‘THE MASQUE OF MANDRAGORA’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Mandragora in 15th Century San Martina with the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane
It’s time for Tom Baker’s third season as the Fourth Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’!
In the strange times of 2020, I was very happy to receive both the Season 14 Blu-ray box set of ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom Baker and the Series 12 Blu-ray box set of ‘Doctor Who’ with Jodie Whittaker in the post before my birthday in May from Amazon. I didn’t think I would get those for my birthday.
I saw the announcement trailer for the Season 14 Blu-ray box set of ‘Doctor Who’ with Louise Jameson via the ‘Doctor Who’ YouTube channel in January 2020. I was looking forward to getting the Season 14 Blu-ray box set once I pre-ordered it. I hope Season 20 on Blu-ray will get released soon. 🙂
For many ‘Doctor Who’ fans, Season 14 is considered to be an exciting season in the classic run of the show. As well as being Tom Baker’s third season as the Doctor, it was producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s third season of the show. There are a number of thrilling tales to enjoy from Season 14.
The Blu-ray box set of Season 14 of ‘Doctor Who’ is an 8-disc set. The first six discs contain the six stories ‘The Masque of Mandragora’, ‘The Hand of Fear’, ‘The Deadly Assassin’, ‘The Face of Evil’, ‘The Robots of Death’ and ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’. Discs 7 and 8 have bonus material on them.
At this point in this series, ‘Doctor Who’ was at its highest peak in the 1970s. Tom Baker’s Doctor won the hearts of millions and his relationship with Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith was a highlight. The show’s viewing figures were up the roof by this point for the current Tom Baker era. 🙂
All was going well under the production team of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. The two tried to find ways to make the show more appealing to grown-ups and children through the show’s gothic horror aspects. Mind you, not everybody was pleased with this approach.
For one thing, the production team and ‘Doctor Who’ itself received a heavy amount of criticism from Mary Whitehouse, who was in charge of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. She criticised the show for being unsuitable for children and didn’t like the show’s gothic horror aspects.
Whilst Mary Whitehouse’s criticisms are fair concerning a family show, it didn’t stop the production team in their endeavours to make the show more exciting and compelling than ever. Mind you, there were setbacks to this, particularly in concern to one tale of the season that we’ll come to later.
However, Tom Baker’s era of ‘Doctor Who’ was becoming popular with many audiences worldwide. As time goes on though, change was in the air for the series. It was at this point Elisabeth Sladen decided to leave the show as Sarah Jane. She did two stories for Season 14, but after that she left. 😦
I can only imagine what fans of Sarah Jane Smith must’ve felt like when she left ‘Doctor Who’ two stories into its fourteenth season. They must’ve been devastated. Sarah Jane’s relationship with Tom Baker’s Doctor must’ve been pure magic and there was no-one who could replace that camaraderie.
However, as it turned out, it seemed like a new companion in the shape of Louise Jameson as Leela would win the hearts of millions after Sarah Jane was gone. It wasn’t the same as Sarah Jane and it wouldn’t replace her, but Leela’s appearance in the middle of Season 14 would capture many hearts.
Granted there were tensions between Tom Baker and Louise Jameson after Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane left, but the Doctor-companion relationship between the Fourth Doctor and Leela would be popular as the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane one. And it was the production team who made that possible. 🙂
Whatever criticisms were laid against Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, they did put some thought into the stories they made. It’s clearly shown in the production values by the directors; the writers; the special effects team; etc who made the stories possible and so popular in the fans’ eyes.
I’ve enjoyed watching the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era stories of ‘Doctor Who’ when they were released on DVD, especially the Season 14 ones. But could these stories from Season 14 still be so good in a complete Blu-ray box set? Could they still win the hearts of millions of fans? Let’s find out!
The season begins with the four-part story ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ by Louis Marks. This did feel like a proper historical period drama rather than a ‘Doctor Who’ adventure when I first saw it on DVD and recently on Blu-ray! My Mum was concerned about the horrific deaths in this story though.
Louis Marks is no stranger to ‘Doctor Who’. His first contribution to the TV show was ‘Planet of Giants’ with William Hartnell’s Doctor. He later wrote ‘Day of the Daleks’ with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor as well as ‘Planet of Evil’ with Tom Baker’s Doctor. ‘Planet of Evil’ was produced by Philip Hinchcliffe.
‘The Masque of Mandragora’ was also directed by Rodney Bennett. He directed ‘The Ark In Space’ and ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ for Tom Baker’s first season of the show. Rodney clearly has a sense of directing period drama here, especially as he also directed the 1975 version of ‘North and South’.
To begin Season 14 of ‘Doctor Who’, producer Philip Hinchcliffe decided to do a pseudo-historical adventure as the season opener. It was something more for Hinchcliffe’s tastes than for Robert Holmes, since Holmes didn’t care for historical stories since he considered them boring and lacklustre.
