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The Man in the Velvet Mask

By Daniel O'Mahony

Book review by Paul Scoones

If the macabre imagery of Falls the Shadow appealed to you, then the equally frighteningly twisted and sadistic visions of Daniel O'Mahony's second Doctor Who novel should also be to your liking. The Man in the Velvet Mask has at first glance all the trappings of an historical adventure in post-revolutionary Paris, France, 1804. What quickly becomes evident is that not only is this a parallel version of history, but that the levels of torture, sex and sadism rapidly dispel any illusion that this might be a story worthy of the first Doctor's television era. Instead it reads like the result of a creative collaboration between Clive Barker and Terry Gilliam.

The treatment of the Doctor's sole companion, Dodo, might also have readers hoping to recapture the Hartnell era up in arms. O'Mahony has taken a dull two dimensional character (as Dodo was on screen), and breathed life and very real emotions into a frequently over-looked companion. Taken in by a theatrical troupe, Dodo is seduced emotionally and sexually by its leading player, Dalville, and it is this subplot which is the most fascinating since it charts a subtle yet irreversible change in Dodo's character and outlook.

The Doctor is as he appears in no other Missing Adventure, a frail old man seemingly always hovering on the very brink of death, yet still able to summon reserves of strength and will to confront the evil monstrosities he encounters. The Doctor's commanding presence and sharp intelligence in spite of his infirmity provides a fascinating new angle on his heroic position within the narrative.

Nothing is quite what it seems within the twisted convolutions of this bizarre version of reality. The 'mask' motif extends far beyond the titular character, Prisoner 6 (who incidentally bears about as much relation to McGoohan's The Prisoner as Tanith and Gabriel did to Sapphire and Steel), to apply to a broad range of deceptions. The Man in the Velvet Mask is a cleverly layered grim dark fantasy which challenges the boundaries of accepted Doctor Who.

This item appeared in TSV 47 (April 1996).

Index nodes: The Man in the Velvet Mask