Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora - Review


The Masque of Mandragora is one of those few stories which was exceptionally well told and realised but for various reasons, happened to fall short of true greatness.

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane find themselves in San Martino, Italy in the 15th century after colliding with a mysterious energy helix in space. During this period, humanity is on the verge of leaving ignorance and superstition behind and are beginning to pursue knowledge and understanding. But there are still secret cults, ritual sacrifices and other nefarious dark things going on under the surface. It is the perfect setting for a Doctor Who story which I'm surprised the show had never gone too before. One of the chief aims for the Doctor, besides stopping baddies, saving planets and being generally marvellous is to enlighten people. So the 15th century was the perfect place for the Doctor to go.

Of course, it wasn't really filmed in Italy. The filming took place in Portmeirion, Gwynedd, in Wales. The town had already been immortalised by The Prisoner, as it stood in for the main location of the series. Even though it is not the best stand-in for renaissance Italy, it manages to somehow work perfectly. The production team particularly excelled themselves in creating a living, breathing interpretation of a 15th century Italian town, even down to the terrible haircuts! But those haircuts are the only thing that distracts the viewer from the distinctive cockney accents of the palace guards.

Here, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen are brilliant as the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane. Joe Laurimoe and Norman Jones are wonderful as the villains of the piece, Jones particularly excels thanks to his mighty beard! Unfortunately the same can't really be said for Gareth Armstrong who is really rather stiff as the na├»ve Duke. What really doesn't help him is that his friend is played by Tim Pigett-Smith, a far superior actor who manages to blow Armstrong off the screen without ever really trying.

But is this story a five star classic? I think that it almost reaches this point. The whole production looks brilliant but the plot runs out of steam before we can even see the end and although the characters are good, they are nothing more than recognizable stereotypes. The Mandragora Helix isn't the most compelling of adversaries and its defeat feels more like a anti-climax rather than a victory. But what really lets the story down for me is the treatment of Sarah Jane. Despite it being her penultimate story, she doesn't get to do very much except get brainwashed and kidnapped time and time again by the baddies...

Comments

  1. Jordan, it's Portmeirion, not Portmerion. The location is in the county of Gwynedd, Wales is a big place with 8,023 square miles! Also, you say, 'The town would later go on to be immortalised as the village in The Prisoner'. You need to fact check your reviews, The Prisoner was filmed during 1967, nine years before Doctor Who.

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    1. Thanks you for bringing these mistakes to my attention, I can't believe I missed them when I originally wrote it, a little while ago! I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that the town would go on to immortalised in The Prisoner, I knew it was filmed before Doctor Who ever got there. It was just me being a bit of an idiot and not checking what I was writing. Sorry about that. I think this was one of the reviews I wrote in the middle of a real stinker of a cold!
      Anyway, thank you for helping me out by finding these mistakes, I have now changed them and updated the review!

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