20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2010
THE MASQUE OF MANDRAGORA kicks off Tom Baker's third year as the Doctor in fine style. Originally transmitted in 1976, this four part story starts with the Doctor giving Sarah Jane a tour of some of the more obscure corners of the TARDIS where they "rediscover" an alternative and rather beautiful wood panelled control room. Almost as soon as have they settled in they are hauled off course into the hostile area of outer space which is home to the Mandragora Helix, from which a fireball of malevolent energy then hitches a ride in the TARDIS to a Renaissance Italy happily filmed in and around the village of Portmeirion.
This Mandragora energy then manages to inveigle its way into the schemes, plots and general evil machinations of one Count Federico (John Laurimore) who is out to bag the throne of the Duchy of San Martino for himself and is prepared to stop at nothing to achieve this aim. Which brings us to Hieronymous, a court astrologer with ambition, very attached to the old ways and suspicious of the new science, who is played pitch perfectly by Norman Jones who had featured as the barking mad Major Barker back in DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS with Jon Pertwee.
The Doctors allies, alongside Elisabeth Sladen's penultimate regular appearance as Sarah Jane Smith, include Archers stalwart Gareth Armstrong as the young Prince Giuliano, and a very youthful Tim Piggott-Smith as his best pal, Marco, who are both quite handy in a swordfight.
The conflict of science and reason with the old religions and black magic takes centre stage as Hieronymous and the Cult of Demnos (wearing effective masks very influenced by woodcarvings of that time) seek world domination from the power possessed by the Mandragora energy, and try to stamp out any hope for the enlightenment of mankind when the greatest minds of that era attend the Masque of the title.
As ever, one of the strengths of the BBC was costume drama, and so the world of Renaissance Italy is effectively realised in both production design and costume terms. The lack of any real "monster" as such means that there are no rubberised creatures to distract the viewer from the story and what special effects there may be are simple enough and pretty well executed. The only shortcoming really was the "pepper's ghost" technique used to represent the rebuilt ancient temple set, but it's effective enough in a slightly stagey kind of a way.
The next story - THE HAND OF FEAR - would see the departure of Elisabeth Sladen which was a bit of a shame, really. Here she is still playing Sarah with absolute conviction and even gets to play a more sinister version of the character for a little while.
On the whole then, a fairly solid example of mid-1970s DOCTOR WHO as produced by Philip Hinchcliffe. Not the best ever story, but well up there, and the period setting does the show a lot of favours.
The usual extras (PDFs, picture gallery, information text etc.) are supplemented this time around by a jolly commentary with Tom Baker and Gareth Armstrong representing the actors, and Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and the late Chris D'Oyly John from the production side. There are also the now usual batch of documentaries of variable length and interest. The "Making of" piece is fairly typical - not comprehensive, but nice enough, with interviews done with the backdrop of Portmeirion, which also features in a short "Now and Then" piece. The TARDIS interiors piece is at least relevant due to the design change in this story if nothing else, and the comedy item at least hits its targets as often as it misses them.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
One thing the BBC has always been very good at is costume drama. Combine this prowess with the prowess of the production team who made the show for tom baker's first three years in the role, and the chances are that you will get something very good.
As so happened here.
In this four part story, first shown in 1976, the TARDIS lands in 15th century Italy, in the small republic of San Martino. Accidentally bringing along an alien energy force that is intent on taking over the world and keeping the human race in the dark ages.
The local ruler faces this, a power hungry relative, and a nasty cult as well.
Good job he's got the Doctor and Sarah around to help out.
FIlmed in Portmeirion, the village of unique landscapes and architecture where cult tv show the Prisoner was also filmed, the beautiful setting and the bbc prowess at period stuff really makes it all look great. Coupled with a good script and a superb doctor companion team, this all results in an excellent piece of entertainment.
It's not the greatest doctor who ever made, but it's a quality pieoe from a quality era of the show. The burgeoning fandom of the time wasn't too keen on it back then. But thank goodness for the benefits of hindsight.
The disc has audio navigation.
a language track in english.
subtitles in english.
production information text which are viewed in the same manner as subtitles and give information about the story and it's production.
The radio times listnings for the story as PDF Files [viewable by accessing them via a PC]
A photo gallery of stills from the story and it's production.
A coming soon trailer for the impending next release in this range of dvds.
About three minutes worth of trailers and continuity announcements for the story from bbc broadcasts of the time.
