A four part serial originally broadcast by the BBC in September, 1976 and now available on DVD, "The Masque of Mandragora" finds the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companion Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) facing both sinister court intrigue and an attempted invasion from a malevolent form of intelligent energy in 15th century Italy.
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While traveling through space in the TARDIS, the Doctor and Sarah encounter the Mandragoria Helix, a living energy form which tries to attack them. Our heroes manage to break away by heading back in time to the Italian Renaissance (specifically, the fictional city of San Martino), arounfd the 15th century.
There, they become embroiled in a dispute between the vicious Count Federico (Jon Laurimore) and his more honest nephew, Giuliano (Gareth Armstrong), the son of the Duke. Federico is assisted by Hieronymous (Norman Jones), the court astrologer, who's also running a secret cult called the Brethren which terrorizes the countryside in worship of the Roman god of moonlight, Demnos.
Meanwhile, the Mandragora Helix, having attached itself to the TARDIS, is also in the area, posing as the actual Demnos....
To give away more would spoil the fun. Suffice to say, writer Louis Marks (one of the best scribes of the original series) and director Rodney Bennett, with the aid of a capable cast (including a young Tim Pigott-Smith as Marco), deliver a solid thriller with lots of call outs to previous episodes (like the Second Doctor's recorder) and historical figures of the day like Leonardo daVinchi.
Okay, one minor complaint: What's with the Doctor allowing bystanders getting (seemingly) killed in the climax? Maybe I missed something? Otherwise, "The Masque of Mandragora" is recommended for fans and non-fans alike!
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