The Doctor & Co accidentally land in the French Revolution and bludgeon a whole bunch of people
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The Doctor still holds a grudge after Ian’s sarcastic remark at the end of The Sensorites, and is consequently fully intent on dropping off him and Barbara at their next stop. Thus, he expertly maneuvers the TARDIS to present-day England, but misses it slightly and arrives just outside of Paris during the French Revolution instead. Well done, Doc.
It transpires, however, that this is The Doctor’s favourite point in mankind’s history, so naturally the troupe goes exploring and – yeah, you guessed it – they’re split up, captured, rescued, captured, rescued and so on.
This is not only the end of Series 1, but also a gem of a story, and one that is available from the BBC with two of its hitherto missing episodes recreated in animated form.
That said, here are just a few of the humorous tidbits to look forward to in this story:
Big Thanks to @GinaGuerrero1, @mariuskane, @Twistr360 and Davis (Got a Twitter account, buddy? If so, let us know and we’ll pop it in here…), whose thoughts and mini-reviews are included in this episode. And thanks to Fabiola (Ditto Twitter) for letting us know there was an animated version to begin with!
The Ratings & Reviews section of this podcast episode starts at the 1h27m34s mark.
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The Reign of Terror
Susan, after reading the book on the topic in An Unearthly Child, may be regetting her decision to leave the book on the table as we find out in Rememberance of the Daleks many many years later as it may have come in handy in this episode.
It’s another Hartnell Historical which up until this point have been the good Marco Polo and the excellent Aztecs and Ian seems to have borrowed Hartnell’s travel agent and gone on holiday for a couple of weeks as he hardly appears in the first half of the story.
But we get an answer about why the TARDIS is permanantly off course, when the Doctor who is a scientist manages to translate 12 kms into 100 miles which really manages to explain how the TARDIS never lands where he wants it to.
In our now classic historical trope, the TARDIS team get captured, escape, get captured, escape and get captured for six episodes but it’s without the glamour of the Aztecs, and since Marco Polo is sadly lost to us in visual form, we only have our imaginations to go by… in comparison ‘Reign’ is grotty and dirty in comparison. It’s a disapointment (not like the Sensorites which started good and ended apocalytpically bad) but grotty, bland and forgetful – and that’s damnning when you have the rest of Season 1 giving such strong opinions one way or the other (you know… like the Edge of Destruction)
The Good – End of Episode 1, The Doctor trapped unconscious in a burning barn, in the days before regeneration and while Ian is the hero of the story – could this be the end….
The Good – Barbara once more steals the show basically telling Ian that he’s wrong and the normal people of the Revolution were hero’s and he should shut up and go back in his box… While the show is transitioning to the Doctor being the main character, I’m still in favour of “Barbara Who” at this point where Jacqueline Hill goes around saving the universe in a sensible jumper and comfortable shoes.
The Bad – Susan has no point, and indeed frankly is a hinderance to the safe survival of the time travellers during the episode, screaming every five minutes and being generally irritating the rest of the time – bring back An Unearthly Child (Part 1) Susan … sadly with only two stories of Susan left, it will only get better five minutes before she goes.
Score – 3.0 (Sadly it’s my least favourite of the historicals so far)
REIGN OF TERROR
I thoroughly enjoyed The Reign of Terror. The sets and the costumes were beautiful and detailed and the story was good, for being a historical/educational drama. The fact that the supporting cast appeared to be more than 5 people helped to give the story enough scope to fully represent the early days of the French Revolution. I was pleased that the animated reconstructions flowed well and didn’t take me out of the story. It felt like a full and complete story to me because it actually had a beginning, middle and end with fully formed characters. I actually enjoyed the Doctor in this story being manipulative with people other than Ian and Barbara. This story let the Doctor display his wit and intelligence. Even with the Doctor’s “Haven’t you heard the ners…news”. On the other hand, what was up with Ian slowing adding more clothing as the story went along, first the frilly shirt, then the vest, then the jacket, the hat and the coat. Jus saying. I almost feel that the writers have given up trying to further Susan’s character arc so they just give her illnesses or stick her in jail to deal with her uselessness. And her screaming “Grandfather” literally makes my skin crawl. Lastly, I found it interesting that once again Barbra appears to be the intended victim of another rapey guy, you know what never-mind, I mean who wouldn’t want to hit that. Anyway, I would rate this story (4.1) due to my personal preference of the sci-fi episodes. Thanks guys again!!
