Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Crusade

The Lion

"I have a hopeful heart and, which is better, a lucky king."

I'm watching this on a combo of the video release and Loose Cannon, so the first thing I see is the nice little intro by William Russell. He looks very young and sprightly for his age.

This is the paciest start yet; no TARDIs intro scene. The TARDISeers step right into a forest (once again the pokiness of Lime Grove is cleverly obscured) and straight into trouble. Ian, and even more excellently the Doctor, are thrust into swordfights while Barbara is kidnapped within seconds- is this a record? The greatness of the dialogue is established very early: "A king at liberty may give commands. A captured one obeys them."

The Doctor's very naughty in this episode, what with the blatant thieving. Still, I love the way Hartnell plays it.

This is a very strong first episode, and the dialogue appeals hugely to a Shakespeare obsessive like myself. Nice referencing of Arabian Nights by Barbara- the show's still fulfilling its educational remit.

The Knight of Jaffa

"By my father's name, you have wit, old man."

"Your heart calls for England, Richard!" says Joanna. Of course, in reality he didn't give a damn about the place, but I'll let that pass as frankly this is great. Also, Richard's "This bloodletting must stop!" is a bit rich coming from him but, again, the historical inaccuracies aren't bothering me as I'm too preoccupied with the general excellence of everything.

Nice to see Bernard Kay again, playing Saladin. And also nice to see that the Saracens are as blessed with exalted dialogue as the English Normans. Also interesting to see that Walter Randall, who was frankly rubbish in The Aztecs, seems to be doing a much better job as El Akir.

The Doctor's managing to get out of stealing the clothes last episode is most amusing, and once again most excellently played by Hartnell.

Once again, Barbara's in dire peril, and of an unusually dark and adult kind, to boot. But once again she's irrepressible, and tries to escape. Yay!

The Wheel of Fortune

"There's something new in you, yet something older than the sky itself."

Vicki doesn't exactly look like a boy here, but of course, along with the style of the dialogue, this merely signals that, just as The Romans was a farce, this story is in the style of Elizabethan theatre.

Interestingly, we get our first bit of characterisation for Vicki since The Rescue; she says to the Doctor "You wouldn't go off and leave me, would you?". We're reminded of how rootless and vulnerable she is, perhaps even over-dependent. Still, there's no denying by this point that Vicki has a much more superficial characterisation than even Susan did, great as Maureen O'Brien's performance is.

Barbara gets a horrible dilemma as Haroun gives her a knife to kill Saliya and herself if necessary- this is a horrible dilemma, but fantastic drama, and once again Jacqueline Hill shows us what an excellent actress she is.

The debate at court over Richard's plan to marry Joanna to Saphadin is another dramatic, well-written, well-acted and, as we shall see, pivotal scene. The dialogue between the Doctor and the Earl of Leicester sparkles, although the Doctor is a bit gratuitously insulting: "You stupid butcher! Can you think of nothing else but killing, hmm?" Leicester replies with a wonderful line; "When you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, the soldiers, have to face it out." The Doctor's in an awkward position, though: he's sworn to tell Joanna of her brother's plans for her, and has now found out, but he's damned if he tells her and damned if he doesn't. And, it must be said, from a contemporary perspective it's unsettling to see the Doctor supporting what is in effect a forced marriage, even set against the potential cost to countless lives. Cue excellence from Jean Marsh.

We only see Sir Ian in a single film sequence. By now, I've become a seasoned veteran at spotting cast holidays.

In the event it's Leicester, not the Doctor, who tells Joanna of Richard's plans, but it doesn't matter- through his rash promise to Joanna he ends up alienating both parties.

The ending is quite disturbingly dark: "The only pleasure left for you is death. And death is very far away".

The Warlords

"I must see Jerusalem. I must."

El Akir is extremely sadistic, disturbing, and, surprisingly, reasonably well acted by Walter Randall of all people. Ibrahim, meanwhile, is merely an annoying stereotype, and this is the fault of actor Tutte Lemkow rather than the script. Still, Sir Ian faces a gruesome fate, being slowly eaten by ants.

King Richard, in conversation with the Doctor and Vicki, turns out to be cleverer than we might have supposed; he knows of Leicester's duplicity but needs him for the upcoming war. This conversation has an interesting postscript as the Doctor states that "history must take its course". It seems this story sides with The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror in The Great Changing History Debate, and they're all going to team up to give The Romans a good kicking.

Nice that Haroun's daughter Maimuna turns out to be one of the women who saves Barbara in the harem- the plot threads are all very neatly tied up.

The way the story ends, with Sir Ian's quick thinking allowing our heroes to return to the Ship, is most amusing. Nice little Billy-fluff at the end; "Oh, my good woman! Why don't you go and have a cup of... tea or something?"

Ooh, we end with another cliffhanger!

Overall, it was quite fitting that the... challenge... that was The Web Planet should be followed by the best story so far not to have been written by John Lucarotti. Quite sublime, its main fault being that, almost uniquely, for a four part story it seemed too short.

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