"The hand of a friend is a subtle but certain weapon."
IN THIS ONE... Federico grows desperate to find Giuliano. Hieronymous hypnotizes Sarah, and later super-charges himself in the temple.
REVIEW: This episode is most verbose, but also action-filled, giving viewers the best of both worlds. As the great Renaissance thinkers and their patrons start arriving in San Martino, Count Federico becomes a villain on a Shakespearean scale, all plots and colorful idiom. And as if to keep him at arm's length from the more advanced humanity represented by the Renaissance, a lot of that idiom is scatological, the script getting "bat droppings", "dung head" and "chamber pot" in under the wire. But whether he's haranguing Rossini, putting Hieronymous in his place, or torturing Marco (this is a rather adult idea), Federico is always watchable, unctuous and literate. I'm really sorry to see him go at the end of this episode, as Hieronymous is far less interesting, probably even less now that he's been turned into an energy creature. A striking visual, sure, but that's it.
We do find out how the Court Astrologer roofied Sarah Jane in the previous episode though, with a mixture of alchemy, hypnosis... and alien influence? Turned against the Doctor, she's a little more possessed than hypnotized, and the Doctor senses this. The crucial clue - that she'd never before asked how she could understand other languages - is unconvincing, but I choose to believe it mere confirmation of what he sensed from looking into her eyes, whatever mild telepathic contact he has with his companions, whatever. After all, isn't it stranger that she would NEVER have asked? Trivia buffs, take note though - this is the first mention of this "Time Lord gift". In any case, the Doctor knows a little something about hypnosis himself and would have noticed the signs. He's the "sorcerer" they accuse him of being in that sense, and there's a fun moment when he appears in a puff of smoke opposite Hieronymous' flaming cauldron. Great entrance.
And this is a big action episode for the Doctor too. He gets to take part in a sword fight that's effective to a point. He and Giuliano hold off a number of Federico's men, and though it's well choreographed and excitingly shot, it really can't go anywhere if they're unwilling to have the Doctor kill someone. So it turns into a lot of grabbing and pushing, until finally the Brethren show up to finish the fight. And then there's that rather amazing high kick the Doctor pulls on Hieronymous. When it comes to martial arts, the fourth Doctor is certainly more about strikes than throws. But these are desperate times, as we discover History itself is in great peril since the Mandragora Helix is planning to kill the Renaissance.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Exciting action, Court intrigue, at least one fun villain... Not highly memorable, but quite pleasant to watch.