A commentary from tom baker, one of the supporting cast and two of the production team.
A twenty five minute long making of documentary. This is up to the usual high standard of these, and a lot of it features the production crew and cast re-visiting the location, so there's some great scenery on display.
A twenty minute long look at the way the design of the TARDIS has changed over the years. A feature that looks as if it might be strictly for those interested in design at first, but which does get quite absorbing. Although it totally fails to mention the TARDIS design from the 1996 tv movie, which feels like a big omission.
A nine minute long now and then feature looking at the locations in Portmeirion where the filming was done and what they're like now. One of the best of these from this range of dvds, thanks to the quality scenery of the village.
And a ten minute long spoof documentary about the story and it's making. This does have some moments that made me smile, and a few that made me laugh out loud. But there are a fair few things in that there that only readlly hardcore doctor who fans will understand, so maybe it's just for them.
But all in all a quality story and a quality dvd.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2010
Like 'Genesis of the Daleks', 'Mandragora' show-cases that wonderful mix of deathly serious and playful which still sparkles today. Tom Baker brings his peerless blend of tough guy and sage to the role of the Doctor, while Count Federico is a superbly drawn regal brute. Some of the show's best (and brutal!) lines are his. His 'seer', Hieronymous is equally convincing in his villainy. I reckon the brilliant narrative touch was dovetailing the latter's pre-established role as cult leader with the newly arrived Mandragora energy's malign intent; that it 'picks' him implies that it 'knows' he's the perfect human crucible. An ideal vector, you may say! The other lovely touch was setting the action at the dawn of the Renaissance; what a historical moment for a major upset in human affairs. Were it not for some slack editing and woeful polystyrene mis-en-scene, top marks. Regardless, another Baker classic, and as usual, as much for the parents as for the kiddies.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Masque of Mandragora is one of those classic era Doctor Who stories that seems to have an odd effect on the series' fans. Those who undervalued it on a first viewing have tended to react far more favourably to its DVD release while those liked it first time round have been slightly underwhelmed on renewing its acquaintance. Not that it doesn't have a lot going for it. One of the increasingly rare `historical' adventures in Tom Baker's tenure, it's a comparatively lavish one thanks to plenty of location filming that saw Portmeirion in Wales standing in rather well for Renaissance Italy. The locations are particularly well used, looking so different from their most famous onscreen appearance that they never once evoke memories of Patrick McGoohan, blazers and bicycles. It's got a clever hook too, with an energy force stowing away in the TARDIS and travelling to Earth to stop the Renaissance dead in its tracks and keep mankind in the dark ages of superstition and barbarity so that they won't extend their malign influence into space. Throw in plenty of plotting, revolting peasants and an underground cult of pagan worshippers to raise the stakes for its battle between the forces of reason, enlightenment and progress and the regressive armies of self-interest, ignorance and cruelty and it's the perfect battleground for a Time Lord at the peak of his powers. The first episode even ends with a great cliffhanger that sees the Doctor about to be executed by a corrupt Duke and Sarah about to be sacrificed by a cult at the same time. And yet it's never quite as good as it promises to be.
The larger cast of supporting characters have more to do than usual in a Doctor Who story but aren't really given quite enough that's interesting to do, the Mandragora Helix's nature is only vaguely defined and the stunt doubling during the riding scenes is also less than impressive - it takes more than a curly wig, a scarf and being shot from behind to pass off a stuntman as Tom Baker - but they at least manage to add to the charm. More unfortunately, the plotting becomes rather lazy in the final episode, with the script failing to provide much of an ending with a somewhat perfunctory finale that explains so little of just how our hero vanquishes his foe that you almost expect him to say "Trust me, I'm a Doctor." Although the making of documentary included on the DVD does put the blame firmly on the budget, it's more a failure of imagination than funding.
Still, the DVD is another good package, offering a good behind the scenes documentary, a featurette revisiting the Portmeirion locations, a featurette on the changing face of the TARDIS itself (particularly appropriate for the story that introduced the Victorian-style wood panel alternate control room) and a surprisingly funny stream-of-consciousness spoof featurette linking the story's broadcast to the end of the 1976 drought and the death of Mao and featuring a clockwork toy Engels, alongside the usual audio commentary, stills gallery and onscreen trivia track.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2013
A lugubrious General Studies lecturer, disposing himself to be friendly for once, opined to us that it was barely credible that the C15 Italians in The Borgias would say things like 'We shall have French lances in our olive groves within a month', and that they really said 'Let's go and sort the French out'. He was trading on that sad rule of youth, that the dull and prosaic is much more likely to be true, but I didn't believe him and still don't - humans like metaphor, especially sexualised metaphor - and I think his observation was also flavoured by the fact that actors do like being theatrical.
