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11 March 2012 @ 12:03 pm
The Randomizer: The Masque of Mandragora  
Given Logopolis wasn't actually a particularly hard act to follow, it's probably no surprise that The Masque of Mandragora looked good in comparison. It doesn't hurt either that Masque is from the period when Doctor Who was deservedly at its peak of popularity under Philip Hinchcliffe and that it is one of the better examples from that period.

Watching this so soon after Logopolis confirmed my opinion that the latter was slow, even for the time. Masque of Mandragora was made five years before Logopolis and though it contains sequences that would probably be trimmed or cut in 2012 it never drags nor lacks pace. In fact I don't think the more leisurely style particularly harms it at all, certainly nothing feels like padding.

The story itself is more straightforward than Logopolis, it isn't trying to do anything particularly clever. The villains are villainous, the heros are earnest but inexperienced, characters are broad brush and one-note but the actors are taking the whole seriously enough to make the effort to be entertaining which is all the show needs for this sort of tale. What complexity the story does have comes from its two antagonists, the politically motivated Count Federico, and the more science-fictional Hieronymous who is acting as the agent of the Mandragora Helix, and the interaction of their plots and aims serves to both complicate and, on occasion, simplify the Doctor's task. I suspect modern Who would jettison Count Federico in the name of keeping the central plot moving but would lose a lot of the entertainment in the process. Both baddies are surprisingly well played, at least considering both the more "pantomime" style that was to follow only a few years later and that neither have motivations that extend very far beyond "I am evil". Norman Jones, as Hieronymous stands in particular contrast to Anthony Ainley's master from Logopolis, since he's required to do a similar line in over-the-top villainy but someone manages to do so without looking nearly as ridiculous as Ainley does.

Of course, the story also benefits from the fact that it is playing to one of the BBC's great strengths, namely period and costume drama. It looks sumptuous and its use of Portmerion for exterior scenes is inspired. Where Logopolis looked a bit shabby and overlit, Masque of Mandragora looks like money has been spent on it.

At the end of the day, especially in comparison to Logopolis, The Masque of Mandragora illustrates the difference between doing something simple well, compared to doing something ambitious badly. Logopolis is certainly an interesting failure but, ultimately, it is a failure while The Masque of Mandragora is a simple success.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/63094.html.