Serial 4M:
The Masque Of Mandragora


The TARDIS accidentally transports the Mandragora Helix, a malevolent energy being, to Italy during the Renaissance. There, the Doctor and Sarah Jane become embroiled in court intrigue between the wicked Count Federico and his nephew, Giuliano. Meanwhile, the Helix gains the loyalty of the twisted astrologer Hieronymous, and plans to return humanity to the Dark Ages by murdering the great thinkers of the fifteenth century.


As Season Fourteen began to come together in late 1975, producer Philip Hinchcliffe decided it was time for Doctor Who to return to the Earth's past. Hinchcliffe was buoyed by the success of the 1920s-set Pyramids Of Mars from Season Thirteen, and despite the protests of script editor Robert Holmes -- who found such adventures tedious -- he decided that the opening serial of the fourteenth season should follow this remit. As with Pyramids Of Mars, Hinchcliffe sought to allay Holmes' concerns by seeking a storyline which would incorporate science-fiction elements in an historical setting.

Inspired by director Roger Corman's 1964 film version of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque Of The Red Death, Hinchcliffe decided that Renaissance Italy would be a suitable locale. However, he wanted to avoid the pattern of many Sixties historicals by shifting the focus away from the Doctor's encounters with famous individuals like Marco Polo and Emperor Nero. To this end, Holmes contacted Louis Marks, who had written Planet Of Evil the previous year and had specialised in Renaissance Italy while completing his doctorate at university. By the end of 1975, Marks had begun work on “Catacombs Of Death”. As Marks was a BBC script editor himself, formal clearance had to be sought for the commission; this was approved on January 22nd, 1976.

The Renaissance Italy setting was inspired by the 1964 film version of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque Of The Red Death

For the plot of “Catacombs Of Death”, Marks drew from a number of sources: 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. While Marks was working on “Catacombs Of Death”, Tom Baker was contracted for Season Fourteen: the actor committed to the usual twenty-six episodes on January 23rd, with an option for Season Fifteen as well. Elisabeth Sladen was formally signed up for her last eight episodes on March 19th.

The director chosen for Serial 4M was Rodney Bennett, whose last Doctor Who work had been on The Ark In Space two seasons earlier. Given the story's location, Bennett was eager for “Catacombs Of Death” to mark the programme's first experience with overseas filming, but Hinchcliffe instead suggested that cast and crew travel to Portmeirion, a Welsh resort village near Penrhyndeudraeth in Gwynedd designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Portmeirion boasted architecture inspired by the Mediterranean region, and had already featured in many films and television programmes, most notably as the paranoiac Village in Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner. Arrangements to film in Portmeirion were made in mid-March, by which time the adventure's title had become “Doom Of Destiny”.

The first filming on Marks' serial took place on April 28th, shortly after the title changed again to “Secret Of The Labyrinth”. This was an experimental effects session, held in BBC Television Centre Studio TC4A. By now, various alterations had been made to Marks' scripts, most notably the addition of the part three subplot in which Sarah is hypnotically ordered to kill the Doctor. Work in and around Portmeirion then took place from May 3rd to 6th. This saw the first use of a new TARDIS exterior, designed by Barry Newbery; the old one had collapsed at the end of production on The Seeds Of Doom, the closing serial of Season Thirteen.

Barry Newbery's redesigned TARDIS console room favoured a Jules Verne-inspired wood-panelled look

Newbery was also called upon to design a new interior for the TARDIS. Hinchcliffe had decided that the old set was too big and difficult to record in, and the central column and main doors suffered perpetual technical problems. Newbery created a smaller, more practical console room, eschewing the stark whiteness of the original Peter Brachacki design in favor of a Jules Verne-inspired wood-panelled look. The overall configuration of the set remained essentially the same, with the roundels, scanner and console all retained. However, the double doors leading outside the TARDIS were replaced by a dark passageway, and the central column was done away with altogether, much to Bennett's disapproval. Marks' script for episode one was amended to include the Doctor and Sarah's discovery of the alternative console room.

A two-week break then ensued before studio recording began. During this time, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen recorded an LP, Doctor Who and The Pescatons, for release by Argo Records in July. This was the first Doctor Who audio story, although on April 27th Baker and Sladen had contributed in-character voicework to an installment of the BBC Schools radio programme Exploration Earth entitled The Time Machine, which would air in October. The two actors performed Doctor Who and The Pescatons on May 13th, the same day that Sladen's imminent departure from Doctor Who was announced to the press. Meanwhile, Serial 4M had become known as “The Curse Of Mandragora” and finally The Masque Of Mandragora.

