Monday, 19 August 2013

The Masque of Mandragora

The Mandragora Helix. Perhaps not a tourist spot?
If they finished off the previous season in fine form, the production team didn’t miss a beat starting off the next season with this wonderful four-part story by Louis Marks. Set before the renaissance in 15th San Martino, Italy, but filmed in Portmeirion, Wales, this is the perfect mix of the historical and the science fiction, in a fun and cracking story. What more could you ask for?
Our two villains. Who can outdo the other?
Portmeirion is the location where ‘The Prisoner’ was shot, and doubles beautifully as Italy. Even the surrounding forests have an Italian/Mediterranean air about them. Coupled with the palace sets which take use of every little studio square inch there would have been, and stunning simply stunning costumes and masques, the overall design of the story is simply stunning.

The cast is bloody good too. One arch-villain is not enough for this one, so Marks has two. John Laurimore is absolutely wonderful as the despotic Count Frederico. The perfect example of an man used to getting his own way and living an opulent life which he probably doesn’t deserve. Seen as being very powerful, many if not most of the palace guards are sworn to him rather than the rightful Duke, Gulliano (Gareth Armstrong).
BUT he is outdone by Norman Jones as the Cult of Demnos leader, Heironymous, who by the end
The Count is concerned.
of the third episode has lost the most amazing beard in Doctor Who history and has a yellow circle with a red halo around it for a head. The voice continues on though, and Norman Jones, veteran of three stories now, uses it to great effect. Then we have the wonderful case of Tom Baker mouthing the words as he speaks. “I wouldn’t even say no to a salami sandwich”. Right up there with ‘Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!’.
New/Old TARDIS control room.
The plot is good, then a letdown at the end proving again the difficulty of wrapping up three episodes with a great fourth. It’s confusing more than anything else, and perhaps lacks a bit of POWEE! Instead it’s a reveal that the Doctor has tricked the brethren into being zapped to oblivioin by Mandragora which... disappears. The idea is that a coil of wire draws out and drains all of the power, it’s a little baffling and not very well portrayed.
Heironomous's blank look.

What is well portrayed is the new, mahogany-style control room. Loved it. It’s darker and more mysterious than the very open very white and bright and quite garish at times. Loved it though in the early Hartnell stories, and quite exciting on the brief glimpses we got in the Pertwee era. Not used very well though it has to be said bar the odd occasion like ‘The Three Doctors’ or the really early stories. My console room is darker, often with black curtains. Sometimes it looks like a normal room.
My TARDIS is at times a little more casual. And I have had three consoles.
Tom Baker at his best.
For the murky ending, I subtract a point, but overall I just loved this enthralling adventure. Tom Baker is just wonderful, with some great flippant lines (“You can’t count, Count!” on the top of the list) and that deeply serious mode he goes into as we head into episode four. The violence is downplayed compared to stories like ‘The Brain of Morbius’, BUT that’s not a bad thing. The
torture is not seen on screen too, which is a good thing. Instead we have a swather of horse-chases and sword fights keeping this a very exciting adventure. Basically, this story of story is unique to Doctor Who. And why not? I doubt any TV show could do it better!


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