The Masque of Mandragora

It’s a new season, and the first thing I notice, just from the episode selection menu on the DVD: NEW FONT! I’m not that keen. The serifs in the title cards don’t go with the sans serif logo, and besides, the previous big chunky font was pretty hard to beat, and didn’t need replacing.

Still, more importantly: NEW CONSOLE ROOM. I’m not terribly keen on that either. I applaud the intention to make it as different to the old one as possible, which is something the new series has done well with each new iteration. But I’m not a huge fan of the wooden panelling, and it feels really tight and cramped – not the vibe you want in a ship that transcends dimensions. Still, at least we’re seeing a console room, which makes a change from last season, and the introductory scene was great, recorder and all.

As for the serial itself… I’m sorry to say I wasn’t massively keen on this either. It was interesting to have a proper historical adventure for the first time in ages – we’ve had some that are set in the past, but this felt like the type of historical that we haven’t had since the sixties. And I think that’s the crux of why I didn’t get on with it. The show has changed so much since then, and developed in new and exciting ways recently. This felt like an abrupt halt in that development, trying to do something that the programme is no longer equipped to do.

By god, it was slow. Lovely location work, great production values, but it was just three and a half episodes’ worth of tedious political machinations, intercut with lengthy sequences of cult rituals, before it finally all kicked off towards the end. A lot of it was enjoyable in itself, and it was another great performance by Tom Baker, but I spent most of the running time waiting for everything to kick off, growing increasingly impatient.

And when it did kick off, it left me feeling a little uneasy. I liked the switcheroo with The Doctor taking Hieronymous’s place, even though it was fairly obvious something like that would happen during a masquerade ball. But the thing is, people died at that ball, killed by the Brethren in order for The Doctor’s plan to work. I wasn’t so much bothered by the fact that this happened – death follows The Doctor everywhere – but more by the fact that it wasn’t acknowledged. He was too busy bollocking on about salami.

I dunno. It wasn’t bad television, by any stretch, but it was perhaps bad Doctor Who. A temporary stumble, I’m sure. On the plus side, I’m pretty sure Giuliano and Marco are a couple. Pretty progressive for 1976, not to mention the 15th Century.

RATING: 6

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