The Masque of Mandragora


Despite seeing the debut of both the Della Robbia font and the wooden console room set, in a scene with some rare continuity, The Masque of Mandragora is one of those stories that doesn’t really stand out too much, probably due to the quality of everything else around it. Although it treads the same tired old ground of the conflict between science and religion, it at least does it in an interesting and different way.

The Scottish Enlightenment and the Renaissance both trumpeted the triumph of reason over superstition, a worldview that says that rationality is superior to spirituality. Of course all they really did was replace one religion with another, the religion of humanism based on the doctrine of the theory of evolution.

Whoflix is always deeply suspicious of people who have no room for doubt, and particularly of people like Richard Dawkins, who is just as much a zealot for his belief system of evolution as anyone carrying a crucifix or a wielding a scimitar. Today, in our “post-christian era”, society, or at least those with their hands on the levers of cultural influence, no longer worships at the church of the christian god, it worships at the altar of of the Church of Dawkins, venerates it’s high priests Cox and Attenborough, and awaits the latest doctrinal statements from Cardinal Al-Maliki and Bishop Roberts. Today the heretics are still those who don’t accept official church doctrine, only today they’re not jews and protestants, they’re those who don’t believe in global warming. Heresy!

dr who 14.1 masque mandragora covers

Instead of the usual Galileo v the Catholic church scenario, which was always more of a political institution than a spiritual one, here we have Hieronymous v Guliano, Astronomy v Astrology if you like, the clash of two worldviews. And when it comes to worldviews, there are only really three to choose from: the Judeo-Christian worldview, the Islamist worldview and the Marxist worldview.

All of the problems of human history come from that clash of worldviews, which continues to this day. The problem, as with so much of human interaction, stems from seeing your worldview as being superior to the other person’s, coupled with the unwillingness to concede that maybe they have a point, and the inability to look for commonalities instead of insisting on binary choices. Doctor Who has always promoted the evolutionist worldview, which is strange given that it’s a fantasy series, and always will be a fantasy series and not science-fiction. But it’s a series where the central character is a high priest of the temple of science.

Masque of Mandragora by Adrian Salmon DWM352

So it’s great fun to watch the Doctor run slap-bang into gloomy old doom merchant Hieronymous, who has clearly been to the comedy beard shop with his pocket money. Norman Jones is brilliant in this, the best of his three turns in Who [Abominable Snowmen and Silurians being the other two] and he’s probably the only actor in the show with a voice as dark and doom laden as Tom Baker’s. Mwahahahaha! The cast are, overall, pretty damn good, with the exception of Guliano, who’s played as a complete wimp, he’s even got a more girly haircut than Sarah! Apart from wimpy old Julie Ahno, all the other male characters are played strong. Julie’s mate Marco, played by Tim Piggott-Smith before he become famous for narrating documentaries and V For Vendetta, has more balls than he does, and Count Federico is a great villain. Did you notice how he totally underplays his little Zaroff Moment in part three? Class.

As you would expect, this was another of those edits where it’s more trims than cuts. We lose the boot cupboard from part one to give us “just how big is the tardis?” as a much stronger opening line but, unfortunately, a strong opening culminates in a weak ending. The Doctor’s escape from the executioner is nonsense – he throws his scarf at the executioner, it magically wraps itself around his ankle, tying itself in a knot in the process, then just as magically unties itself so the Doctor can leg it. WTF? For a show that’s all about rationality, that’s a pretty magical solution to the problem of how to get out of a cliffhanger when there’s no-one interrupt or distract on the Doctor’s behalf. Either that or the scarf is made of living wool…

dwm mandragoraSo that has to get cut out altogether, which isn’t really a problem as the Doctor doesn’t meet up with old Freddy Rico again for ages afterwards, until the end of part three. So now Sarah gets kidnapped and about four minutes later the Doctor is in the catacombs looking for her. But removing that sequence had knock on effects later on in the initial scene with Guliano where it, and the events leading up to it get referenced, so they too had to be cut and replaced with material from elsewhere.

That’s one of the main things you need to watch out for. If you’re cutting something that gets referenced later on, sometimes you can’t cut the reference to it without it being obvious a cut has been made, and in that instance you often have no alternative but to reinstate the sequence you wanted to cut. But there was no way I was going to do that here, with the result that there’s only 8m of part two in the final edit.

There were a few technical issues with DVD Shrink ripping episode 3 from the DVD, and DVD Decrypter didn’t like it either, so if you’re planning on using that software to rip this so you can edit it yourself, be aware that you’ll need to additionally rip the end section on its own, from five minutes before the end. If you don’t, the software will automatically split the episode file, leaving you with a gap of a couple of frames between the big clip and the short end section. And to plug that gap, you’ll have to rip the end section on its own again, so best do it at the same time as the rest of the ep! I’ve encountered this problem a few times and it’s a real pain in the arse that DVD Shrink doesn’t rip the entire ep as one file.

The Doctor’s little trip to the temple doesn’t achieve much, mainly because it’s nothing more than padding, which is the main reason why there’s only about 5m of part three in the final edit. Part four, on the other hand, does rather better, which is only to be expected since it concludes the narrative, surviving more or less intact with 18m worth of footage making it into the final edit of a story that isn’t exactly one of the classics of the classic series, but it does come pretty close. Shame we never got that sequel, but who knows, maybe Twelvy will encounter a TV version of The Mark of Mandragora one day…

Masque of Mandragora by Ben Willsher DWM418

MANDRAGORA CD REARdownload masque


3 thoughts on “The Masque of Mandragora

  1. With the sad demise of Star Treks Leonard Nimoy, its a poignant reminder that our childhood hero’s, from whatever, t.v show or film it may be, are getting older.Many of them may not be in such good health anymore. sadly for us, who grew up watching those stars of a certain age, the time may soon come, that most of them will be no longer with us.

  2. Yes the chances of getting the “classic” series, actors in future shows or anniversary programmes get slimmer every year.

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