The Masque Of Mandragora finds the Fourth Doctor & Sarah-Jane Smith arriving in fifteenth century Italy- and what should they find themselves thrust into but the beginnings of the Renaissance, science just starting to muscle in on the previously unopposed territory occupied by religion during the Dark Ages?
Of course the Doctor knows all about the nature of religious conflict, having been at the heart of the Third Crusade, one of the earliest examples of it during his First incarnation, and in the process witnessing the battle between the Christian forces of King Richard the Lionheart:
"That Saracen very nearly did for me. Of course. Did you hear what that man called him? Saracen. Malek Ric! Yes, that was the name the Saracens had for King Richard, Coeur de Lion. Malek Ric..."That would be Malek Ric and the Muslim/Saracen armies of the Sultan Saladin for control of the Holy Land!
He's back on similar ground when he's "all teeth & curls", upon his arrival in San Martino. Hieronymous, court astrologer to the Duchy of the place has been making predictions of death, and they've all proved scarily accurate. The latest to exit the land of the living is the current Duke, whose brother Count Federico craves power.
To that end he's enlisted the help of Hieronymous in getting it, and all those whose end the starman foresees perhaps inevitably meet their maker earlier than they would've liked! Not that the man who also doubles as leader of the Cult of Demnos- Roman God of the Moon- will admit to his part in the whole sordid business.
"Everything is foretold by the stars. I am just a humble astrologer. I only interpret their meaning."The Duke's son Giuliano isn't prepared to believe such talk, and indeed as both a liberal thinker and champion of science is quite progressive given the nature of the times! Dismissing Hieronymous's bluff that:
"When Mars comes into conjunction with Saturn in the seventh layer, in the House of the Ram, and the moon is full grown, death comes to great ones. So it is decreed."...he sets out his own agenda more in keeping with the developing Renaissance.
"I am Duke now, and I want to rule over a land where there is no tyranny, no lies, no blind ignorance and superstition like that old fool who preaches about the stars. We make our own lives, Marco, not the stars."
But that very same "old fool" has an agenda of his own well outside his alliance with Federico. He's got a hunch, too!
"I have been feeling as if my powers were growing. As if I had been chosen to be granted visions of the future."And that he will, at the coming of Mandragora. The Cult - "Particularly nasty Roman sect, supposed to have died out in the third century" according to the Doctor - has switched its allegiance from Demnos to Mandragora by the time "The Mandragora Helix has come home to roost".
Why has it chosen this particular time to make its entrance? If it succeeds, it could seize power on Earth as head of a new religion, positioning itself as a God! And in return for helping with that, Hieronymous is promised "powers undreamed of" as "supreme ruler of Earth".
Luckily Giuliano is receptive to the arrival of the Doctor, taking a shine to him - "I take it that you, like me, are a man of science?". That he is! And while "the guards are muttering about fire devils" in connection to the death of one of their number, neither the Duke or his new Time Lord contemporary are as willing to believe in that sort of talk, though the man from Gallifrey probably remembers his first such encounter with it, and indeed devils, in The Daemons...
Of course there was a scientific explanation for the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub or whichever of his many names you choose to call him, too. "The Prince of Evil, the Dark One, the Horned Beast" is in fact one of a number of "creatures like those" ( Daemons), which:
"have been seen over and over again throughout the history of man, and man has turned them into myths, gods or devils, but they're neither... they are, in fact, creatures from another world."And following his regeneration into his cricket-gear clad Fifth self, he'll find himself right back where he started in a sense!
The King's Demons sees him pondering how ''Bad'' King John can be in two places at once- as he finds himself arriving at court on the very day the King is supposed to be off taking the Crusaders Oath:
"I do so swear under the Light, by the Sword and Scales of Truth and all the fires of heaven, to undertake this holy Crusade. I pledge to guard heart, spirit, body, and mind from the corruption of this Wound upon the World. I furthermore promise and declare that I shall wage relentless war against the Spawn of the Pit and their manifold legions, as directed by those with charge of this Crusade and whenever opportunity presents, to extirpate and annihilate their execrable race and any who serve them."...pledging himself and his forces to the joining of the very same Third Crusade at which the First Doctor had been present! While the real one may indeed be off committing himself to the aim of seizing access to the Holy Land from Saladin, who's the impostor?
It's Kamelion, with the Master posing as his champion, the Knight Sir Giles Estram!
"We sing in praise of total war, against the Saracen we abhor.
To free the tomb of Christ our Lord, we'll put the known world to the sword.
There is no glory greater than to serve with gold the Son of Man.
No riches here on Earth shall see, no scutage in eternity."