Let’s get this party started…
Sue: New font. I don’t like it.
Me: It’s Cantoria Bold.
Sue: It’s Cantoria Boring.
The Doctor and Sarah are exploring the TARDIS, which, as Sue is keen to point out, isn’t something you see every day. They come across a boot cupboard.
Sue: That’s where the Doctor keeps his very own chroma studio. Look at the lovely CSO.
Sue isn’t impressed with the Doctor’s housekeeping, either.
Sue: The Doctor could do with a part-time cleaner. Look at the dust on his round things -
Sue: It looks like he hasn’t been down this corridor with a Henry in centuries.
The Doctor and Sarah stumble into the secondary console room.
Sue adores it. But of course she does. It’s made of WOOD!
Sue: It’s very cosy. I love the stained glass. This suits Tom Baker down to the ground. Does he stay in here from now on? I hope he does.
Sue picks up on the reference to Patrick Troughton when Sarah finds a recorder, and she’s convinced that the dusty, pink shirt once belonged to Jon Pertwee, but before we get can into why we haven’t seen this room before, especially if all the other Doctors have used it, the TARDIS is attacked by an unseen force.
Sue: Nice camera movement. Have the BBC splashed out on a jib?
The TARDIS hurtles down a crystalline tunnel…
Sue: It’s Diamonique Hour on QVC.
Our heroes step into a black void. A ball of red light appears and the Doctor and Sarah hide behind the TARDIS to escape its attention.
Sue: Shut the ****ing door!
The Doctor warns his companion about the dangers of Helix energy.
Sue: Yes, and it just flew straight into your TARDIS. You don’t need to be Benedict Cumberbatch to work that one out.
As the TARDIS leaves the Mandragora Helix behind, demonic laughter rings out.
Sue: Is it the Master?
Meanwhile, in 15th century Italy…
Sue: Oh, I’ll probably like this. Nice location. Period costumes. Real things. I like the historical ones.
As Count Federico enters the town of San Martino on horseback, Sue knows exactly where this story takes place – in Wales.
Sue: Is this Portmerion?
Me: I am seriously impressed.
Sue: You’ve made me watch The Prisoner more times than I care to remember. The building with the green dome is what gives it away. I’m surprised you haven’t dragged me there for a holiday.
Me: I’ll take you as soon as the experiment is over. We can re-enact scenes from this story if you like.
Sue gives me one of her looks.
Sue: Yeah, it could be part of our ongoing counselling, along with you burning your Doctor Who DVDs on a big bonfire. I’m looking forward to it.
Count Federico and the young Prince Giuliano are bickering over the body of a recently deceased Duke. The court astrologer, Hieronymous, insists that their ruler’s death was foretold in the stars.
Sue: Giuliano doesn’t sound like a very British name to me.
Me: Maybe that’s because we’re in Italy.
Sue: Oh, well in that case, why isn’t anyone speaking with an Italian accent? That’s a bit lazy, isn’t it?
Sue is drawn to Giuliano’s best friend, Marco.
Sue: The bloke with the ginger hair doesn’t look very Italian. He looks Scottish. Who cast this?
Federico orders Hieronymous to foretell Giuliano’s imminent death.
Sue: Hieronymous can’t be the Master. The Master wouldn’t be seen dead with a beard like that.
The TARDIS materialises in a nearby wood. It takes thirty seconds for Sarah to be kidnapped by three hooded men.
Sue: That has to be a new record.
The Doctor intervenes but he is knocked unconscious with a blow to the head.
Sue: That was a canny good thump. I wouldn’t be surprised if that gave him brain damage.
With the Doctor out cold, the Helix energy emerges from the TARDIS…
Sue: I knew it! This is what happens when you don’t shut the bloody door. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often, actually.
The Helix energy wreaks havoc and it doesn’t take long for an innocent bystander to die horribly.
Sue: This is all the Doctor’s fault. What a berk.
The Doctor comes to his senses and he runs into Captain Rossini and his horsemen. They threaten to arrest him so he spooks their horses with a football rattle. The Doctor steals a horse and rides off.
