(Classic) Doctor Who Historical Costumes: The Masque of Mandragora


Let’s travel back in time with my favorite Doctor, the Fourth, played by Tom Baker, as he spins the TARDIS around and lands in 15th-century Italy during season 14 of Doctor Who for the four-part serial The Masque of Mandragora. I’ve previous looked at Doctor Who historical costumes in the reboot series, and recently I started looking at the classic series too. Hop onboard!

The gist of this particular story is that the Doctor and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen), discover that a pagan cult is really a cover for an alien energy force in this fictional Italian duchy circa 1480s. The costume designer for the series at the time was James Acheson, whose name you might recognize from his later Oscar-winning and nominated work on The Last Emperor (1987) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988). Acheson says that many of the tricks he learned working on Doctor Who he’s used ever since — and considering how he did Dangerous Liaisons on a tight budget yet achieved stunning results, that was an excellent learning experience!

Multiple sources go back and forth stating that the costumes for this serial were borrowed from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet OR they were borrowed from Renato Castellani’s 1954 film of Romeo and Juliet. But looking at footage and stills from each film (I’ve only seen the ’68 version in full), I can’t clear up this confusion. But first, let’s look at the Doctor Who costumes so we can compare. And there’s a lot of ’em!

First, we meet Count Federico, the bad guy and brother of the recently deceased duke.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Nice threads.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

He changes into a red coat & new doublet to execute the Doctor. As you do.

Next, let’s meet Giuliano, heir presumptive to the duke. He is a total clothes-horse! We see him for four hours, during what can’t possibly be more than a day or two, at most, and he changes clothes five times. Check out his wardrobe:

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

At his father’s deathbed. Flashy. Note his red-haired companion, Marco, in the background.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Giuliano changes into this green outfit next, with shell-themed jewelry.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Gorgeous patterned velvet coat.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Giuliano takes the Doctor & Sarah Jane out to a ruined temple, & changes into this slashed doublet with a cape.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

In the next scene, Giuliano is serious biznz with a fur-edged doublet & gold trim.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Full-length view.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

At the masked ball & farewell scene, Giuliano wears this embroidered coat over the same slashed doublet he wore out & about.

Then there’s the masque of the series name.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Jester’s gonna jest.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Everything looks pretty decent, until you notice the modern hair on the blonde extra at right.

Mostly, Sarah Jane Smith wears her 1970s outfit, which doesn’t stand out as super modern because it’s a hippy-dippy ye oldey-timey peasant dress.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

For the masked ball, she dons period garb.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

It’s not perfectly period, but it’s pretty.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

No visible zippers!

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

This is sweet — the actress Elizabeth Sladen with the masque costume!

And a few more costume shots.

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

The Doctor chats up some peasants. They are NOT wearing unfortunate biggins. YAY!

Doctor Who, The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

The Doctor is on the run, & I’m pleased that these women he passes by have their hair pinned up &/or covered. Plus, everyone seems dressed appropriately.

Now let’s look at the 1954 Romeo and Juliet with costumes by Leonor Fini. From stills and video, the design has a stylized, stripped-down, almost mid-century modern look. The colors are bright and harsh, not the rich jewel-tones we typically associate with Italian Renaissance art.

Romeo (played by Laurence Harvey), center, attempts to break up the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt. They’re all dressed in bright yellow, orange, and blue.

Romeo and Juliet (1954)

These are nothing like the costumes in “Masque of Mandragora,” right?

Romeo and Juliet (1954)

More detail of Romeo’s doublet, note the diagonal pleating, not a design seen in the 1480s, or in our Doctor Who serial.

Romeo and Juliet (1954)

This black-&-white still shows more details not found in “Masque.”

Romeo and Juliet (1954)

More ’54 R&J costumes that are nothing like our DW costumes!

Romeo and Juliet (1954)

The ’54 Romeo & Juliet masked ball — IDK, did they borrow the masks for Doctor Who & paint them? Nothing else is remotely close.

If any costumes were borrowed from the 1954 Romeo and Juliet, maybe they were for guardsmen or the pagan cult’s robes. There’s no resemblance between that film’s costumes and any of the main character’s costumes in this Doctor Who show.

How about the 1968 Romeo and Juliet, with Oscar-winning costumes designed by Danilo Donati? The look is more historically accurate overall and has some of the warmth and richness associated with the period. But I can’t find any specific garments recycled from this film to our TV show.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

While some of the costume shapes are similar to the historical costumes in this Doctor Who show, nothing is identical.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Tybalt’s doublet is the closest, but no cigar. The sleeves are different, & there’s none of the elaborate trim seen on Federico or Giuliano’s garb.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Newp. Not main-character costume reuse here.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Mercutio’s doublet is in the ballpark, but it’s nothing shown onscreen in Doctor Who.

I think it’s clear the period costumes in “The Masque of Mandragora” were not reused from either of these Romeo and Juliet movies. They may well have been recycled from some other production since the BBC had access to a vast wardrobe. I wonder if the myths connecting this Doctor Who serial to those movies was started as a promotion gimmick? Seems unnecessary, but you never know!