I enjoyed ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ when I purchased the DVD of it back in 2010. Historical adventures in ‘Doctor Who’ are an acquired taste. Sometimes they can be humourous and entertaining; sometimes they can be educational and slow. This period story was beautiful and scary.
In the story, the Doctor and Sarah Jane are in the TARDIS before they come across the secondary control room. I do like the wooden TARDIS console room designed by Barry Newbery for Season 14. It suits Tom Baker’s Doctor very well. It almost has a gothic Jules Verne style appropriate for the era.
Sadly, the wooden TARDIS console room was only used for Season 14 alone, which is a shame. I especially liked it that there wasn’t a rising up and down time rotor for the wooden console room. I would like ‘Doctor Who’ to do a 1960s Enterprise-style console room with no time rotor someday. 😀
Anyway, the Doctor and Sarah Jane discover the Mandragora Helix in the time vortex. It’s a swirl of living energy that manages to draw the TARDIS in. The Doctor tries to pilot the TARDIS through the Helix before they end up inside it. As the Doctor and Sarah Jane look around, Helix energy attacks. 😮
A fragment of glowing Helix energy gets inside the TARDIS with the door open. Should’ve closed the door when you went out, Sarah Jane; Doctor. 😀 Anyway, the Doctor and Sarah Jane don’t know about the Helix energy inside the TARDIS before they re-enter their ship and escape the Helix world.
The TARDIS then comes to San Martino, Italy in the 15th century during the Italian Renaissance. I like how the production team have utilised the Welsh resort of Portmeirion as the location for 15th century San Martino. It suits the purpose and makes it look like it’s a place during 15th century Italy.
However, it isn’t a happy time in 15th century San Martino. Peasant revolts occur and trouble is brewed by Count Federico and his men, led by Captain Rossini. The Duke of San Martino is also dead with his son Giuliano taking over. However, Count Federico utilises his tyrannical efforts to take over.
Unbeknown to the people of San Martino, the danger happens once the Mandragora Helix energy makes contact with the court astrologer Hieronymous and the Brethren of Demnos. Can the Doctor and Sarah Jane help save the people of 15th century San Martino and stop the Mandragora’s power?
As I stated before, this story feels very much like a period drama. I enjoyed the theatrical atmosphere of this adventure, especially when we’re in the palace with Giuliano and his friend Marco. There are scenes in the catacombs that help to add the story’s scariness as well as its beauty.
The costumes and set design for 15th century San Martino are wonderful to see, especially during the masque ball performed in ‘Part Four’ of the story. There are themes of early science and astrology in 15th century Italy which were interesting to learn about when I watched this adventure.
Tom Baker delivers a sensational performance as the Doctor. I enjoyed it when he’s concerned about Sarah Jane’s whereabouts before he gets captured and taken to see Count Federico. He manages to escape death by beheading from the end of ‘Part One’ and he saves Sarah Jane in a sacrificial death.
I enjoyed it when the Doctor and Sarah Jane meet up with Giuliano and Marco. The four work together to thwart the villainous efforts of Count Federico and Hieronymous. The Doctor gets to show his sword-fighting in this adventure and even confronts Hieronymous in one final showdown. 🙂
Elisabeth Sladen is lovely as Sarah Jane Smith in this adventure. Poor Sarah Jane has a hard time of it, what with getting captured by a group of men in hooded robes; about to be sacrificed to death and getting hypnotised in order to kill the Doctor by Hieronymous. Thankfully she does come out alright.
I liked the interaction Sarah Jane has with the Doctor in this story as well as her interaction with Giuliano. She even gets to partake in the masque ball in ‘Part Four’ of the story. I’m sure Lis Sladen enjoyed doing that. It’s intriguing when she asked about how she can understand Italian in this story.
Gareth Armstrong guest stars as Giuliano, the new Duke of San Martino after his father tragically died. I’ve seen Gareth Armstrong in episodes of ‘Terry and June’ before this. He would later guest star in some ‘Doctor Who’ audios by Big Finish including ‘The Renaissance Man’ and ‘The Silver Turk’.
Giuliano is a brave young man whose life is endangered once Count Federico wants to kill him and become duke instead of him. Giuliano doesn’t believe in superstition through horoscopes. He shares a scientific interest with the Doctor and helps when the Doctor is trying to stop the Mandragora evil.
