Monday, 11 November 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Masque of Mandragora

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The Doctor gets a Salami as a reward.
Doctor Who - Season 14, Story One - The Masque of Mandragora
Written 2/6/13

Season 14 gets off to a very impressive start. All it takes for Doctor Who to get really good is a believable setting that facilitates strong characterisations - in this case, a good old-fashioned historical, mashing alien fireballs with ancient cults and the turbulent world of pre-Enlightenment Italian politics. On every level, Mandragora gets it right as a compelling and exciting Who adventure - one that left me on the edge of my seat with every cliffhanger. With a few nice ideas about religion to bandy about, I really can't fault the story for anything but minor quibbles.
     The Doctor and Sarah, having found the wood-themed Secondary Control Room, are pulled into the Mandragora Helix, an energy realm with a controlling entity. This entity stows its way on the TARDIS and forces them to land in 15th Century Italy, where it uses the local cult of Demnos as a power base in order to manipulate the local royalty in an attempt to prevent The Enlightenment and man's rise to power. As The Doctor is caught between Enlightened Prince Guilliano and his evil uncle the Count, he must find a way to prevent the Mandragora from gaining influence over the entire Earth.
     Season 14 sees the slow beginning of a slide into humour - much more pronounced and painful in Season 17, but at this stage it's a welcome surprise as Tom Baker 's Fourth Doctor outwits his enemies and the audience by always jumping to the unexpected. This shows itself in the resolution to the first clever, where The Doctor manages to use his scarf to halt his own execution. Not only has Baker completely settled into the role, but it appears that by this point he's reached a peak of flexibility where he can pull off pretty much anything.
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The new Autumn range from Paco Mandragora.
     The metaphors surrounding the transition into The Enlightenment were handled a little scruffily, especially surrounding the use of astrology. At first I found it a wonderful twist that the astrologer who predicted people's deaths then killed them to boost his credibility, but then it turned into the tale of a man who believed his prophecies to the extent that he could be manipulated by Mandragora. It was a human villainy, and while it wasn't the intricate character studies like those of the past, it was still sufficiently familiar to make him a far more effective villain than a rubber-faced monster.
      The Masque of Madragora gets a hell of a lot right - it combines the fun that Tom Baker was introducing into the role with a great setting (with costumes and a location borrowed from Hollywood) and a great set of performances from the secondary cast. As the first non-Britain Historical since The Gunfighters in '66, Masque uses the politics and ideas of Renaissance Italy to bring the season into a shining new start - and one of the best episodes since I started my look through Four's era.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: I get teary over Elizabeth Sladen as we see Sarah Jane's final continuous story, The Hand of Fear.

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