Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Masque Of Mandragora (Part Two)

Originally Broadcast 11th September 1976

Written by: Louis Marks

In a nutshell: The Doctor is fearful over the deadly power of the Mandragora Helix whilst Count Federico wants his nephew killed so he can rise to power.

Review: I love how the Doctor escapes from the latest cliffhanger, its very Tom Baker. The musical score really helps as well, building up the ante as the executioner is about to swing his sword before the music stops as the Doctor interrupts to ‘look his best’. During his escape, the Doctor ends up underground where he bumps into some worshippers of Demnos and rescues Sarah. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it: I don’t like cults in Doctor Who. It’s a bit of cheap writing, I feel, as all cults are the same just with a different thing or person being idolised. The only good thing going for this cult that stands it out from the others is the purple robe being worn by Hieronymous. I must say I’m quite surprised at how close to death Sarah gets, given that the weapon of choice is a dagger. I know this is the era of Who famed for it’s horror, but it gets a little close for my liking with a ‘real’ weapon.

Shortly after Sarah gets rescued, there’s a really nice scene between her and the Doctor. It only lasts for a minute or two but it’s perfect and I could watch it all day. There’s no music, no fancy shots, just two lovely characters onscreen discussing the story and it’s brilliant. I wish more of Doctor Who was like that, because whenever those moments crop up (and they do feature as late as The Name Of The Doctor) they are always winners for me. I strongly believe that old chestnut about no Doctor ever being miscast and I think it’s the same case for the companions, just look at the nice little scenes like this one.

I find it surprising that the Doctor and Sarah don’t meet our two ‘guest heroes’ until halfway through the second episode of four. Luckily it’s a speedy introduction as we get the rest of the scene for the Doctor to be witty and fun to Giuliano about his interest for science and getting on with his uncle. I am finding this episode a strange but correct fit for the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era. The duo are known for producing ‘gothic’ Doctor Who and this episode certainly has traces for it, but also feels a bit of a lighter storyline, possibly due to director Bennett’s bright lighting. It should be jarring as I wouldn’t put the two together, but it surprisingly gels really well. I think this is the stand-out Holmes/Hinchcliffe episode, not for being the best or most memorable, but because it feels different. We have our odd characters (Hieronymous), our evil men in power (Federico) and our pair of heroes/best friends who get to be pally with the Doctor and Sarah, so we have our trademarks but there’s something not quite the same about the material.

Great...love a cult. That one still has his script out!
Back to the boring cult and we have a deep and powerful booming voice, how original. I can’t help but feel taken out of the action when we get to these scenes, despite them meaning to forward the plot. There is a brilliant light effect on Hieronymous and Norman Jones is a great actor, especially for fitting that beard inside his mask (sorry, masque) but the scenes just don’t interest me, especially when I could be spending this time watching Tom Baker being magical, which he is in every scene he appears

I’m starting to loose a bit of interest for this serial, it is good and the main and supporting cast are all on top form, but I can’t see a lot actually happening. Federico has complained all through episode two how he wants Giuliano dead yet nothing happens until the end of the episode. The Doctor comments on the Mandragora Helix but nothing evolves there until the end of the episode. It does feel like this episode has been stretched a bit thin and then to top it all off, Sarah gets caught at the end of it again! I loved the first part and part two has been strong in places, but I definitely want more plot from the next installment!

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