Sue: That isn’t Tom Baker. The wig isn’t right. He looks more like Malcolm McLaren.
Sarah is taken to some catacombs where a cult prepare to sacrifice her to Demnos…
Sue: Hang on, is this a sequel? Isn’t there a Jon Pertwee story called The Demnos? It really is the Master, isn’t it?
The Doctor is captured and Count Federico sentences him to death for spying. The episode concludes with the Doctor’s neck on the chopping block.
Sue: Nice cliffhanger. I liked the way the executioner moved his arm back in time to the theme music. Who directed this one?
The appropriate credit appears.
Sue: Rodney Bennett… The name rings a bell.
Me: Well, aside from directing The Ark in Space and The Sontaran Experiment, he shares his name with a rival school in Grange Hill, but since you never saw that series, you are probably mistaking him for the composer, Richard Rodney Bennett. Either way, this conversation is going nowhere.top
The Doctor uses his trusty scarf to escape execution.
Sue: That was fun. A bit silly, but fun.
The Doctor flees through a market.
Sue: This looks great but the white cladding on that wall isn’t right for this period. They are trying to hide it behind some material but the wind has blown it away. What a shame.
The Doctor finds himself in some catacombs. He decides to follow a man dressed in a purple cloak and gold mask who strides purposefully through its passageways.
Sue: Could this bloke walk any slower? Has he got sciatica or something?
Sarah is definitely going to be sacrificed. Honest.
Sue: She’s been lying on that table for hours. They’ve been waving a knife above her head for so long now, she just looks bored. She should have been killed ages ago. Why do the bad guys always have to do a little dance first?
The Doctor drags Sarah away from the sacrificial altar.
Sue: Are they trying to lighten the mood with slapstick humour? And are they responding to criticisms of too much violence with comedy parp-parp music?
Me: Comedy parp-parp music? That’s classic Dudley Simpson!
She changes the subject:
Sue: Marco and Giuliano are definitely a couple. The first thing Giuliano should do when he’s in charge is change the same-sex marriage laws.
Back in the catacombs, Sarah’s absence is ignored in favour of a mysterious light that now bathes Hieronymous. A booming voice follows…
Sue: The alien talks as slowly as this bloke walks. They are the perfect couple. Actually, if they did everything at normal speed, this episode would only be ten minutes long.
The disembodied voice warns Hieronymous that he is the only person who can stand where he stands now. The voice repeats this instruction several times.
Sue: So, who’s allowed to stand there again? I’m confused – can you say it one more time, please?
That sarcastic barb aside, Sue is completely wrapped up in The Masque of Mandragora.
Sue: It looks good, the performances are interesting and the plot is reasonably straightforward – although I haven’t got a clue what Helix energy is supposed to be, or what it wants. But that’s OK.
The Doctor races back to the catacombs…
Sue: I keep expecting him to run into Patrick McGoohan coming the other way.
The episode concludes with Sarah back in the clutches of the cult of Demnos.
Sue: I enjoyed that.
Me: You didn’t say much.
Sue: That’s because I’m enjoying it. Sorry.top
The Doctor is attacked by a strange noise in the catacombs and it’s up to Giuliano to keep four swordsmen at bay.
Sue: Come on! They could take him. Look at him. He looks like he’s never picked up a sword before.
The Doctor arrives to give Giuliano a helping hand.
Sue: Malcolm McLaren is back. This sword fight isn’t very good. Either the stuntmen are rubbish or the guards are rubbish. Their hearts aren’t in it.
Sarah is bound and gagged and taken to Hieronymous’ chambers. The mad astrologer holds a vial under her nose.
Sue: Is he going to waterboard her?
Meanwhile, Count Federico gives Captain Rossini a bollocking for failing to find the Doctor.
Sue: He needs to work on his man management skills. Calling someone a dung head isn’t going to do him any favours in the long run. I bet he stabs him in the back at the end.
Once again, Sue falls under an episode’s spell. She’ll mumble something about how great the sets look if pushed, but it takes something really special to get a reaction out of her. Like Dudley’s obsession with vibraslaps, for instance.
