I have to believe that I’ve seen this at some point; I don’t recall it from the title at all, but let’s find out…

Episode 1:

I suspect I have seen this, as The Doctor and Sarah wander through the halls of the TARDIS and she stops to look through an open door, a large room with furniture and the like. The Doctor says it’s “the boot cupboard, not very interesting.”

They wander through more corridors, discussing the size of the TARDIS, measurements in infinity, the limited mindsets of humans.

Okay, I have seen this before. Sarah opens a random door and enters what appears to be an older console room (not one we’ve ever seen before, though.) The Doctor says it’s the second control room. Sarah picks up a recorder and begins playing it (a nice tip of the had to the Second Doctor) while The Doctor turns on the lights and opens the exterior scanner, revealing the Madragora Helix, “a spiral of pure energy that radiates outward that nobody understands” – and they’re being drawn towards it.

They begin to be sucked in; The Doctor works the controls, trying to fight it and there’s some really wibbly-wobbly visual effects. Eventually, the TARDIS arrives somewhere – The Doctor isn’t sure. He exits (this, too, has a front door) to find them surrounded by large crystals and nothing else but darkness out. Sarah exits and their conversation echoes.

A glowing burst of “helix energy” comes flying at the TARDIS and The Doctor drags Sarah behind the TARDIS to hide from it. It seems to pass by (but I want to point out that they left the TARDIS door wide open, just saying) and they slip in and depart, The Doctor quite worried about what could happen next.

As the TARDIS dematerialises, we hear a deep, rumbling, sinister laughter.

In 15th century Italy, armed men on horses attack helpless villagers/farmers. A man in charge gives orders for a few to be kept alive to spread the word on how “insurrection is dealt with”, and for some reason, they set fire to the hay in the wagon.

The man who gave orders returns to the city, where someone refers to him as Count Federico. In the city, the Duke has died and his son Giuliano grieves, asking the astrologer, Hieronymous, how he know the exact day and hour of the Duke’s death. Count Federico arrives during the argument between Giuliano and the astrologer. When the astrologer leaves, he and Federico share a telling look.

Federico is the brother to the deceased Duke and Giuliano greets his uncle with sarcasm. It’s obvious there is not much love between the two. Giuliano’s friend, Marco, advises his friend to be careful of making an enemy of his uncle. Giuliano talks of being Duke and ruling without tyranny and self-reliance, not looking to superstition and astrology.

Marco comments how strange it was that the Duke died so suddenly.

Federico and Hieronymous discuss their plans to make Federico the new Duke and argue whether to kill Giuliano sooner or later. Hieronymous speaks of feeling his powers grow, but Federico says that so many correct predictions (though obviously, they’re using that to ‘cover’ their poisoning of the Duke, and apparently others before him) have gone to his head. He orders the astrologer to make a prediction that the young Duke will die in two days and he will take care of the rest.

As Federico storms out, Hieronymous looks out the window at the night sky and we hear the sinister laughing from afar.

The next day, the TARDIS materialises in the forest. Sarah Jane finds some oranges and picks them, being observed by robed/hooded figures. The Doctor finds a small vase and uses it to determine their location is Earth, 15th century Mediterranean region. He suddenly realises Sarah is nowhere to be seen.

Three black robed men walk, one carrying Sarah. The Doctor orders them to stop and they do. One confronts him, but he uses Judo to knock him down. However, when he turns to the other two, the first knocks him out with a stone to the back of the head.

The helix spark exits the TARDIS, moving along the trees. Its sparks cause some small comubstion in the foliage.

The Doctor rises, looks around, but Sarah and the robed men are nowhere in sight. He moves off through the woods, coming across a man. As he is about to call out to the man, he sees the helix spark moving in. It kills the man as The Doctor watches quietly. He realises the spark was from the helix.

Giuliano and Marco sit, the latter sharpening and polishing his sword. Giuliano talks about a man in Florence who talks of using discs of ground glass to view the Moon and stars. Federico bursts in with Hieronymous, and Giuliano chastises him for not knocking.

Hieronymous claims he has seen the new Duke’s death in the horoscope. Giuliano scoffs and Federico points out that G’s father scoffed as well. Federico tells the Duke that he thinks the peasant revolt is a result of spies stirring them up, but says they will catch and punish the guilty. (Okay, so The Doctor will be found and presumed to be one of the spies, right?)

The Doctor walks down a dirt path, encountering a group of men sitting on the roadside. He stops to ask them about Sarah, but men on horse ride up and the men scamper. The Doctor manages to escape by stealing one of the horses from underneath (no, really, you’ll have to watch it to find out what I mean) but is quickly captured. I guess that was the running scene.

Sarah, now blindfolded and conscious, is dragged into what appears to be a subterranean chamber. An elderly man in black robes says that her arrival was foretold and she will be sacrificed to Demnos.

