The Masque of Mandragora (TV story)

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The Masque of Mandragora was the first serial of season 14 of Doctor Who. It was notable for being the first historical or pseudo-historical story since The Gunfighters not to be principally set in Great Britain (although The Abominable Snowmen, retroactively established as having a historical setting, took place in Tibet).

It also introduced the first radical redesign of the TARDIS control room and offered the first explanation of how both the Doctor and his companions were able to understand and communicate in languages other than English.


An encounter with the living energy structure known as the Mandragora Helix leads the TARDIS to 15th century Italy. Between palace intrigue, the machinations of a sinister cult and a rogue fragment of Helix energy, the Fourth Doctor and Sarah have their hands full. There is not much time, for when Mandragora swallows the Moon, it will be time to strike.


Part one[[edit]]

The Fourth Doctor shows Sarah Jane some of the other parts of the TARDIS interior that she's unfamiliar with. They come across the older console room which, unlike the primary room, is decorated with wood-panelling and has a more archaic feel. Activating the viewscreen, the Doctor sees a swirl of living energy in the time vortex — the Mandragora Helix — which starts to draw them in. The intelligence within the Helix starts to psychically attack them as the Doctor tries to pilot the TARDIS through it. The ship ends up inside the Helix itself. The Doctor and Sarah go outside but have to duck behind the TARDIS as a fragment of glowing Helix energy flies by. They escape in the TARDIS, not knowing that the fragment has entered with them.

In 15th century San Martino, Italy, a peasant revolt is violently put down by Count Federico and his men, led by Captain Rossini. In a palace, Federico's brother, the Duke of San Martino, lies dying. He is attended by his son Giuliano and Giuliano's companion, Marco. The Duke's death had been foretold by Hieronymous, the court astrologer. Giuliano, a man of science, does not believe in such superstition. In fact, Hieronymous is working for Federico, and the horoscope's prediction of the Duke's death was helped along by poison. Hieronymous tells the Count that he feels his powers are growing, but all Federico wants is for the astrologer to foretell Giuliano's death next, and he will take care of the rest.

The TARDIS materialises in a field near San Martino. The Doctor and Sarah go out to explore. Unseen, the energy fragment flies out of the TARDIS as well. Sarah wanders off to look at some orange trees and is kidnapped by a group of men in hooded robes. The Doctor tries to rescue her, but he is knocked unconscious. When he awakes, he witnesses the energy fragment fly towards and kill a peasant. Searching for Sarah, the Doctor is confronted by the Count's men and after being chased, he is arrested.

At the court, the Doctor tries to tell Federico that the energy fragment could spell the end of the world. The Count at first thinks the Doctor is a seer, like Hieronymous. When the astrologer quizzes the Doctor, it becomes clear that the Doctor does not believe in any of it. Federico orders the Doctor to be executed as a spy. Meanwhile, Sarah is brought before a priest. He tells her that she is the foretold sacrifice to Demnos, the Roman god of moonlight and solstice. She is dressed in a white robe and told that she will be sacrificed when the moon rises over the southern obelisk. Back at the palace courtyard, the Doctor is led to the executioner and forced to his knees for decapitation.

Part two[[edit]]

Before the executioner's sword lands, the Doctor unfurls his scarf and hooks it around the executioner's ankle, throwing him off balance. The Doctor escapes out of the palace grounds and finds his way into some catacombs beneath the city. The guards, fearing the Brethren of Demnos who reside in those passages, stop their pursuit. Inside, Sarah is laid out on an altar. A purple-robed figure wearing a golden mask is about to stab her with a silver dagger when the Doctor snatches Sarah away. The fragment appears in the chamber, suffusing it with a red glow and providing a distraction for the two to escape.

Giuliano examines the body of a guard that was killed earlier by the passage of the fragment, and while he does not know the cause of the guard's death, he dismisses ideas that it was some kind of fire demon. The Doctor and Sarah are found by some palace guards. In the temple, the Helix manifests itself as a pillar of red light and tells the purple-robed figure that he alone will be given undreamed-of powers to carry out its will on Earth and become the planet's supreme ruler. After the Helix vanishes, the figure removes the golden mask, revealing the face of Hieronymous.

The Fourth Doctor explains Mandragora energy to Sarah.

