CRRRaSh! 367 Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora

By Roy Mathur, on 2021-01-18 23:09:01--23:47:01, for Captain Roy's Rusty Rocket Radio Show, Listen

Back from a Short Break

We're back from the Christmas break to bring you another classic revisit!

Remember I said previously that I definitely remember seeing this before? Now that I've seen it, it turns out I can't remember seeing it the first time around.

It's not the first time I've made this specific mistake either. I keep confusing this story with the very different City of Death, because the dust jacket of the hardback novelisation of The Masque of Mandragora, which I owned and was written by none other than Philip Hinchcliffe, featured the Doctor surrounded by cultic masks (artist Mike Little). And masks are what I associate with the villain from City of Death.

That confusion from a, not even a tenuous link, is just a weird problem with my internal fluid link. I think the Eye of Harmony, stored in my annexe, needs a tune up.

Oh, and while we're here, probably no more On this Day segment, because it's driving me mad. I say, "probably" because we have a long way to go until the end, so I'm not burning any bridges and saying it won't come back.

On the other hand, the State of the Rewatch will come back, only I won't call it that. It's just whatever I say in the Preshow segment. Hint to self: say something!

And on that matter, yes, I am glad to be back, but I am intimidated with how much further I have to go until the end.

For an inkling of what I plan to do after Doctor Who, visit the podcast page and click on the revisit link.

Note

Ignore what I just said. Both the State of the Rewatch and the On this Day segments are coming back.

Taking them out is a stupid idea, but I have stupid ideas sometimes because I don't like feeling constrained or being told what to do, even by myself. What a berk!

Notes

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith: Elisabeth Sladen
Director: Rodney Bennett
Writer: Louis Marks
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Locations: Additional on-location filming at Portmeirion, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd, Wales (the beautiful, iconic, and weird location for The Prisoner)
First story of season 14, following The Seeds of Doom (covered in 351), 4 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from 4 to 25 September 1976.

What Happens

While wandering around the TARDIS the Doctor and Sarah enter the mostly unused secondary control room. On the screen, the Doctor sees a violent and powerful energy vortex called the Mandragora Helix.

The TARDIS is dragged in and then arrives in 15th century Italy, where the Doctor sees a ball of burning light that causes some fires and deaths---Mandragora energy---and surmises it must have hitched a ride in the TARDIS. The energy ball enters the underground lair of the evil cult, the Brotherhood of Demnos, and produces a beam of blinding light. An ominous voice declares to the cult leader, the court astrologer Hieronymous, to prepare for the Mandragora.

The Doctor and Sarah find themselves entangled in the political intrigue between the cruel Count Frederico, plotting to take the dukedom from his nephew Giuliano; the son of the recently poisoned old duke. With a deft flick of his scarf, the Doctor escapes execution by beheading and rescues Sarah, who is kidnapped by the Brotherhood, and saves her from a sacrificial ritual.

The Mandragora energy helix promises Hieronymous power over the Earth. The Doctor tells Giuliano that is malevolent Mandragora must be stopped because it is using the Brotherhood to halt the Renaissance and continue the Dark Ages.

Fully possessed by the Mandragora, and now a being of pure incandescence, Hieronymous clashes with the Doctor in the underground lair. Fortunately, the Doctor is wearing a hidden breastplate which resists the bolts.

After a murderous rampage by the black robed Brotherhood, at a masque (an elaborate masked ball) scheduled for the young duke to establish his claim to the dukedom, the remaining prisoners are led down to the lair for sacrifice. The leader sends the influence of the Mandragora away at the last moment and reveals himself as the Doctor in disguise. He has wired up the altar with a Heath Robinson device that temporarily drains the Mandragora, though the risk will return, he says, in five hundred years.

What I Thought

I don't like the historical costume dramas, which is ridiculous as it is a show about time travel, but I did love that little look around the TARDIS at the beginning of the first episode. We saw the incongruously named large 18th century French boudoir used as a "boot room" (extravagant git), and the cosy little secondary control with stain glass windows occasionally used by preceding Doctors.

Hammer Films-like cultists, garbed in black and keen to sacrifice beautiful women; it's all a little Dennis Wheatley. Cast your mind back to The Daemons (1971) covered in pod 50 with the Master camping up the deviltry. (Tangent: and spare a fond memory for Bok the prancing gargoyle, played by actor Stanley Mason).

I liked the young Duke. He's modern, humane, and science enthusiast. He is the very embodiment of the Renaissance man, appropriate as this is set 15th century Italy; the time and the heart of the Renaissance.

Hypnosis, yet again is featured, as it so often is on the show. The Doctor is a master of it, shown in his control of the royal beast in The Curse of Peladon (covered in pod 271). The Master often uses it to enslave others, that's why he calls himself the Master. And now we see it again as the court astrologer Hieronymous hypnotises Sarah to kill the Doctor with a poison needle.

The cult's high priest reports to the leader, "The town is empty great one. Not a living creature larger than a cat remains within the walls." The actor's delivery of the line had me giggling because it was very Blackadder.

Trivia

The title is a pun referring to the Demnos cult masks and the masque held in the Duke's honour.

Prolific British actor Tim Pigott-Smith plays the Duke's stalwart and likeable friend Marco.

Peter Tuddenham, Alpha Centauri from (pod 271), and Orac, Zen, and Slave from Blake's 7, plays the voice of the Mandragora.

This story reminded me of Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death (1964), Terence Fisher's Hammer film The Devil Rides Out (1968), and Bernard Borderie's Angelique et le Roy (Angelique and the King) (1966). The last of which, many years ago, amused my French cousins when they saw prim little English me goggle-eyed at the casual continental nudity. The possession of the cultic leader reminded me slightly of the possession scene in Karl Edward Wagner's Dark Crusade, which also featured a murderous priesthood, as did the Satanists from The Devil's Rain (1975), starring William Shatner. One last reference. The energy shooting forth from the robed Hieronymous's fingers is exactly the same way Emperor Palpatine does exactly the same thing a few years later. Hmmm... I think, stroking my beard of geek. But look, Renaissance masques and robed Satanists are all tropes used in so many other IPs that I could continue this thread forever. These were just a few (possibly too many) references from media that immediately sprang to mind.