Sunday, December 6, 2015
The Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror ends the first season of Doctor Who. It goes out between 8th August and 12th September 1964. It was, as the DVD extra, a somewhat troubled production with director Henric Hirsch, a refugee from the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956, finding the process of making it somewhat stressful.
If you have the DVD it is well-worth watching the making of documentary btw to give you an idea of how difficult production of Doctor Who could be.
It is William Russell's turn to take a holiday during The Reign of Terror but this is mostly smoothed over rather well through the use of pre-filmed sequences that are slotted into various episodes. The only way you would know is that they are on film and not video so have that slightly different look that was a feature of BBC productions until...well...until a point which I do not have the knowledge to tell you. It was such a feature that Monty Python uses it for it a sketch, which can be found here
But I am wondering off down country lanes of distraction, which is a neat way of introducing another fact about The Reign of Terror. It features the first outdoor filming in Doctor Who history as we follow The Doctor on his walk from farmhouse to Paris down some lovely French lanes - mostly in Buckinghamshire. It isn't William Hartnell we see because they wouldn't release him from rehearsals. So the First Doctor is played by Brian Proudfoot who spent some time shadowing Hartnell at rehearsal to get his walk right. To the annoyance of Hartnell himself apparently but it works well enough.
The Doctor is throwing a tantrum as this story starts and is going to drop Barbara and Ian off at their next stop, which he claims will be their own time and place. It turns out to be France during the worst period of the Revolution.
In traditional stylee the TARDIS crew is separated, captured and escape. Only to be captured again. And escape again. All they want to do, of course, is catch-up with each other and get back to the TARDIS but they get dragged into The Scarlet Pimpernel (sort of) as Ian gets caught up in the search for mysterious British spy James Sterling*, Barbara and Susan get rescued by a gang of anti-Robespierre rebels and The Doctor impersonates a senior provincial official and tries to bluff his way to rescuing his companions. There is, of course, a traitor in the camp too.
Barbara gets to be mildly flirtatious with Leon Colbert (Edward Brayshaw), which leads to a brilliant scene with her, Ian and Jules Renan (Donald Morley) after Leon's death. It's a short scene with genuinely meaty issues. Jacqueline Hill and William Russell are both excellent in this story. Again. It astonishes me how rarely we talk about Ian and Barbara in the list of great Doctor Who companions but they are a fantastic team and both actors generally give performances worthy of praise.
Alas I can't say the same for Susan who is mildly irritating throughout this story. She's nervous and pathetic at points, which is a shame after The Sensorites showed you what the character could be and what Carole Ann Ford could do with the part when given a chance. The nadir being her unwillingness to flee the cart which they're being taken to the guillotine in because she's feeling a bit rough. It turns out that she's good a bad cold but that seems to be less preferable than being beheaded. It's a shame but Susan is a real drag in this story.
Hartnell is wonderful again. He's devious and cunning. He's grumpy and impatient. He gets to dress up in a ridiculous costume and pretend to be an important man. He has fun running rings around an overseer and the jailer.
The supporting cast are mostly pretty good, especially James Cairecross as Lemaitre and Edward Brayshaw as Leon.
This is, of course, an historical so it looks pretty good and there's you might argue this is the first celebrity historical in Doctor Who history, which will be a new Doctor Who staple. We get to see Robespierre, Barras and Napoleon. It's a hangover of the series original brief to educate children as well as entertain them. It's not exactly a documentary, but then it isn't meant to be. It's supposed to be a fun adventure in an historical environment - with its tropes - that we are reasonably familiar with.
In that respect it works pretty well. It is too long, but then most Classic Doctor Who stories feel like that compared to New Doctor Who but it has enough twists and turns to appeal. It's just a shame about poor Susan.