Doctor Who #431: The Masque of Mandragora Part 2

"We seem to have an awful lot of questions. It's about time we started finding some answers."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.11 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The Helix promises Hieronymous rulership of Earth. The Doctor and Sarah escape and gain the friendship of Duke Giuliano.

REVIEW: Obviously, our heroes have to get out of that twin cliffhanger. Sadly, the results are variable. The Doctor's escape is definitely cool - he's calm and funny, and uses his scarf in a neat way. The mechanics of his tripping up his executioner were worked out well enough that the moment works. Not so Sarah Jane's rescue from the Cult of Demnos. For THAT moment to work, the cultists all need to close their eyes in prayer at the moment of sacrifice so the Doctor can slide her off the altar. I don't buy the moment that follows either. Was the High Priest (Hieronymous, as it turns out) really aiming for her face? His orders to get the Doctor and Sarah come too quickly, as if rehearsed. He doesn't really have time to look around and spot them. I also wish they'd addressed what had Sarah in that trance. She's in and out of it without explanation.

While I'm interested in the Court intrigue, Federico's plans for Giuliano and all that, Hieronymous strikes me as a particularly one-note villain. Staring into the distance with mad eyes, he dreams of ruling the world through the power of the... slow... talking... Mandragora... Helix... He never strikes me as a real person, and the silly beard certainly isn't helping. Somehow, the other San Martinians overcome their bad wigs, but not Hieronymous. It's perhaps telling that the Helix/Demnos tells him to be discreet, as if sensing his megalomania. Already, in the castle, Hieronymous is getting above his position. It's like Polonius suddenly telling off Claudius. At this point, he's insulted to be asked to cast a false horoscope, which is either an about-face, or the older Duke's death really was ordained, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. He was fated to die at the hands of his astrologer.

There's a lot more location shooting in this episode, and it's gorgeous, looking like nothing the show's previously been able to achieve outside. Again, *I* know it's Portmerion, but it never looks like The Village to me. A strange and wonderful place that agreeably plays the role of Renaissance Italy and the surrounding forest where a Roman cult past its due date by about 12 centuries might lurk. The latter makes a nice setting for sword battles and horse chases, as well as quieter, sweeter moments like Sarah Jane being charmed by Giuliano's scientific awakening. She knows the Earth is round, but there's something special about someone enthusiastic about that (new!) idea. Her reation is what makes it special for us. Oh Lis, never leave this show!

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An odd mix of things that annoy me (a poorly choreographed rescue, a couple of cardboard villains, lots of lurking about) and things I love (great location work, sweet human moments, the Doctor being clever and witty). So the episode falls right in the middle, watchable but flawed.



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