By 1976 Doctor Who was in the midst of an imperial period of distinction with one classic after another being broadcast and more to come. Yet this story, which debuted Tom Baker’s third season, seems to have been curiously undervalued at the time. It’s less showy than the rest of the season and one of the more cultured scripts the original series had thanks to Louis Marks drawing from his knowledge of the Italian Renaissance. It was certainly well thought of enough to be given prominence in obituaries when the writer died in 2010 with The Guardian mentioning “Machiavellian comedy, a book-burning priest and the musical surnames Rossini and Scarlatti” as influences the story included.
Part One: You’ve got to admire this opening episode for its urgency. My own memory of this story is a certain low key, slow unfurling but part one turns out to be the opposite. Packed into an eventful 25 minutes is a lot of material that lays out the parameters of the story and gives us lots of action. By the end both the Doctor and Sarah are facing the prospect of gruesome executions, both having been knocked out (the Doctor twice). There’s some very dangerous Mandragora energy loose in fifteenth century Italy thanks to the Doctor materialising the Tardis in the middle of it. Oh and we’ve seen a new console room and met our retinue of central players.