Doctor Who – The Masque of Mandragora

It’s that time of year again – the gap between the Doctor Who Christmas special and the next series, which would seem quite bleak if it wasn’t for the regular releases of classic episodes. There are lots planned for the next few months, the first of which is this little gem from September 1976, which I don’t think I’ve seen since its original showing all those years ago.

The fun starts with the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) having a stroll through the numerous corridors of the TARDIS, which leads them to the secondary control room, a quite lovely wood-panelled affair, in delightful contrast to the normal stark white room. The Doctor decides to make this the main control room from now on[1], and does some jiggery-pokery[2] to map it to the exterior doors.

While Sarah is admiring the decor, Something Strange appears on the monitor, which the Doctor recognises as the Mandragora Helix, a wossname wossname energy wossname, which quite naturally pulls the TARDIS into its thingies.[3] And while the Doctor and Sarah pop outside to have a look, a shiny thingy slips into the TARDIS and hides.

Once back in the TARDIS, the Doctor dematerialises it and off it goes to North Wales. Err, sorry, Renaissance Italy. But this being the BBC of the mid 1970s, filming in Italy wasn’t an option, so the quite delightfully bonkers village of Portmeirion, best known as the location for The Prisoner, was used instead. With some careful use of hanging cloths and the like to disguise modern features, it served very well.

Lots of fun follows, with a Cunning Count murdering anyone who gets in his way, and a bonkers astrologer being taken over by Mandragora Energy (hint: this is a Bad Thing), and of course, lots of running about.

Special features include the usual stuff like a commentary, production subtitles, pictures, PDFs of TV listings, original TV trailers and a trailer for the next release, plus:

  • The Secret of the Labyrinth – quite apart from being the originally planned title of the story, it’s the usual cast and crew looking back on the production thingy
  • Bigger on the Inside – a look at the design of the Tardis, and how it evolved over the years
  • Now and Then – one of the ever-popular features looking at how the location has changed since the show was made. In the case of Portmeirion, not that much, really…
  • Beneath the Masque – Best. Extra. Feature. Ever. Really. Gareth Roberts (Doctor Who writer) and Clayton Hickman (former Doctor Who Magazine editor) present an ever so slightly different look at the context of the story. Learn how the showing of the first episode influenced world events![4] See a Welsh map with some slightly unlikely place names (Aberthealbum was my favourite)! Laugh! Wonder if you can get paid to do that sort of thing!

So yes, it’s another good fun DVD that you need in your collection.

[1] Well, it appeared a few more times, but was eventually abandoned. Shame, I rather liked it, as did the producers who liked having a much smaller set taking up studio room…
[2] Advanced Time Lord technical process
[3] I’m substituting my own technobabble for this review
[4] Ended the 1976 drought and killed Chairman Mao, apparently