of people being cut down and fires started. The problem with this is the lighting, which takes the edge off the danger, although giving the nature of the show we’re watching, perhaps that’s a good thing? We’re given a few minutes with the regular guest stars before the TARDIS arrives. It’s needed, but isn’t exactly interesting. When I’m watching a lot of the Tom Baker episodes of the show, I just want to see him onscreen, he’s that powerful and show stealing, especially when our guest stars have to talk with a bit of Shakespeare-like ye olde language.

The second control room. Or was it the first?
It’s great that the Doctor is responsible for the alien threat in this episode. The Mandragora Helix has reached Earth via a one-way trip in the TARDIS. There’s a wonderfully guilty look on the Doctor’s face after our river-man extra is killed. This story is being flipped with the one containing our new guest stars to give us more of Gareth Armstrong’s Giuliano, who loves to speak in exposition. His storyline is clearly inspired by Hamlet; his father dying yet nobody knows how, his uncle now in charge. Something’s rotten in the state of the production office.

The Doctor has a few moments to shine in this episode. What’s great is the Doctor is odd. He does things that come across as funny yet it’s just the Doctor acting normally (for him). Examples like putting his orange on the end of a sword that’s pointed at him, telling Federico he simply comes from “around” and smiling zanily at new people. This episode is a great and very strong opening, the only disappointment comes from a large lack of Sarah getting to do anything except be captured (already). If we get more of the same of everything else plus screen time for Lis Sladen then I don’t see how this story can possibly be a bad one.

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