For me, The Wheel of Fortune is the best episode of The Crusade. It has three moments of special interest – Haroun’s life story as told to Barbara, the clash between Leicester and the Doctor and the confrontation between Richard and Joanna.
Haroun (George Little) lives for one reason only – to kill El Akir. He tells Barbara the reason why.
HAROUN: Last year my house was a fine and happy place. A gentle wife, a son who honoured and obeyed me, and two daughters who adorned whatever place they visited. Then El Akir came to Lydda and imposed his will. He desired my eldest daughter Maimuna, but I refused him.
BARBARA: So he took her?
HAROUN: Yes. When Safiya and I were away, he came and burned my house. My wife and son were put to the sword.
It’s a perfectly pitched and dignified performance by George Little. Whilst the character invites our sympathy, Little never overplays – instead he allows the script to do the work.
Equally good is Petra Markham as Safiya. Her father has never explained what happened to the rest of their family, but she has faith that all will be well. “It is a strange mystery. They’ve gone away and we must simply wait for their return. It is the will of Allah”.
Jacqueline Hill is also excellent these scenes – for example, the way Barbara listens in horror to Haroun’s story and later when nearly revealing the truth to Safiya about her missing family. Another key moment is when Haroun leaves Safiya in Barbara’s care. He leaves his knife behind and insists that she use it to kill Safiya and then herself if they’re discovered by El Akir’s men. Barbara is appalled (“No. Life is better than this.”) but Haroun is insistent. Again, Hill plays the scene very well, her performance helping to reinforce how cruel El Akir must be.
The spat between the Doctor and the Earl of Leicester (John Bay) is a very interesting one. It’s another of Whitaker’s lovely Shakespearian pastiches that Hartnell and Bay both deliver with aplomb.
Although the Doctor usually takes the moral high ground, he doesn’t really have it here. His dismissal of Leicester as having no brain doesn’t seem at all fair. Leicester is a soldier, trained to fight, and it’s difficult to argue with his statement that “armies settle everything”.
LEICESTER: Sire, with all the strength at my command I urge you, sire, to abandon this pretence of peace.
DOCTOR: Pretence, sir? Here’s an opportunity to save the lives of many men and you do naught but turn it down without any kind of thought. What do you think you are doing?
LEICESTER: I speak as a soldier. Why are we here in this foreign land if not to fight? The Devil’s horde, Saracen and Turk, posses Jerusalem and we will not wrest it from them with honeyed words.
DOCTOR: With swords, I suppose?
LEICESTER: Aye, with swords and lances, or the axe.
DOCTOR: You stupid butcher! Can you think of nothing else but killing, hmm?
LEICESTER: You’re a man for talk, I can see that. You like a table and a ring of men. A parley here, arrangements there, but when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face it out. On some half-started morning while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.
DOCTOR: I admire bravery and loyalty, sir. You have both of these. But, unfortunately you haven’t any brain at all. I hate fools.
Saladin and Saphadin discuss the marriage proposal. Saladin is extremely cautious.
Have England, France and all the rest come here to cheer a man and woman and a love match? No, this is a last appeal for peace from a weary man. So you write your letter and I’ll alert the armies. Then on either day, the day of blissful union or the day of awful battle, we will be prepared.
And sadly that’s the last we see of Saladin and Saphadin as they, along with Joanna, don’t feature in the final episode. This does give The Warlords something of an anti-climatic feel, but we’ll discuss that in more detail next time.
When Joanna learns that Richard plans to marry her off to Saphadin, it’s fair to say that she’s not best pleased. The scene is a thrilling moment, as both Julian Glover and Jean Marsh attack it at full-throttle. It’s hard to find many examples of Doctor Who scenes pitched at such a level – which makes this one all the more special.
JOANNA: What’s this I hear? I can’t believe it’s true. Marriage to that heathenish man, that infidel?
RICHARD: We will give you reasons for it.
JOANNA: This unconsulted partner has no wish to marry. I am no sack of flour to be given in exchange.
RICHARD: It is expedient, the decision has been made.
JOANNA: Not by me, and never would be.
RICHARD: Joanna, please consider. The war is full of weary, wounded men. This marriage wants a little thought by you, that’s all, then you’ll see the right of it.
JOANNA: And how would you have me go to Saphadin? Bathed in oriental perfume, I suppose? Suppliant, tender and affectionate? Soft-eyed and trembling, eager with a thousand words of compliment and love? Well, I like a different way to meet the man I am to wed!
RICHARD: Well, if it’s a meeting you want.
JOANNA: I do not want! I will not have it!
As this is the last surviving episode of the story, it’s worth taking a moment to praise Douglas Camfield’s direction. He always had an eye for unusual camera angles, plus he isn’t afraid to place the actors in unusual configurations. This helps to make the frame more interesting than just having them stand in a line (something many other directors would have been content to do).
Barbara is back in El Akir’s clutches at the end of the episode (the second that’s ended with Barbara in peril). El Akir’s final words here are truly chilling, thanks to Walter Randall’s matter-of-fact delivery. If El Akir had been an eye-rolling villain then it would have been easier to discount his threats. It’s his calmness that’s somewhat disquieting.
The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away.