This time the TARDIS lands near the city of Jaffa, right in the middle of the Third Crusade. While looking around the group is ambushed by Saracen soldiers, who abduct Barbara. The soldiers also capture William des Preux, a Crusader who lets himself be captured while pretending to be King Richard I of England in order to distract the enemy, while the rest of the TARDIS crew manage to rescue William de Tornebu, a nobleman also serving under Richard. The Doctor hopes that by helping de Tornebu recover from his wounds and by returning him to Richard’s court they can get the king to help them save Barbara. At Saladin’s camp, des Preux interrogates Barbara, curious about her “strange clothes.” Barbara ducks his questions and finds out about des Preux’s charade. Concerned for Barbara’s safety, des Preux tells Saladin’s ministers that she is Richard’s sister, Joanna. Meanwhile the Doctor steals clothes for himself, Vicki, and Ian, from a merchant in Jaffa, so they can fit in.
A Saracen emir, el-Akir, presents Barbara and “Richard” to Saladin and his brother Sephadin, but Saladin sees through the ruse. An enraged el-Akir threatens to have Barbara tortured, but Saladin angrily rebukes him and dismisses him. Barbara actually tries to tell Saladin the truth of who she is and where she’s been, but he just assumes that she’s telling him in a roundabout way that she and her companions are traveling entertainers. As such Saladin considers keeping Barbara on as his entertainer. At Richard’s court, the Doctor and the others find an extremely ill-tempered Richard, who is glowering under recent setbacks in the Crusade and the news that his brother John is trying to usurp the English throne. Regardless Ian insists on begging Richard to send him with an escort to Saladin to arrange for Barbara and des Preux’s release. Richard declares he’d let Barbara rot in a cell before he would negotiate with Saladin. The Doctor and Vicki join in and convince Richard to reconsider by pointing out des Preux’s ruse and the potential embarrassment Saladin will feel when it turns out that des Preux is not the king. Amused by his way of thinking, Richard invites the Doctor to join his court as an adviser.
Elsewhere Ian is sent on a diplomatic mission by Richard to beg for des Preux’s and Barbara’s release as well as for the marriage of the real Joanna and Sephadin. So Ian will be qualified to serve as a royal emissary, Richard knights Ian as “Sir Ian Chesterton of Jaffa.” Ian delivers Richard’s message to Saladin and learns from des Preux about Barbara’s fate. Despite des Preux’s warning about robbers in the countryside around Jaffa, Ian is determined to set out to find Barbara. El-Akir, who wants revenge against Barbara for humiliating him in front of Saladin, arranges for Barbara to “escape” and then tries to sell her as a harem girl. Barbara gets away and is helped by Haroun Eddin, an enemy of el-Akir. At Richard’s court the Doctor argues with the Earl of Leicester in front of Richard; the Doctor backs Richard’s plans for peace and the marriage of Sephadin and Joanna. After Eddin is wounded by el-Akir’s men, Barbara gives herself up to keep Eddin’s daughter from being captured.
The Doctor seems to lose Richard’s favor when Joanna finds out about his plans to marry her to “an infidel” and he blames the Doctor, who knew about the proposed marriage alliance. Meanwhile Barbara is handed over to el-Akir, who promises, “The only pleasure left to you is death, and death is very far away.” However, Barbara slips away once again, finding refuge in el-Akir’s harem. Ian has his own problems when he’s overtaken and tied up by a robber named Ibrahim, who thinks from his clothes that Ian is a rich man and plans to get him to reveal the location of his “wealth” by luring ants to Ian’s body with honey. Richard apologizes to the Doctor and Vicki for blaming them; he knew that Leicester had informed Joanna about the marriage plans to try to turn him against the Doctor, but had to act to keep Leicester’s favor since he is a good general and Richard expects, since he cannot make the marriage match with Joanna’s vehement opposition and likely disapproval from the Pope, that he’ll have to soon fight Saladin again. To keep the Doctor away from his newfound enemy Leicester, Richard orders the Doctor and Vicki to go to Acre. Before they leave, the Doctor assures Richard that he will someday see Jerusalem. Vicki feels sorry that they have to leave Richard to fight a war he’ll never win.
In the harem, Barbara finds Haroun Eddin’s daughter Maimuna. Just as el-Akir is about to uncover Barbara, Ian, who tricked Ibrahim into letting him go, and Haroun ed-Din appear at the harem. Ian and his new ally, Ibrahim, help Barbara escape while Eddin kills el-Akir. On their way back to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Vicki see that they’re being followed by Leicester, who thinks the Doctor is a Saracen spy and Vicki is a witch. Near the TARDIS Leicester captures the Doctor, who convinces Leicester to let him see Jaffa one last time before he’s executed. This gives the Doctor enough time to make it into the TARDIS. When they see the TARDIS vanish, Leicester swears his men to silence, so they won’t be “branded as idiots or liars.”
It’s the first completely “straight” historical serial we’ve had since last season, but it sticks closely to the formula that’s been established throughout this season. True, the TARDIS crew has always ended up separated, but here once again they diverge the same ways: the Doctor and Vicki wind up together and having the (if only relatively) “safer” adventure, while Barbara and Ian are forced to split up and carry most of the action and suspense in the serial. In a strange way it does make the Doctor seem like a more proactive character, especially compared to the beginning of the show, since it leaves him to operate without the show’s original center, but it also illustrates too well how Vicki has virtually nothing to do but serve as someone for the Doctor to talk with. Now Maureen O’Brien does do a good job playing Vicki and she manages to bring some sparks of a personality, but they come in spite of the script.
As for the serial itself, it is, like most of the historicals we’ve seen so far, quite strong. It’s certainly the best acted serial we’ve seen yet, with Julian Glover depicting Richard I with Shakespearean flair. The screenwriters certainly feed him the spotlight: the argument between him and Joanna, played equally well by Jean Marsh, is good drama, as is the moments where he portrays a war-weary but still ambitious Richard. Bernard Kay also pulls off a very good Saladin, depicting a monarch that manages to be convincingly ruthless and compassionate at the same time. It might lack the use of the implications of time travel that existed in “The Aztecs” and to a lesser extent “The Romans”, but looked at in isolation it actually does work as a decent interpretation of the historical actors involved (even if Richard I is painted as being at least a smidgen less martial than he certainly he was in real life). Unfortunately, the whole serial trickles down to an anticlimactic conclusion in the last episode. Ian and Barbara’s escapades are wrapped up a little too neatly (for one thing, why did Eddin suddenly wind up invading the harem where his daughter was kept after all that time?), not enough time is spent with the fascinating idea that the Doctor is willingly letting Richard run into a dead end or even with Richard’s anxieties over what is for him still the future, and overall all the various plots seem to end simply because they must.
Despite that, and the lack of any real distinction apart from the quality of the acting, it’s arguably the strongest serial in the season yet. At the very least it’s another example that can be cited as evidence that the current showrunners should maybe consider reviving the “Doctor Who” historical format.