Are you a fan of Doctor Who historical travels?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

26 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I agree with your assessment that the costumes were not from either R&J movies and the Harvey costumes look totally wrong when compared with the Danilo Donati ones. Well, Donatiwas a genius and worked with major Italian directors besides Zef. Fellini comes to mind and I believe he might have worked with Visconti as well.

    My question here is why they think the hippy peasant look is in any way Italian Renaissance for women? Sarah Jane sticks out like a Picasso in a gallery of Botticelli paintings.

    • MoHub

      Sarah wasn’t dressed to blend with the environment (except during the ball); she was wearing her normal contemporary dress.

      • Trystan L. Bass

        Yep, there’s only a couple times when she ‘went native’ but I like how in this one her modern clothes give a nod to the historical period.

  2. mmcquown

    New or old, I love ’em all. The US showings began with Dr # 4 (Tom Baker), so we never got to see any historical settings (if there were any) from the first three doctors. What we have seen, especially from the last three Drs, is more ethnic clothing and bigger budgets.

    • MoHub

      I’m in the DC area, and we actually got Doctor #3 first, but it tanked. Then number 4 came along, and it was cult-time after that. However, I was never able to warm to NuWho.

  3. EA Gorman

    Sarah’s dress is still blending in a little better than if she was wearing a T-shirt and flare legged blue jeans. So she’s not a total sore thumb, just a slightly bruised one. For what that’s worth. (shrug) Anyhow, it’s the Doctor that really needed to change, what with his long scarf and all.

    • Roxana

      Sarah’s dresss blends in because it’s got the short waisted silhouette of the era and it’s just long enough to be decent. People could easily believe she was a peasant girl from some other part of Italy.

  4. Jennie Gist

    You’ve definitely made your point, no borrowing here from either R&J production. However, I wonder if some of the silver & white masquerade headdresses had ready been used in Lester’s Three Musketeers? I’ve seen some of them in other films. BTW we had the pleasure of hearing James Acheson speak about his career a few years ago. Very interesting!

  5. Frannie Germeshausen

    Whatever the source, some of those characters look like portraits of the era.

  6. Alice Shortcake

    Marco was played by the wonderful Tim Pigott-Smith, who also read ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ audiobook. His other costume roles included ‘The Jewel in the Crown’, both TV versions of ‘North and South’ and ‘Downton Abbey’, in which he played the obstetrician whose negligence contributed to Lady Sybil’s death.

      • Alice Shortcake

        I’d forgotten that one! He was also superb as Angelo in the BBC Shakespeare ‘Measure For Measure’. And I had the pleasure of seeing him on stage as King Lear a few years before he died.

  7. SarahV

    I can’t help but giggle like a sophomore when I See the men in those parti-colored hose with contrasting little codpiece flap with the part-coloring verserve. Can you imagine if men’s garments today where designed to obviously call attention to their junk like that?

    • SarahV

      UGH. Stupid auto-correct:

      I can’t help but giggle like a sophomore when I see the men in those parti-colored hose with contrasting little codpiece flap with the parti-coloring reversed. Can you imagine if men’s garments today where designed to obviously call attention to their junk like that?

  8. Cheryl from Maryland

    FYI, I see the costumes in the 1958 Romeo and Juliet as inspired more by mid 14th C fresco paintings than mid 20th colors. Fresco painting at the time had a harsh, clear, strong palette as artists mixed their pigments in wet plaster — the plaster lightened the pigments, the artist had only one shot (if the artist didn’t like the result, scrape it off and start again), no opportunities for jewel tones or depth of color (unlike oil painting). The costume designer was probably inspired by Uccello, Mantegna, the Lorenzetti Brothers, Piero della Francesca, etc., etc. CF this fresco by Uccello and the figure on the left in yellow -https://arthive.com/artists/1532~Paolo_Uccello/works/329428~The_adoration_of_the_Magi_Fragment

    • Daniel C

      Well, Leonor Fini was a pretty well-known surrealist painter at the time and some of her early work is loosely inspired by those periods.

  9. Roxana

    Sarah’s masque gown is one of my favorite costumes. Doctor Who tended to have quite good historical costuming in the olden days. Not so much now imo.

  10. Mary L Pagones

    I saw some of the earlier shows, and rather liked the bits of the third doctor I saw, but Baker will always be my favorite. He’s such a mad genius of an actor, it was hard to find roles to fit his personality (he had a wonderful bit in Blackadder II). My view of jellybabies was forever changed. Sarah Jane was a delight, but the second Romana was my favorite companion of his.

  11. Kate Lynch

    Was just watching the 2007 interview with Acheson and he goes into more detail on the costumes and how the myth came about. As Acheson tells it, he wanted to see if he could rent Donati’s costumes for use in the serial, found a place in Rome that claimed to have the originals for rent, and flew out there on the cheap. Turned out the costumes were from the ’54 production, not Donati’s, and by and large weren’t usable. So, per Acheson, they threw together what they had – some modified ’54 costumes, some rented from local theater companies, and some they put together themselves. His entire history with the show displays astonishing amounts of professional growth within some pretty severe costuming limitations, as he started out doing things like the ridiculous “gel guards” for The Three Doctors.