Doctor Who #433: The Masque of Mandragora Part 4

"You know, the worse the situation, the worse your jokes get."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.25 1976.

IN THIS ONE... The masque, and the Doctor drains the Helix energy right out of the Brethren.

REVIEW: Hey, finally, a masque! It may seem like a bit flighty to have a dance (and for the Doctor to encourage it!) in the middle of an alien siege, but 1) it adds production value (acrobatics, juggling, fire-eating, music, dancing!),  2) the title demands it, and 3) the Doctor uses it as a vital part of his plan to destroy the Brethren and the Mandragora Helix. It also gives Sarah Jane a chance to dress up and perhaps flirt with the Duke--oops, nope, he's never really interested in her, is he? The only person Marco has to be concerned about, it seems, is the Doctor. (This story would fit well in the RTD era, wouldn't it?) Fine, if Giuliano isn't interested in this girl who makes jokes in the face of danger and is quite good at faking her way through a courtly dance, that's his loss.

But back to the Doctor's plan. One of the things I like is that it's based on science, furthering the theme of the Renaissance. What the Mandragora are trying to stop - humanity's access to science and ability to threaten their sector of space - is what the Doctor uses to triumph over them. And the rule of science is used throughout to show off the Doctor's brilliance. He converts astrolabe data to the Copernican system and finds the Mandragora will attack on the lunar eclipse. He takes a power nap and awakens in an intellectual frenzy, thinking too fast to articulate his plan. He faces off against a super-charged Hieronymous and survives by grounding himself, then disguises himself AS Hieronymous to stop a massacre AND make the Brethren fall into his trap, sapping their energies with a grounded altar. This final chapter is full of twists that surprise the audience as much as the villains.

The script cheats to get us there, though. The Doctor only brings his lion's head along so that Hieronymous can use it to infiltrate the masque and provide a bit of shock value. And we just don't know what exactly happened at the end of their battle. Both their appearances at the masque are surprising, but never explained. It's also rather off-putting to see the Doctor, all smiles, congratulate himself for saving the day when we've just witnessed a massacre at the masque. I sure hope no one important got killed, and given the guest list, History was very lucky to escape unscathed. Neither The Doctor nor us got to meet Leonardo da Vinci, but at least HE got to bring home some salami. Still, this is far from the last we hear of the Doctor's fascination with Leonardo...

THEORIES: The Doctor says the Mandragora's "constellation" will be aligned with Earth again in about 500 years, i.e. the end of the 20th century. But that's a really round figure so might the actual date be closer to the start of the 21st, specifically the events of the Sarah Jane Adventures' Secrets of the Stars? In that episode, astrology and the zodiac play a role and contravene our universe's laws of physics because the Ancient Lights (another name for the Mandragora?) come from a previous universe where those laws were different. Could THEIR universe be the same pocket dimension we saw in Part 1 of this serial? A clue - Secrets of the Stars was originally going to use the Mandragora Helix, but its powers and weaknesses changed so much, they were turned into something else. Russell T Davies still likened them to "cousins". Extracanonical sources would place the return of the Mandragora in 1863 China (the rather cool 1st Doctor novel The Eleventh Tiger, feat. Wong Fei-Hung) or in 2009 (in the Doc10 and Donna novel, Beautiful Chaos).

VERSIONS: There's a Target novelization, of course, and the opening scenes of Part 1 were adapted as a one-page comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine #161, but I'm unaware of any notable differences from the televised story in either.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The finale is full of twists and turns - and juggling too! - but the Doctor's a bit too flip in the end given the body count.

- A perfectly good pseudo-historical, with a threat to history, some good cod-Shakespearean dialog, nice locations, and a fair amount of action. A couple of dull villains do keep it from getting a higher score, however.



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