The Reign of Terror (1964)
About this serial
This was a six-part serial, first broadcast between 8th August - 12th September 1964. The serial was written by Dennis Spooner, produced by Verity Lambert and directed by Henric Hirsch. The script editor was David Whitaker.
What I've seen:
Episodes one, two, three and six, and animated versions of episodes four and five.
The Tardis crew go to France and meet Madame Guillotine.
The first episode ends with the Doctor about to die in a fire, while the rest of the Tardis crew are taken away to be executed. This is remarkably strong stuff for a family programme, especially since the original audience had to wait for a week to find out what happened next.
Some other points about the story:
- After the eventful first episode, not a lot happens in episode two and much of episode three. The Doctor walks to Paris while Susan, Barbara and Ian are in jail - that's pretty much it.
- Of the regulars, only the Doctor gets any level of autonomy in this story, walking to Paris after his escape from the fire and impersonating a local official once he gets there. The others spend the entire serial being either imprisoned by the government or manhandled by the resistance.
- In particular, this is not a good story for Susan and Barbara. Susan is ill for most of the six episodes, and the need to take care of her effectively keeps Barbara from doing anything that might have an impact on the plot. Ian fares a little better, managing to escape after having some important plot points told to him by a dying cellmate, though it turns out that his escape was orchestrated by the resistance.
- The resistance have no reason to involve the Tardis crew in their plans, other than allowing us to witness Robespierre's (reasonably historically accurate) downfall and the (less historically accurate) beginnings of Napoleon's rise to power.
- This is a good serial for the guest cast, with memorable characterisation and several great performances.
- The camera work is excellent. The combination of location footage (the first in Doctor Who) of a body double walking the countryside with studio footage of William Hartnell is fantastically done and works surprisingly well.
- Though the sets aren't very well-made (with stone walls that clearly consist of painted flat surfaces and backdrops that have visible seams) the design is fantastic, making the most of the limited studio space that the makers had to work with.
- There's an excellent incidental score, with the composer taking apart the Marseillaise and putting it together again in all kinds of twisted ways.
One interesting bit:
- James Cairncross, who played Lemaitre in this serial, would go on to play Beta in the Troughton era serial 'The Krotons'.
The bottom line
Worth seeing in spite of its flaws.