My third viewing. I enjoyed virtually every minute of this series. From the cockey French patrol at the start to the revisit of the long lost beautiful countryside at the end. There’s so much to talk about I think the only way to get through this without an essay is a bullet list of good times.
Remember the moment when…
– we cold open on two immediately interesting characters, who aren’t even major characters in the story, yet we care when they die?
– Barbra and Susan throw themselves into period costumes using conviently placed chests of clothing?
– they are all discovered, and the dr is knocked out?
– the house burns and there is no one there who can help him?
– somehow a kid helps him?
– the dr is a jolly wanderer I’m the countryside?
– the long road and the work detail (amazing scene)?
– the moody prison set and the amazing jailor?
– the clothing shop becomes a chess game?
– the jail becomes a bigger chess game?
– the women who taunt as a distraction to the equivalent of a French revolution drive-by shooting?
– the street chases?
– the safehouse and that constant want of ‘is it reallly safe and is everyone in it really on the same side’?
– the wonderful Robespierre and..oh what’s his name citizen who meets with him, give such a stage presence you forget you’re watching a TV show?
– the escapes lead to betrayals that lead to escapes that lead to other rabbit holes?
– the dr is I’m Command and 4 steps ahead of all the intrigue, at every turn?
– we cared for even the most minor characters?
– The political maneuvering took center stage?
– there was a bar that had a hole into the back room?
– Barbra and Ian somehow bought said bar for the day?
– we saw the origins of history in the making?
– the revolution began?
Oh the list goes on and on. But…
I wish we could forget when…
– we whined over achy hands and rats after only 10 seconds of digging.
– there was little going on in the safe house but talk and the only footage the recon had was a door opening and closing.
– someone was shot in the mouth and there wasn’t a drop of blood on the man walking away of his own volition.
– Ian fails to see the betrayal that we are com7ng from a mile away.
Overall minor quivels for a stunning episode. This and Marco Polo are truly what historicals should be. Not only will I rewatch this story any time, I’ll watch the recon any time.
The Doctor tries to return to London 1963 and get his companions home again. He’s almost there – he gets to rural France in 1794. The country is in the middle of the Revolution. Soldiers are combing the countryside for terrified aristocrats; Robespierre’s titular ‘Reign of Terror’ is generating plots and counter plots in Paris, and Madame Guillotine is chopping heads off left, right and centre. It’s the Doctor’s favourite time period!
The crew are swiftly swept up into the action. Barbara and Susan are led off to the guillotine; the Doctor is trapped in a burning chateaux, and Ian receives a dying message from an English spy. It the beginning of a dastardly adventure of treachery, rebellion and conspiracy.
This is a story that is both arrestingly brutal and entertainingly comedic. The violence is set up very early on. In episode one, we meet two aristocrats who we expect are going to be major characters. We get names, motivation, backstory, relationship, etc. And then suddenly they are both shot dead. No last words, no great huzzah – just a bang and a bullet. It sets up instantly the fragility of life in the revolution, and the implied danger to our heroes is multiplied immensely. Against this we have the humour – the slaves on the road, the jailer, the tailor – little lighter moments which don’t detract from the drama but which provide a perfect balance of tragedy and comedy.
Another element that makes this series stand out is its refusal to completely back one side or the other. Perhaps more could have been done here, by showing a truly sympathetic republican or a vile aristocrat, but Barbara rips into Ian at one point for blithely assuming all the aristocrats are innocent victims and all the revolutionaries are brutish thugs. “Check your history books”, she yells. There is good and evil on both sides. The fight is not for one political system over another, but for ‘order, honour and justice’ against ‘fear and treachery’.
There is quite a bit of exposition in the dialogue – people flatly telling each other things that we, the audience, need to know. It’s not up to modern standards of scriptwriting, but it’s quite unfair to judge this serial by modern standards, 55 years later.
There is a disappointing amount of time spent locked up in the Conciergerie. (Or escaping, or being arrested.) Definitely points are coming off for this!
Susan is underused as a character – again. Barbara, at least, comes across as a capable character, but apart from falling ill, all Susan does is wait around to be rescued. Her attempt to dig her way out of the cell is literally a single tap of the wall, followed by an extended shrieking collapse of “Oh it’s no use… I can’t go on… etc.”
– The scene where Ian and Barbara convince the Doctor to see them off with a final drink, rather than abandoning them to sink or swim, is really nice. There is clear chemistry between the three, and the closeness of the bonds they have developed is obvious. It makes me wonder what sort of drink they were imagining. Triple vodkas? Or raspberry milkshakes?
– The moment that the Doctor realises he has accidentally piloted the TARDIS to France is delightful – after all his previous boasting, his expression says it all.
– The cliffhanger of Episode 1 is majestic. The crew are arrested and the Doctor has collapsed, trapped in a burning house. The model-work and editing really sell the moment well.
– We see, for the first time ever in Dr Who, some location filming. It’s just a double for William Hartnell, walking through a field with his back to us. But it spreads the horizon of our canvas hugely from the cramped sets we are used to.
– The road builder, having forced the Doctor to work in his chain gang: “Put your back into it, skinny!” And despite his age, the Doctor is in pretty good shape when it comes to manual labour!
– The Doctor’s complicated escape plan, involving an eclipse, pickpocketing, buried treasure and a well aimed blow from a spade. Even living through the terrors of the revolution, the other slaves are aghast at the Doctor’s no-nonsense approach to bludgeoning. (And there’s plenty more to come!)
– I have appreciated the Doctor’s wardrobe before, but nothing – Nothing! – compares to the majestic hat he gets from the Parisian tailor. It’s incredible.
– The 4th and 5th episodes are missing, but are done very nicely with BBC animation. It gives these episodes a very fitting look which blends film noir with anime. Some of the light effects in these episodes are probably far superior to anything that would have been done in the originals.
– As the crew flee from France, Lemaître remarks “Funny… I get the impression they don’t know where they are heading for. Come to that… do any of us?” It ties into the beginning of the story, with the Doctor’s certainty that this was 60s England, and provides a very poignant comment on the uncertainty of all our lives. The future is hidden, and always remains so.
– The very end of the final episode bring the first season to a close with a shot of stars and a voiceover from the Doctor: “Our lives are important, at least to us. But as we see, so we learn. … Our destiny lies in the stars. So let’s go search for it!” The show has navigated it’s first season. How many more are to come? Only time will tell!
This is the first time that we really are confronted with the issue of the language barrier in Dr Who. It could have been glazed over in previous episodes, but here we are in a place where clearly everybody should be speaking French and they aren’t (except occasionally). Amazingly, it will be 1976 and the “Masque of Mandragora” before the explanation is given (the TARDIS Translation Circuit) and only in the reboot, with episodes such as “The Christmas Invasion”, that this features as a proper story point. Presumably, it didn’t bother anybody at the time.
In the very opening episode of An Unearthly Child, Susan was seen reading a book called “The French Revolution”. It’s a great link from the beginning to the end of the season.
The first season ends on a high. While the sci-fi elements are perhaps still finding their feet in Dr Who, the BBC of the 60s was well equipped for doing fascinating historical dramas. The script is perhaps a little more loosely crafted than “The Aztecs”, but it’s packed with high drama and brilliant characters. There’s a bit too much talking about the revolution, rather than actually witnessing it, but there are no gaping plot holes and the whole thing holds together beautifully.
Extremely late. But Ian and Barbara and LeMetre tied up the Inn’s owner and threw him in the basement. It is mentioned in the episode briefly.