BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

The Masque of Mandragora

Production Code: 4M

First Transmitted

1 - 04/09/1976 18:10

2 - 11/09/1976 18:05

3 - 18/09/1976 18:10

4 - 25/09/1976 18:10


The TARDIS is temporarily captured by the Mandragora Helix, a spiral of energy with a controlling influence, at the centre of which the ship is infiltrated by a sparkling ball of energy.

The travellers then move on to the Dukedom of San Martino in Renaissance Italy, where the Doctor quickly realises that the Mandragora energy is loose. The energy enters an underground temple and reveals itself to the outlawed Brotherhood of Demnos, whose leader, the court astrologer Hieronymous, is instructed to make ready for Mandragora's full appearance.

Hieronymous is a pawn in Count Federico's schemes to usurp his young nephew Giuliano, whose accession to the Dukedom is being marked with a celebratory masque.

At the height of the ball, the Brethren attack the court and kill many guests. Hieronymous, now completely absorbed by Mandragora, confronts the Doctor in the underground temple and attempts to blast him down.

The Doctor, however, has earthed both himself and the altar so that the energy simply drains away, leaving the planet safe - at least until the constellations are again in the correct configuration for the Helix to make contact.

Episode Endings

The Doctor is brought before a leather-masked executioner as Count Federico watches from an overlooking balcony. At a signal from Federico, the executioner raises his heavy sword and prepares to swing it down to cut off the Doctor's head.

Giuliano and Sarah are waiting outside while the Doctor investigates the tunnels leading to the Brotherhood's underground temple. Suddenly Federico arrives with a group of men and, leaving Giuliano to fend them off, Sarah races to alert the Doctor. In the tunnels she is recaptured by the Brotherhood, who were earlier thwarted in an attempt to sacrifice her. The High Priest tells her: 'Demnos will not be cheated of his pleasure, little one.'

Federico and the Doctor arrive in the underground temple, where the masked Hieronymous has been leading the Brotherhood in a ceremony to receive the Helix energy. Federico strides up to Hieronymous and, branding him a traitor, snatches away his mask. Beneath is nothing but a halo of light. Hieronymous fells Federico with a blast of energy from his hand.

The Doctor tells Sarah that Mandragora's constellation will be in a position for it to make a further attack on the Earth in about five hundred years' time - at the end of the 20th Century. They enter the TARDIS and, as Giuliano watches from a distance, it dematerialises.


Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death.

Romeo and Juliet.


Machiavelli's The Prince and The Mandragora.

Innocenti Medici wore a gold mask and monk's habit in public.

Hieronymous is possibly named after the contemporaneous Hironymous de Savanorda.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Humans have got such limited little minds. I don't know why I like you so much."

Sarah Jane Smith : "Because you have such good taste."

The Doctor : "That's true. That's very true."

Sarah Jane Smith : [To the Doctor] "The worse the situation, the worse your jokes get."

Hieronymous : "Had it not been you, there would have been other travellers drawn into Mandragora's Helix. Earth had to be possessed and checked. Man's curiosity might lead him away from this planet until, ultimately, the galaxy itself might not contain him. We of Mandragora will not allow a rival power within our domain."

The Doctor : [His reaction to the court's action on being attacked] "You're going to hold a dance?"

Dialogue Disasters

[In broad Cockney] "I ain't goin' in there, Giovanni."

"They say there are places where the bat droppings are as high as a man."


The TARDIS boot cupboard is seen to be a lounge with a standard lamp and one pair of boots. The secondary control room includes a shaving mirror, a recorder, the chair seen in certain Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee stories, and the third Doctor's smoking jacket.

The Doctor can mimic another's voice exactly, can ride horses, fences well, but hasn't met Leonardo Da Vinci. He carries a football rattle and insists that justice for all species is part of a Time Lord's job.

The Mandragora Helix is one of a number of Helix intelligences, spiralling energy masses that can manipulate energy into matter. Mandragora is aware of the Time Lords.

Sarah is 5'4' ('just').



