thrift store finds: doctor who and the mask of mandragora

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

I picked up three of these Doctor Who paperbacks at the thrift store last week.

I’ve made no small secret of my recent love of the modern version of Doctor Who, however I know next to nothing about any Doctor who came before the 9th iteration. Truth be told, I could have snagged a much larger stack of these Doctor Who paperbacks; when I first visited our local thrift store, they had about twelve of ’em. I opted to hold off on buying them, figuring Doctor Who paperbacks wouldn’t be a huge draw in this Southwestern Ohio town.

I went back later in the week to find I was completely wrong. Only these three remained. All three all center on the Fourth Doctor, as portrayed for eight years on the series by actor Tom Baker. Baker’s persnickety, scarf-wearing version of The Doctor is likely the most famous version of the character here in the United States; public television stations aired his serials quite a lot in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

I decided I’d read one of these paperbacks to see if I could continue my love affair with the Time Lord from Gallifrey. I chose to begin with Doctor Who and the Mask of Mandragora, written by Phillip Hinchcliffe. This book was originally published in 1977, but this second printing comes via Pinnacle Books in 1982. This might explain why the Doctor is nowhere to be found on the cover- by ’82, Baker had stepped down from the role.

The book is reasonably helpful to the newbie. Two title pages explain to the neophyte reader who The Doctor is… and who his companion will be in this particular adventure.

In The Mask of Mandragora, The Doctor is accompanied by Sarah Jane Smith, one of the great fan favorite companions of the series’ run. Sarah Jane remained popular enough to rate her own spin-off series when Doctor Who returned to the airwaves in 2005. Truth be told, Sarah Jane’s presence in this story is the main reason I chose to read Mask of Mandragora first, over the other two books.

Following those two pages is an excellent introduction from noted sci-fi scribe Harlan Ellison. Ellison is about as well-known for courting controversy as he is for his writing. Most seem to remember him for his contributions to Star Trek, but I will always know him as the writer of “Croatoan”, a short story which scared the living bejeezus out of me when I read it in middle school. Here, Ellison opines on the greatness of The Doctor and regards the show as the very best that science fiction has to offer.

I’d say more about my feelings about Ellison, but I’m afraid he’d sue me so we’ll just move on.

The story of The Mask of Mandragora is boilerplate Who, combining the far flung sci-fi concepts with old time Earth. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are waylaid on the TARDIS by a massive disruption of Mandragora Energy. The duo later land in(as the TARDIS is a time machine as well as a spaceship, natch) 15th century Italy, where some Mandragora Energy stowed away on the TARDIS causes trouble for humanity.

Doctor Who and the Mask of Mandragora is based on four episodes of the Doctor Who series aired in 1976, according to occasionally reliable Wikipedia. The book was… okay. I suspect I’d have enjoyed watching the television program a bit more than reading the adaptation. It was interesting to see some elements of The Doctor that survive today existed in his portrayal thirty years ago. One scene, where The Doctor is about to be beheaded and gets the better of the situation thanks to his ubiquitous long scarf was both a humorous take on the character and the situation he finds himself in. The space the books gives to some of the 15th century Italians is interesting as well.

I don’t know that I’ll dip into the other two books very soon but I did learn I can appreciate earlier incarnations of the show. Perhaps I’ll try to watch a couple on Netflix this weekend.

5 Responses to “thrift store finds: doctor who and the mask of mandragora”

  1. Some of the best Who stories were from the Tom Baker era including Genesis of the Daleks, Seeds of Doom, The Key to Time (a whole season of linked stories), Pyramids of Mars, Destiny of the Daleks, Deadly Assassin, Full Circle and many many others 🙂

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      Thanks for the list… I’ll definitely start looking out. I started watching The Ark in Space a few weeks ago. I’ve read people’s opinions that it’s a good one, but it moved a bit too slowly for me. I’ll give it another shot, one of these days.

      • Ark was always a bit overated imho but there are some fab stories that season with Genesis of the Daleks being the stand out (and voted best Who story *ever*).

        Good luck with you retro Who watching 😀

  2. I think Season Twelve of Doctor Who is by far so of the best classic stories. Starting with Ark in Space and ending with Revenge of the Cybermen.

    I had a ton of these books when I was a kid and have thought about trying to collect them again but have been put off by some of the prices I see on EBAY.

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