Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Five – A Bargain of Necessity

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At the end of the previous episode Ian was captured by Leon, who reveals that he’s an agent of the Revolution. “I’ve been loyal to the Revolution from the beginning. If you’d known what France was like six years ago, before the Bastille, you’d understand. France will never be anything until we’re rid of these high-born leeches who’ve been sucking the life-blood of France for so long.”

Although Leon could viewed as a villain, like Robespierre he’s convinced of the right of his actions. And whilst he chains and threatens Ian, there’s the sense that he does so reluctantly. This scene is open to various interpretations though – maybe Leon is a skilled manipulator and tells Ian exactly what he thinks he wants to hear. Or is his desire to spare his life genuine?

It’s no surprise that although Ian is restrained and several menacing guards are present, there’s no attempt to torture him for the information which Leon is convinced he has (Jules appears and kills Leon before this happens). Saturday tea-time back in 1964 wouldn’t have been the place for explicit scenes of suffering (which makes the subject matter of this serial an odd one to have chosen).

The dramatic highlight of the episode, indeed the entire serial, occurs when Barbara is told of Leon’s death.

IAN: It was the only way, Barbara.
JULES: He deserved to die. He was a traitor.
BARBARA: What do you mean, he was a traitor?
IAN: When I got to the church, he turned on me. He was going to kill me.
JULES: He betrayed us, Barbara.
BARBARA: He was a traitor to you. To his side he was a patriot.
IAN: Barbara, we’ve taken sides just by being here. Jules actually shot him. It could just as easily have been me.
JULES: And what about Robespierre? I suppose you think ….
BARBARA: Well just because an extremist like Robespierre
IAN: Oh, Barbara, Jules is our friend. He saved our lives!
BARBARA: I know all that! The revolution isn’t all bad, and neither are the people who support it. It changed things for the whole world, and good, honest people gave their lives for that change.
IAN: Well, he got what he deserved.
BARBARA: You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve.

It’s a sparkling scene for both William Russell and Jacqueline Hill and offers a rare opportunity to see Ian and Barbara at loggerheads. Although Barbara’s view of Leon is no doubt coloured by her appreciation of him as a man, the point she makes (Leon would have been viewed as a patriot by his own people) is a valid one. But Ian’s retort that they’ve chosen sides and Leon had to be viewed as an enemy is equally valid. By showing Leon to be a cultured, well-educated man who also happened to believe that the overthrow of the ruling elite was morally justified, Spooner’s script has a level of complexity which wasn’t always present in Doctor Who. Generally, during this era of the series goodies and baddies tended to be painted in broader brushstrokes (although the historical stories did seem to offer more scope for nuanced character studies).

The Doctor spends the episode manipulating the hapless jailer in order to obtain Barbara and Susan’s release from prison. It provides a spot of comic relief which counterpoints the darker theme of Leon’s death. But it looks as if the Doctor hasn’t quite been as clever as he thinks – as we see that Lemaitre is still the one pulling the strings ……

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Four – The Tyrant of France

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In 1990 I acquired pirate copies of the four existing episodes of The Reign of Terror on VHS and happily watched them for many years. Back then I didn’t have a great deal of interest in the  audios of the missing episodes. This was understandable in one way as I was keener to track down copies of all the episodes that did still exist (meaning that the audios were a much lower priority).

It wasn’t until the remastered soundtracks started to appear on CD that I began to plug the gaps (later on these missing episodes would be enhanced by various recons – both official and unofficial). With some stories, like The Invasion, I never felt that I’d missed too much by not having audios of the missing episodes back in the 1990’s, but it wasn’t until I had the chance to listen to the audios of episodes four and five of The Reign of Terror that I finally realised what I’d been missing all those years.

These two episodes contain the dramatic heart of the story. The first three episodes contain a great deal of interest, but in many ways they’re simply designed to get us to this point (episode six is a coda which has very little connection to the rest of the story).

The Doctor’s meeting with Robespierre (Keith Anderson) is a fascinating one. Robespierre isn’t presented as a cackling villain, but rather as a weary administrator who – whilst authorising carnage on a grand scale – is convinced that he’s doing it for the greater good. This is a much more interesting portrait than had he simply been shown as a stock, “evil”, character. Beware the man who knows he’s right.