The guards bring the Doctor and Sarah, not to Federico, but to Giuliano, who shows him the dead guard's body and tells the Doctor of fears that if Federico rules San Martino, all knowledge and learning will be suppressed. Elsewhere, Federico discovers that Giuliano has invited several nobles to San Martino to celebrate his succession to the Dukedom. Angered, Federico demands Hieronymous make up a new horoscope and poison Giuliano before the next evening.

The Doctor deduces that the Helix chose San Martino because the Brethren provided a ready-made power base. The 15th century was the transition between the Dark Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance — the Helix could gain control of the Earth now through a new religion. The Doctor tells Giuliano the temple must be destroyed. They go to the temple, and the Doctor enters the catacombs alone, but as he enters the main chamber the Helix attacks him psychically. Rossini informs Federico of Giuliano's trip to the temple, and the Count decides to take his guards to the temple to kill his "pagan" nephew. The guards corner Giuliano with their swords. Sarah runs into the catacombs calling for the Doctor, but she is caught by the Brethren.

Part three[[edit]]

Sarah helps the Doctor with some basic arithmetic.

The Helix attack stops, but the Doctor is prevented from venturing further into the temple. He leaves to find Giuliano fighting off the guards and joins in with a sword of his own. Giuliano is wounded, and suddenly, the Brethren emerge from the forest armed with staves and force the guards to retreat. The Doctor and Giuliano go into the catacombs.

Sarah is held captive by the Brethren, as the priest and Heironymous talk. The priest is eager to sacrifice Sarah, but Hieronymous decides to use her as bait for the Doctor. Hieronymous allowed the Brethren to save Giuliano because the young prince may still have value. Bound and gagged, Sarah is brought to the astrologer's chambers, where she is drugged and hypnotised to believe the Doctor is an evil sorcerer. Hieronymous gives her a poisoned needle to kill the Doctor.

At the palace, the invited nobles begin to arrive, and Federico realises he does not have much time to eliminate Giuliano, but Rossini is unable to find Giuliano in San Martino. Hieronymous warns Federico that his life is in danger. Federico scoffs, believing Hieronymous to be a fraud, but he is suspicious enough to tell Rossini to banish Hieronymous from the city.

In the catacombs, Giuliano and the Doctor find Sarah, who cannot remember anything after her capture by the cult. They make their way into the palace dungeons through a secret passage. The Doctor goes to confront Hieronymous, whom he has deduced is the leader of the Brethren, in his rooms. Sarah secretly follows, trying to carry out her post-hypnotic orders. When the Doctor speaks to Hieronymous, Sarah sneaks up behind with the needle, but the Doctor snaps her out of the trance, just as the guards come for Hieronymous. The astrologer escapes, but the guards capture the Doctor and Sarah as well as Giuliano.

In the dungeons, Federico accuses the prisoners of being followers of Demnos. Rossini rushes in, informing the Count that members of the Brethren are gathering on the streets and moving towards the temple. The Doctor tries to convince Federico that Hieronymous is the real threat. Unnerved, Federico wants to see for himself and takes the Doctor with him and some guards, leaving the others as hostages. In the temple, Hieronymous summons the Helix, which begins infusing him and his followers with power. Disguised in hoods, the Doctor, Federico and the guards enter and witness the ceremony. Federico steps forward, calls Hieronymous a traitor, and rips off the golden mask, only to reveal glowing energy in the place of a face. Hieronymous raises a finger, and electrical energy stabs out at the horrified Count, reducing him to ashes.

Part four[[edit]]

Hieronymous then fires at and kills the two guards as well, but he does not seem to have seen the Doctor. The Doctor joins the circle around the Helix as Hieronymous announces that Mandragora will swallow the Moon the next evening and then the Brethren will strike. The Doctor slips away unnoticed. Back in the palace dungeons, Rossini is about to kill the prisoners when the Doctor arrives and reveals that Federico is dead. With that, the guards change their allegiance to Giuliano and take Rossini into custody. The Doctor observes that the Brethren are still a danger. He tells Giuliano to fortify the palace in preparation for their attack.

The Doctor gets fitted for the final confrontation with Hieronymous.

