I have to admit that I am fan of Baker's Doctor. I feel he is the best actor in the role. I like the dimensions he gives the character. This story is an example of him and Elizabeth Sladen show off the great chemistry they had in a fun and enjoyable romp in this classic episode. If you are new to the classic Doctors I think this should definitely be on your watch list. I collect both classic and new Doctor. I recommend this DVD to those who also collect and or view the Doctor's many adventures. The commentary is also a lot of fun. I enjoy most of the commentaries on these DVD's and recommend you view the shows at least once with commentary. Tom Baker is always worth watching!
Not a classic Tom Baker story by any means, but well crafted, well acted on the whole and with the fine use of location footage at Portmeirion. It plainly isn't really in Italy as everyone looks freezing during the location footage! Even the usually embarrassing effects are surprisingly good.
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.
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.
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.
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.