ROBESPIERRE: I could, and I shall, do great things for France. For too long the Nobility have kept our people to heel. And now finally, my world is at power, what happens? My colleagues, my trusted friends, plot for power.
THE DOCTOR: Do they? Or is it just their wish to keep their heads, hmm?
ROBESPIERRE: Danton planned to restore the monarchy. I had the proof, I knew! I had to dispose of him. And the Girondins. Even now, convention members are at work, plotting my downfall. But I will triumph, even if I have to execute every last one of them! Death, always death. Do you think I want this carnage? Three hundred and forty two executions in nine days in Paris alone. What a memory I shall leave behind if this thing lasts.

Elsewhere, the spark that seems to exist between Barbara and Leon deepens a little (this pays off in spectacular fashion next time) and Ian finds himself reunited with Barbara and Susan, although in the capture/escape/capture nature of this serial it’s not for long as the girls once again find themselves back in the prison (and once again under the unforgiving eye of the jailer). Ian continues his hunt for the English spy called James Webster whilst Lemaitre has definite proof that the Doctor is an impostor. But still he doesn’t act on this information.

There’s at least three different ways to enjoy episodes four and five – the audios, the DVD animations or the Loose Cannon recons. I tend to favour the Loose Cannon recons, as the animations are rather too hyperactive for my tastes. It seems that the animation company, Planet 55, learnt a great deal from this commission as their later efforts (The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase) were much, much better.

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.

Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode Two – Guests of Madame Guillotine

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Guests of Madame Guillotine neatly splits the narrative into three parts. Ian, Barbara and Susan have been taken to the Conciergerie Prison in Paris – Ian is put into one cell and Barbara and Susan are deposited in another. William Russell was the last of the four regulars to take his two-week holiday, so Ian only appears briefly on film for the next two episodes. Although his mission (entrusted to him by a dying prisoner) to find an English spy called James Stirling will prove to be significant later on.

Barbara and Susan are placed in the dingiest, most rat-infested cell, all because Barbara refused the lecherous attentions of the Jailer (Jack Cunningham). The Jailer is generally regarded as a humourous character (he’s later comprehensively bamboozled by the Doctor) but he’s a little more sinister and threatening to begin with. These early scenes at the Conceirgerie are a little grim anyway, since there seems to be no way that Barbara and Susan can avoid losing their heads.

SUSAN: Oh, what’s the use? We’ll never get out of this dreadful place.
BARBARA: Oh, you mustn’t lose heart, Susan.
SUSAN: I’m not going to fool myself.
BARBARA: Well, think of the times we’ve been in trouble before. We’ve always managed to get out of it in the end.
SUSAN: Oh, we’ve been lucky. We can’t go on being lucky. Things catch up with you.
BARBARA: I’ve never heard you talk like this before. You’re usually so optimistic.

Given that Susan is the much more experienced traveller it seems strange that she’s presented as the defeated one. Later on she reacts with terror at the sight of some rats – which stops Barbara from attempting to dig her way out of the cell. Although given the tools they had, it would have probably taken her years! These are further moments which probably wouldn’t have been viewed favourably by Carole Ann Ford, as they reinforce the notion that Susan is easily the least resourceful of the TARDIS crew.

Whilst the others face an anxious time in prison, the Doctor attempts to make his way to Paris. He’s rescued from the farmhouse by a young boy called Jean-Pierre (this is a touching scene with Hartnell and Peter Walker. As they part, the Doctor asks the boy his name. “I shall remember. Yes. Jean-Pierre. Au revoir, Monsieur Captain”).

We then see the first bit of location filming used in the series. It’s only a few scenes of Hartnell’s double strolling down some country lanes but it really helps to open things out. This then leads into one of the comic highlights of the story. Although Hartnell often referred to himself as a straight actor, he had a great flair for comedy (not really surprising since he started his career playing in stage farces). Spooner had obviously been quick to recognise this and gives him some first-rate material here.

The Doctor runs into a party of men toiling on the road, supervised by a brutal Overseer (Dallas Cavell). No surprise that the Doctor can’t resist sticking his oar in. “If you were to expend your energy helping with the road, instead of bawling and shouting at them every few seconds, you might be able to get somewhere. Good day to you, sir!” But when the Doctor is unable to produce any papers to prove his identity, he finds himself press-ganged into the working party.

The Doctor manages to effect his escape by convincing the Overseer that there’s buried treasure close at hand. When the Overseer bends down to take a closer look, the Doctor bashes him over the head with a shovel! The rest of the men are shocked (“sacre blue” they naturally say) and run off. As does the Doctor, once he’s mischievously put two gold pieces on the unconscious Overseer’s eyes. It’s highly entertaining stuff and was obviously a stepping-stone to the even broader comedy of Spooner’s next script, The Romans.