In the meantime, the Brethren are driving people out of the city, killing those who refuse with bolts of fire, isolating the palace. Giuliano wants to cancel the masque that will celebrate his accession, but Marco is confident they can defend the palace against the Brethren, and that to cancel the masque would be a sign of weakness. The Doctor does some astronomical observations and calculates there will be a lunar eclipse that evening — Mandragora swallowing the Moon — and when the Helix takes over, it will remove all sense of purpose from mankind. Right now, however, the Helix energy is spread thinly over all the Brethren, and it could be exhausted. He asks Giuliano for a breastplate and a length of wire. Wearing the breastplate under his coat, if he has guessed right about the nature of Helix energy, he could drain it off.

Hieronymous knows of a secret way into the palace, and he intends to infiltrate his men under cover of the masque. The Doctor makes his way into the temple and grounds the altar with wire. Hieronymous addresses the Doctor as "Time Lord", and says that Earth has to be possessed; if mankind's ambition is not checked, it will eventually spread into the galaxy and the powers of Mandragora will not allow a rival within their domain. Hieronymous fires a bolt of energy into the Doctor's chest, knocking him back painfully, but the Doctor survives. More bolts fire into the Doctor, but he continues to egg Hieronymous on, as the Brethren Leader begins to loses his strength...

Sarah and the Doctor say goodbye to San Martino.

At the masque, the Brethren make their appearance, with the guests running about in panic; they fire energy bolts into the crowd, killing a man and a woman. Hieronymous then appears and tells the Brethren to take the others down into the temple for the final sacrifice. The Moon goes into eclipse, and the Brethren place their hands on the altar as a ball of Helix energy descends. However, it consumes the Brethren instead, expanding and then fading away. "Hieronymous" removes his mask — revealing the Doctor, who was imitating the cult leader's voice. The Doctor explains it as a case of "energy squared", putting the Mandragora Helix back where it came from.

The Doctor and Sarah say their goodbyes to Giuliano. Just before they leave in the TARDIS, the Doctor tells Sarah that while Giuliano will not have any more trouble with Mandragora, humanity will. The constellation will be in position again in 500 years, at about the end of the 20th century...



Uncredited crew[[edit]]


The Doctor[[edit]]

  • The Doctor was given pointers in swordsmanship from a captain in Cleopatra's bodyguard.
  • While staunching the bleeding from Giuliano's wound, the Doctor makes reference to Florence Nightingale.
  • The astrologer has a telescope, and the Doctor doesn't like it very much, stating, "a pity, in another fifty years we could've used Galileo's."



  • The TARDIS has what appears to be a large beautiful living room, which the Doctor says is actually the boot cupboard; there is a solitary pair of boots standing in the middle of the room. The Doctor says he has seen bigger boot cupboards.
  • In addition to a shaving mirror, the secondary control room has a recorder, a frilled shirt and a velvet jacket covered in dust.


Story notes[[edit]]