Sue: Are the catacombs invested with rattlesnakes?
Federico tortures Marco, hoping he will give Giuliano up as a follower of Demnos.
Sue: Marco will never lie about Giuliano. He loves him too much. This is quite touching, actually.
After confronting Hieronymous in his chambers, the Doctor is apprehended by Rossini’s men. In the ensuing fracas, the Doctor puts up quite a fight.
Sue: Pertwee would have been proud of that kick to the face.
The Doctor is chained to a wall next to Sarah. He says he knew Sarah was under Hieronymous’ hypnotic control because she asked him how she could understand Italian, when she knows full well that it’s a Time Lord gift he shares with her.
Sue: I thought it was the TARDIS that did that? That’s a bit vague.
The episode concludes with Federico unmasking Hieronymous as a monster with a burning sun for a face.
Sue: Very good.
Me: Really? I’m surprised.
Sue: It’s pure energy. What do you want it to look like? It makes sense and it doesn’t look silly. It’s quite unsettling, actually. I’m enjoying this.
Me: I know. You hardly said a word again.
Sue: It’s good! What more do you want me to say?top
Nicol is pestering us to watch the latest Game of Thrones.
Me: You’ll have to wait. We have to watch this episode of Doctor Who first.
Sue: You’ll like it, Nicol, it’s a bit like Game of Thrones.
Nicol: Yeah, of course it is.
Me: But with less incest.
Sue: And just as much homoeroticism.
Nicol wants to know why Sarah is auditioning for a role in The Sound of Music. She gets into a long and involved discussion with her mother about Sarah’s dress sense, but it was so tedious, I couldn’t bring myself to note it down.
The odd compliment aside (“Nice tracking shot”), Sue is completely engrossed again. This is rapidly becoming par for the course. Even Nicol fails to chip in, not when the Doctor engages in some hardcore mathematics, or even when the catacombs look a bit Crystal Maze-ish.
Deep within these catacombs, the cult of Demos are consumed by the power of Mandragora.
Sue: It’s much scarier when the villains are real people. I’ll take a mad monk in a mask over a plastic monster any day of the week. It’s much more believable.
In the royal court, a jester entertains a crowd of partygoers. He punctuates every backflip and trick with a cheery “Pop!”
Sue: Pop! Pop! Is this where Community got that idea from? I know Inspector Space Time is supposed to be Doctor Who but I didn’t know they were obsessed with The Masque of Mandragora.
Nicol wants to know if Tim Pigott-Smith is Benedict Cumberbatch’s dad.
Me: No. But his mum will be along in a couple of weeks, so hang on in there.
The Doctor provokes Hieronymous into a confrontation and the astrologer attacks the Time Lord with Helix energy shooting out of his fingers.
Sue: Forget Community – George Lucas must have been a big fan of The Masque of Mandragora as well. This definitely inspired him when he made Return of the Jedi. The villain even wears a mask.
Thankfully, the Doctor has come prepared and he drains Mandragora’s power away.
Back at the Masque, Mandragora’s servants make their move; the room is bathed in a red light and the guests are struck down by energy bolts.
Me: So have the best minds in Italy just been killed? That can’t be good, can it?
It turns out that the Doctor was impersonating Hieronymous the whole time.
Sue: Since when has he been able to do that? Is he an intergalactic Mike Yarwood, now?
Me: You should hear his Davros, it’s hilarious.
The Doctor and Sarah bid farewell to Giuliano. The Doctor leaves with a grin on his face and some salami in his pocket – a reward for saving the world.
Sue: It’s more than he usually gets, I suppose.
The Doctor tells Sarah that the Mandragora Helix will try to take over the Earth again at the end of the twentieth century.
Sue: They’ve set it up nicely for a sequel.top
The Final Score
Sue: That was very nearly the second ten out of ten in a row but the ending let it down. The climax was a bit rushed and, well, anticlimactic, but I’m used to that. I can’t fault the rest: great location, sets, costumes, performances, script. And the lighting was the excellent. Yeah, I liked it a lot. It was very accessible, too. If only it had the same pace as The Seeds of Doom…
The experiment continues…top
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