Not least in this Renaissance romp; John Laurimore, late of I, Claudius, now practically chewing the period furniture; Anthony Carrick, commendably restrained; Norman Jones delighting in a voice that only Tom Baker could mimic, and Tim Piggot Smith giving it the 'I'm not just a sidekick, I'm RSC you know!', while poor Gareth Armstrong is just a tiny bit over-shadowed.
That essentially places Masque; the cast - whatever Louis Marks had in mind - are treating this like a Shakespeare, they've all done it after all, so give them lovely period frocks, and they're all playing it like it's pentameter. John Laurimore as Count Federico is very much in the mould of Don John or Duke Frederick.
And it looks right; the location stuff at Portmerion sets it right in Borgias Italy, and the script is pretty much pitch perfect in telling the story of a particular time and place.
The concept - that the Mandragora Helix wants to take over Earth and really control the lives of men by the stars - is nonsense; what would they do with it? But the plot is so engaging and so well-wrought, why bother asking?
Federico is a very potent threat, and he effectually obscures the dangers posed by the Brethren until about the middle of Episode Three, and at the end of that he walks smack into the cliff-hanger, ripping off Heironymous's mask, revealing the brilliant white light inside. Federico is history, and if the hooded brothers get moving, Rossini, Scarlatti and all the rest will go the same day, and it's lights out for the Papal States.
Which is pretty good going for a four part Dr Who, and it's some credit to the direction that the ending doesn't kill the story, because the Dr luring all the brethren back to the temple and then fusing them all with a web of wire, is shockingly flimsy, but such is the construction of the final act - the juggler (nicely done Stuart Fell), the dancers (nice to see Miss Sladen take to the floor), and the unmasking of the 'entertainers' that turn out to be the bad guys - that the fragility of the denouement doesn't cause it to fracture under pressure.
I only wish that, when they did The Borgias, five years later, they did do it like this.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2011
The Masque of Mandragora takes us to 15th Century Italy, where part of the Mandragora Helix (unbeknownst to The Doctor) has hitched a lift aboard the TARDIS and poses a threat to human civilisation. It's a great story that takes the deadly cult plot device to a new level, whilst incorporating history and a simple, yet, terrifying alien menace.
The features included on the disc, are quite varied, and even though not all are specific to the story, they fit right in and offer excellent value to the release.
The 'Commentary' features Tom Baker (The 4th Doctor), Chris D'Oyly-John (Production Unit Manager), Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer) and Gareth Armstrong (Giuliano). Unusually, Tom seems to take a bit of a back seat, allowing for Philip to take the role of moderator for the commentary. There's a great juxtaposition between Philip and John's informative take on the story, with Tom's hilarious observations and side stories.
'The Secret of the Labyrinth' is an informative and vibrant behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Masque of Mandragora. Set in the Welsh village of Portmeirion, which doubled for the filming of the story, it starts off with Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer) explaining his reasons for the filming at the location.
All aspects of the production are covered, from casting and costumes to set design, giving a well-rounded understanding for the serial. It's backed up with interviews from Gareth Armstrong (Giuliano), Rodney Bennett (Director), Antony Carrick (Captain Rossini), Chris D'Oyly-John (Production Unit Manager), Jon Laurimore (Count Federico), Barry Newbery (Production Designer), Tim Piggott-Smith (Marco), Steve O'Brien (Writer, SFX Magazine) and Jim Sangster (Film and TV Historian). Kudos to Rob Semenoff for the fantastic CGI introduction to the feature.
'Bigger on the inside' is totally unconnected to The Masque of Mandragora, but provides a thoroughly detailed, yet concise history of the TARDIS. Featuring interviews with Tom Baker (The 4th Doctor), Robert Shearman (New Series Writer), Francesca Gavin (Art Writer & Editor), Matthew Savage (New Series Designer), Barry Newbury (Classic Series Designer) and Christopher H Bidmead (Writer & Script Editor 1980-81).
'Now and Then' looks at the locations of The Masque of Mandragora, showing original shots to the modern day comparisons. It feels a little different to previous Now and Then documentaries, as this time, we follow the locations through a map of Portmeirion. As a result of the style and nature of the location, there are very few actual changes that can be noticed, but it's interesting to see where all the action happened in context.
