Friday 9 July 2010

The Masque of Mandragora

The Fourth Doctor and Sarah battle an alien entity in Renaissance Italy.

This story is generally well-regarded, while not being seen as one of the classics of the Hinchcliffe era.

The story suggests the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, with a cosmic intelligence impersonating an ancient deity that is worshipped by a sinister cult. Being a fan of Lovecraft, I like that, however, I do find it hard to be gripped by the conflict with the Mandragora Helix. It is a somewhat to abstract opponent to be really engaging. The two similar cosmic horrors, The Image of the Fendahl and Curse of Fenric were able to make their 'Old Ones' grip the viewer, through a monstrous appearance in Fendahl and through human drama in Fenric. Mandaragora lacks these two strategies.

As always the BBC excels at costume drama and this story works well enough on the level of costumes and sets. On the other hand, it does feature a lot of stock characters. Hieronymous the astrologer is the only character who is particularly interesting.

Like The Ribos Operation there is an element of cosmic irony at work. Although the Doctor has a vastly greater understanding of science, his talk of 'alien intelligences' comes across to the Renaissance characters as superstitous mumbo jumbo. Although Federico thinks he is part of a movement for a better understanding of the world, the truth is that the Whovian comos is actually closer to the world of superstition and magic that he rejects.

The TARDIS' secondary control room is an interesting feature of the story.

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