Federico is playing chess and being attended by sycophants, when The Doctor is brought before him. He questions the stranger, but The Doctor says he is there totake back the Mandragora helix back to the stars. He rephrases it as a “ball of heavenly fire”. Federico calls for Hieronymous to be brought to him.

The bell tolls and a guard urges the people in the street to hurry as the curfew nears. The helix spark kills him.

Hieronymous quizzes The Doctor, who mocks the astrologer. Giuliano is there, but Fede((rico seems to be running things, and calls for The Doctor to be executed, saying he is a spy (told ya.)

Sarah is dressed in a white dress for the sacrifice. The elder cultists arrives in her cell to say when the Moon rises, her “hour of glory will have come.”

The Doctor is brought out to be executed in front of the populace, the executioner readies his sword and Federico gives the signal… and the credits roll.

Interesting so far, curious to see if the helix is just going to be bouncing about randomly, killing people or will take a more active role in the story.

Episode 2:

The Doctor manages to escape (okay, that was just completely silly) by tangling the exectioner with his scarf. He runs through the city (passing by two guards examining and discussing the dead guard the helix got shortly before), trying to hide in the market, behind trees and the like.

A larger group of cultists, wearing horrific masques, perform the beginnings of a ritual, presumably the sacrificial one.

The guards can’t find The Doctor, one of them saying he must be a worshipper of Demnos, as the cultists know the secret labyrinths beneath the city. He refuses to accompany his fellow guard in pursuit and talks him into going back to report instead.

Sarah, having imbibed (against her will) some drink, is pliant and led into the chamber. She is laid upon the stone altar and the priest readies to sacrifice her with a large knife.

The Doctor walks through the catacombs, hiding from a purple robed figure in a golden mask. He follows the robed figure, but the figure passes through a secret door in the wall.

When the purple robed figure arrives, the knife is passed to him, ceremonially. He stands at Sarah’s head, raising the blade, but when he brings it down, The Doctor has pulled her out of harm’s way. The helix spark arrives, and the cult take it as a sign from Demnos.

Giuliano examines the corpse of the guard, arguing with another guard whether it was a “fire demon” or not. The corpse’s skin has partially-crystalised.

The Doctor and Sarah hide in the catacombs. The Doctor mentions that the cult of Demnos should have died off in the third century. He explains that the helix spark came with them in the TARDIS. As they talk, guards capture them.

In the temple, the cultists kneel as the helix illuminates the altar. The high priest (the one in purple) approaches and when he stands in the light, a voice says he has been chosen to receive powers undreamed of and he will be “supreme ruler of Earth”. The voice says that only he may stand there, any other who does will be killed. He will carry the will of (of the helix) out on Earth.

The light fades and the high priest dismisses the cultists. One cultist lingers and seems to be a bit more jealous. The high priest unmasks to reveal himself to be Hieronymous.

Sarah and The Doctor are brought to Giuliano and Marco. They talk about his uncle and how they suspect him of killing G’s father. The Duke shows the guard’s body to The Doctor, and he recognises it as helix energy. The Doctor questions why the helix spark is there, and Sarah adds why it went to the cult of Demnos.

Federico receives a report saying that the prisoner cannot be found. The guard hands over a list swiped from Giuliano – a list of names of rulers to come to San Martino.

Hieronymous dreams of ruling the Earth. Federico enters and the two men argue that he didn’t knock. Federico says he wants Giuliano dead that night. Hieronymous talks like he actually believes that his horoscopes about the Duke’s death and such are legit. Even Federico doesn’t believe this and instructs him to make sure the Duke dies that night.

In the temple, Hieronymous, wearing full regalia, appeals to the helix for powers to do the work they need of him. The helix says the time is not yet come and to be discreet in the time being.

The elder cultist has been watching and approaches after his commune with Demnos is concluded. They talk and Hieronymous reveals that years ago, Demnos spoke to him and told him to come to San Martino. He rants on about not being believed, being mocked by men of science – but they will learn their mistake. The typical megalomaniacal rant.

Dining with Giuliano and Sarah, The Doctor realises that the helix chose this moment in Earth history and this place because it was a ready place and the proper time to take over – using an old religion to take over in the pre-Enlightenment.

He asks to be shown a way to the temple unseen. Giuliano escorts them across the palace grounds, taking caution to be unseen, but a guard does spot them and runs off, presumably to report to Federico (many of the guards are loyal to him, it seems.)

Federico sees this as a way to solve all his problems – he plans to murder the Duke and make it look like a sacrifice.

The Doctor enters the temple, sword in hand. His mind is assaulted by the helix entity.