'Beneath the Masque' offers Clayton Hickman (Ex Doctor Who Magazine Editor) and Gareth Roberts' (New Series Writer), rather amusing take of the events surrounding and including the production of The Masque of Mandragora. The pair are clearly a double-act to be reckoned with. Even Hickman's Cathy come home impersonation which also resembled a 1980's Dot Branning, can't fail to resound a palpable hit amongst the hugely entertaining feature. It's pretty much utter nonsense, but who cares? It's produced with such sheer brilliance, and will have you chuckling away at the subtle and not-so-subtle digs at the show. Oh, and Gareth Roberts as a Blue Peter presenter was...priceless. Here's to future offerings from the pair!
The 'Coming Soon' trailer is for The Space Museum / The Chase DVD release, and is a clever twist on the usual trailers by incorporating a viewscreen from one of the episodes to promote the box-set. Definitely one of the most original trailers to date.
As with previous DVD releases, there are the usual 'Trails and Continuity', 'PDF Material', 'Photo Gallery' and 'Production Subtitles' included.
Overall, it's another tidy and well-thought-out package from 2|Entertain, and although there could have been room for one or two more extras, you can't help but feel totally satisfied with the finished package.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2010
'The Masque of Mandragora' hails from an era which many consider to be the series' finest, the couple of years in the mid-1970s when Tom Baker had his hands firmly on the TARDIS controls and the stories took a turn towards the darker tones of classic horror and suspense films. Set in Renaissance Italy, the serial was in fact filmed in the Portmeirion village in Wales, however thanks to some sensitive direction and imaginative location dressing, the story looks every inch the part. You can forget about Daleks and Cybermen, however- this tale focuses on a disembodied alien intelligence with the power to influence human affairs and dictate the course of history, and it's an intelligent script performed by a solid cast of actors.
The DVD package includes the usual informative commentary and information text, while also incorporating one or two additional interesting bits and pieces including actors and production staff recounting the making of the episodes back in 1976 and a slightly oddball comedy item. But the story itself is one of the best examples of what 'Doctor Who' was about in the 1970s- well written and acted with good production values for the BBC of the time, and well worth a look either for nostalgia or for anybody interested in broadening their experience of classic Doctor Who beyond the more obvious stories.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2014
'Masque of Mandragora' is the first story from Doctor Who's fourteenth series, it was from the middle of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era, considered by many (but not me) to be the golden era of the show. This story isn't remembered with the same fondness as 'Pyramids of Mars' or 'The Talons of Weng Chiang' if, indeed, it is remembered at all. It is somewhat lost between the giants of the era, nevertheless it is still a rather good adventure.
There's a lot of location work, which is always a plus. The location footage is of very high quality; they do a remarkable job of making Portmeirion look like Renaissance Italy. As expected, the period sets and costumes are exemplary, the costumes for the masque in the final episode are especially good. Visually the story is a roaring success in most respects.
Tom Baker displays his usual confidence and charisma and he and Elizabeth Sladen undeniably have great chemistry together. The story starts with an amusing sequence where The Doctor and Sarah Jane stroll through the corridors of the TARDIS and into a new console room set. The new set is wood panelled and looks splendid, especially compared to the sterile, brightly lit set it replaces.
This story is interesting as the 15th century Italian setting is integral to the story and not just background. The main theme of the story is the battle between science and superstition that was raging at that time. Rarely for Doctor Who, the story could even be considered educational.
On the downside the story does drag a little in places and the effects for the Mandragora energy are quite poor.
While the story is by no means a classic, it certainly has a lot to recommend it.
The extras include 'The Secret of the Labyrinth' is a nice 'making of' documentary. Some of the interviews are conducted on location in Portmeirion which is a nice touch.
'Bigger on the Inside' is a pretty good documentary about the TARDIS. It looks at the various console room sets and the various other features of the TARDIS seen over the years.
'Now and then' revisits the various locations used for the story.
