Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Three – A Change of Identity

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Given the cramped studios they had to record in, it’s remarkable just how much was achieved in the early years of Doctor Who.  A good example of the quality of Roderick Lang’s design work can be seen in the opening minutes of this episode – as Barbara and Susan are transported in a horse-drawn cart through the streets of Paris (all of which was created in the studio).  The fact they have a real horse – as well as small touches like the cackling women at their windows – helps to sell the illusion.

Barbara and Susan are rescued from the guillotine by Jules Renan (Donald Morley) and his friend Jean (Roy Herrick).  Many of the historical stories from this point on would freely plunder popular fiction and it’s easy to make a link between Jules and Jean and the adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel.   Their arrival helps to move the story in a slightly different direction – we leave behind the squalor of the Conciergerie and the uncouth antics of the soldiers.

Meanwhile the Doctor has reached Paris and has gone shopping for some new clothes.  This is another scene that seems tailored (if you’ll excuse the pun!) to Hartnell’s comic strengths.  He sets his eye on a very impressive uniform and is informed by the shopkeeper that it signifies the position of regional officer of the provinces.

DOCTOR: Yes, I’m quite aware of that. Yes, quite aware. Yes. In fact, it’s a post that I myself personally occupy.
SHOPKEEPER: I see. I’m sorry, citizen.
DOCTOR: Don’t apologise. I want to try that on.
SHOPKEEPER: Certainly, citizen. The quality is unmatched, and in comparison, the price
DOCTOR: The price is of no matter. I haven’t any money.
SHOPKEEPER: No money?
DOCTOR: No. No, I though possibly we could arrange an exchange.
SHOPKEEPER: For this?
DOCTOR: What’s wrong with it?
SHOPKEEPER: Nay, it’s little better than a fancy dress outfit.
DOCTOR: A fancy dress? My dear sir, I doubt that you’ve seen a coat like it.
SHOPKEEPER: I agree.
DOCTOR: Am I correct to assume that you’re not interested?
SHOPKEEPER: You realise there is not much call for a
DOCTOR: Have you had a similar coat like this in your shop?
SHOPKEEPER: Never.
DOCTOR: Then I can understand why there has been no call.

You have to love the Doctor’s cheek, although we’ll later learn that he didn’t quite convince the shopkeeper of his bona fides. Which if you think about it isn’t that surprising – had the Doctor really had been a regional officer then surely his uniform would have been provided by the state.  And why was one hanging up in the tailor’s shop anyway?

The dashing Leon Colbert (Edward Brayshaw), a friend of Jules, is introduced to Barbara and makes an immediate impression.  If you’re a fan of 1970’s and 1980’s BBC children’s television it’s impossible to see Brayshaw as anybody other than the harassed Mr Meaker from Rentaghost.  But if you can push that to the back of your mind then you can enjoy Brayshaw’s fine performance.  It’s just a pity that all of his key scenes were in the forthcoming wiped episodes.

The Doctor (complete with the sort of hat that would have turned Troughton’s Doctor green with envy) makes his way to the prison and has his first meeting with the jailer.  It’s yet another dialogue-heavy scene that Hartnell and Cunningham play to perfection.   This is a good example of the first Doctor at his imposing best.

As I’ve touched on before, Hartnell was excellent at reacting to other actors. He never needed to overplay – he was able to express a world of emotions with just a few expressions.  This is notable at the point when the jailer tells him that Barbara and Susan have been taken for execution.  A spasm of pain crosses his face – which is quickly gone – and the news that they were rescued (and that Ian has also escaped) is quickly processed and digested before he moves on to the next topic.

But although Ian, Barbara and Susan are free, the Doctor now finds himself a prisoner of sorts.  Lemaitre (James Cairncross) is a key figure in the Revolution and after he meets the Doctor suggests that he joins him in a meeting with Robespierre.  This is the start of some cat-and-mouse games which play out over the following episodes. Is Lemaitre aware that the Doctor is an impostor, and if so what is his gameplan?

That the Doctor appears to be on shaky ground is strengthened when the shopkeeper comes to the prison to denounce him.  Quite why he would decide to come to the prison isn’t clear (except in story terms of course) but it sets us up nicely for the next episode.

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