Giuliano discusses with Sarah his theory about the world being a sphere. Federico and his guards arrive and approach; Sarah runs into the temple, looking for The Doctor, but she is caught by the cultists… and the credits roll.

Episode 3:

The Doctor writhes under the mental assault of the helix. The laughter is heard as he tries to escape, but then ceases and he slips out through the secret door.

Giuliano fights off Federico’s guards and The Doctor comes to his aid. Giuliano is wounded, leaving The Doctor to fight the guards until the cultists come out in nubmers to fight off the guardsmen. Federico orders his men to retreat.

The Doctor takes Giuliano into the temple ruins and they realises neither have seen Sarah.

Hieronymous argues with his cultists about whether to sacrifice Sarah or use her as bait for The Doctor.

Federico refuses to go out to greet some arriving noblemen, gathering on Giuliano’s summons. He plots with his captain of the guard to kill the Duke.

The high priest questions Hieronymous’ having the cultists save the prince (Duke – they use the two interchangeably in these episodes, both refering to Giuliano.) Hieronymous says that the prince’s death has been foretold. Hieronmyous prepares a potion and feeds it to a bound and gagged Sarah (administering the liquid through the cloth.)

The Doctor and Giuliano find a secret door.

Hieronymous hypotises Sarah Jane, programming her to scratch him with a poison needle.

The captain reports that there is no sign of the prince or The Doctor, saying they must have gone into the catacombs. They agree that they must be ready for when the Duke leaves the catacombs, planning to frame him as a devotee of the cult of Demnos.

The Doctor and the prince find Sarah Jane, planted in the catacombs for them to find. The Doctor begins to realise that the Mandragora Intelligence brought them to this specific place and time as the helix must have had someone here already sympathetic to their desires.

Sarah asks how she can understand people speaing Italian, but The Doctor says he’ll explain later.

Marco is set upon by guards and taken prisoner.

The Doctor, Sarah and the prince find themselves in the palace dungeons, having gotten there via catacombs.

Federico accuses Hieronymous of being a charlatan, reminding him of his place, when he refuses to show the Count proper obeisance. Hieronymous tries to warn him that the stars have shown him there is a threat to the Count, but Federico will have nothing of it.

Entering the prince’s chambers, they find the signs of the fight with Marco. Giuliano says that he’s invited great scholars to attend his coronation, including Leonardi da Vinci. The Doctor realises that should anything happen to the learned men coming, a second Dark Ages could come about. He departs, saying he thinks he knows who the leader of the cultists is.

Before going in where Marco is being tortured, Federico tells his captain to kill Hieronymous.

Sarah Jane follows The Doctor through the palace.

Federico questions Marco, trying to get him to confess that Giuliano is a follower of Demnos. Marco spits in the Count’s face.

The Doctor confronts Hieronymous in his alchemical lab. Sarah sneaks up on The Doctor and Hieronymous instructs her to strike him. He talks her out of it, but then guards come in and grab The Doctor, others pursuing Hieronymous.

Giuliano leaves his chambers and is grabbed by guards and locked in the dungeon.

Federico, at hearing this, says it is over. The captain says that only Hieronymous is free, but not for long. The Count says, “Nothing can stop me now.” And that always works out, doesn’t it?

The Doctor, in chains, explains to Sarah in the dungeon how he knew she’d fallen under the influence of someone else; in all the other places he’s taken her, she’d never once asked how she could understand the local language. (Pretty clever way of working that in, I must say.) He explains that it’s a gift of the Time Lords that he allows her to share.

When Giuliano is brought into the dungeon, Marco confesses that he was forced to say things. Federico arrives to gloat (cuz that always works out, doesn’t it?) to his nephew that Marco confessed that the prince was a cultist. The captain of the guard arrives to tell the Count that the Bretheren (cultists) are moving through the streets, towards the temple.

In the temple, the cultists gather. In his purple regalia, Hieronymous leads them in a ceremony. He is illuminated by the helix energy and bathed in energy. The cultists look on and then one steps up and joins hands with Hieronymous, the energy blasting the second cultist as well.

The Doctor tries to convince Federico that Hieronymous is the enemy, explaining that the astrologer is the leader of the Bretheren, which is news to the Count. The Count takes several of his men and The Doctor with him.

One by one, the cultists step up to the altar; Hieronymous takes each by their hands and shares some ‘blessing’ of Demnos.

Federico leads The Doctor and his guards into the temple. Federico approaches Hieronymous, and removes the astrologer’s mask, but there is no man within, only energy.

Hieronymous blasts the Count who falls, screaming… and the credits roll.

THAT was a well done cliffhanger!

Episode 4:

The Count is blasted into ash. Hieronymous proclaims that so shall all their enemies fall. The cultsist begin marching around the altar, in a fashion I find reminiscent of the dance of the Sisterhood of Karn, though a slower, more somber pace. Hieronymous goes on about Demnos being the servant of Mandragora. The Doctor, who had been dressed as a cultist like Federico had (not sure what happened to the guards), slips away unnoticed.