The time-scale for this episode is a little odd though. The others appear to arrive in Paris at the same time that the Doctor is extracted from the burning house. This clearly makes no sense, so it appears that Guests of Madame Guillotine is hopping backwards and forwards through time. Well, this is a time-travel series I guess ….

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Doctor Who – The Reign of Terror. Episode One – A Land of Fear

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The Doctor’s in a right old strop at the start of this episode (his bad mood carries over from the previous cliffhanger).  This feels a touch artificial and seems to have been done for two reasons – not only does it create a good hook into A Land of Fear (otherwise the last episode might have ended with the Doctor saying “oh look, a forest”) it also gives the regulars, especially Hartnell, some nice character moments in the opening few minutes of the story.

William Russell has spoken in the past about how the arrival of Dennis Spooner was greeted with enthusiasm by the main cast.  Spooner had a good ear for naturalistic dialogue and also liked to pepper his stories with humour.  And following the earnest and rather stilted dialogue which sometimes cropped up in The SensoritesThe Reign of Terror does come as a breath of fresh air.  However, it’s notable that Spooner’s scripts do feature various Americanisms, which feel strange coming from the mouths of the TARDIS crew, simply because they’ve never spoken like this before (Hartnell, for example, says “you don’t say” later this episode.  This feels jarring after watching the series in order).

The Doctor is convinced that he’s landed Ian and Barbara back in England 1963 and is keen drop them off and move on.  Not surprisingly, Ian and Barbara aren’t prepared just to take the Doctor’s word for it.  This infuriates the Doctor.  “I’m rather tired of your insinuations that I am not master of this craft. Oh, I admit, it did develop a fault, a minor fault on one occasion, perhaps twice, but nothing I couldn’t control.”

This is lovely stuff and Hartnell plays it to the hilt.  As we’ll see time and time again over the years, the joke’s on the Doctor since his confidence does turn out to be entirely misplaced.  They’re in France, not England, and a couple of hundred years back in time.  The TARDIS has set them down during the French Revolution (“the reign of terror”) which according to Susan is the Doctor’s favourite period in Earth history.  I wonder why. Does he enjoy the sight of all those French aristocrats being sent to the guillotine?  The Doctor never explains why he enjoys this time so much, so we’re left guessing.

The TARDIS crew meet Rouvray (Laidlaw Dalling) and D’Argenson (Neville Smith) at an abandoned farmhouse.  Both Frenchmen are on the run from the authorities and it seems  probable that they’ll be significant figures in the story.  Whilst D’Argenson is nervous and apprehensive, Rouvray is calm and still in total command.  He may be a hunted man but possesses an unbelieving belief in his own authority.  He bluntly tells Ian and Barbara that “in France now there are only two sides. You’re either with us or against us. Our sympathies are obvious. We want to know yours.”

The arrival of a group of soldiers immediately darkens the tone.  They’re depicted as a barely controllable rabble, with the common soldiers openly contemptuous of the Sergeant’s authority. The Sergeant (Robert Hunter) cleverly doesn’t attempt to browbeat his men into obeying his orders, instead he suggests that if they watch the back of the house they might have a chance to kill some royalists.  This meets with their approval and they move into position.

Whilst Robespierre might later claim this is a glorious and just revolution, the behavour of the soldiers is clearly designed to indicate otherwise.   And when Rouvray and D’Argenson are both brutally murdered it helps to reinforce the concept that life is now very cheap.  Since both characters seemed to have been set up to play a major part in the narrative, their sudden deaths are quite shocking.  It also serves as an early demonstration that the Doctor and his friends could also face death at any time.

Rouvray’s death is a noteworthy moment. He disarms one of the soldiers just by asking for his rifle and then comments that “you can give them uniforms, Lieutenant, but they remain peasants underneath.”  This is another example of Rouvray’s unshakable belief in his own authority, but it’s also a demonstration of the ruling elite’s unspoken arrogance.  Did this exchange led directly to his death?  It seems more than likely.

With the Doctor unconscious in the upstairs part of the house, the soldiers decide to take Ian, Barbara and Susan to Paris. Their motivation is not out of a sense of duty though – they believe there might be a reward and are keen to collect.  They torch the house before they depart, which means we conclude with a strong cliffhanger – the Doctor awakes to find himself trapped in a raging inferno ….

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