Entertainment Magazine

Review #3454: Classic Doctor Who: “The Masque of Mandragora”

Posted on the 20 April 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Louis Marks
Directed by Rodney Bennett

Much like the previous season, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Season 14. Being the close to the end of the Doctor and Sarah Jane period, it feels like it should take everything about the past few seasons and wrap them in a nice little bow. So I was a little surprised by the direction taken with this first serial.

Review #3454: Classic Doctor Who: “The Masque of Mandragora”

Despite starting in classic Fourth Doctor fashion, with a bit more TARDIS exploration and the introduction of such odd concepts as the Mandragoran Helix, the bulk of the story is set in the early days of the Italian Renaissance. In fact, so much of the story is built around the intrigues of the time, imbued with the alien threat of Mandragora, that it could have worked fairly well in the Hartnell or Troughton years.

I was particularly amused by the “old control room”, since I don’t remember seeing that at any point in the earlier eras of the show. And given that this is well into the second decade of the series, one could be forgiven if they were to assume that it had been used during the earliest days. But I like it, if only because the closer quarters and darker shadows fit the era so well.

The end result is a story that looks remarkably good, from the location in which it was filmed to the costumes to the overall set designs. This just might be one of the best recreations of a historical era this side of Nu Who. It wouldn’t work if the cast wasn’t up to the task, but I rarely felt myself pulled out of the story by the performances.

What seems to take away from the story somewhat is the actual “threat”. I’m not even sure I really captured what it was supposed to be. Notions of demonic alien control of humanity through the influences of astrology come to mind, and if that sounds a bit wanting, that’s because it was. Compared to the historical drama, it was fairly weak, so it’s probably not shocking that I would have much rather just had the threat come organically out of the Doctor’s presence in a politically complex era. (“The Borgias” by way of Doctor Who would be a joy to behold!)

It amounts to three episodes of solid storytelling, especially for those of a mind for court intrigue, followed by a fourth and final episode that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Yet the sum total of the various parts is still not as bad as it might have been. This is far and above anything from, say, Season 11. Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen are so comfortable with each other at this point that they could pretty much show up and just hang out, and the episodes would be worth watching.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 7/10

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