The captain orders for the prince, Marco and Sarah to be taken for execution. The Doctor shows up to tell Rossini (the captain) that the Count is dead and the guards turn on the captain, who surrenders his sword to the duke/prince.

The Doctor tells Sarah that the cultists will make their move when Mandragora swallows the Moon.

Seemingly later, Marco approaches the prince to tell them the Bretheren are on the move, driving people from the town, attacking them with bolts of fire. They discuss that the inhabitants of the palace are pretty much the only people left in town – the citizens are being driven out.

They discuss the masque that was scheduled for that day (night?) – Marco chastises his prince for saying it should be canceled. (Interesting casting notes – Marco is played by Tim Piggot-Smith, who has done a lot of acting. Look him up online. I recently saw him in THE HOUR, a wonderful BBC drama. He was also in THE CLAWS OF AXOS, as “Captain Harker”, who doesn’t ring a bell with me, but obviously a UNIT man.)

Marco talks Giuliano out of canceling the masque, citing adequate defenses and should he cancel he will send a message that the new prince is weak.

The Doctor, using a telescope (which is strange as Giuliano talked of such thing as it was new to him) and an astrolabe to work out when Mandragora swallows the Moon – a lunar eclipse that will happen at 9:48pm.

Giuliano arrives to ask about the dance, which The Doctor tells him is a great idea and to save him a costume. He sets off to speak to the palace armourer.

Hieronymous discusses with one of his cultists the assemblance of scholars and rulers, men of science, in the palace and this evening Hieronymous will take ten cultists and attack.

The Doctor is fitted with a metal breastplate and some wire. Sarah brings in several costumes. The Doctor tries to make light of things, and Sarah points out that the worse the situation is, the worse his jokes become.

The Doctor frets that he’s never going to meet Leonardo. He tells Sarah his plan to drain off the helix energy (which is spread thing through the cultists) and says that if he’s guessed right, all will be well. When she questions what if he’s guessed wrong, his response (and hers) are classic:

The Doctor: “When have I ever guessed wrong about anything?” (he leaves the room)

Sarah: (quietly, so he cannot hear) “Lots of times.”

Hieronymous gives the orders for the other cultists to surround the palace – the ten others are already assembled inside, waiting for his signal. The Doctor is hiding behind stonework, listening. When they depart, he comes out of hiding and begins unraveling his wire.

The masque is on, there is entertainment, a jester doing flips and acrobatics. Marco reports to the prince that the cultists are outside, just standing, as if waiting. Sarah frets, asking them if they’ve heard from The Doctor. She is invited by another guest to join in a dance (and somehow knows the court dances from 15th century Italy – maybe that’s another gift that The Doctor shares with her?)

The Doctor is in the temple, playing with his yoyo. It seems he’s laid his trap. Hieronymous arrives, angered that he has profaned the sacred stone (the altar that he sits upon).

Mandragora, speaking through Hieronymous, says they will not allow mankin to spread through the galaxies, unchecked. They demand to know who he thinks he is to oppose them.

It’s part of a Time Lord’s job to insist on justice for all species.” – The Doctor

Hieronymous blasts The Doctor, who is knocked down. He gets up and is blasted again. And again. And again. The Doctor taunts him, demanding he try more, and Hieronymous calls out to Mandragora for help.

The masque continues; Sarah dances with Giuliano and frets more. Someone arrives in a lion masque costume and Sarah runs over, asking him what happened. However, the figure unmasks and it is a faceless cultist.

The cultists begin to attack the guests, killing many. Hieronymous orders for the remaining to be taken to the temple. There, they see the eclipse of the Moon begin. Hieronymous and the cultists summon Mandragora and the helix spark appears. All of the cultists except Hieronymous are touching the altar and while the prisoners watch, when the spark contacts it, the cultists are all turned to ash.

Hieronymous pulls back his purple cloak to reveal The Doctor!

Later, farewells are said. The Doctor and Sarah slip off into the woods, discussing that he never got to see Leonardo. The Doctor says Earth will be threatened again by the Mandragora Helix in about 500 years, which Sarah calculates to be near the end of the 20th century. (Though never in anything more official than spin-off media – comics and books. Apparently, one of the Sarah Jane Adventures episodes, SECRETS OF THE STARS, originally was planned to be a sequel but then that was changed during pre-produciton. I find this to be a shame.)

A fun episode, quirky characters, great performances. Norman Jones, who played Hieronymous, also played Khrisong in the Patrick Troughton serial THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN, and Major Baker in the Jon Pertwee serial DOCTOR WHO AND THE SILURIANS.