Between seasons, Doctor Who's recording timetable had undergone a new stage of evolution. The two-day blocks which had been habitual for several years now gave way to sessions which were variously two and three days in length. Furthermore, although these were held still roughly fortnightly, they would no longer almost universally fall on exactly the same days of the week, as in the past. The first pair of recording dates for The Masque Of Mandragora was intended to comprise May 23rd and 24th. In the event, these were delayed by one day to the 24th and 25th; the venue was Studio TC3. This block concentrated on scenes in the palace, with those from the first two installments taped on the 24th, and the remainder on the 25th.

New dialogue explained Sarah Jane's ability to understand languages as a Time Lord gift which the Doctor allows her to share

Some work was still being done on the scripts for The Masque Of Mandragora at this point. In particular, a new part three sequence saw the Doctor explain that Sarah Jane's ability to understand foreign and alien languages is a Time Lord gift he allows her to share. The second studio session spanned June 6th to 8th. The first day involved the sequence in the TARDIS corridor, as well as the Earthbound scenes for episodes one and two; their counterparts from episodes three and four were largely completed the next day. June 8th saw the first recording on the new TARDIS console room set, while material in the Titan Hall and some effects work in the ruined temple was also taped.

Doctor Who's fourteenth season began on September 4th with the broadcast of The Masque Of Mandragora part one. This serial saw the end of both Rodney Bennett's and Louis Marks' involvement in the programme. Bennett's subsequent directing credit included Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm, The Darling Buds Of May and Doctor Finlay; he passed away in January 2017. Marks continued to work as a script editor and latterly a producer, handling shows like Middlemarch, Play For Today, Northanger Abbey... and The Lost Boys, directed by Rodney Bennett. He died on September 17th, 2010.

  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20369 8.
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 444 1.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #287, 9th February 2000, “Archive: The Masque Of Mandragora” by Andrew Pixley, Panini UK Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #8, 1st September 2004, “Take It To The Limit” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In-Vision #15, April 1989, “Production” edited by Justin Richards and Peter Anghelides, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 4th Sep 1976
Time 6.12pm
Duration 24'31"
Viewers (more) 8.3m (40th)
· BBC1 8.3m
Appreciation 58%
Episode 2
Date 11th Sep 1976
Time 6.07pm
Duration 24'44"
Viewers (more) 9.8m (22nd)
· BBC1 9.8m
Appreciation 56%
Episode 3
Date 18th Sep 1976
Time 6.12pm
Duration 24'34"
Viewers (more) 9.2m (29th)
· BBC1 9.2m
Episode 4
Date 25th Sep 1976
Time 6.13pm
Duration 24'45"
Viewers (more) 10.6m (23rd)
· BBC1 10.6m
Appreciation 56%

Doctor Who
Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith
Elisabeth Sladen
Count Federico
Jon Laurimore
Captain Rossini
Antony Carrick
Gareth Armstrong
Tim Pigott-Smith
Norman Jones
High Priest
Robert James
Brian Ellis
Pat Gorman
James Appleby
John Clamp
Peter Walshe
Jay Neill
Titan Voice
Peter Tuddenham
Peggy Dixon
Jack Edwards
Alistair Fullarton
Michael Reid
Kathy Wolff
Stuart Fell

Written by
Louis Marks
Directed by
Rodney Bennett
Produced by
Philip Hinchcliffe

Incidental Music by
Dudley Simpson
Title Music by
Ron Grainer and
the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Title Sequence by
Bernard Lodge
Production Unit Manager
Christopher D'Oyly-John
Production Assistant
Thea Murray
Special Sound
Dick Mills
Visual Effects Designer
Ian Scoones
Dennis Channon
Colin Dixon
Film Cameraman
John Baker
Film Recordist
Hugh Cleverley
Film Editor
Clare Douglas
Costume Designer
James Acheson
Make Up Artist
Jan Harrison
Barry Newbery
Script Editor
Robert Holmes

Working Titles
Catacombs Of Death
Doom Of Destiny
Secret Of The Labyrinth
The Curse Of Mandragora

Updated 18th January 2017