Season 6(b)


San Martino, Italy, [c. 1470-1482 when Da Vinci was in Florence]. The Cult of Demnos is a 3rd Century Roman cult, kept going until the 15th century.


The Doctor learnt fencing from a Captain in Cleopatra's bodyguard, and met Florence Nightingale (see The Evil of the Daleks, The Sea Devils). Between this story and City of Death he meets Leonardo Da Vinci again.


A new style of lettering is used, in a serif font, for the series' on-screen titles from this point.

The TARDIS's wood-panelled secondary control room is introduced.

A new police box prop for the TARDIS exterior is introduced in this story, the old one having by this point worn out.

The Doctor explains for the first time that he and his companions are able to understand unfamiliar languages by virtue of a 'Time Lord gift'.


Many of the period costumes seen in this story were first used in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 feature film production of Romeo and Juliet. (They were first used in Renato Castellani's 1954 feature film production of Romeo and Juliet.)


The Doctor only knows that Sarah's under Hieronymous' influence when she shows an undue amount of curiosity.

Hieronymous tells the Doctor that he's been told another follower of Mandragora will join him, but they never show up.

Why does the ball of Helix energy kill people randomly? [Does it just hit them, or is it trying to possess them?]

The Helix's influence over the centuries is shown in the Brotherhood's masks, 'pre-Diluvian sandstone with a complex circuit of base metal' [the Doctor accepts the Great Flood?], but why are these necessary?

Why does the Helix have to be at a particular angle to Earth at the end of the 20th century to try again?

The time scheme is a bit of a mess: a clash of evening and broad daylight scenes, and an impossibly quickly arranged masque.

Nobody notices the Doctor and Sarah's out-of-period clothing.

Fashion Victim

The Brotherhood leader's silver perm.

Hieronymous' comedy beard.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen

Brother - Brian Ellis

Captain Rossini - Antony Carrick

Count Federico - John Laurimore

Dancer - Peggy Dixon

Dancer - Jack Edwards

Dancer - Alistair Fullerton

Dancer - Michael Reid

Dancer - Kathy Wolff

Entertainer - Stuart Fell

Giuliano - Gareth Armstrong

Guard - James Appleby

Guard - John Clamp

Hieronymous - Norman Jones

High Priest - Robert James

Marco - Tim Piggott-Smith

Pikemen - Peter Walshe

Pikemen - Jay Neill

Soldier - Pat Gorman

Titan Voice - Peter Tuddenham


Director - Rodney Bennett

Assistant Floor Manager - Linda Graeme

Costumes - James Acheson

Designer - Barry Newbery

Film Cameraman - John Baker

Film Editor - Clare Douglas

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jan Harrison

Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe

Production Assistant - Thea Murray

Production Unit Manager - Chris D'Oyly-John

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Dennis Channon

Studio Sound - Colin Dixon

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Ian Scoones

Writer - Louis Marks

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

One of the few metaphors in Doctor Who history (nasty alien energy mass = superstition and scientific ignorance) is blurred by the lack of actual scientific understanding that the story exhibits. Looks and sounds great, though.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The new season starts in a relatively low-key fashion with the Doctor and Sarah exploring some unfamiliar areas of the TARDIS and eventually coming upon a 'second control room' that will henceforth be used instead of the traditional one (albeit, as it turns out, only for this season). 'After visiting the rather large and superimposed boot cupboard,' observed Keith Miller in Doctor Who Digest Number 3, dated October 1976, 'we catch our first glimpse of the new control room... I love the idea of the wood panelling effect throughout the room. Nice touches were the [third Doctor's] frilly shirt and [the second Doctor's recorder], but how on earth were they supposed to have gotten there? One thing that adds a touch of class to the final setting is the flight of steps leading up to the exit. I think it's super!'