Tim Pigott-Smith guest stars as Marco, Giuliano’s best friend in San Martino. Tim Pigott-Smith has been in ‘Doctor Who’ before in ‘The Claws of Axos’ with Jon Pertwee. He also appeared in the two BBC versions of ‘North and South’ in 1975 and 2006 (I’ve seen the two) as well as ‘Johnny English’. 🙂
Marco is fiercely loyal to his friend Giuliano and shares an intellectual scientific interest with him at the palace in San Martino. He unfortunately gets captured and gets tortured in the dungeons of San Martino. Thankfully Marco is saved and even gives advice to Giuliano when he’s able to take charge.
Jon Laurimore guest stars as Count Federico in San Martino. Federico is a tyrant and sees his nephew Giuliano as interference in the way of his goal to become the next duke of San Martino. He even orders his soldiers to have Giuliano killed while he and Sarah Jane are waiting outside the catacombs.
Federico has Hieronymous work for him in order to come up with predictions based on horoscopes to have Giuliano killed, to which he doesn’t believe in. He doesn’t believe the Doctor’s warnings of the Mandragora Helix energy, calling him a sorcerer. Federico gets his comeuppance in ‘Part Three’.
Norman Jones guest stars as Hieronymous, the court astrologer at the palace of San Martino. This isn’t Norman Jones’ first ‘Doctor Who’ appearance. He previously guest starred in the stories, ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ with Patrick Troughton and ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ with Jon Pertwee.
As well as being the court astrologer of San Martino’s palace, Hieronymous is also the leader of the Brethren of Demnos. Hieronymous has a strong belief in astrology and desires for power. He gains it from the Mandragora Helix energy and he wears a purple cloaked robe and mask to go along with it.
The story also features Robert James as the High Priest of the Brethren of Demnos, who I’ve also seen in the 1983 BBC version of ‘Jane Eyre’. He also played Lesterson in ‘The Power of the Daleks’ with Patrick Troughton. The story also stars Antony Carrick as Captain Rossino of Federico’s soldiers.
My Mum was shocked to see Hieronymous’ face go blank and glowing once Count Federico unveiled it in ‘Part Three’. I suppose imagery like that must’ve been horrific in the days of the 1970s ‘Doctor Who’. It’s also quite a terrifying concept to consider with the Brethren of Demnos’ faces being blank.
The climax was pretty intense with the Brethren of Demnos under Mandragora’s influence killing off guests at the masque ball in ‘Part Four’. Thankfully it’s alright when Tom Baker’s disguised as Hieronymous and even puts on a fake voice saying “I wouldn’t even say no…to a salami sandwich!” 😀
The original DVD special features were as follows. There was the making-of documentary called ‘The Secret of the Labyrinth’ with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews. There was also the ‘Bigger on the Inside’ documentary about the TARDIS; the ‘Now and Then’ featurette looking into the locations of ‘The Masque of Mandragora’; the ‘Beneath the Masque’ comedy sketch with Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman and BBC trailers and continuity announcements for the story. There was a mono sound audio mix option for the story and a DVD audio commentary with Tom Baker, Gareth Armstrong, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and production unit manager Chris D’Oyly-John. There was an info-text commentary option to enjoy; a photo gallery of the story and PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story. There was also the ‘coming soon’ DVD trailer for ‘The Space Museum’ and ‘The Chase’ DVD box set with William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Maureen O’Brien.
On Disc 1 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 14’ Blu-ray, ‘The Secret of the Labyrinth’ making-of documentary; the ‘Now and Then’ featurette; the ‘Beneath the Masque’ comedy sketch; the mono sound audio mix option for the story, the DVD audio commentary and the ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF can be found on there. The BBC trailers and continuity announcements; the info-text commentary option and the photo gallery for ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ have been updated for 2020 on the Blu-ray. The ‘Bigger on the Inside’ documentary is sadly not included on ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ Blu-ray disc.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ with Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela) and producer Philip Hinchcliffe as well as Peter Purves (Steven) and Sophie Aldred (Ace). There’s a ‘Nationwide’ interview with Elisabeth Sladen (taken from ‘The Hand of Fear’ DVD); an audio archive interview with Tom Baker and the two-part audio story ‘Doctor Who and the Pescatons’ with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen.
On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, there’s also a studio floor plan; Barry Newberry’s TARDIS exterior design drawing; Barry Newberry’s set design drawings; production documents and scripts.
‘The Masque of Mandragora’ is a very good story to watch. I enjoyed the period drama setting of 15th century San Martino in Renaissance Italy. The performances of the cast are very good, especially with the likes of Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen as well as Gareth Armstrong and Tim Pigott-Smith.
I’m sure many ‘Doctor Who’ fans will enjoy this story and find it worth the watch. This of course was Sarah Jane’s penultimate TV adventure in ‘Doctor Who’. Despite having a good time in Renaissance Italy, it would soon come to an end with Sarah Jane and the Doctor eventually returning to the 20th century…
‘The Masque of Mandragora’ rating – 8/10
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