The Something of Something was a popular trait in Seventies Who (only one from this story’s ‘season’ does not abide to that format – The Deadly Assassin) and, as a result, the uniqueness and individuality of the tale can get a bit lost in all the ‘ofs’. Indeed, sandwiched between my favourite Tommy B story The Seeds Of Doom and The Hand Of Fear, The Masque Of Mandragora is neither as memorable or as good as either.
Not that it’s bad, by no means. Masque is a perfectly well executed story with excellent production values but, for me, it is the very definition of an average Doctor Who story (and sitting at No. 85 in the recent DWM poll, lots of others agree). Unlike Seeds and Hand, it’s the supporting cast who let the side down. Whereas Doom had Amelia Ducat, Harrison Chase and Scorby (not forgetting the flippin’ Krynoid!); and Fear featured Eldrad (both of them) and even Professor Watson – Mandragora has no real memorable performances.
A pity really as it kicks off in an impressively creepy sci~fi start and a trip round the TARDIS with Sarah Jane commenting, “I see what you mean about relative dimensions!” Do you Sarah, do you really?? Once the intrepid duo hit Earth, she gets captured even pretty quickly for her and so we find ourselves in the world of The Prisoner. Sorry, I mean Portmeirion. Oops, actually it’s Renaissance Italy. Apparently. This is another slight problem I have with Masque, I can’t get the Patrick McGoohan classic out of my head every time there’s some outdoor action.
Viewers may find themselves afeared (or aroused, like me) when SJ gets caught and posed with the statement: “Demnos will not be cheated of his pleasure little one!” Blimey. Annoyingly, the ‘journalist’ (*coughs*) does manage to get possessed yet again (another trope as lazy as the Sesame Street~sponsored ‘of’) though I was amused to find that The Doctor does actually use the line “I’ll explain later” in answer to a ‘difficult’ question.
Though I may seem to be rather down on this story, it’s an entertaining watch. As a ‘season’ opener it’s not exactly thrilling and there are much more interesting and memorable stories out there (some better, some worse) but Masque is a solid tale told in a time when the show was blasting on full tilt, hitting out classic after classic. So it’s probably not fair to compare this one to its surrounding brothers and sisters from the same and previous ‘seasons’. Anyway, The Masque of Mandragora is worth watching alone for the new TARDIS console room. Now, hold on – that IS memorable!
Although the story itself is far from memorable, the cast and crew sure do remember it all in great detail (though one has to wonder what Elisabeth Sladen makes of it – sadly, she appears on not one of the extras presented here). The Commentary (featuring Tom Baker, Gareth Armstrong, Philip Hinchcliffe and Chris D’Oyly-John) tootles along quite nicely though Tom does seem slightly restrained here with only the odd strange noise coming out of his gob and the even odder use of the phrase “blacking up”. They do go off topic occasionally, debating Eastenders and the merits of HD (at some length). And, yet again, there’s another discussion of whether or not actors rehearse today like they did in the “good ole days”. Seriously, a producer needs to tell those involved in commentaries discussions that have taken place before. (And more than once!) The implication seems to be that things aren’t as good as they used to be which, frankly, is redundant as it is dumb.
As always, there’s a main docco covering the production and here we get The Secret of the Labyrinth led by Phillip Hinchliffe. I’ve admired Hincho for years but his admission that The Prisoner “must have passed me by” left me somewhat disappointed in the once~great man. Really? Passed you by?? Oh well. Ironically this documentary is set in Portmeirion, home to the aforementioned other ‘cult’ Sixties classic. It’s pretty exhaustive and you’ll wonder about letting the kids watch this one with some unsavoury info about cod~pieces raked out… I will say there is some mightily impressive CG rendering of the TARDIS console room on this one – excellent work (pictured below).
Bigger on the Inside is, as you might have guessed, is a look at the history of the TARDIS. It’s a worthy piece though once feels it could have been easily Confidentialised and stretched to an hour as it is a pretty rushed affair. And they wheel out Christopher “Hello, I Don’t Like The Science Behind The ‘New Series’ Even Though I Had The Master Speak To The Entire Universe Through A Radio Transmitter and Crappy Old Dish in ‘Logopolis’ – No, Really” Bidmead who, thankfully, manages to keep his more opinionated views to himself. Again there’s neat CG rendering – here, they recreate a moment from An Unearthly Child, placing Susan in the New Series TARDIS.
Now and Then continues the DVD series and present a delightful tour of Portmeirion (though maybe that’s The Prisoner fan in me speaking, or typing rather). And then there’s Beneath the Masque – a ‘humorous’ piece presented and written by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman. One can’t help but feel that if they’d left the narration and presenting to someone else then the gags would have been better played. Sadly, I’m afraid to report, these guys do not have the skills to elicit laughs. There are funny moments in there: cracking idea of a mash~up between Cathy Come Home and The Prisoner (how many more times am I gonna mention that show?); a tittersome Blue Peter skit; and the line “nothing would never be the same again.” But one has to question the use of a ‘Jamaican’ to portray laziness, a lapse in judgment I feel.
Add in a pinch of superb Production Notes, a Dalek~bump inducing ‘Coming Soon’ trailer for The Space Museum & The Chase, a lurvely Photo Gallery and an ‘interestingly’ illustrated Radio Times PDF and you’ve got an almost perfect companion of VAMs. Oh yeah, and did I mention The Prisoner?