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The Masque of Mandragora

Reviewed by Paul Scoones

Historical stories have never fared well in Doctor Who against the great Dalek epics and other futuristic adventures. The purely historical ones, e.g. those with no other science fiction elements in them other than the presence of the TARDIS crew, were phased out in 1966 after a massive decline in ratings, and apart from a brief return with 1982's Black Orchid, they have stayed away from Doctor Who. The only way to get a historical story on Doctor Who then and now was to give it some additional alien threat. We have seen the Sontaran Linx in the Middle Ages, and Sutekh's Mummies in 1911 of late, and now we have just seen the Doctor and Sarah defeating Mandragora energy in Italy, 1492.

The Masque of Mandragora was nothing short of excellent when compared to other historical adventures: the setting of the Italian Renaissance, with the Doctor being careful not to interfere in the looming birth of modern science. He did, however, bring Mandragora to Earth, making Masque one of the few stories where the Doctor not only defeats the menace, but is also responsible for it's presence. This formula was quickly used again, in the upcoming Face of Evil.

The town was perfect in every detail, and some of you may have noticed that it was infant Portmeirion, the setting for The Prisoner series. The costumes and sets were also excellent, and many of the scenes had vaguely Shakespearean qualities about them, especially those between the Italians alone.

The writer was Louis Marks, writing his last script for the show to date and possibly his best when compared to the other three (Planet of Giants (1964), Day of the Daleks (1972), Planet of Evil (1975)). Although I am inclined to believe that the script had a lot of input from then-script editor, the late great Robert Holmes, who always confessed desire for a certain degree of accuracy in the history content of Doctor Who. Full credit must also go to the director, Rodney Bennett, who had a lot to do with the look of the story, if not the writing. One last thing - I am puzzled by the inclusion of that final scene where the Doctor says that Mandragora will return in 500 years time. It's my guess that producer Philip Hinchcliffe, always intended a rematch for the Doctor and Mandragora, but never made it.

This item appeared in TSV 1 (July 1987).

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