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

p0114ldy.jpg

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 ….

p0114lfq.jpg

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

p0115y1d.jpg

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 ….

p0115yjg.jpg