  • Working titles for this story included Catacombs of Death, Doom of Destiny, Secret of the Labryinth and The Curse of Mandragora.
  • This was the last story to be written by Louis Marks.
  • Elisabeth Sladen is credited as "Sarah Jane" in Radio Times.
  • The surname of Jay Neill (Pikeman) is misspelled as "Neil" in Radio Times for part two.
  • The title of the story is given in Radio Times as Masque of Mandragora (without "The") for all four episodes.
  • A full-page article entitled Dr. Who's Renaissance was published in Radio Times (cover dated 4-10 September 1976) to tie-in with the start of Season 14, featuring Philip Hinchcliffe talking about both Doctor Who and the opening story of the new season. The article was accompanied by a large black-and-white artwork illustration of the Doctor's head, with his scarf arranged above in the shape of a question mark, with the accompanying caption "Who, what and where? The doctor comes back down to earth in Italy". (original published text)
  • The Radio Times programme listing for part one was accompanied by a black-and-white artwork illustration by Roy Ellsworth, depicting Hieronymous in his hooded robe and golden mask, swirling Mandragora energy, the Doctor and the masked axe-wielding figure of the executioner, with the accompanying caption " 'Mandragora energy! Get down! Quick!' It's the start of a new Dr. Who adventure, and the Doctor (Tom Baker) finds himself involved in more strange happenings, this time in 15th-century Italy. Part 1: 6.10 p.m." (original published text)
  • With the start of the new season, Peter Brachacki's police box as introduced in 1963 was finally retired — having made its last on-screen appearance in The Seeds of Doom part six. Accounts vary as to whether this was a stylistic choice or because the roof of the prop collapsed while Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen were inside. The new police box was designed by Barry Newbery.
  • This serial also marks the first appearance of the TARDIS's secondary console room, designed by Barry Newbery, which continued to be used until the end of this season, making its final appearance in The Robots of Death. New producer Graham Williams was not very fond of the wooden set; therefore the original, futuristic interior was restored. Several elements from the secondary console room were reused, namely the columns and the monitor screen. The walls also appear painted white on some future serials on the door leading to the rest of the TARDIS (The Invisible Enemy, Full Circle, Logopolis et al.).
  • Elisabeth Sladen stayed contracted to Doctor Who for an additional seven months just because she had heard about this upcoming serial and wanted to make it. Without this serial, she would have left in season 13. (INFO: The Seeds of Doom)
  • The bold font on the opening titles and ending titles changes to a more serif like style on this story. This would last until The Horns of Nimon where the whole title sequence is phased out.
  • Louis Marks had specialised in Renaissance Italy while completing his doctorate at university.
  • The Mandragora Helix was named after Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli's 1518 comedy La Mandragola (literally, “The Mandrake”), while Hieronymous was a Latinate variant of the first name of Girolamo Savonarola, a doomsday prophet who briefly rose to power in Florence from 1494 to 1498. Giuliano and Federico were probably named after Giuliano de Medici and Federico da Montefeltro, two real political figures of the time, while Captain Rossini and Scarlatti recall the Italian composers Gioacchino Rossini and Alessandro Scarlatti.
  • Philip Hinchcliffe suggested Portmeirion, having visited the place when he was a tourist guide in the 1960s. Rodney Bennett hoped this would be the first serial to be filmed overseas.
  • Robert Holmes initially wasn't sold on the story due to his dislike of historical stories.
  • Set designer Barry Newbery drew inspiration from artwork of the period, especially Carpaccio.
  • Rodney Bennett saw the story as an opportunity to do Robin Hood.
  • Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, then ninety-two years old, attended parts of the location filming. He was very impressed with the ruins Barry Newbery had designed and asked that they be left in place; however, their polystyrene construction meant that they would simply blow away in a strong breeze or quickly deteriorate.
  • The Mandragora energy was originally supposed to be invisible. Instead, a recording of an industrial sparkler would be superimposed over the relevant footage.
  • The Mandragora Helix was described in the script as the Titan Hall.
  • John Laurimore replaced David Swift as Count Federico.


  • Part one - 8.3 million viewers
  • Part two - 9.8 million viewers
  • Part three - 9.2 million viewers
  • Part four - 10.6 million viewers


  • Many of the period costumes seen in this story were first used in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 feature film production of Romeo and Juliet. (Only one costume in the story comes from Zeffirelli's film: Captain Rossini's red and white tabard, which was worn by Robert Stephens as the Prince. Many of the other costumes were used in Renato Castellani's 1954 feature film production of Romeo and Juliet.)[1]
  • Tom Baker fluffs a line at one point during part four, in which he calls Elisabeth Sladen "Lis" instead of "Sarah" — i.e. "It isn't nonsense, Lis." (Baker delivers the line correctly, which is actually "It isn't nonsense, Miss." This is confirmed by the English HoH subtitles on the DVD release.)

Filming locations[[edit]]

Portmeirion is best known as the filming location for the cult ITC offbeat action/adventure TV series The Prisoner (1967–68). The Village was later used to film a scene in The Five Doctors.

Production errors[[edit]]

to be added


If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.

Comic strip adaptation[[edit]]

  • The opening scenes of part one were adapted as a one-page comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine #161, published in June 1990, as part of a larger article on the production of the story.

Home video and audio releases[[edit]]

DVD releases[[edit]]

This story was first released on DVD in the UK on 8 February 2010. The one disc set includes a restored version of the story, as well as the following special features:

Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.

Video releases[[edit]]

  • This story was released on VHS in August of 1991.


  1. Production notes, The Masque of Mandragora DVD

External links[[edit]]