'Beneath the Masque' is a spoof documentary about the writing and production of the story. As far as comedy features on Doctor Who DVDs go, this is one of the best. There are loads of good jokes and the writers demonstrate a lot of affection for Doctor Who.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
`Doctor Who' performs an Italianate `Hamlet' in the style of Errol Flynn and Vincent Price, with a large bolt of astral energy thrown in! 5*
A strong script from Renaissance expert Louis Marks (who also wrote the excellent `Planet of Evil') takes us into the feuding world of Italy's ducal families in the late 15th century, where Machiavellian machinations for power coincide with the far greater struggle between Dark Age superstition and the dawning of Western science. Being `Doctor Who', the scene would not be complete without the malevolent celestial energy of the Mandragora Helix, intent on a spiritual conquest of its own.
`The Masque of Mandragora' is `Doctor Who's most spectacular costume drama, filmed on location in the (then) slightly worn splendour of Portmeirion (on the Italian Riviera, Snowdonia, Wales) and in Barry Newbery's superb and truly palatial Palace sets. With a cast skilled in classical theatre and sumptuous costumes, many hired in from Rome, this story is the definitive answer to those critics who sneer at the style of classic `Doctor Who'.
Tom Baker (and his stunt double) plays the Doctor as a true Renaissance man, equally capable with a sword or an astrolabe, charging around on a galloping horse then facing alien foes while armed only with some wire and his scientific knowledge. Villainous characters often provide the best roles and that's certainly true of Count Federico and court astrologer Hieronymous, played to wonderfully sinister effect in Shakespearean style by Jon Laurimore (Federico) and Norman Jones.
Federico is enjoying himself so much terrorising peasants, scheming and poisoning his way to the Dukedom of San Martino that he doesn't notice what's happening right under his nose. His despised sidekick Hieronymous is changing from an astrological fraud with a useful sideline in poisons to a sorcerer possessed of lethal powers and a cult of hooded Brethren. Caught in the middle of all this is the rightful heir, Prince Giuliano (Gareth Armstrong), who wants a more enlightened future for his dukedom and its people, with only fellow nobleman Marco (Tim Pigott-Smith) to trust - until the Doctor and Sarah turn up.
This story does have its weak points, the ending feels rather rushed and just how the Doctor wins is not spelled out, although it's clear if you follow his actions carefully. The dialogue with the voice of Mandragora is OK for an evil alien force but it's not at Davros or Sutekh level. Elisabeth Sladen is just as good as ever as Sarah, but her role here is mostly that of a heroine in distress - kidnapped, drugged, rescued - twice each - and hypnotised too. At least she gets to show a different side to the character, dancing at the masque with Prince Giuliano, who is clearly falling in love, but nothing more is made of this.
However, there's definitely enough in this story to make an entertainment as visually splendid and colourful as any Renaissance duke could command and it deserves five stars. Five stars with NO astrological significance and NOT forming the constellation of Mandragora, we have to be careful about these things ...
DVD extras include the usual interesting commentary which this time is particularly informative about the production side of `Doctor Who', a good `making of' feature filmed back in Portmeirion and a look at the locations then and now. There's also a feature on the history of the TARDIS, which in this show displays its Edwardian `wood and brass' control room for the first time.
NOTE: The DVD menu shows clips from the programme as background, so if you don't know the story already, press `Play' ASAP.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 May 2011
Like many Doctor Who serials broadcast before I was old enough to appreciate them I discovered this Fourth Doctor and Sarah-Jane classic through producer Philip Hinchcliffe's superb 1977 TARGET novelisation. When I finally managed to watch it on VHS in the early 90s I was perhaps a little disappointed with the mise en scene, but the story's verve and imagination has actually stood the test of time very well.
Tim Pigott-Smith's fey Marco notwithstanding, the cast are obviously having great fun, and Baker gets to indulge his action-man side with sword fights, underwater evasion, horse-riding and even hiding in a tree a la Charles I! However, it's the irrepressible John Laurimore who steals the show as the thoroughly cowardly bully Count Federico, and his clashes with The Doctor are the highlight of these four episodes.
This serial is also notable for its contributions to 'Who-lore', including the appearance of the wood-panelled 'secondary control room', and the revelation that the TARDIS imbues all who travel in it with the ability to understand and communicate in any given language.
DVD extras have been mentioned here by other reviewers, so suffice to say that Baker and Hinchcliffe provide an entertaining commentary, whilst other picks include 'Beneath The Masque', a spoof documentary featuring Mandragora-related whimsy and Who in-jokes aplenty from fans Clayton Hickman and Gareth Roberts, and 'Spirit Of The Labyrinth', a candid and colourful making of documentary, filmed in the curious Welsh village of Portmerion - as was the parent serial.