Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror

A Land of Fear

"When you entered our hideout you entered our lives!"

No reprise at all this time. And I notice the TARDIS lands without the “vworp vworp” sound- it'll be interesting to see when exactly that convention becomes established.

In spite of the last episode's ending there's no real animosity towards the two schoolteachers from the Doctor- significantly neither of them seem worried about being abandoned and the scene is played for laughs to an extent- nice bit of comic acting from Jacqueline Hill as she fusses over the Doctor while Ian placates him! The Doctor has long since been incapable of any real malevolence towards them. And Ian and Barbara are noticeably much more sanguine about their fate.

So this is the Doctor's favourite historical period. Interesting.

This episode ends with a real sense of threat for Susan, Ian and Barbara which feels very real. I'd like to comment on whether it's obvious or not that the Doctor will be rescued by the boy, but having seen the story before I'm not qualified to comment!

Guests of Madame Guillotine

"I suppose you think you're very clever?"

"Well, without any due modesty, yes. Would you mind standing aside?"

Very truncated opening titles here- I assume the episode overran? The opening scenes, of woodcuts and stock footage, look cheap yet effective in setting the mood. There's a real sense of peril here; any sense of comedy from Jack Cunningham's inexplicably Lancastrian gaoler is immediately undercut by his obvious propositioning of Barbara and his attitude when he doesn't get his own way. For all his ridiculousness the character has real power.

The rescued Doctor begins an epic journey to footage, and this special occasion is marked by some actual location footage! Although they have to use Edmund Warwick in long shot instead of Hartnell, of course. Whenever we do see Hartnell he's clearly back in Lime Grove. The scenes with the overseer (with his rather excellent sombrero) are most entertaining. This is the first time I can recall in the series where the Doctor is unambiguously made to play the part of the hero, and it suits him.

The scenes with Barbara and Susan in the cell are nice character scenes, and very well acted by Ford and Hill. There's no real sense of hope for them; even the escape attempt feels more of a token effort.

The Doctor's plan is most clever, but the blow on the head the overseer receives with his spade seems to have rather gruesome results going by the reactions of the others.

Hmmm... so the Doctor's 5km from Paris? Wasn't it 4km from the house last episode?

Genuinely effective cliffhanger- I have no idea (and can't remember from before!) how Barbara and Susan will be able to get out of that!

Oops! Got behind again...

A Change of Identity

"It's a pity you're surrounded by fools."

"Exactly, Citizen, exactly."

Still rather enjoyable entertainment, but it's still highly convenient that not only does the Jailer leave the key in Ian's door, but Barbara and Susan get rescued by characters we haven't previously met. Still, there was no other way out of that cliffhanger, I suppose.

The sets look very convincing as the streets of Paris; once again the tininess of Lime Grove is successfully hidden.

The scene with the Doctor conning the shopkeeper is a delight, and a perfect comic performance from Hartnell. The Doctor gives away his ring- as far as I recall this is the first time the ring is treated as significant.

Ooh, Edward Brayshaw! Once Barbara and Susan have been rescued the actual plot (aside from Ian receiving the message in his cell) starts, but it must be said the story until now, while essentially just a series of set pieces, has been thoroughly entertaining.

That Leon's a bit creepy, isn't he? Still, a very nice directorial touch cutting from Barbara and Leon about to have some wine to the jailer gulping down some cheap plonk from a jug.

The final scenes with Hartnell impersonating the provincial governor are class, and once again brilliantly played by Hartnell. A fantastic cliffhanger: "We must not keep Citizen Robespierre waiting."

The Tyrant of France

"Even now, Convention members are at work plotting my downfall. But I will triumph, even if I have to execute every last one of them!"

So, to the Loose Cannon recon, and it's a bit of a jolt after all the footage we've been spoiled with. Is it me, or is the Doctor's bravery in arguing with Robespierre the first genuinely heroic act we see from him? Not aimed just at the preservation of himself and his friends, but just being, dare I say it, Doctorish? Hartnell is fantastic here, and indeed throughout the whole story.

Leon's dismissive attitude towards the servant girl (asking Barbara why she wants to be everybody's friend) suggests he's something of a bad sort, and that the Royalists are not necessarily going to be portrayed as the goodies as they generally have so far.

Our first bits of off-air footage here, alongside loads of shots of that door opening and closing. This is clearly an earlier recon, but nevertheless invaluable.

A Bargain of Necessity

"You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve."

It would be great to see Edward Brayshaw's face as he betrays Ian...

The Doctor's plotting here is very clever- has he ever been this proactive before? He seems to have turned a corner in this story; this is the First Doctor, more or less fully-formed.

An uncharacteristically obvious history dump: "If this plot is successful, tomorrow, the 27th July 1794, will be a date for history".

Nice comment by Ian, very characteristic, when he hears about the Doctor from Barbara: "I don't know how he gets away with it half the time!" The following scene is magnificent, as Ian and Barbara debate the issues surrounding Leon's shooting. Barbara shows a much more nuanced understanding of history than she did in The Aztecs, while Ian is more interested in the friendships he's made than the wider historical implications. Of course, given the previous scenes between Barbara and Leon there's also an undercurrent of sexual jealousy. This scene is excellent drama.

For all that this story is often criticised for being a series of set pieces, in spite of the unusual structure the plotting is actually quite clever. And the characterisation is well done, not just for the regulars but for the guest characters; it's nice that we get a sense of Jules Renan's motives before the cliffhanger. And what a cliffhanger! Not least because we suddenly are treated to some actual footage.

Prisoners of Conciergerie

"Events will happen just as they are written".

(Incidentally, this is the only episode of the story I'm watching for the first time due to the homicidal tendencies of a certain VCR- the big plot twist is new to me.)

It's rather amusing how immediately after we reach the dramatic peak of the Doctor's apparent treachery being revealed everyone pauses for the episode title and Dennis Spooner's credit to appear on screen.

Good God- Lemaitre is James Stirling? That I was not expecting! But..."The Sinking Ship"? I thought it was "Le Chien Gris"...

Ooh, Napoleon! Surely the actor's a bit old to be playing a 25 year old though? Is all this stuff about Bony being a member of the triumvirate this early actually historical?

I love the conversation about changing history between Barbara and the Doctor- a nice role reversal and a nice character moment.

Hmmm... the set's a bit wobbly outside Robespierre's office. Are we witnessing the birth of a stereotype?

We haven't seen Susan for a bit. I have a feeling we didn't actually see her at all last episode.

Great line from the Doctor to Susan as they witness Robespierre being led to a cell: "Everybody lived in fear, yesterday, of that man, and today..."

The final moments of this story give us more information on the rules of changing history than we ever got in The Aztecs, contrary to popular belief. I'm not sure this is all consistent with what we will be told in The Fires of Pompeii, mind...

Overall, fantastic. Very cleverly plotted, if oddly structured, with nice character moments for the regulars. The grimness is nicely balanced with the right amount of humour; the overall tone is just right and very cleverly judged. If Marco Polo was all clever dialogue and theatricality this was all Robert Louis Stevenson and action adventure, but very nearly as good. 5/5!

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