The short sequence at the centre of the Mandragora Helix works quite well, with some good visual effects in evidence, although it seems rather odd that the gravity and atmosphere are normal here and that the Doctor and Sarah are able to walk about as if they are on a floor - which, of course, they are! The action moves quickly on to the story's main setting of 15th Century Italy, and here the viewer is treated to some superb location work done in and around the Welsh village of Portmeirion - a folly created by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis with the Italian harbour town of Portofino as its inspiration.

'It is a little hard to define the exact nature of The Masque of Mandragora,' wrote Jeremy Bentham in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Yearbook 1977/78. '[Do] its roots lie with the supernatural or with historical drama?... At the beginning it was pure Hamlet as the dastardly Count Federico forged intricate plots and intrigues to win for himself the coveted crown of San Martino held by the rightful heir, Duke Giuliano - whose father he had already disposed of. Schemes were hatched, clandestine agreements made and cunning arrangements forged, all to secure the power of the evil Count. Almost in the background at first was the "old fraud" Heironymous...

'With the arrival of the Mandragora sparkler the accent of the story changed, ever so gradually and subtly, into that of a true sword and sorcery tale; in fact the change was so gradual that an audience might easily be forgiven for missing [it]. By [Part Four], Federico was dead and the possessed Brethren of Demnos... were ready to begin their mystical attack on the palace. Rodney Bennett, the director... handled well the blending of history and black magic. The two rarely met head on as the intercutting of Federico's ambitions with Heironymous's powers showed. Often the only bridging of the two was the Doctor.'

The scripts by Louis Marks are very well written and highly intelligent, using the Mandragora energy to symbolise the forces of superstition that would ultimately be overthrown by those of science - 'the dawn of a new reason', to use the Doctor's description - at the time of the Renaissance. As John Ainsworth put it in DWB No. 92, dated August 1991: 'The Mandragora Helix is a personification of the story's basic premise - that astrology is not just a nonsense, that there is a power in the stars. Louis Marks arrived at this concept by applying what he described as "Doctor Who thinking", and indeed one can see immediately how appropriate [it] is to the series. Renaissance Italy provided the perfect setting for the serial, being something of an historical turning point, as well as being visually stimulating.'

Early reaction to the story, however, was only lukewarm. Gordon Blows wrote in TARDIS Volume 1 Number 11, dated October/November 1976: 'Despite all I've got to say for the quality of the production and story of The Masque of Mandragora, it did come over just a little flat. Perhaps historical style stories so thickly flavoured with period scenes need about fifty minutes an episode so that the usual amount of Doctor and companion reaction to "goings on" can be maintained. In other words, I think the period setting interfered with the story..'

The BBC's Audience Research Report on the final episode suggests that viewers in general had similarly mixed feelings: 'At the extreme, critical viewers dismissed the programme as utterly silly and "corny", quite often adding that the acting was hammy - although it was suggested that this was hardly surprising in view of the script. The more lukewarm tended to remark that the plot had "dragged" rather and that the series as a whole was running out of ideas. Occasionally, too, members of the sample compared Tom Baker's flippant Doctor Who unfavourably with his predecessors.

However, the bulk of the reporting audience reacted with at least moderate approval of the storyline which involved the right amount of colourful action and suspense as the Doctor fittingly defeated the powers of evil once again and, on the whole, seemed disposed to praise both acting and a production in which historical settings and special effects contributed to the programme's general appeal, and in some views, even, were the best part of it.' Children's views were as usual noted as being particularly positive. Specific comments on this occasion included: 'I was frightened a bit but enjoyed it'; 'It was very good. I liked the power coming from their fingers'; 'Very funny'; 'My seven-year-old wouldn't miss it for anything; he explains the plot to me'; and 'My three-year-old always wants to watch - from the safety of Daddy's knee. She finds it confusing at times and can't always pick out the baddies'.

A fair assessment would rate The Masque of Mandragora much more highly than these contemporary comments would suggest. It has excellent scripts and a polished production - including some lavish and exquisitely detailed sets designed by Barry Newbery - and some first-rate performances from a strong cast.

< The Seeds of DoomFourth DoctorThe Hand of Fear >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy