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.’

Chapter 29. Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom (1977)

Synopsis: Researchers in the Antarctic uncover two alien pods. One of them germinates, infecting one of the researchers and transforming him into a murderous plant-like creature. The other pod is stolen and transported to the home of an eccentric British millionaire – the amateur botanist Harrison Chase. When the second pod also finds a victim, the Doctor and Sarah must try to prevent the resulting creature from reaching maturity and destroying all animal life on Earth.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Mystery under the Ice
  • 2. Death Stalks the Camp
  • 3. Hunt in the Snow
  • 4. Sabotage!
  • 5. Betrayal
  • 6. A Visit to Harrison Chase
  • 7. Condemned to Die
  • 8. The Krynoid Strikes
  • 9. Siege
  • 10. The Plants Attack
  • 11. Trapped!
  • 12. The Final Assault

Background: Philp Hinchcliffe adapts the 1976 serial by Robert Banks Stewart.

Notes: The Doctor wears his red velvet coat (his first one, the one many people assume is corduroy – don’t @ me) rather than the grey tweed from TV. Sarah has been the Doctor’s ‘special assistant’ for two years.

The Krynoid pod’s tendril snakes up ‘a few feet in the air’ before finding Winlett. The Krynoid in the Antarctic turns quickly into the large, shapeless blob of vegetable matter (on screen it remains human shaped). Chase has ‘a considerable private army’ and a large staff of botanists, not just Keeler. Amela Ducat’s involvement beyond her first scene is completely removed. The final scene sees Sarah (not the Doctor) invite Sir Colin for a trip and the civil servant watches from a window as the pair enters the TARDIS and disappears. We don’t see them return to Antarctic as on TV.

Cover: Achilles gives us the Doctor and Sarah in monochrome, flinching as the giant adult krynoid absorbs Harrison Chase’s mansion while under fire from an explosive airstrike.

Final Analysis: It’s difficult to know whether Terrance Dicks would have retained Amelia Ducat’s involvement in the main story, but I’d like to think so. Hinchcliffe opts to cut this and while it’s one of the easiest threads to dispose of, it’s a shame as Ducat is such a lovely character. That one crime aside, he pares down the six-part story really well, maintaining the growing level of crisis throughout. There’s a particularly strong moment where we gain an insight into Chase’s state of mind even before the Krynoid takes hold: 

Chase was physically repelled by people. He reduced contact with them to the bare minimum; hence the black gloves to avoid touching them, and the elaborate safety precautions surrounding the house to stop them getting in. Apart from his immediate entourage he was a recluse, known only by name to the outside world. But within the high walls of his own domain Chase had created a different world—a luxuriant, peaceful world of green – a world in which, for moments at least, he could pretend to shed his human guise and commune with his beloved plants.

A solid first effort from Hinchcliffe though, looking forward to more from him.