Number : Season 14, serial 1 of 6.
Which One : Renaissance Italy – invaded by intelligent ball-lightening.
Cast : The Doctor : Tom Baker
Sarah – Jane : Liz Sladen
Count Federico : Jon Laurimore
Giuliano : Gareth Armstrong
Marco : Tim Pigott-Smith
Hieronymous : Norman Jones
High Priest : Robert James
Brother : Brian Ellis
Rossini : Antony Carrick
Mandragora : Peter Tuddenham (voice)
Entertainer : Stuart Fell
Written By : Louis Marks
Produced By : Philip Hinchcliffe
First UK Broadcast : 4–25 September 1976.
Length : 4 x 25 minute episodes.
Plot : The Tardis is drawn into the Mandragora Helix, where a malevolent energy-force hitches a ride in the Tardis; to Earth, Italy – in 1492.
Whats good : Strong statement – about the dawn – of the age of science and discovery. Period production is good. Hieronymous.
Whats bad : It’s a bit slow and the alien angle is not the strongest – to hold interest.
Review With Spoilers : Masque Of Mandragora is the first episode of season 14 – and is an Italian renaissance period piece, with alien overtones.
The Doctor accidentally transports, a ball of ‘Mandragorian energy’ to renaissance Earth, Italy; in the Tardis. It then goes on a killing spree, possessing the Brethren of the local – ‘Cult Of Demnos’.
With their new found power, the Cult Of Demnos – intend to rise up and take over the court of San Martinez and dispose of the current duke-elect; Guiliano.
On first watch, Masque Of Mandragora comes across as a bit of a period potboiler – slow in places, without much going on. Much in the vein of a Hartnell period-romp.
It doesn’t really get going, until the principal badguy – the Duke’s uncle Frederico; who is plotting the death of his duke-elect nephew – Guiliano. Is himself, killed by the leader of the Cult Of Demnos; Hieronymous. Which allows the Mandragorian possessed Hieronymous to take centre-stage; as the villain.
This finally allows the Mandragora alien influence, to come into Masque Of Mandragora properly. Hieronymous, then begins his dastardly take-over of the court.
The Doctor also gets to do his best Errol Flynn impression, in this; which is rather good. I can’t remember a Who since, where the Doctor has so many action scenes – fencing, fighting, running and jumping about. Maybe Peter Davison’s – The Kings Demons would be a candidate.
There are some well-written and tender moments, between The Doctor and Sarah-Jane; written here too. Their shared-scenes in the Tardis, whilst touring all of the extra rooms. Or in the court, make it obvious that Baker was most comfortable, with Sarah-Jane; than any of his other future companions.
“Well, perhaps because the worshippers of Demnos provided a ready-made power base. And what better place than 15th century Italy? Because it’s the period between the dark ages of superstition and the dawn of a new reason!” The Doctor
Masque Of Mandragorais not without some questionable moments, however. Not least, the new Duke Guiliano, deciding to push ahead with a “Masque” ball in the castle, on the same night the ‘masked₩’ Cult Of Demnos – are plotting to overthrow him, by inviting a load of masked guests into the castlw. Hmm!?
They try and explain this, with some earlier exposition – between Duke Guiliano and Marco. By agreeing to hold the Masque, so as not to show weakness in the face of the Cult Of Demnos’ challenge. But still, really?
If that was the case, why not still have the ball and just tell the guests to leave the masks off? The Duke is also told that the Cult Of Demnos, are massing on the castle’s borders.
The Masque ball, seemed to be written in, more as a visual thing, than to serve the plot-logic anyway. The Cult Of Demnos predictably infiltrate proceedings and murder – half of the guests; before taking the Duke prisoner, anyway!
Masque Of Mandragora has some good dialogue moments, and from a period aspect – is much stronger than the accompanying alien-aspect. Which is a bit weak and under represented, in this. Due to other less interesring antagoniats – occupying centre-stage.
For instance, after gaining the full range of Mandragora’s powers; which amounts to discharging bolts of electricity from Hieronymous fingers (Emporer Palpatine inspiration?). The Doctor outwits him, by making him use up his electricty and fade out of existence.
Masque Of Mandragora does however, make a strong statement (as Who does when it presents its Earth revisoniat histoey) about the move away from the medieval Astrology and Soothsaying, into the golden-age of open minded scientific discovery – with Da Vinci, Copernicus and Columbus. All of course with alien help.
Masque Of Mandragora sits more in the season-opener category and really – only acts as a warm-up, for the new season 17. Better episodes are just around the corner.
After being blessed, by two previous barnstorming seasons and a plethora of excellently defining Who stories. I suppose, we can allow and forgive a mild slip, into Hartnell period – mediocrity.
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