The Masque Of Mandragora
Working Titles: Catacombs Of Death, Secret Of The Labyrinth, The Curse Of Mandragora.
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
The TARDIS accidentally transports the Mandragora Helix, a malevolent energy being, to Italy during the Renaissance. Gaining the loyalty of the twisted astrologer Hieronymous, the Helix plans nothing less than returning the Earth 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 a historical setting. Hinchcliffe was buoyed by the success of the 1920s-set Pyramids Of Mars during Season Thirteen, and despite the protests of script editor Robert Holmes -- who found such stories boring -- he decided the opening serial of the fourteenth season would be the first Doctor Who adventure set earlier than the twentieth century since The Time Warrior, which led off Season Eleven. Inspired by the Roger Corman film version of Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque Of The Red Death, Hinchcliffe decided that Renaissance Italy would be the ideal setting for such a story. However, Hinchcliffe wanted to avoid the pattern of many Sixties historicals by having the Doctor encounter famous individuals like Marco Polo and Emperor Nero.
Holmes contacted Louis Marks -- who had written Planet Of Evil the previous year -- knowing that Marks had specialised in that era at university. By the end of 1975, Marks had begun work on Catacombs Of Death. He drew from a number of sources: the Mandragora Helix was named after Machiavelli's comedy La Mandragola; Hieronymous was the Latinate form of the first name of Girolamo Savonarola, a doomsday prophet who briefly rose to power in 1498; and Giuliano and Federico were named after two real political figures of the time, Giuliano de Medici and Federico da Montefeltro. By the time pre-production had started, the serial had been retitled Secret Of The Labyrinth.
It was initially thought that Serial 4M might be filmed overseas, but to save costs Hinchcliffe decided the crew would go on location to Portmeirion, a village in North Wales near Penrhyndeudraeth many of whose builds incorporated Italian architecture. Portmeirion -- which had featured in many films and television programmes in the past, most notably as the Village in The Prisoner -- was the creation of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who was on hand during production. Work in and around Portmeirion began on May 3rd, 1976. The director chosen for Secret Of The Labyrinth was Rodney Bennett, whose last Doctor Who work had been on The Ark In Space two seasons earlier.
The Portmeirion shoot 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. Newbery also designed a new TARDIS interior for the story. Hinchcliffe had decided the old one was too big and difficult to record in, and the central column and main doors in particular suffered constant 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 look of the set was much, with the roundels, scanner and console all retained. However, the double doors were replaced by a dark passageway leading out, and the central column was done away with altogether, to Bennett's disapproval.
Just before the start of studio work on the serial -- which had undergone two further name changes, to The Curse Of Mandragora and finally The Masque Of Mandragora -- stars Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen recorded the first Doctor Who LP, The Pescatons. This adventure saw the Doctor and Sarah Jane battling an invasion by the eponymous monsters. The same day, May 13th, Sladen's imminent departure from the series was announced to the press. Some weeks earlier, on April 27th, Baker and Sladen had also lent in-character voicework to an installment of the BBC Schools radio programme Exploration Earth entitled The Time Machine, in which the Doctor and Sarah Jane witness the formation of the Earth.
The Masque Of Mandragora entered the studio with a Monday/Tuesday pair of dates (as was typical in recent years), the 24th and 25th of May. The second recording session, on the other hand, occurred on a Sunday and Monday, June 6th and 7th. In between these dates, rewriting continued on Marks' script, including the insertion of the reference to the Doctor explaining that Sarah Jane's understanding of foreign and alien languages is a Time Lord gift he allows her to share. The Masque Of Mandragora part one aired on September 4th, officially beginning Doctor Who's fourteenth season.
Both Bennett and Marks saw their involvement with Doctor Who come to an end after this story. Bennett has continued directing, with work including Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm, The Darling Buds Of May and Dr Finlay. Marks has worked as a script editor and latterly a producer, helming shows like Middlemarch and The Lost Boys, which was directed by Rodney Bennett.