Here we are 14 (!) Seasons in, and things get a little historical for the first time in a long time as the Doctor (Baker) and Sarah-Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) find themselves back in 15th century Italy!
The Masque of the Mandragora was a four part story that aired from 4 September to 25 September, 1976 and was written by Louis Marks. The story opens with the Doctor and Sarah wandering the halls of the TARDIS, exploring boot cupboards, and a rather charming looking Victorian-style console room. While they are there, the Doctor sees on one of the screens that they are being pulled into the vortex of the Mandragora, a living energy helix. Inside of it, they dodge a piece of the energy, which slips, unawares inside the TARDIS, as our heroes escape, and the sinister laughter that echoes the maneuver suggests a malignant intelligence at work…
The TARDIS then touches down in Italy, and the Doctor and Sarah are promptly separated, as Sarah is captured by black-robed members of the cult of Demnos, who plan on sacrificing her. The Doctor, meanwhile, is coming across evidence that part of the Helix hitched a ride with them, and may now be running rampant in 15th century Italy!
In the nearby city, a new duke, his father having been murdered, Giuliano (Gareth Armstrong) is trying to bring a more democratic rule to the town, but his uncle, Count Frederico (John Laurimore), who had his hand in the murder, wants to instill himself as ruler. He is aided, and occasionally thwarted by his astrologer, Hieronymous (Norman Jones), who is the head of the Demnos cult, and at the Mandragora’s urging, and empowerment, is seeking to rule the town, and eventually the world, himself.
After Sarah is helped to escape, thanks to a timely arrival of the Doctor, the pair find themselves teaming up with the scientifically-minded Giuliano, and trying to find a way to stop both Frederico, and Hieronymous, and hopefully destroy the escaped helix before it can wreak more damage to Italy, and by extension, the world!
There are lots of fun moments throughout this story, we get to see the Doctor wield a sword, a dastardly plan that sees Sarah being hypnotized to work against the Doctor that is thwarted the moment the Doctor decides it should be stopped, and of course the countless confrontations between the Doctor, Hieronymous, and the Mandragora. We also get a brief, non-explanation of why everyone sounds and speaks English to our travellers, the Doctor calls it a gift of the Time Lords. Personally, I prefer the explanation we later get from the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), about the telepathic field of the TARDIS… but that’s a couple decades, and a number of stories in the future yet.
Happily, by story’s end, the Doctor’s plan comes to fruition, everything is returned to the way it was, but he misses the opportunity to visit with Da Vinci, instead, he and Sarah are off to confront The Hand of Fear!