Doctor Who: The Masque Of Mandragora by Louis Marks (DVD Doctor Who review).

February 22, 2016 | By | Reply More

The Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (actress Elisabeth Sladen) are exploring the TARDIS when they discover a more ancient control room which the Time Lord decides they can use it for a while. Turning on the controls and exterior scanner, they see the Mandragora Helix and are drawn into it. They briefly examine the land and seeing a flash of energy retreat back into the TARDIS and then materialise in the Dukedom of San Martino, Italy in the 15th century. While exploring, Sarah Jane is captured to become a sacrifice for the Brothers of Demnos, a cult of star-worshippers. The Doctor in the process of following her has two encounters with Count Federico (actor John Laurimore) and his men and declared a witch and must be executed, helped along by failing tests by the count astrologer Hieronymous (actor Norman Jones). Evading that, the Doctor gets into the catacombs and rescues Sarah Jane, discovering that the Mandragora Helix fragment take over its leader. Leaving, they are both rescued by Federico’s nephew and heir to the dukedom, Giuliano (actor Gareth Armstrong) and his friend, Marco (actor Tim Pigott-Smith) and discover that there is going to be a convention of scientists to dispel the astrologers hold on the people. The Doctor, realising that this is a time nexus and needs to get rid of the Helix to get back into the catacombs but leaves Giuliano and Sarah Jane outside, both of whom are seen and attacked by Federico’s men instead.


Things move rather quickly with Sarah Jane entering the catacombs to get the Doctor’s help and getting captured. The Doctor investigating the catacombs and discovering the Helix is preparing and getting back to join Giuliano and rescuing him from Federico’s men. Less fortunate is Marco in his chambers, who is caught and tortured to admit that Giuliano is a member of the Brothers. Sarah Jane is hypnotised by Hieronymous and given a poison weapon to kill the Doctor with before being left back in the catacombs for them to rescue. The three of them follow the route of the catacombs back into the palace and the Doctor leaves them to go over Hieronymous, aware that Sarah Jane is following him. Giuliano, not wishing to be idle, goes in search of Marco but gets captured instead. Federico, after being threatened by Hieronymous orders his death but when this fails, the Doctor and an unhypnotised Sarah Jane are caught instead and all chained up in the same dungeon. From here on, time for you to buy the DVD.

The audio commentary between actors Tom Baker and Gareth Armstrong with producer Philip Hinchcliffe and production unit manager Chris D’Oyly-John. The discussion varies to how acting was done then and currently and the way they did the effects in situ for this story. I’m still amazed how Hinchcliffe never saw ‘The Prisoner’ considering the impact it had at the time but his story about writer Louis Marks sorting out Patrick McGoohan’s scripts for that show and got the actor’s car for payment is worth a listen.

There’s a lot of extras considering this is all on one DVD. ‘The Secrets Of The Labyrinth’ looks at the making of the story over 30 minutes and you probably see more of Portmeirion here than you would recognise watching it. The discussion on how aspects of different ages were hidden either by camera angle or being covered by carpet is, as always very instructive. Hearing how actor Tim Piggot-Smith admits to corpsing (unstoppable giggles) at Tom Baker’s remarks in the dungeon seems contrary to his acting demeanour.

‘Bigger On The Inside’ immediately identifies an examination of the TARDIS, after all the second control room is introduced here to fulfil a demand for a smaller size but ultimately lost out because directors preferred the original. Even so, this 20 minute feature shows most of the changes and other rooms within, right up to modern day. As summarised, the TARDIS is a time machine and adapts to the needs of the plot.

‘Then And Now’ has an 8 minute look around Portmeirion. If you ever plan to go there, then you really ought to watch this first. ‘Beneath The Masque’ is nearly 10 minutes long is a send-up of the production end of the story.

As mentioned in the audio commentary, ‘The Masque Of Mandragora’ is a rare ‘Doctor Who’ in lacking rubberised monsters yet still unusual enough not to make it different to a historical story. From my perspective, ‘Doctor Who’ is capable of many sorts of adventures and it is the drama and excitement that keeps it going as is the case here.

GF Willmetts

February 2016

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC. 1 DVD 98 minutes 4 * 24 minute episodes with extras. Price: about £ 6.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ASIN: BBCDVD2805)

cast: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, John Laurimore, Gareth Armstrong, Tim Pigott-Smith and Norman Jones

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Category: Doctor Who, Scifi, TV

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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