Chapter 38. Doctor Who and the Masque of Mandragora (1977)

Synopsis: A chance encounter with the Mandragora Helix results in the Doctor unwittingly transporting sentient and malevolent energy to 15th-Century San Martino. The energy quickly takes hold of Hieronymous, an influential astrologer and leader of a sinister cult. As the Doctor and Sarah try to limit the damage their arrival has caused, they find themselves snared in the fraught politics of San Martino. Can they help a young prince evade the murderous ambitions of his uncle, Count Federico? Will Hieronymous’s new-found power bring a dark and bloody end to the Renaissance?

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Mandragora Helix
  • 2. The Brethren of Demnos
  • 3. Execution!
  • 4. Sacrifice
  • 5. The Prince Must Die
  • 6. The Secret of the Temple
  • 7. The Spell of Evil
  • 8. Torture!
  • 9. The Invasion Begins
  • 10. Siege
  • 11. Duel to the Death
  • 12. The Final Eclipse

Background: Philip Hinchcliffe adapts scripts from 1976 by Louis Marks.

Notes: Sarah has now been travelling with the Doctor for ‘several years’ but this is the first time she’s been allowed to explore deeper within the TARDIS. She is ‘Five feet five and a quarter’ – so an inch and a quarter taller than she is on telly, unless she’s counting the heel of her boots.  She apparently finds Giuliano attractive. Swit swoo!

Hinchcliffe tells us that it’s been a long time since the Doctor rode a horse (which might make you wonder when the last time might have been). As he finds the altar within the catacombs, he experiences a vision of the ‘Ghostly Temple of Demnos’:

He was filled with an unaccountable urge to escape, but as he ran towards the tunnel exit a large wall materialised in front of him with a deafening crash. Blindly he stumbled towards the other side of the cavern and a second wall blocked his path. The ghostly Temple of Demnos had sprung up before his very eyes! Panic-stricken he turned this way and that seeking escape but all around him thick stone walls seemed to be hemming him in. He was trapped.

Cover: Mike Little gives us a rather spooky composition for the first edition cover – the Doctor’s face is surrounded by darkness (as with The Deadly Assassin) and four faces of Hieronymous’s mask. A 1991 reprint had a cover by Alister Pearson showing Hieronymous sat on a throne alongside a rather cheery-looking Doctor.

Final Analysis: There can’t have been a fan in any of the libraries of the UK who didn’t mispronounce the title of this until they saw it on VHS or DVD, just as readers will have done when the same word ‘Mandragora’ appeared in the Harry Potter books (‘Man-DRA-gora’, not ‘MAN-dra-GOR-a’). It’s Philip Hinchclcffe’s second novel and another from his ‘golden era’, but it’s not one that allows for showboating. What we get is a straightforward retelling of the script with a few lines to explain the thought processes of the characters. We share the experience of Sarah’s falling under Hieronymous’s spell as her mind tries to make sense of the twisted logic it’s presented with, while her total lack of reaction to the possibility of meeting Leonardo Da Vinci is what first alerts the Doctor that something is wrong. Giuliano reacts beautifully to witnessing the departure of the TARDIS, inspecting the ground where it once stood, ‘puzzled but not afraid’:

‘There is a reason for everything,’ he said to himself. ‘Even this. One day science will explain it all.’

One thought on “Chapter 38. Doctor Who and the Masque of Mandragora (1977)

  1. I loved the “prismatic” cover design. If Sarah hasn’t seen other rooms in the TARDIS, it does make you wonder where she slept for all those years and journeys (at least since Zygons), and where she kept the “goodies” (belongings) she clears out in the next televised story. Including that infamous stuffed owl.

    Liked by 1 person

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