Wednesday, 9 February 2011

8: The Reign of Terror - Too violent For 5.15?

Hartnell is great in this classic story.
Written by: Denis Spooner.
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: Robespierre.
Brief synopsis: The TARDIS lands in France 1794 in the middle of the French Revolution.
Rating: 7/10

Wow, so we've made it to the end of the first season of Doctor Who. Well done us! Sadly episodes 4 & 5 of this one are missing but what a way to bring the season to a close...

The story starts with the time travellers thinking they've returned to Earth, with Ian and Barbara ready to depart, fortunately Ian persuades the Doctor to stay a while and make sure they are where they intended to be. They quickly discover that they are in 1794 revolutionary France, discover a dressing up box and continue to costume themselves in the appropriate garb for the era. We discover that this is the Doctor's favourite period in the history of earth. Really? What a very violent era to have a preference for, Doc.

And oh boy is this violent! First we meet two young revolutionaries on the run. Rouvray and D'Argenson. D'Argenson tells of how his whole family has been executed, "even my younger sister." The two are almost immediately shot and killed. Rouvray on screen and D'Argenson off screen as his 'executioners' laugh. Barely ten minutes in and two people are dead. And for those of you playing at home, we shall keep score as we go along.

As if the graphic murders weren't enough, we see the Doctor unconscious as the building he occupies burns to the ground and Barbara gets propositioned by a pervy jailor. And this is a children's programme that went out at 5.15pm?

There is a really lovely scene between the Doctor and the small boy who saves him. The Doctor thanks him and asks his name, promising to remember him, 'Jean Pierre.' I shall remember him too. The Doctor then gets put on to a Labour party but tricks the road works overseer and then hits him over the head with a spade. Which for some odd reason causes him to fall down and snore. Odd that. Hartnell is great in this story; probably the best we've seen him yet.

Hartnell loving 'A Change of Identity.'
Ian is in a cell with an ailing revolutionary, Webster, who leaves him a message and then  promptly dies. That's 3-0 to the 'baddies' so far. Ian then has to spend 'several hours' in the cell with a dead body. This is so morbid.

Barbara and Susan, the two women then get taken to be Guillotined. This is so happy I can see why it's the Doctor's favourite period in history. Not! Two revolutionary sympathisers come to Barbara and Susans rescue and shoot dead three guards. Bringing the score to 3-3. And we're tied. Unfortunately this is not a great story for Susan, who spends most of the episode whining and complaining.

Susan lolling. She must be tired from all
the whining and complaining.
One of the revolutionaries is informing on his friends so he gets shot too. That's 4-3 and the goodies take the lead, but can they hold on to the finish? We meet Robespierre and Napoleon. In the end Robespierre is overthrown, gets shot in the jaw off screen and is then carried away to be Guillotined. Making the final  body count... umm... I mean score 5-3. The goodies win! Yay!

Earlier in the story Barbara laughs when everyone is trying to stop Robespierre from being killed when they know this is 'what happens.' The Doctor says "you can't influence or change history, the events will happen just as they were written" At the end of the story the crew discuss how they couldn't change history. Susan says if we had written Napoleon a letter saying what was going to happen to him, he would have lost it, forgotten it, or though it was written by a maniac. While Barbara muses, if we'd have tired to shoot him the bullet would have missed. This will be an on going issue in Doctor Who. Do the Doctor and his companions have a baring on the periods they visit?

At the end there is an odd zoom out through space in which we hear Hartnell and Russell giving a closing v/o. This is a wonderfully classy and different way to end the season.

DOCTOR: Our lives are important, but least to us. But as we see, so we learn.
IAN: What are we going to see and learn next Doctor?
DOCTOR: Well unlike the olden days our destiny is in the stars, so lets go and explore them.

Not the best period to set a children's t.v programme.
The clue is in the title really, 'The Reign of Terror.' It perhaps wasn't the best era to set a children's t.v programme, but this story is still a real classic. The music throughout is great. Very suspenseful and hats off to Stanley Myers, for the section where Ian is escaping from the jail for inventing the Jaws music 11 years early. As violent and perhaps inappropriate it is, it's great. Everyone, bar Carol Anne Ford are giving great performances. This was clearly aimed to be a climactic bang for the series to go out; a finale that does so with elan.

Well we started out on the adventure with a bang. We witnessed our four heroes do quite a bit: discover fire, meet the Daleks, journey in the caravan of Marco Polo, face the Voords, destroy the Aztec civilisation, meet the Ood-like Sensorites, and take on the Doctor's favourite period of time, the french revolution. We saw 33 out of 42 episodes, with 9 missing ones. My favourite story from this very first season has to be An Unearthly Childit's perfect, and my least favourite is the bonkers The Edge Of Destruction. Out of a possible 80 I scored this season 53/80. Giving it an average of 66/100. I wonder how season two will fare against this...

This outing ends as the time travellers leave with the English revolutionary hero Sterling saying, "You know, I don't think they know where they're going to." And it couldn't be a more apt close. After, Cave People, Daleks, Thals, broken springs, the Voord, the Aztecs, the Sensorites and finally the brutal French revolution, who knows where the series will go next? 

Find out next time in Planet of Giants.


Anonymous said...

Great again Mr M. Stanley Myers went on to compose the famous theme from the Robert Di Nero film The Deer Hunter! J

Corby Kennard said...

How cool would it be if they animated the missing episodes over the existing soundtracks?